Early this month, Manitoba’s longest-running local cooking show began its 30th season.
“Great Tastes of Manitoba” began when a committee of representatives from various producer boards and associations conceptualized it in the spring of 1990. The first show went to air in November of 1990, and it has been on the air ever since.
Thirty seasons later, the show is watched by more Manitobans than anything on the Food Network, according to information provided by the show.
The majority of “Great Tastes of Manitoba” viewers are the primary grocery shoppers in their household, a group the show says has been historically difficult to reach for the ag sector.
The show reaches an average of 27,800 adult viewers in Manitoba each week, and is one of only four Canadian-made shows (aside from broadcast news) to land in the top 40 television rankings with female audiences age 35-plus in Winnipeg, they said in an August 22 news release.
The majority of “Great Tastes” watchers are also the primary grocery shopper in their household, according to the news release. It added that this means “Great Tastes” is reaching an audience that the agriculture industry often struggles to connect with.
Regular folks in a kitchen
“I’m a bit of a foodie, and I’m a farmer, and I’m a TV producer,” said show producer Donalee Jones, speaking on the phone from her family grain farm near Cartwright.
She said she was an avid cooking show fan before she signed on as producer of “Great Tastes of Manitoba.” They helped her feel comfortable in the kitchen.
As a producer she tests the recipes to make sure they work in her home kitchen. That means they can’t be too “cheffy” she said.
Jones said simplicity and accessibility is the mandate. The ingredients have to be affordable and readily available in grocery stores.
“People are watching more food television than ever before, but they’re cooking less,” Jones said. She added it’s more important than ever to get folks in the kitchen.
“If you can read a recipe, you can cook,” said Susan Riese, manager of public relations and consumer marketing at Manitoba Pork.
Riese has been a contributor on the show for 13 years. She also develops the recipes that Manitoba Pork contributes to the show.
She has no culinary training — quite the opposite. Riese laughed as she recalled boycotting ‘home economics’ in Grade 7 in favour of shops class.
“I did not want any part of it,” Riese said. “So it’s really, really funny and ironic that I’ve kind of come back to it as an adult.”
Riese said she leans on more than 35 years of home-cooking experience, and a lot of trial and error.
“The whole point is to not have to be a chef to make the recipes,” she said.
Highlighting farm families
In celebration of their 30th anniversary, “Great Tastes of Manitoba” will introduce viewers to Manitoba farm families through video episodes on their website.
“The family farm is more than a concept to me,” said show host Dez Daniels. “That was my whole beginning.”
Daniels, who is known in Winnipeg as a veteran radio host, grew up on a mixed farm east of Yorkton, Saskatchewan. There she milked cows before and after school from age 6 to Grade 11.
She said she appreciates the dedication it takes to farm, and is glad they can focus on rural, farm living.
Riese said during her time on the show, she’s seen its focus shift toward a more farm to food message, incorporating more facts about farms and farmers.
“People want to know where their food comes from,” Riese said.
“Food is the great unifier,” Jones said in a news release. “I think if we can connect with consumers over those times around the table, the shared love of food, often it involves family tradition, I think we can really make an impact and in turn build their trust.”
“I think ‘Great Tastes of Manitoba’ was ahead of its time. It was trendy when local wasn’t trendy,” said Ellen Pruden, a contributor with the Manitoba Canola Growers. “Now with social media, it’s so cool that Manitobans can connect with their local food expert and farmer to know more about the ingredients that they purchase in the grocery store.”