All right, I confess. I love cooking shows. I can’t resist them. As I enjoy cooking myself, I find it inspiring to watch well trained and creative food gurus work their magic. How exactly do they hold the knife? In their estimation, how much is a “handful”? What pots, pans, and kitchen gadgets do they use? When the directions say, “simmer until reduced”, what does it look like exactly?
When I was at the gym yesterday, I saw that Rachael Ray (the host of a regularly scheduled television cooking show, for those of you who don’t know) was featuring the World’s Biggest Cooking Demo on her show, I couldn’t help but get sucked in. Sure it was a corny tactic, but I have to say, it was pretty darned clever. The producer’s plan was for Rachael to prepare a chicken dish outdoors, live, in front of her entire New York City studio audience, with each audience member positioned at a mobile cooking station, following along with her. Hundreds of little cooking stations were set up, equipped with a hotplate, pans, implements, and all the ingredients required for the dish. It was quite the scene – all of those audience-member-chefs, lined up, following along with Rachael.
But that’s not all – hundreds more cooks kept up with the proceedings in live Los Angeles studio audience and even more followed along with the demo in their homes, watching it on television, and Skyping in their questions. Occasionally, Rachael would take a break from the demo (while the sauce was simmering) to take a Skype call from a viewer in Cleveland or Tampa. The caller was projected on the big screen, beamed in from his or her kitchen, working away at the same recipe, asking for a clarification or offering a suggestion.
I thought the whole thing was brilliant. Who doesn’t like to feel a part of something larger than themselves? So, why not leverage that and turn it into an event? While watching the proceedings, another thing came clear to me – there was infinite variation and adaptation at work. As the camera scanned the 100′s of cooks putting the chicken dish together, you could see the color and consistency variation in the sauce; some toasted their corn muffins, some didn’t; and the Skype callers had all sorts of ideas for varying the recipe, improvising on the procedure, and making it their own. Subliminally, we all got the message that there was no one right way to do – the recipe was a guideline and experimentation off the basic plan was endless.
By now I’ll bet you can tell where I’m going with this….how about a National Lab-Off? Imagine thousands of high school students all over the U.S. doing a photosynthesis lab together on one promoted day of the academic year. One master teacher leading the event, providing a game plan from which everyone could improvise, experiment, and collaborate. Live video feed piped into classrooms all over the country. A producer to manage the video feeds and Skype calls with questions. A post-event blogging session to pool data, interpret results, and discuss conclusions? What a way to generate enthusiasm for investigation while at the same time encouraging the use of participatory media tools! Man, if Rachael Ray can do it with honey mustard chicken, surely it could be done with a biology lab?