When PBS announced The Great American Recipe, the culinary competition was described as a celebration of community and culture. Although the idea of America being the melting pot might have become muddled over the years, the diverse cultures that comprise the country bring flavor to people’s lives. As PBS viewers gather on Friday nights to watch each new episode, Alejandra Ramos is the vivacious host who pulls out a seat at that community table. During a recent conversation with the chef, writer, and food personality, Ramos shared why The Great American Recipe has bigger story to tell beyond the plate.
Over the season, The Great American Recipe has covered a variety of themes. As each home cook offers their interpretation through their personal recipes, the complexity of flavors and the variety of dishes serve to highlight the commonalities between the cuisines versus the differences. While the Mexican and Asian spices might come from different origins, the seasoning that they offer hold the same purpose. Building a story through flavor is a tale that is universal.
At the helm of each episode is Alejandra Ramos. The popular chef, writer, and food television personality has always put her passion about food on display. In this role for the PBS series, she is the brightness that brings together the stories and food in an engaging way.
Recently, Alejandra Ramos spoke to FoodSided about The Great American Recipe, her thoughts about the first season, and recipes being a form of family archive.
Anyone who watches food television competitions can appreciate that this PBS series is far from the cutthroat, fiery barbs of other programs. While this writer might feel a heartfelt connection to the Friday night family programming of her youth, that feel good vibe has resonated with viewers.
When asked, Ramos agreed that at the end of a long week, “it is just so nice to have that moment to unwind.” Specifically, she mentioned that she is proud to be part of “something that makes people feel good, warm, and happy.”
Those sentiments seem to be apparent not just for viewers but also for the home cooks who are competing. Ramos said that it was clear everyone felt “that they were part of something really special” and everyone was about “enjoying every step of the experience.”
Whether it was the friendships made or the helping hand offered in a challenge, everyone involved seems to capture the heart of the show. It might not be that stated prize of the competition, but the real reward is something bigger.
Ramos believes that The Great American Recipe is about family and friendship. While these recipes have been passed down through generations, each dish is about enjoying that plate with people they love. That spirit is what makes this food television show engaging.
One specific episode seemed to stand out during the season. The recipe exchange challenge seemed to push the home cooks a little farther out of their comfort zone. But, the similarities could be uncovered in that different approach. Whether it was similar cooking technique or imparting a particular seasoning, there is a thread of a connection across cultures.
Ramos looked at that challenge beyond just successfully mastering a dish. She believes that recipes are almost a form of archive, a story passed down through generations and cultures. Specifically, she called them a “treasure map.”
She went on to explain that this “treasure map is a way to follow a path and discover a new place.” While the home cooks might have gone through their own discoveries during that particular challenge, everyone can use recipes as a well to learn about each other, their families, and culture.
At the same time, Ramos believes that recipes can be a way to connect to the past. She told the story how she treasures handwritten recipe cards from her Great Grandmother. While she might have never stood in a kitchen and cooked with her, those handwritten cards are a way to connect stories through generations.
As The Great American Recipe Season 1 comes to a close, the biggest takeaway from this show might be rooted in the companion recipe book and a simple idea. In one episode, everyone, home cooks, judges and Ramos gathered around the table and shared the stories behind the plates. Ramos believes that that big family table, whether it is a simple gathering, Friendsgiving or another event can be that conversational spark. For her, that connection is just as important as a great tasting meal.
From origin story to a silly anecdote, the people that choose to gather together can create a memory which will season dishes for years to come. Whether that idea is a melting pot, a potluck, or some other food-related term may not be important. The truth is that any great dish is the sum of its ingredients. Luckily, The Great American Recipe has a bounty of flavorful options to choose from.