Foodnetwork - Where Have You Gone Too?!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Aron McCargo Jr. Adam Gertler. Ted Allen??! Isn't that the Queer Eye guy?? Indeed.
A bountiful resource for culinary knowledge and expertise, Foodnetwork has now grown into the antithesis of Who's Who on the food scene. And it's irritating the hell out of me.
Foodnetwork used to have chefs like Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Bobby Flay. Flay's still there, but only with his Boy Meets Grill reruns that must be five years old now. Currently he has two pointless shows - Throwdown (where he perpetually has a They Don't Pay Me Enough For This Shit look on his face while "challenging" various experts of particular foods) and Grill It - officially the dumbest show on Foodnetwork now. Here he invites some viewer to come to his quite awesome outdoor kitchen on some rooftop in New York and they grill together. Here's the problem: when one of the first episodes is him cooking with his lovely-in-a-dumb-blond-sort-of-way wife Stephanie, and the main ingredient is flank steak which produces a gem like her Flank Steak Tacos with Guacamole, I as a viewer am turned off!

I expect more of Bobby Flay. I ate at Mesa when I lived back east and it was beautiful southwestern-made-chic food. I had a new respect and excited attitude toward the chile pepper. It was there I made friends with the poblano pepper, and we've been good friends ever since. I don't want to see Bobby Flay challenge some random guy from Buffalo to make wings. I could care less if he can make a donut, or which random football fan comes to NY to grill a slice of pineapple next to Flay. I want to see Bobby Flay do what he does best - awesome, flavorful, colorful food vis-a-vis a grill that gets me so excited I run out to my nearest BBQ store and buy a bag of cherry wood and a thick ribeye and make some funky Argentinian sauce that goes on top. I'm sorry - I won't settle for steak tacos with guacamole!!!

Emeril Lagasse. Ok, so never really the best to watch to learn anything. He's a tragic figure in a way - extraordinarily talented, blessed with the ability to do any cuisine, yet gets exploited for one ridiculous catch phrase. Granted, he managed to make an empire off of that one word, but still. I think Foodnetwork both made him and ruined him at the same time. Anthony Bourdain is right - his true talent is totally obscured by the absurdity of B-A-M. I've eaten at his restaurant Delmonico in Las Vegas. It was one of the most enjoyable and memorable meals of my life. But when I think of Emeril I think (1) new orleans and (2) goofy bam guy. And that's sad, because the son of a bitch can really cook.

Mario Batali. This is probably the saddest casualty of the Foodnetwork Factory. By far, in my humble opinion, the most intellectual and educated of all the chefs ever featured on the cable channel. I don't think as a culture we've grasped just how important Batali is to the culinary world. And sadly, we won't know until he's gone (and judging by that gut, that time might unfortunately come sooner than later). His book Molto Italiano is an encyclopedia of Italian cooking. A history book, an art book, a very important piece to any true student of food's kitchen arsenal. I used to watch his show Molto Mario every day at 10 am and marveled at how before my eyes he made fresh pasta. He almost made it seem possible. And then a wave of his magic trunk-like arms and a lamb ragu appears. And then something with artichokes - always fresh, never jarred - would mystically appear out of a cloud of steam from a pot like Avalon. He saved Italian cuisine in a way, by showing non-Guidos like myself that there was more (way more) to Italian food than a messy red sauce and big clumsy meatballs. I never had a meatball. I always had cannon ammunition until I went to his restaurant Babo. There, I was reborn and in my new life I was Italian.

I've said many times before I don't consider myself a "foodie." Although I have referred to myself as such in the past, I hate that word now. I am a student of food. I am not worthy to wear a chef's coat (save my Iron Chef apron and matching hat because it makes for a hell of a picture). I don't pretend to even come close to what a classically trained chef knows. I secretly hope to one day, but as of this day, I'm a huge admirer of food and I've been shot by Bacchus' arrow. I took to the original Foodnetwork shows very seriously. That was my second real education to food (my first being of course, home cooking and my Grandma). It was by watching all the chefs I learned to chop an onion quickly, smash the whole garlic, skin and all, and then chop for a more efficient mince, how to break down a chicken, how to make a roux, what mignonette meant, and why it's important to never overwork a dough. And what do I have now?
I can learn how to make a "table-scape" from that semi-talented Sandra Lee. She's 20% talent, 80% boobs and blond hair. I can learn to say "guacamole" with a cute accent from Ingrid Hoffman. I can't knock her too much though, considering she's Colombian and hell - at least they finally put a latino of some type on the damn channel. I can watch some talented-in-a-weird-way pastry chef blow up a six foot dinosaur made entirely of cake. Rachel Ray (AAAAARG!!!!) every three hours, some new asshole who won The Next Foodnetwork Star who (surprise!) makes shitty food and teaches me goes on and on. At least they still have Ina. And Giada. And even though their shows are mostly reruns, I still find comfort in seeing their faces and watching them cook. And Ted Allen??? The Queer Eye dude? Seriously, what the hell is he doing on foodnetwork??! Some idiotic show about testing culinary old wives tales or something to that effect. I guess they felt the need to legitimize him considering he's a recurring moron on Iron Chef. Seriously - if I have to hear him blubber his way through a critique on a Batali dish one more time, with that look on his face like not even he buys what bullshit's coming out of his mouth...

All the new stuff isn't all bad. I really like The Neelys - they're cute, make great food and I'm learning a lot about good old home cookin'. They're what Paula Deen used to be. Now she's just a puffy marshmallow with the apparent sex drive of a rabbit who's paid to flirt with her guest-du-jour on her Paula's Party show. She used to be like my Grandma - learn to make simple food that tastes amazing, and you'd come away from that half hour feeling happier about life and good about yourself, like you just had a good pep talk that ended with a cookie. Now she just makes me uncomfortable.

Why did they have to ruin a good thing? Why did they have to sell out and make it about superficial stupid stuff? Why did they have to dumb it down for us idiot Americans? Why couldn't they give us the benefit of the doubt and actually be the network they could be? Because apparently that doesn't make money.

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