Saturday, April 15, 2006

Cooking On TV ...

L.A. Dave and I have the most wide-ranging conversations, and today's discourse lingered for a long time on television chefs.

Once, long, long ago, in my days as an intern at Chicago magazine, someone suggested to me that I should have a cooking show. That was very nice of them. I look OK on camera and know my way around a kitchen and can crack a joke. And L.A. Dave was saying much the same thing today, that I have the personality to be a television chef, which led to a discussion about TV chefs we love or love to hate.

And, as L.A. Dave said, he felt a blog entry coming on (for my blog, not his). Here, then, is my take on TV chefs as their names come to me, not in any particular order:

❉ Martha Stewart: This woman has single-handedly caused more domestic angst than any other person in history. Because select women (and select men) get sucked into the pages of her magazines and tune into her self-congratulatory TV shows and lose sight of the fact that Martha, she of the farm-fresh eggs and perfectly decked halls, has a staff of a bazillion people feeding her ideas and doing all the prep work. Martha just has to smile for the camera and condescend to her staff who are unlucky enough to appear on screen with her. I officially got over Martha several years ago when, on her show, she was discussing unsightly foliage in her garden and offered that her solution to keep it tidy until it was time to cut it back was to braid it. BRAID IT. What's worse, she never seemed to think to herself, while braiding the foliage, "Huh. I apparently have too damn much time on my hands. I'm on my knees in my garden braiding shit."

❉ Rachel Ray: Oh, she's a lightning rod these days, isn't she? The world is suffering from Ray saturation, much in the way that everyone got sick of Reege and "Is that your final answer?" Yes, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Mom and I first liked Rachel when we first found "30-Minute Meals." (Which, by the way, is often unhyphenated by the Food Network, which drives me nuts; we're not talking about 30 meals that take a minute to make, as "30 Minute Meals" implies; why doesn't the world run these things by me first?) But the Food Network people got greedy and gave us the inane $40-a-day show (in which Rachel always loves every single thing she puts in her mouth, and leaves shitty tips), and the far-from-A-list gabfests on "Inside Dish" (with apologies to Morgan Freeman, cuz he's cool as hell) and now she has a magazine and she's going to have a TV show, and one has to wonder if RR isn't a cyborg, cuz when does the woman sleep? And her 30-minute meals take most people longer than 30 minutes to prepare. And for the love of God, just call it extra virgin olive oil.

❉ Giada DeLaurentiis: OK, I agree, she's got a nice rack and good teeth, but do they need to be on display constantly? L.A. Dave and my brother don't seem to mind, but oy. Giada gets points for preparing food that's doable, but her editors lose points for the inane composition of the show. What's with the b-roll of her washing her hands? I understand that you need to pump some soap in your hands and then turn on the water and then rub your hands together under the water and make the soap all sudsy and then rinse it off. I don't need to spend several seconds watching her do it.

❉ Emeril: Good riddance. If I never hear "BAM!" again, it'll be too soon.

❉ Sandra Lee: What the hell is this woman about? The whole conceit of her show is that you should use 70 percent pre-fab food and add 30 percent of your own effort. But each of her shows have these inane themes. So, what? I'm gonna skimp on the effort of cooking the food my friends and family will actually ingest, but I should spend all the time I saved by poking around the Army/Navy Surplus buying props for my outdoor safari? No. And what's with the Vaseline on the lens? In the interest of full disclosure, I once requested an interview with her for a story I was working on, and she wouldn't talk to me. Please. The woman's created an quasi-empire using condensed soup. She's not the second coming of Julia Child.

❉ Mario Batalli: Friend Jay loves Mario. Jay's Italian and a guy and likes to cook, but Mario and his bare legs and clogs skeeve me out, and I'm never particularly interested in what he's cooking.

❉ Lidia Bastianich: Pasta water is not a food group.

