Thursday, January 14, 2010

On Cooking and TV.

My name is Mike, and I have a problem. [Hi Mike!]

I'm a cooking/food show addict. It started early in life. I've enjoyed cooking since I was old enough to work the stove, and for some reason that transferred over food programming on television. When I was a kid, it wasn't a really serious issue. See, back in those olden days (the 80s) there was no Food Network. I was stuck trying to catch stuff on PBS. Most food programming was on in the early afternoon, so I would maybe catch the Frugal Gourmet when I got home from school, maybe Graham Kerr if I was home sick (or more often when I was on summer break), or Martin Yan, Paul Prudhomme, Julia Child or Cooking Secrets of the CIA on Saturday afternoons. Seriously, there couldn't have been too many metal head kids watching this crap, but I was hooked early and would watch fairly often.

Then the Food Network entered my life. After moving out of my parents house, I never lived anywhere with cable (until now), but when I was at their house, I'd spend hours watching Iron Chef Japan, The Naked Chef, Boy Meets Grill, East Meets West, Good Eats, Molto Mario, Emeril (before Emeril became a celeb with Emeril Live). One year, my mom taped about 24 hours worth of Food Network programming and gave it to me as an Xmas gift. Back at home, I'd still try to catch the weekend programming on PBS. More Martin Yan, Lidia Bastianich, Jacques Pepin. Whatever was on, I'd watch.

Now we have cable and there is still some pretty great programming: Iron Chef America, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, Good Eats, Tyler's Ultimate, plus a few others. I have to admit, though, my interest in waning. Gone are the days of watching Food Network for hours at a time. It seems that the network is in the process of ditching the concept of giving a great chef a cooking show and letting him work his magic. Most of the the rest of the programming fits into a couple categories. First is a seemingly endless run of bizarre competitions, with none of the dynamics of Iron Chef. Throwdown is a complete waste of Flay's talents. Food Network Challenge seems to usually be just cake decorating competitions, often often based on Disney characters, for some reason. Just how many freaking Shrek cakes does the world really need? Up next is "reality programming", like Ace of Cakes. They don't really show you any technique or anything. They just get a job and make something. They seem like people I'd like to hang out with, but I don't get the appeal of the program. Finally, the rest of the network is filled with bubbly, sort of annoying "cooks", that make simple dishes from mundane products. Rachel Ray, Paula Dean, Guy "Guilty Pleasure" Fieri, and Sandra "So Bad It Is Good TV" Lee, I'm looking in your general direction, although there are plenty of others offenders.  At least it looks like they finally gave "them Dean boys" the axe...yeesh.

Anyway, this is mostly my way of promoting two relatively new programs on the Network: Worst Cooks in America and Chopped. Both are competition shows. Chopped is essentially a spin-off of Iron Chef, with four chefs going head to head to make the best appetizer, entree, and dessert using secret ingredients. After each dish is served, a set of judges eliminates a chef until there is one winner. The secret ingredients are often a little strange and there is a pretty limited time limit for each dish. I really love watching these pros try to throw something together, highlighting the secret ingredients, with absolutely no prep time.

Worst Cooks started by identifying some painfully incompetent folks, then setting them into a competition with some training from some pros. At the end, the two that are left will go head to head against a panel of judges...but the judges are under the impression that it is professional chefs making the meals. I like the show, because the chefs have a very limited time to get these guys ready, and in some sense, their reputation is "on the line". In the end, everyone will know it wasn't them making the dishes for the competition, but it's still interesting. I'm regularly surprised watching, realizing how lucky I am that I learned at least some basic technique when I was younger. After only two episodes, I'm starting to get an idea of who is going to make it through, because of the focus on certain people, but we'll see. I'm still rooting for the punk rocker girl from Philly, but I have a feeling she's gonna get the cut from Ann's team.

Yeah! Food!!

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