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« And the Media Circus goes on... (Sujatha) | Main | Quantum Relativity (Norman Costa) »

August 02, 2011


I like "Multo Mario." Now if I can just figure out how to get invited to his show....

Food television certainly deserves a slap in the face, but I don't think Akim gets it quite right. Then again, I haven't really watched this stuff for ages, one of the reasons being my response to my own analysis of the meager choices offered by the genre. Like Akim, I see three broad categories of programming, but they're much more simply characterized as dealing with: 1) cooking, 2) eating, and 3) competing. All three of these are dominated by hosts who are for the most part jerks. But their cloying, pompous, silly mugging and play-acting won't necessarily render their shows valueless. I can handle Emeril, for example, because I have actually learned from watching him prepare a dish. Rachael Ray? Not so much. There's something too cocky about Bobby Flay's TV persona that assures I will never want to dine at one of his restaurants, no matter how widely acclaimed they are. Having actually dined at two of Mario Batali's affords the same assurance respecting his places.

Some shows focus on cooking. In fact, Emeril's does that. (Qualify all of my present tenses to reflect my last having seen these shows a few years ago.) So does Rachael's, to some extent. Others emphasize consumption. Guy Fiero is all about enjoying a local specialty. The rest are contests that have nothing to do with real cooking or eating. Iron Chef is iconic in this regard, as are the shows in which contestants vie to work in a restaurant (or something like that).

Akim's categories seem informed by stereotype or prejudice. There's nothing "exotic" about fine dining, nothing Romantic or inspirational about it. It's an occasional treat for those who can afford it, and watching the preparation of difficult dishes can be instructive. I admit I don't enjoy watching others eat on television, but I don't often observe gluttony. It's obvious that Fiero is consuming just enough to make a hyperbolic point about the succulence of so-and-so's BBQ or spiciness of his muffuletta. He doesn't gorge himself.

As for celebrities, it appears that Akim and I share observations, but class them differently. Of course hosts on a television show acquire celebrity! That's the point from the get-go! Akim discerns a spectrum of athletic capacity manifested by television chefs. I see this theme exploited in the more explicit competition shows. Bourdain confuses him, because he mixes high- and low-brow. For me, it's a simpler call: he's an insufferable blowhard with little to offer by way of appreciation of anything he discusses. He's all about the sound of his own voice essaying a topic and his mediocre pedigree, little about the topic itself.

Finally, and I repeat this for an umpteenth time: I can't tolerate photography of food. It is porn, inasmuch as porn is grotesque, impolite, and disgusting. What is that platter near the top of Akim's post? It looks like a booger-saturated Kleenex aside a gleaming mound of the condiment my 5-year-old son routinely requests when we perform our nightly bedtime "make me into something" ritual: owl poop.

When I think back to the earliest cooking shows that I watched: "Yan Can Cook" and the ever-diffident local PBS host Chris Fenimore, every time there was a fundraiser, it's clear that the 'cooking' scene has definitely exploded over the last few years. I used to watch Emeril for a while, maybe because I liked the 'Bam' and the sense of frenzy he imparted to whatever he was presenting to the audience, but that soon palled.
But Akim's point on watching others eat is, to me, well made. The viewer is dragged willy-nilly into the mind of the host or judge uttering all those hyped up descriptions of how the sourness of the citron balances out the sweetness of the stevia or bewailing the undercooking or overcooking of something or the other. You hear all that, and you start to think that you are missing out on (a) not being able to cook like that (b) not able to eat like that, which of course drives the market for all those cookery books and DVDs.
Guy Fieri may not gorge himself, but his personality and demeanor practically scream out to the viewer that this is one beefy hearty food-lover. He would look ridiculous attacking a dainty morsel carefully adorning a plate crafted by Iron Chef Morimoto. Maybe that is why the more anemic looking food critics show up on Iron Chef as judges.

Ah, yes, I referred to it as "Yankin' Cook."

I recently returned from Philadelphia and Portland, OR. Visiting both cities, I relied extensively on word of mouth recommendations and a bit of independent research for places to dine and watering holes. The results were superior. This is how I see Fieri's job. It goes without saying that he's a food lover, and if his niche is big food, I don't see how that requires that he eschew (pun) dainty food. The show isn't about his culinary propensities or his nutritional condition. I just don't need the showiness of it all, which may merely be a function of my disdain for television.

Anyone who gives cooking lessons knows it's hard to keep the attention of participants -- they are there for too many other reasons than aiming to learn to cook. You had better be a bit of a showman now. This is very discouraging to craftsmanly chefs who just want to show you the nuts and bolts -- as if they were making a table, and you, too, could master the rudiments of carpentry sufficiently to make a table. Never mind the poor chef-artiste, moody and intense and of course obsessed. The whole TV chef thing demands cooks who are hams with high TVQs -- it leaves out a lot of serious and talented people. This is the show kitchen, not the real kitchen, and what you see there has as little to do with culinary arts as rigged wrestling matches have to do with actual sport.

Elatia, your comment reminds me of an anecdote related decades ago by a friend who used to take cooking classes from Giuliano Bugiali in Los Angeles and Florence. Among the attendees were those who really didn't care to learn to cook; they were there to sit at the foot of the (celebrity) master, and to consume the final product. When Bugiali salts his water for boiling pasta or seasons a sauce, he tosses an indiscriminate palm of it into the pot. Those certain attendees would gasp and complain about the level of sodium. Furious, Bugiali would invite them to dine elsewhere and then toss in another fistful.

Good story, Dean! And before TV discovered the subject in a big way, too.

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