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Apparently, It’s the New "Black"
Tuesday, October 31, 2006 | posted by Mike

Iron Chef AmericaThe Village Voice is the official arbiter of what is trendy, hip and cosmopolitan (at least we assume that, we don’t read it). So, when they weigh in with a headline like “Being Nice to Rachael Ray is so Trendy,” maybe there is something there!

Actually, not so much. The post is just a rehash of a couple of recent articles, one in Slate and one in The New York Times cutting Rachael some slack for being, by her own admission, “not a gourmet chef.”

So, why the post? Because it gives me an excuse to bring up the fact that they’ve been running spots on the Food Network for the Rachael & Mario vs. Giada & Bobby tag-team match up on Iron Chef America! The showdown is set for November 12th and it looks like all of the participants are having a grand old time in the commercials. If nothing else, it will be fun to watch Mario stare blankly at Rachael when she asks him to pass the EVOO.

One quibble. Bobby, Mario and Giada are all sporting the silk jackets, but Rachael is in some sort of black get-up. What’s the deal? I know she’s “not a gourmet chef,” but you would have thought they would have given her something that doesn’t scream “I’m the one who didn’t attend culinary school!”

Hey…could be worse, she could have worn the outfit pictured in the Village Voice post.

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Crumbs – 10/31/06

Happy Halloween!

I'm sure you all missed them soooooo much last week, so here are the Crumbs…
  • I know that Emeril Lagasse caught some flak for not doing enough for New Orleans post-Katrina, but his “Carnivale du Vin” just raised $2.5 million for kids in the Crescent City.

  • And Gordon Ramsay pitches in to help the homeless.

  • The Hungry Detective’s Chris Gognac gives the Los Angeles Daily News some tips on finding good meals.

  • Rocco Dispirito tells TheStreet.com about his latest adventures while on the road promoting his latest cookbook, Rocco’s 5 Minute Flavor.

  • Only the hardest hitting news from our friends in the UK: Jamie Oliver’s wife wants another baby.



Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday, Who Could Hang a Name on You?

Ruby TuesdayWell, apparently the name that we can hang on them is “sponsor of Iron Chef America.”

Broadcast Newsroom is reporting that the casual dining chain has entered into an agreement with Scripps to sponsor two series, ICA on the Food Network and Design Star on Home & Garden Television.
"We welcome Ruby Tuesday as a new sponsor on our networks and look forward to working with the company to get its message out to our audiences, which are ideal for Ruby Tuesday," said Steve Gigliotti, executive vice president of ad sales for Scripps Networks.
This is interesting news, especially on the heels of the Tyler Florence/Applebee’s alliance that has been heavily promoted by that restaurant in the past few months. Again, we see a casual dining outlet looking to align itself with foodie television.

This is a bit of an odd pairing, however, particularly when you think about the Tyler arrangement. Applebee’s menu is a little bit of this and a little bit of that, much like Tyler’s dishes on his shows. Ruby Tuesday’s menu hits many of the same burgers/ribs/chicken notes, so it will be interesting to see how that fits in with the classically trained chefs, fancy preparations and plating and out-of-the-ordinary ingredients used on ICA.

I’m sure we’ll hear a bit of rumbling about this, and I suppose that giving a “sponsorship” status to a company in the food business opens one up to that. But in a day and age where every college football bowl game has a corporate sponsor, this sort of thing has become a fait accompli. And if we start putting “taste” requirements on the food products that buy space on FN, I have a feeling that would take a considerable chunk out of their advertising roster. (The word “Velveeta” comes to mind.)

But, let’s not a have next season’s competition taking place in the “Ruby Tuesday’s Kitchen Stadium,” OK?

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Mario Batali's LA Restaurants Coming Soon
Monday, October 30, 2006 | posted by Mike

Mario BataliLong-time readers of TVFF.com may remember an update we posted a while back about some slow-going with the construction at Mozza/Osteria del Latte, Mario Batali’s new Los Angeles restaurants.

