We are cord-cutters. I haven’t had cable TV in my home in about six years. Mostly, it has been totally fine, and I haven’t missed it much — except for cooking channels. I miss the hell out of wasting hours watching food shows.
Since having kids, I honestly miss the hell out of wasting hours watching anything. But cooking shows were some of my best time-burners, and I love them. So when we go out of town and have access to cable, my family knows what programming we will be enjoying as we get ready in the mornings or rest or whatever else we do in a hotel while away.
On a recent trip, I had a lot of downtime with a baby, which meant as many cooking shows as my heart desired. Since I don’t have access at home, I look forward to seeing what new shows are on the lineup. Shows about food trucks and fried food and really, really big food. I happened to turn on the TV during a marathon of something I hadn’t seen before.
A children’s cooking competition.
I figured this would be a fun and adorable hour of television. Kids making grilled cheese and cake pops and shit. Little Madison or Ferdinand would win in the end with lasagna rollups and a good attitude, and my heart would grow a half-size when they talked about using their winnings to take their family to Disney World.
Then they started scaling fish. These little kids were throwing around words like béchamel and using kosher salt out of a little dish. They were julienning vegetables. I was watching this while sitting on the couch in my hotel room, eating macaroni and cheese with ketchup on it out of the pot I cooked it in.
Mouth agape, I watched as children who weren’t tall enough to reach the counter without standing on the back of an adult on all fours made me uncomfortably aware of how little I had achieved in life, let alone in the kitchen. Some were making homemade pasta; others, layer upon layer of cake from scratch. They weren’t using recipes. They just knew this stuff.
When I was their age, I woke up at the butt crack of dawn to make my mom a special treat for Mother’s Day. I opened up a children’s cookbook and decided to make truffles. The only ingredients I remember are cream cheese, chocolate, and confectioners sugar. There were others, but I couldn’t find them within my reach in the pantry, so those are the three ingredients I used. Granted, the only chocolate I could find were M&M’s, and I didn’t know what confectioners sugar was. Figuring sugar is sugar, I grabbed the big-ass bag of the granulated good stuff. I mixed these three ingredients in a bowl, rolled them into blobs, and woke my mother up at sunrise with a plateful of Sugar Snot Balls.
The following year, I decided to lower the bar and go with chocolate-covered fruit. I put a chocolate bunny from Easter with its ears bitten off into the microwave. During the several minutes I set the cook time for, the plastic bowl in the microwave caught fire. There was a big hole burned completely through the bottom of one of my grandmother’s mixing bowls.
Now, this was an age when I was learning to cook. My grandmother would let me pick out recipes, usually some kind of cookie or cake, and bake with me. I loved cooking, and I look back on those memories with my grandmother as some of the happiest of my childhood. But now, those memories are tainted as I have been confronted with my own mediocrity. There were 7-year-olds on this show talking about pâte à choux and making cream puffs from memory. I’m 31 and up shit creek without a paddle if I prematurely toss an empty cake mix box in the garbage.
How does this happen? Do all of these kids have French chefs for grandmas? Where are they learning all of this? Does the public school curriculum now include knife skills and wine pairings? I was learning cursive and the scientific method like a goddamn chump when I could have graduated elementary school with the ability to crack eggs with one hand. When I picture a soufflé in my mind, I don’t really see a picture of anything because I don’t know what the fuck it is. But these kids know how to make them and the host, Grown-up Cheffy McJudgerson, seems hella impressed.
The craziest thing to me, more exceptional than their emulsions and flavor profiles, is that these kids aren’t even turds. They’re nice to each other. When possible, they help when one of them is in a jam. They cry when someone is sent home. There wasn’t an Omarosa or a Spencer Pratt in the bunch. How was this reality TV? Where were the backbiting and the shade? If I was on a reality show, I know I’d be saying stupid things and giving side-eye and tripping people who irritated me. So not only are these kids crazy talented, they’re also better at being an adult than I am — which just makes me hate the little jerks even more.
It doesn’t hurt so much that these children are gifted. I am not offended by tiny violin prodigies or spelling bee champions. It’s that they’re beating me on my home turf and ruining food TV for me. They are doing my things better than I ever could. I don’t go to their schools and show everyone how great I am at rolling my eyes or belting out Justin Bieber songs with perfect pitch. You stick to your stuff, kids, and let me stick to mine.