Thursday, September 11, 2008

TV Cooks

A few weeks ago my partner, Peter Russell, posted on his blog a series of thoughts about various people with cooking shows on television. I haven’t read it yet, but this morning I got to thinking that I have some things I want to say about the subject. I’ll read what he wrote after I offer some opinions of my own.

I suspect few people watch Food Network, and other cooking shows on other channels, as much as I do. It inspires my cooking, provokes ideas, and opens my eyes to techniques and flavor combinations. There are chefs I learned to love; there are chefs I learned to hate.

I no longer remember when I started watching cooking shows. It seems to me it might have been when we relocated from Washington, DC to New Jersey in 1997 – not that it matters. When I first saw a program with Giada DiLaurentiis I found her to be smarmy, coy, and overly fond of showing off her cleavage. But I kept watching from time to time and gradually realized that she’s quite genuine, a very fine cook, and possessed of male relatives who sometimes grace the screen with their male pulchritude. They include a nephew, Luca, and her brother, whose name I don’t remember. Luca is drop dead cute and the brother is GQ cover handsome. Thanks, Giada.

Sandra Lee, host of “Semi-homemade” is not in any sense a chef. She’s a cook. She actually does some interesting stuff occasionally, but her condescending manner causes me to change the channel as soon as she comes on. She’s a very attractive woman who had a difficult childhood, but who comes across to me as being vapid. Enough said.

I have watched dozens if not hundreds of hours of “Emeril Live,” a show with not only a studio audience but a band to boot. Emeril’s “bam,” his “gahlic,” his “pork fat rules,” have made him seem like a caricature of himself in recent years. And what a slob in the kitchen. His platings are gross, he spills and slops around as he works even more than I do when cooking at home. Nonetheless, Emeril is very popular. He’s more an entertainer than a chef. I’m not disappointed that “Emeril Live” has moved to a time slot when I’m not in front of the TV.

Another self-described “cook, not a chef” is Rachel Ray. She has good ideas but, like Emeril, has become a parody of herself with her “Yummo” and her “how good does that look?” Yet she is fabulously successful, with travel shows, a magazine, and a number of cookbooks. Am I jealous because she’s rich? No, I’m not. I still watch her show, “30-minute Meals” in the late afternoon – for ideas.

Michael Chiarello’s “Easy Entertaining,” was an excellent show, just 30 minutes long and always packed with excellent cooking. Michael is a true chef. His forte is Italian home cooking, although it’s not the only thing he does on the show. He’s left the network, reportedly to go back into the restaurant business. I for one will miss him.

What can one say about Bobby Flay? I’ve never liked him. I recall his first show (not the title, though) where he had a sidekick named Jaqui Malouf. He seemed condescending to her and to the small group of observers who served as his audience. He is ubiquitous these days, with a new format for his grilling ideas every time you turn around. Why do I think, if he had a band like Emeril, it would be him blowing his own horn? He is more than a fine chef, one who does his best wonderfully creative work on “Iron Chef America,” rarely losing a match. But then who does lose more than rarely on that program? At least it seems more fairly judged than the original “Iron Chef” from Japan. One last thing about “Iron Chef America”: Masaharu Morimoto is a) not American, b) does not speak English. What the fuck is he doing on the program?

Ingrid Hoffman became tolerable when she toned down her Charo routine, but I don’t watch her.

The winners of the “Next Food Network Star” series that has run for 4 seasons are a mixed bag. The first year winner’s, two gay guys who are west coast caterers, did a pretty job on their debut series, but only near the end of the run did they seem to become at ease enough in front of the camera to stop me from cringing all too often. Guy Fieri has become a superstar, deservedly so. “Guy’s Big Bite,” his first show, has been renewed and after 2 plus years is still a good one. He’s off on the road visiting “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” and shows up regularly as a judge for this, a participant in that. He’s appalling to look at – weird hair, bad body, tattoos – but is very engaging.

Amy, the third year winner, so declared after the original winner was forced to step down when his bogus credentials were revealed, should have been the winner all along. Unfortunately her easy-to-watch “The Gourmet Next Door” lasted for only 6 episodes and doesn’t seem to be available in re-runs.

Then came this year. Peter and I thought that none of the contestants should be the winner. AND, when the winner was announced, it was a most implausible choice, Aaron McCargo, a nice family man who shucked and jived so much in his recently broadcast and cancelled “Big Daddy’s Kitchen” was virtually unwatchable.

I’m running out of time for today. I can tell I’ll need to write more about this topic tomorrow. See you then.

For a free sample of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write me at

No comments:

Tuesday Tag-Along

Tuesday Tag-Along

Foodie BlogRoll