Major networks, I am pleading: There are other countries
Everyone is in Italy this year — including Alison Roman, whose new cooking series will, like half the people my Instagram feed, take us on a tour of the Amalfi Coast. CNN announced yesterday that Roman’s four-episode (More Than) A Cooking Show, which was originally slated for the now-defunct CNN+, will hit CNN this fall. The show will invite audiences into Roman’s New York kitchen and to join her on her travels abroad. Sure, that sounds fun, if a bit familiar.
Between Bobby and Giada in Italy; Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy; episodes of Chef’s Table, Somebody Feed Phil, Top Chef, and Salt Fat Acid Heat, I can’t help but feel a little Italy-ed out in recent years, like I’ve hit my capacity for watching clips of cheesemaking or people eating perfectly crisped Neapolitan pizza. (And that doesn’t even include Italy’s dominance over fictional food-adjacent shows like Netflix’s upcoming From Scratch and the second season of HBO’s hospitality-themed The White Lotus.) Now, I’m no stranger to dreaming up my own Eat Pray Love spaghetti scene, and the green-eyed monster and I were in close company this summer as I scrolled past so many friends and influencers’ Lake Como weddings and rented villas.
Yet it’s all starting to feel repetitive, especially when one considers how infrequently this in-depth treatment is given to other countries. Italy and France, for that matter, are countries and cuisines whose regionality is given its due in the food landscape of the United States — while so many places in the world remain simplified in the culinary imagination: a visit in a food series episode here and there, usually relying on the same biggest-name cities and chefs.
It’s as though major networks, wanting a guaranteed hit, see the success of all this Italy-centric TV and think, great, let’s do that again — which is almost certainly what’s happening (streaming overload led Time to claim last year, “Welcome to TV’s era of peak redundancy”). CNN is a perfect example of that: Not only is Roman’s Italy show dropping this fall, featuring the Amalfi Coast, but so is the continuation of Tucci’s, which will explore Italy’s regions further after going to Tuscany, Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Rome, Bologna, Milan, and Sicily last year.
It all feels a little safe: Showing potential travelers from the U.S. food that is already pretty familiar, in a country that feels like a safe bet, thus reinforcing Western expectations about which cuisines are valuable and which countries worth traveling to. I’m happy to imagine Italian beach moments a la The Talented Mr. Ripley, but what other daydreams could we have if food travel shows dared to delve deeper into places less frequently depicted?