On every conceivable channel these days, professionals and rank amateurs are urging us to "get out in that kitchen and make some noise with them pots and pans" by hopping about in front of designer hobs, beaming away over bouillabaisse or rushing around the country in pursuit of ever more arcane culinary styles.
Last year saw meteoric TV stardom for stand-up comedy hostesses Mel and Sue. They clocked the fact that the kitchen is the natural home of post- modernism and promptly catapulted themselves into the hearts and minds of schedulers with their deliciously arch Light Lunch.
At the other end of the spectrum, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers took this to its logical conclusion. Their River Cafe series was not about food, it was about shopping.
Most of us would think twice about splashing out on really good wine, let alone driving to the ends of the earth in pursuit of porcini and a wood-burning stove. (Although their blissfully simple Lemon Spaghetti is a wow.)
Once upon a time, the accent was on calming the nerves of tentative housewives and gently widening the viewers' recipe repertoire. Now everything is predicated on the idea that "food is fun", a game for all the family. I blame Lloyd Grossman.
He taught us that food is competitive with the disgracefully watchable Masterchef (I do, however, draw the line at Junior Masterchef or "My mummy bought me a Le Creuset set for my tenth birthday, so there.")
That begat Ready, Steady, Cook which in turn taught us not to be intimidated by the sorry collection of mismatched items in our food cupboards because Anthony Worrall Thompson is on hand to show us how to make a tasty dish out of three cabbages, an old packet of jelly and a dill pickle. The governing principle here isn't food, it's "entertainment" as epitomised by the hyperactive Ainsley Harriott who makes Rusty Lee look sedated. His Can't Cook, Won't Cook (or as some call it Can't Cook, Won't Watch) is the blueprint for the current blizzard of TV cookery.
So how did it all start? In the beginning was the word and the word was jewellery. I refer, of course, to the eye-boggling rings which, food hygiene be damned, adorned the pastry-rubbing fingers of Fanny Cradock (or Haddock as she was known in our house). Fanny was the fierce headmistress of the school once described by Findus as "Success on a plate".
Even her name is the result of stern resolve. Born Phyllis Primrose Pechey in 1909, her previous marital commitments meant that she could not marry Johnnie Cradock so she simply deed-polled her name to Fanny Cradock. She may not be the greatest cook ever but in terms of influence she leaves the competition standing. Mounted police were called in to control the crowds when she and Johnnie gave a second cookery demonstration at Edinburgh's Usher Hall which seats 2,500 people (another 500 salivating Scots stood).
That statistic pales when you consider that the pair of them held the attention of 6,750 people in the Royal Albert Hall with just three cookers and a spit. They had the kind of popularity that Richard and Judy can only dream of. Despite their boast of never having had a cookery lesson in their lives, Fanny and Johnnie patrolled the nation's mealtimes for decades on both ITV and BBC, in black and white and in colour. And if you think that tie-in merchandising is a Nineties phenomenon, you should know that on top of TV series and live appearances, they published a 96- part weekly cookery magazine.
Fanny also found the time to knock out 10 novels and an autobiography. Emasculated Johnnie, meanwhile, was left in charge of the wine and barely spoke, although he is alleged to have uttered the immortal phrase: "I hope all your doughnuts turn out like Fanny's."
Their only real rival came in the altogether more benign and comforting form of the BBC's Zena Skinner. In soothing contralto tones, she took charge of family fare in the crucial six o'clock slot. And very successful she was too, if the number of secondhand Zena Skinner recipe books cluttering up your local Oxfam is anything to go by. Her reign came to an end because, like most things, food is subject to fashion. If you doubt me, look at spinach. In those days it came in cans and accounted for Popeye's biceps. Now it is wilted.
Assiduous telly addicts of 1975 might just recall the programme Deep Freezing. In the trade this is known as "Early Delia". The current patron saint of TV cookery, La Smith is nothing less than Laura Ashley in oven- gloves. She even has God on her side as her appearance in Song of Youth, part of Praise Be, will testify.
Delia, whose first name alone inspires slavish devotion, is responsible for everything from identikit Christmas dinners across the land to major agricultural changes. Had anyone seriously considered cranberries outside of turkey before she made them famous? Chemists could not withstand the consumer demand when she included liquid glucose in a particularly scrumptious Truffle Torte.
The modish programme-style for the 1980s onwards consisted of what Eurovision entrants Bucks Fizz once described as: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Everything went nationwide for location cookery in the hands of people like Keith Floyd and Nigel Kennedy... sorry, Gary Rhodes. (Same passion for football, same vowels, same hair, easy mistake). And do not forget the Two Fat Ladies, whose old-fashioned exuberance about good food is almost smothered beneath the ludicrously camp conceits of their shows. Our beleathered bikers have cooked for a lacrosse team, the boy scouts and, last week, nuns. Along the way we have had specialisation. The legendary New Zealanders Hudson and Halls were the Julian and Sandy of the dinner party circuit and alcoholic cookery was taken care of by The Galloping Gourmet aka Graham Kerr who has since forsworn the stuff having been born again. Madhur Jaffrey memorably proved there's more to Indian cuisine than a Friday night vindaloo and has anyone ever seen Ken Hom without his wok?
Better still, Jane Asher beat Mary Berry hollow in the If I Knew You Were Coming I'd Have Baked a Cake stakes. There are times when you feel as if anyone who ever flirted with a food processor is about to front a series. Why? Because these programmes are extremely cheap to make. After the costs of the concept, the set, and the star, you only have pay for the crew, the ingredients and the gas bills and you can make it all back with merchandising. Voila! The perfect recipe.
And as for the final culinary frontier, there is always my long dreamt of programme on Jewish/Gay cookery: Bagelwatch. Mind you, Nigel Slater's latest book has a chapter on lamb headed "Juicy, young and well-hung".
Nigel Slater's `Real Food' begins on Channel 4 this ThursdayReuse content