It looks like some progress has been made. It also looks like they may have renamed the two restaurants, which appear to be going by the names Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza. Now, The Food Section has a post stating that we are only days away from the opening of Pizzeria.

Any members of the TVFF.com reader armada who live out in the Los Angeles are more than welcome to submit a review of the new places. Be sure to send it along to us at tvfoodfan@gmail.com and we’ll be happy to give you the credit!



A Good Samaritan at the Food Network?
Sunday, October 29, 2006 | posted by Mike

Obviously, we love doing big things like show reviews and interviews here at TVFF.com, but we still get a kick out of finding some of the random things that we often come across on the Internet.

One of the great things about the web is that it gives anyone a platform to reach out to people. Of course, you’ve always been able to sit down and write a letter or call an 800 number, but the Internet allows you to put it out there for everyone to see. You’re able to do it in a public forum that increases your chances of finding someone that might be able to help you out.

A few days ago, we came across a post from Karl Smith, who posts as “Captain Obvious” on the PhillyBurbs.com site. (Seriously, though, we promise we aren’t turning into an all-Philly-all-the-time site!) In the post, Karl includes an open letter to the Food Network wherein he outlines his son’s love of the Network in general and of Iron Chef America in particular.
But of all the shows he loves to watch, one reigns supreme - Iron Chef America. He loves it. I know you have hardcore fanatics across the country who watch the show and simulate its environment. I’ve read all about them on your Web site and have seen the commercials highlighting their fanaticism. That being said, there’s something about a 9-year-old being wide-eyed about the show that is, I think, particularly endearing.
Karl tried to get tickets for himself, his son and his son’s friend to a taping of ICA, but was “disappointed to learn that the general public was not allowed to attend, only guests of the Iron Chefs and challengers.”

Like I said, the nice thing about the ‘net is that you always have a chance, and it looks like someone involved with the Network stumbled across the entry. Below the main post was a comment:
I work at the Food Network....and I sent this along to one of our producers. While I can't get you tickets for the round we are taping now, we can try for the next round of taping in August/Sept. Contact me, and I'll fwd your information to the right person.
I have no idea if Karl’s quest will be successful, but it’s nice to see that there’s someone trying to help him out.

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The Hungry Detective: The Philadelphia Story
Friday, October 27, 2006 | posted by Mike

PhiladelphiaHey, everyone! Sorry about the lack of posts over the past few days, but I was away on business. I’m back now, so expect things to pick right back up. Coincidentally, I was on business in Philadelphia at the same time that The Hungry Detective was airing its Philadelphia episode.

As we found out in our interview earlier this week, Chris Cognac is about as genuinely “real” as anyone you’re ever going to find on television. We’re not just saying that because he was nice enough to take the time to talk to us (although that’s true!), but rather because of things like the fact that he loves both taco stands and fine wine. I’m a big believer that is more “real” than a fussy Martha Stewart-type or the faux-populism that others sometimes lapse into.

And that is also the great thing about Philadelphia. I was telling a fellow conference attendee that the thing I love about Philly is that the iconic symbol of the town is the quintessentially blue-collar Rocky running up the steps of one of the great fine arts institutions in the country.

The beat that Cognac walks in the Philadelphia episode definitely skews toward the blue-collar, although hand-made gelato certainly hints at the refined tastes that are often overlooked by those who scoff at the thought of using Cheez Whiz. By the way, I happened to pass that same gelato place, Capogiro the other day and a companion said, “They have the best gelato in the city.” And, I just found out that they supply the gelato to the Whole Foods near me, so I guess I can vouch for it personally!

As is always the case when it comes to Philly, the conversation turned to the cheesesteak. Of course, our preference is well-known, but Chris Cognac captures the authentic sandwich very well at Steve’s. And, just as he said in our interview, it really is all about the bread. Although, using quality rib eye probably helps, too. He got Philly pretty well, which is saying something when you’re talking about a guy from Southern California.

