Sunday, October 30, 2005

Food for Thought

Recently, I was thinking about Julia Child. She’s been gone for just over a year now, and I’m sad to think with all the “celebrity chefs” today, that already she is being forgotten. Julia was the one who brought food—good food, mind you—to television. She cooked what no viewer might ever cook, she had ideas that people may have never considered and, most importantly, she took the level of cuisine in America and brought it up to… to… well, actual cuisine!

I can’t say that Julia herself inspired me to take cooking classes, but her influence upon the food and television industry certainly had an effect upon me. A few weeks ago, I took my first weekend cooking class at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. While I had a wonderful time and learned a lot (I can now confidently cook a whole chicken and have it turn out juicy and delicious, with hardly any effort at all), the best part was talking with the other students about what inspired us to take the classes in the first place.

Every last one of us was inspired by a television show.

While we spoke of our love of food—both eating and cooking… with me, it’s mostly eating, we discussed those shows that held our particular interest of late. I first brought up America’s Test Kitchen* and how much I loved it for the fact that no one on there is “television ready.” They aren’t “pretty” in the TV sense—which means, they are nice, normal people, unlike the Food Network, where everyone is pretty much beautiful.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Food Network. The have some great shows and the drawing power of the star chefs certainly make the network fun to watch, but I can’t say I love all of them the same. Here’s a quick rundown of my impression of Food Network’s “stars.”

Giada De Laurnetiis (Short, cute, big boobs). I’ve written about Giada before. I adore her and her show. Everything she cooks looks delicious and sounds fantastic. I don’t know who her sound people are, but they do a hell of a job.

Paula Dean (big stick o’ butter) With Paula, it always begins with a big stick of butter and the calories go up from there. She’s down home and like everybody’s mama. Even if you don’t like to cook, Paula is fun to watch. If you’re a straight-boy, you’ll probably like Giada better…

Emeril Lagasse (“Bam!”) Am I the only one who can’t stand his show? I cringe every time he says “Bam!” Enough already! He’s a good chef, but the moronic studio audience waits with baited breath for the fucking “Bam!” If he just sat there for the entire show screaming “Bam!” over and over, they’d applaud and beg for more.

Alton Brown (Food Scientist) How I do love his show… he’s like the Bill Nye the Science Guy of food… only far more entertaining. Goofy things happen all the time, strange things appear out of nowhere to make a point, and yet, they don’t feel out of place. I always learn something watching that show (but with my bad memory, I always forget when it comes time to cook…)

Rachel Ray (The Giggler). She is the perfect compliment to Alton Brown’s preciseness, as everything she does is “eh…. Throw a little of this or that in and see what happens.” I have her cookbooks and I enjoy her show—although, I have never completed a 30 minute meal in under 45 minutes (one “30 minute meal” took me over an hour and a half!). I like her—despite the constant giggline—but I don’t like myself for liking her…

Barefoot Contessa (The Good Neighbor) Ina Garten is so sweet and she’s adorable in the sense that you would want her as a neighbor. She cooks and entertains, she’s fun and you know if you ever needed anything, her kitchen would have it. She’s like the kind Martha Stewart: she does so much, but she has this great happy attitude the whole time, you never get the sense she’s thinking she’s better than you (even though she probably is).

Semi-Homemade (canned crap) This is the show that everyone should be watching, because no one (and I mean no one) wants to spend hours cooking something you can shortcut by using something equally good or better from a can. However, Sandra Lee “themes” her show and “decorates” with the tackiest shit ever. By the time the show ends, I want nothing to do with anything she’s concocted. And yet I watch.

Bobby Flay (BBQ) I used to like him, but something about him bothered me and it wasn’t until I met someone in class who actually had met him that I found out: he’s an asshole. He’s arrogant… let’s just stop right there. Arrogant? Why would he have the need to be arrogant? Dude, you fucking barbeque. My dad barbeques. My mom, the gourmet, won’t go near the grill. How can you be an arrogant asshole about barbequing?

Tyler Florence (hipster) and to a lesser extent (a much lesser extent) Jack Hourigan. First, who names a girl Jack? Second, what does she do on the show? She sits there and watches Tyler cook. That’s what I do… and I don’t get paid for it. Tyler is charming and a great chef… but what the fuck is Jack doing besides throwing out “the jokes” that no one ever laughs at… especially me.

The rest of the shows aren’t really worth mentioning. While Dave Lieberman seems like a nice guy, I just can’t get into his show. I love (I mean LOVE) Jim O’Connor and “The Secret Life Of…” it’s not really a cooking show… I also won’t include both versions of The Iron Chef (the badly dubbed original Japanese version and the Iron Chef America, which takes on such challenging cuisine such as “hamburger” and “beef”).

Oh, yeah, then there’s the Low Carb and Lovin’ It (not “Loving it,” but “Lovin’ it”) which is all that Atkins stuff that I can’t stand. If your one of those idiots that loves Atkins so much, then go eat your pound of bacon and shut the hell up, but don’t try and tell me that eggplant instead of pasta is going to somehow taste good…

While I may be taking some hits at The Food Network, I have got to admit, they’ve got a lot of people watching and interested in good food—and that’s fantastic. I just don’t think Rachel Ray’s giggle is worth four (count ‘em FOUR shows on that network).

Back at the CCA we were finishing up our lunch and continuing our discussion of who we hated the most on the Food Network (sorry, Sandra… “Look at me, I’m Sandra Lee, cooking with no dignity…”) we dished while we dined… it was a great time.

It wasn’t until I was driving home that I realized that no one mentioned Julia Child (including myself). I guess fame fades, but legacies live on forever. Ultimately, changing the way America cooks and eats will be her legacy. And, as Julia Child would say, “Fuckin’ A!”**

Now go out there and cook something, damnit (and use a good bit of butter… Julia and Paula will love you for it!)

Bon Apétit!

*They used to be America’s Test Kitchen Live! but the show was taped and never in front of a live audience, that they finally—and wisely—decided to dump the Live! (and that dumb-ass exclamation point)

**Okay, she wouldn’t have said that, but the damn thing was ending on a down note—and I don’t like that… not one bit.


Miladysa said...

No idea who these people are but impressed by the cooking lessons! Going to try and email you a cook book (Jamie Oliver)

JPRESTI said...

I so agree with you on Emeril. He should be BAMMED off the air. And Alton is the BEST.

Giada's boobs are just right, thank you very much.

If you want to talk about boobs that are too big, take a look at Sandra Lee's -- they are sagging down to her waste. The girl needs to sew herself a new bra.

And if you can't get enough of The Giggler, hold on to your E-V-O-O -- she is getting her own syndicated hour long show AND a magazine!

Armchair Cook said...

Just found your blog and I love your take on Food TV. Emeril Live drives me nuts but I love Essence of Emeril because there's no audience and it's so...quiet!

The Low Carb and Lovin' It guy is creepy and the food is nasty.

I've also heard that Bobby Flay is a jerk. Also, he's always puts mango in everything. I have nothing against mangoes, it's just a little extreme to make them a grilling staple.

The cooking classes sound like a lot of fun!

Jesse Buck said...

I love Julia for one simple reason. Of all the fancy foods she loved she always maintained that her favorite treat was French Fries from McDonald's. :-)

I can recall her appearance on Oprah for her birthday a few years back. It was a tribute to her career and as a special surprise Oprah brought her Mickie D's fries and she munched happily away while chatting about French cooking and her career. Priceless!