❉ Daisy Martinez: I detest cilantro, and you can't make half of Daisy's dishes without it, but I adore this woman. She's the perfect TV chef. She makes real food, she uses shortcuts when it makes sense, but she also really loves what she's doing and conveys great stories about learning to cook and what it means to her to feed her family and friends. She's adorable and friendly and real.

❉ Steven Raichlen: My cousin used to do the marketing for his books and knows Steven and says he's a nice guy. I'm sure he is. But with all the news that grilling over high heats forms carcinogens, should we be pushing grilling shows?

❉ Christopher Kimball and his "America's Test Kitchen" cohorts: The best food show anywhere, ever. And Cook's Illustrated is the best food magazine ever.

❉ Jacques Torres, Marcel Desaulniers: Freakin' geniuses with chocolate. Fun to watch, but you know you're never, ever gonna do anything they're demonstrating.

❉ Jacques Pepin: I love his accent. I love his casual approach to food. But when he has to share the set with any other person, you can see what a control freak he is. Then again, I probably wouldn't be any different.

❉ Ina Garten: LOVE her. Would love to have her house on Long Island. She makes real food. She makes a bit of a mess as she cooks. And she truly loves cooking for people who are important to her.

❉ Paula Deen: She's cute as a bug, but if you actually ate the way she cooks, you wouldn't live to see the next episode of her show.

❉ Alton Brown: Is there anyone more fun than this guy? Part chef, part Ask Dr. Science. For geeks like me who like understanding the Hows and Whys behind everything, Brown is a good half hour of television.

❉ Nigella Lawson: Another real-food role model. And easy on the eyes. And seems genuinely nice. Good combination.

❉ Jamie Oliver: Rock on, this guy. Fun to watch, interesting food, but also doing his part to spread sorely needed nutrition education.

❉ Charlie Trotter: What's the point of this guy having a cooking show? No one is going to make his food at home. That's why everyone goes to his restaurant. He seems to forget that food should be fun.

❉ Rick Bayless: Chicago boy (like Trotter) who takes his chosen speciality very seriously, but knows how to have fun. The show on Mexican wrestlers and the street food culture is one of my all-time favorites. And you have to love a chef who has two restaurants right next door to each other. He can keep his hands in all the pots yet cater to two very different vibes.

And a nod to Keith Floyd, whose show "Floyd on Food" was one of the all-time best food shows ever made. But then, I've always been a sucker for an accent.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Giada DeLaurentiis: OK, I agree, she's got a nice rack and good teeth, but do they need to be on display constantly?

Giada's rack isn't that nice.

7:29 AM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

Jacques Torres, Marcel Desaulniers: Freakin' geniuses with chocolate. Fun to watch, but you know you're never, ever gonna do anything they're demonstrating.

TRUE.

Alton Brown: Is there anyone more fun than this guy? Part chef, part Ask Dr. Science. For geeks like me who like understanding the Hows and Whys behind everything, Brown is a good half hour of television.

Now you lost me. (No, not in the "I'm taking all of my bookmarks and going home" way.) Alton Brown is forever banned from our home ever since his ill-fated Mac & Cheese recipe (featuring tempered egg - WTF?!). Tyler Florence's recipe saved the day.

Speaking of, no Tyler Florence...? And you call this a review of cooking shows...? :-)

We recently stumbled across that "who is gonna be the next Food Network star" show, and Alton Brown was good on there. I give him credit for coaching the contestants on what FTV is looking for (or not). Great insights into the network itself.

9:05 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

I also tried to talk to Tyler Florence for a story, and the Food Network PR person took THREE WEEKS to get back to me and tell me to contact someone else. The story was already finished by then.

9:07 AM  
Blogger Marc said...

One major problem with cilantro in the US is that it's not quite the same plant, hence a different flavor, as that which grows in Mexico and SE Asia. The same goes for "Italian sweet basil" - the US version is much closer to mint, with a much sharper flavor profile.

But for the anti-cilantro crowd, you have: http://www.ihatecilantro.com

3:35 PM  

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