The thing we really like about THD is its embrace of variety. Upscale and downscale, local and international, city and suburbs. That seeming paradox is a lot of fun, and it’s evident in spades with both Chris Cognac and Philadelphia.



TVFF.com Exclusive: Part Three of our Interview with The Hungry Detective's Chris Cognac
Wednesday, October 25, 2006 | posted by Mike

Thanks for coming to TVFoodFan.com! The whole interview is now available. Enjoy!



The Over/Under on Clog Jokes is 243
Tuesday, October 24, 2006 | posted by Mike

Anyone in the New York area who enjoys a good roasting and would like to help out a worthy charity (Food Bank For New York City) should check out “Roasted, Battered and Fried,” a celebrity roast of chef Mario Batali which is taking place during the New York Comedy Festival. The Courier News has the full run-down of the event, including a list of the guests.
A star-studded lineup will be on hand to take part in the festivities. Joining Batali will be "The Sopranos" stars James Gandolfini, Michael Imperioli and Johnny Ventimiglia, actor Stanley Tucci, chefs Emeril Lagasse and Anthony Boudain, comics Mario Cantone, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Artie Lange, Nick DiPaolo and Greg Giraldo and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" stars Thom Filicia and Ted Allen. Comic-actress Sarah Silverman will provide tips on roasting etiquette.
Yes, there will be some of the culinary heavy hitters in the room, with both Emeril Lagasse and Anthony Bourdain attending. Please, please, please sit them next to each other on the dais. That could well be worth the price of admission. I’d try to get as much liquor in to Tony as possible and try to goad him into calling Emeril an “Ewok” to his face.

However, if you have ever seen the Comedy Central celebrity roasts, you know that the star of the evening will undoubtedly end up being Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog. Triumph and his “handler” Robert Smigel are responsible for what I believe may be one of the funniest moments ever on television, which you can check out below.

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TVFF.com Exclusive: Part Two of our Interview with The Hungry Detective's Chris Cognac
Monday, October 23, 2006 | posted by Mike

Thanks for coming to TVFoodFan.com! The whole interview is now available. Enjoy!



A Home-Cooked Italian Meal

Gourmet's Diary of a FoodieIf you had a chance to catch Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie this weekend, there was a great segment that aired as part of an episode centered on the cuisine of Italy. Actually, all of the segments were good (one on a restaurant in Rome’s Jewish neighborhood and one on a restaurant in a rural village).

But the really cool piece was about Home Foods, a program that allows tourists to have a home-cooked meal in the home of an Italian host. The reasoning here is that, although the restaurants in Italy are fantastic, it’s a different kind of cooking than what takes place in the home (makes sense…I’m not usually cooking Spice Cured Long Island Duck Breast for dinner at home). In order to share the experience of the home-cooked meal, the program (for a “moderate fee”) hooks up travelers with a host who goes out shopping for fresh ingredients and puts together a meal for a group of what appeared to be six or eight guests.

Anybody who is planning a trip to Italy in the near future (sadly, not me) can get more information at the Home Foods site. If anyone out there has tried this service and would like to let us know about your experience, be sure to leave a comment below. Rest assured, I’ll be looking into this once Soon-To-Be Mrs. TVFF.com finally takes me to Italy.

Also…stay tuned for part two of our interview with Chris Cognac, which should go up late tonight.



TVFF.com Exclusive: An Interview with The Hungry Detective's Chris Cognac
Sunday, October 22, 2006 | posted by Mike

Chris CognacWe’ve had a couple of previews of the newest show on the Food Network, The Hungry Detective (in fact, here are 1, 2 and 3). Those posts have given you plenty of info about Chris Cognac, the 14-year veteran of the Hawthorne, California police force and food writer for The Daily Breeze and on the Internet. After appearing on Feasting on Asphalt and as a judge on Iron Chef America, Chris began working on his own show, which takes him to a new city each episode in search of off-the-beaten-path cuisine.

