Why cooking shows are so moreish

No matter the format, contestants or dishes, food shows continue to grow in numbers and popularity. Why is it we keep coming back for more?

A cupcake, cuppa and cooking show, chilling on the couch - what more could you want for your midweek evening? (Picture: Shuttesrtock)

From MasterChef to The Great British Bake Off and Best Home Cook, hardly a week passes without a fix of bread, bakes and cakes on demand. From the professionals to the grannies with their family heirloom recipes - I could binge them all.

Every sunken crème brûlée reminds me of my own haphazard attempts at embodying Nigella, while immaculately displayed cupcakes on Bake Off just highlight how pathetic my Tom and Jerry fairy cakes - from a packet mix - really are.

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So, even if my own baking skills are far from perfect, what exactly is it about these shows that I can’t get enough of? Is it the culinary excellence, the global-fusion cuisine or the chefs and hosts with their expert advice and witty “soggy bottom” puns? Perhaps not quite.

‘Soul food with a side of feel good’

From nostalgic dinners to aspirational dishes, cooking shows are the ultimate soul food, with a side of feel good.

The rise of food reality shows, from the BBC’s Best Home Cook to Channel 4’s Bake Off has enabled us to connect with the bakers and their skills, in equal parts willing them to succeed - or fail - while vicariously enjoying their baked goods.

Whether I whip up my tried and tested carrot cake or attempt to recreate a dish I tried in a fancy restaurant in Italy, I want to be told it's successful - or at least edible. But I know it usually needs work and as a perfectionist, I thrive on feedback.

This is one reason why I enjoy watching as the sweet and salty judging panels on cooking shows dissect the contestants’ dishes - sometimes offering praise and sometimes not so much. The queen of cakes Mary Berry reminds us of our own family matriarch - be it the granny who bakes bread or the mother with her simple Victoria sponge. On the other hand, Paul Hollywood and James Martin are like those teachers we always wanted to impress, but who only ever served up backhanded compliments.

Fewer calories and commitment

The dishes we see on cooking shows inspire our future travels, and dinner ideas and remind us of better days, while allowing us to relax and enjoy the finished product without any of the calories or commitment.

The truth is, as I sink into the couch, I know in my own heart (and stomach) that I am not about to head to the supermarket to buy the overpriced ingredients (which make me wonder “where on God’s earth do I find that in ASDA?”).

Do I really have the patience to follow each step of the recipe and wait for my creations to cook, only for my loved-ones to gobble them up and thank me half-heartedly for my “efforts”? Not really. And that’s before I’ve even begun the dreaded clean up at the end.

Instead, watching someone else work meticulously on a show-stopping centerpiece for four hours, condensed down into 20 minutes, is just enough.

‘I could do better myself’

As a viewer, I can also voice my opinions without any consequences - from deciding who should be the winner each week to determining whether I could do better myself. I can also gasp at the judges’ decisions and complain about how the wrong person hung up their apron, without hurting anyone’s feelings.

I might go so far as to say I sometimes vent frustrations and complaints I have about other aspects of life, by insulting a cake which has failed to rise to the challenge...

Everything about these shows reminds me of a different aspect of myself - from who I once was, to the person I have become and who I aspire to be - not only in the kitchen, but in various aspects of life.

The fusion of nostalgia with inspiration, failure with success and independence with good sportsmanship is the recipe for success, and it always goes down a treat.

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