The most fiery competition at my farmers market is the elbow to elbow battle for the choicest fruit. I hover with five grim faces over a pile of cherries, discarding the foamy and bruised, hoarding the taut fruit the shimmers with late spring. We are engaged in my favorite kind of competition: one where everyone respects each other, where we compete with skill and without barbs, where we nod and half smile and hand each other samples when the battle is over.
We’re not enemies. We’re just trying to bake a pie in a world gone mad.
It’s been an intense few months. A television fiend, I’ve exhausted all of my light TV options and have no space left in my heart for any programming that’s stressful or scary. I need a weird little half hour of joy. I need the thrill of competition, but at the level of a second grade field day. I need the gentle happiness of farmer’s market shopping.
I need the Cooking Channel’s new show, Farmers’ Market Flip.
When I first heard the title, I assumed that it would be the farmer’s market edition of one of those shows where they revamp a failing business. That kind of show involves tears, high stakes. Which is fun, sometimes, when your nerves aren’t frayed like old dental floss.
What’s more fun? Affable host Chef Jeff Mahin with his intense, staccato delivery, bringing great gravitas to sentences like “You will have to use … the avocado.”
Each episode pits two chef pairs against each other at a different Los Angeles farmers market. In Round One: Flavor of the Market, they invent dishes based on an ingredient that the market is famous for, in just 20 minutes. It’s all very Chopped-esque, except the results are judged by someone tied to the farmer’s market: Farmers, the owners of a stand, a mom and her small cauliflower-hating child. Flavor of the Market contains kitchen intensity, but kitchen intensity when the kitchen is running pretty smoothly. No one is yelling insults, but everyone is chopping vegetables like their lives depend on the quality of their julienne.
Round 2: Feed the Market releases both teams into the farmers market, where they tackle challenges like only being able to use three stands or having to incorporate a steamer. They look stressed! But you don’t have to worry, because they’re chefs and can probably figure out how to use a bamboo steamer!
What if you never had to worry about anything? What if the challenges of life boiled down to being limited to six farmer’s market stands, in peak season, in California where the produce is so gorgeous you could bite into a head of purple cabbage? Can you imagine? I can’t! But if you want to see this mini scenario play out in real life, watch episode three where the chefs race through the market and it’s totally fine.
The teams cook two dishes each, then serve them to a hungry farmers market crowd. There are lots of adorable children who take voting and snacks very seriously (me too), and dogs, and couples having mock fights about which dessert they liked better that end in laughter. I’m soothed.
More than once, the final results are separated by just one vote.
MORE THAN ONCE.
And the winners get $5,000 dollars which they use to support charities or fix their cars or take their kids on vacation. It is an amount of money where everyone who gets it is happy but no one is doing that thing where they cry a lot while clutching an amount of cash that will land them on a series of future reality shows. It’s all pretty relaxed. It usually ends in hugs.
If, like me, you always want people to get really excited and intense, then be happy and friendly, watch Episode 5 where there’s a kid judge and everyone has a lot of feelings about cauliflower. “I have to convince this little girl to like cauliflower, when she just told me she hates cauliflower!” says Chef Nicole. The competition says “I can’t imagine a better opponent to be going up against,” then compliments her cooking. When I’m sitting on my couch at the end of the day, these are the problems I would like to face.
Do you want to relax and look at beautiful farmers markets and gorgeous dishes and happy chefs? Do you need just enough adrenaline that you can’t turn away, but not so much that it depletes even an iota of your limited emotional energy? This is your show. You are a fan. Go forth and binge-watch.
Photo by Gemma Billings, CC BY 2.0