Mr. Cognac took time out of his busy police officer/food writer/TV star schedule to speak with TVFF.com via phone from Los Angeles.

TVFoodFan.com: So, what is it like now that the show has premiered?

Chris Cognac: It’s almost surreal because I’ve been pretty much working nonstop since its inception right after Iron Chef. Right after Iron Chef taped was when we started moving on the show, doing a demo and then having that repeated and doing a pilot, which, actually, Vegas is the pilot. And that was the first TV I ever have done, the Las Vegas show.

And, you know, it’s almost surreal, it’s just kind of weird. But it’s neat, people come up to me now, even in uniform and I find it’s nice, as a policeman, to be able to approach people or people approach me and really break down that barrier. And everybody has food in common.

TVFF: Every foodie has a moment when food goes from being something they enjoy to being a passion. When did that happen for you?

CC: You know, it was gradual. There was no defining moment, although I did have a defining moment with the wine, which is when I had a bottle of Malbec, Santa Julia Malbec that was fantastic. And it made me a wine freak.

But, food-wise…I guess, when I was on a radio call with my partner and we went into this halal meat market and they were arguing over the meat being halal and not halal. So that amazed me that two 24 year old Caucasian policemen were determining what was halal between these two old, Muslim guys. But the food was phenomenal. A place called al Watan, this Pakistani market which is a dump, but the inside was beautiful and the food was gorgeous.

And it hit me there that, wow, food could be so much more than hamburgers. And I’ve always been a food guy, but I liked the generic “white guy” food groups. And Japanese food, because I live in an area with a lot of Japanese. But that was essentially it.

Then I moved up to detective and had to do a little bit more to keep my mind off things. I was a sex crimes and child abuse investigator, so I dealt with pretty horrific things. I needed something else to keep my mind on. So that’s how the writing came about.

TVFF: You are very active on the Internet, including your site and the many message boards to which you contribute. How has the Internet had an impact on your writing and restaurant exploration?

CC: The Internet is the number one research tool besides your friends, and if you don’t have a lot of friends, the Internet is the best thing. I think, because it gives the common person the ability to be a food critic. I think most people will research the Internet before they research newspapers about where they want to go.

And it’s been fantastic for me because I’ve been able to make fantastic contacts with people. I’m a big networking guy, whether it’s doing police stuff or food things.

And, you know, places like eGullet, Good Eats Fan Page and ChowHound have been fantastic. You know, my only problem is when they’re overly moderated. Some of them are great and it has really meant a lot.

TVFF: I suppose you had some level of anonymity when you wrote only for The Daily Breeze. But now you’re on TV. How do you deal with being recognized...both in restaurants and in the squad car?

CC: Well, the best part is that most of the places that I review don’t watch the Food Network, so they don’t know who I am. You know, they’re mom and pop taco shops and little halal Pakistani places.

High end dining? Yeah, of course, I’m not going to be able to go into a lot of places and be anonymous. But that’s fine because I don’t really review, per se, in the newspaper, high end dining. Merrill Shindler does that and was here before me.

But I’m a big fan of sous chefs. Sous chefs rule, in my opinion. And I’m always for giving sous chefs their due. I mean especially young, hot, up and coming chefs. I did a big article on guys in Las Vegas who are just top chefs in their field and they’re 25, 26 years old. One of them, Adam Sobel, from the show, is running Guy Savoy. And, the other guy, David Varley from Bradley Ogden. And Brian Ogden, Bradley’s son. Gerald Chin of The Mansion at MGM and Sean Griffin of Nero's.

I’ve had tasting menus there that are just unbelievable. And these guys are 25 or 26 years old and they’re basically running the kitchens at the top restaurants.

TVFF: So, I guess you’re kind of motivated by discovering and revealing, whether it’s a small place or a person who is under the radar at the big place?

CC: Totally. If I can give that guy a boost that will make him on another level, totally. And, so, now I scout young sous chefs all over the country. And I’ve submitted guys to Iron Chef and helped get guys on that. I’m all about pushing the levels up.

I like to get these guys because they’re the ones who toil every night. They’re the ones who are really making your dinner when you go to fine dining, and I’m all about throwing a bone to any of these guys. Not a bone, but putting their names out there. They’re tomorrow’s super-chefs.

Don’t jump on the bandwagon, you know? Lead the bandwagon, pull the bandwagon and create it.

The Hungry DetectiveTVFoodFan.com: You have mentioned how much work filming The Hungry Detective is.

Chris Cognac: You could say that!

TVFF: Tell us a little bit about what goes in to putting together an episode, particularly when it comes to you and your staff scouting a new city.

CC: We have to go and do a lot of research. We find foodies in the area or we do research on the local food scene for whatever city we pick. We figure out what kind of food we want to have because we don’t want to have five shows on hamburgers at five places.

But, since we do five, we want it to be varied. And, since it’s a two-day format, we try to stick to “breakfast, lunch and dinner/breakfast and lunch.” We also try to hit one kind of “ethnic-y” restaurant and then one nicer one and we do a bit of breakfast. We want to target those things.

We need to make sure those places are good and a lot of foodies will help us out. For instance, a guy named Greg Wilson from Good Eats Fan Page did a bunch of research for us on Atlanta. A couple other guys did, too. They took pictures and sent them to us, which really helps in choosing what we want to do.

And then, you know, we’ll just go for it. We get there and, most of the time, we’ve made ourselves known, “Hey, we heard about your restaurant and we going to come film it.” And then we’ll talk to the owners and make sure that they’re going to be personable and into doing this.

But, sometimes, we’ve actually dumped restaurants and gone to other ones. So we’re pretty flexible when it comes to that. But if we see something that’s really “kick-butt,” and we need to go there, we’ll just go.

TVFF: So it’s a pretty mobile operation that you run?

CC: Well, it’s mobile, but we have a crew of anywhere from eight to nine people. We have two cameras, the lighting guy – that’s why our food looks so good. We have great food porn. And it gets better from Vegas, trust me. The food looks delicious. And our camera guys are phenomenal. There’s a guy named Eric Smith who is the “B” camera guy who does all of the food shots…he’s just – he’s the king. He gets in there close to the steaming cauldrons of boiling sauces and everything. It scares me to death.

TVFF: Does he get hazard pay?

CC: Yeah, I’m telling you, man, you need it! Some of the kitchens were slippery.

But that’s why our food looks so good. It’s lit really well. We have great lighting and the guys really worked their butts off.

TVFF: We know that Alton Brown is a friend of yours…what other food TV programs do you watch?

CC: It’s kind of funny because I was watching the Food Network for years and then, when I got to make Food Network TV, I never get to watch it anymore. Because I was making it, and the shoots are 12, 14 hours a day. And so I’d get home to the hotel, I’m so tired. And it’s one in the morning and I’m like, “Damn, it’s only reruns!”

But, one of the shows I’m a really big fan of is The Thirsty Traveler Kevin Brauch’s show. Kevin’s a super-nice guy, by the way, and his show is beautiful. Another show I really like is The Wandering Golfer. I mean – gorgeous! And how rough it is to work with golf courses and shoot them well?

But, obviously, I love Good Eats. I love Alton’s stuff. You know, Giada, I think Giada’s show is absolutely beautiful. It’s so well shot and she’s very eloquent and her food is fantastic. I haven’t seen the new show, but I love Nigella. She makes food so sensuous.

Then, of course, I love Iron Chef America – I’m obsessed with it, and I’m so disappointed that I can’t judge anymore. But, hopefully, I can still squeeze myself into the "Ohta Faction" role and demand that my sous chefs go challenge the Iron Chefs. Maybe when I get a little more juice I can hit up Bruce Seidel for some of my sous chefs as challengers.

The Hungry DetectiveTVFoodFan: You were just in TVFF.com’s neck of the woods and we have lots of visitors from the Philadelphia area. What was your culinary impression of the Quaker City?

Chris Cognac: Bread. It was all about bread, and what you can put on bread. We did the working man’s thing. We hooked up with a guy named Holly Moore from HollyEats.com, who is a fantastic Philadelphia food resource. We used his assistance and then we just cruised around on our own a bit. We went to Johnny’s Hots and had the Philly surf and turf, which is a fish cake mashed onto a sausage on a role. It was fantastic.

We went to Mezza Luna and I had the ricotta gnocchi. That’s a good one there. We got that lead from the DiBruno Bros., a cheese store down in the Italian Market.

We went to Sarcone’s as well, but it’s not going to be on the Philly episode. We have like eight or nine segments that are extra from the season that we felt that we’re going to see if we can hopefully wrap up into one show at the end.

TVFF: Or maybe they make it onto the web?

CC: Yeah, something like that. We want to make sure they get exposure.

We went to some other places, too. You know, the best part of me and food is that I’m not a food snob. I’m just as comfortable eating a tasting menu as I am eating a Philly surf and turf. As long as you like it, it’s good.

It’s like that with wine. It doesn’t matter about the cost of it. If you think it’s a good wine, then you know what, damn it, it’s a good bottle of wine!

TVFF: How do you hunt for wine? How does that work for the non-expert?

CC: If you’re not a wine expert, and you don’t really have an advanced knowledge, I wouldn’t spend more than $15 on a bottle of wine. Probably more than $10. I went years and only bought $10 bottles of wine because I couldn’t tell the difference between an $80 bottle of wine and a $15 bottle of wine, so why not buy a $15 bottle and then you have $65 left over for filet mignon, which I can tell the difference on?

And I did a lot of training. You can train yourself with wine. You can have a tasting party. You drink several bottles of the same varietal, a Cabernet or whatever, and you’ll see the differences. Especially if you bag them and make it a blind tasting. I hold blind tastings down here a lot with my friends – we have a big group and it’s fantastic, it’s really fun to do.

And you learn a lot and really develop your palate. Again, wine is great and wine is good for you. At least that’s what I tell myself.

TVFF: I get the feeling you’re not the kind of guy who goes to the concierge for dining tips.

CC: You know what, actually I do. For any meal, I go for multiple sources of intelligence. We just hit up a concierge the other day. The concierge is like a little mini-detective. They’re great, but if there is a concierge and there’s a guy working on the street outside, I’ll ask them both, see what they say, and if they both say the same place, then you know, damn, that place is good.

TVFF: Other than the concierge, who are the best folks to ask?

CC: By far, the cops. Firemen can cook, so they don’t know where to eat. Cops always know where to eat.

Cops are good, and look at the street guys, like the water guys, because they really go over a large area doing the water mains and they’re out and about working every day. They’ve got to know the coolest spots. The gas men, the FedEx guys – the FedEx guys are good. And UPS, not to be…

TVFF: You don’t play favorites when it comes to that.

CC: No, not at all. But those guys are great, too, because they know the neighborhood. Anybody who goes inside a bunch of businesses. Cops go inside because they have radio calls, FedEx guys go inside because they deliver packages.

The thing is that you have to step inside the door and take that risk. Most people drive right by. Certain people will go in the door. That’s the difference between us and them.



Dinner & Unbelievable Coolness
Friday, October 20, 2006 | posted by Mike

All right, kids. After all the talk of cheesesteaks this week, how am I going to top off my Friday? With a trip to one of the top restaurants in New Jersey, of course. It's The Frog and The Peach for me. Yes, I'm just one big paradox.

But, I did want to tantalize you with a little bit of info. Next week we will be rolling out something that is precisely 43 times cooler than anything we've done on TVFF.com. Trust me, it's going to be good. You're just going to have to wait to find out what it is, but I guarantee that you'll want to check it out. Be sure to swing by on Monday for more.

Cheesesteak Throwdown Recap

Tony Luke, Jr.I’m hoping that everyone had a chance to see last night’s episode, because I do think it was a lot of fun. I know that I have a bit of a bias on this item because it is the Philly cheesesteak, but I always end up enjoying Throwdown a lot more than I think I will. I guess that is because, for all of Bobby’s “slickness,” everyone seems to have a lot of fun on this show.

If you haven’t seen the show and don’t want to have the ending spoiled, best to look away now.

Adam had a comment a few days back about Bobby’s chances and I put up a response. As I said at the time, the cheesesteak is a uniquely Philadelphia institution, and it was going to be tough for anyone to come in and beat a local favorite. There are plenty of regional dishes like barbecue and chili and pizza and chowder, but the cheesesteak goes beyond “regional” to “local,” and this is something that Bobby mentioned in his intro, saying something about the Chicago hot dog and the Philly cheesesteak. I think he hit the nail on the head with that, and that was why he knew he was up against a tough situation.

Also, not to pat myself on the back, but the show did spend a lot of time on what I have always said is the most important part of the sandwich, the bread. Bobby said it was vital, as did Tony Luke. I wasn’t aware that Tony Luke’s bakes their own rolls, but I can attest to the fact that they are soft in the middle but with a nice crust, just as described.

They picked a great setting on a beautiful day, with Independence Hall in the background. I’m still not why Bobby was driving down the Ben Franklin Parkway towards the Art Museum (i.e. the exact opposite direction of Independence Mall), but I’m guessing that was for the obligatory “Philly flavor” shot of the Museum. At least he didn’t run up the steps.

You got a pretty good idea of what the cheesesteak is all about in the first half, and the simple “Whiz wit” is my favorite way to go, but you had to know that both of them would do something a little special. I think Bobby was actually right when he said that he was including too many ingredients…I would have ditched the mushrooms. I understand the layering, but I don’t think they were necessary.

Truth be told, I’ve never had Tony Luke’s Italian. I have, however, had their chicken cutlet with broccoli rabe, and it was fantastic.

Like I said, it came as absolutely no surprise when Tony Luke, Jr. pulled it off. This was local pride that we were talking about. And, as Bobby said, “You can’t let a New York City boy beat you at cheesesteak!”



Madeline of Everything Rachael Ray Interviewed on FoodCandy
Thursday, October 19, 2006 | posted by Mike

Madeline of Everything Rachael RayAnyone who spends time looking at blogs about food TV should know about Madeline’s Everything Rachael Ray.

And, if you want to know a little bit more about the woman behind the site, FoodCandy has an interview with Madeline. It’s got everything you would want to know about Madeline and her site, including how she came to be the Rachael Ray authority on the Internet.

She also makes a great point about not getting mixed up in the back-and-forth craziness that Rachael Ray inspires on the Web:
If I were to bait them, I think it would be pretty boring: "Rachael Ray rocks!" "No, she sucks!" "No, she rocks!" There's really no point, so I just plod along, doing my own thing and sharing recipes and news that interests me.
Madeline is one of the best writers in the food blog space, so you should definitely be checking out this interview and her site.

P.S…Not to toot my own horn, but you can still check out the interview I gave FoodCandy a few months back.

The First Rule of Reality-Competition Shows...

Top Chef…is that you do not talk about reality-competition shows. Sorry, I’m thinking of Fight Club.

No, the first rule of reality-competition shows is:
Don’t bother trying to figure it out for at least three weeks. Just enjoy the pretty colors.
I watched the season premier of Top Chef last night (thanks, Bravo, for the 11:00 pm start time!) and it basically confirmed three things that we already knew.
  1. Padma Lakshmi is good looking.

  2. There will be a “villain” on the show this season. In fact, you could even vote on who it’s going to be by text messaging your choice to blah, blah, blah...

  3. About 75% of the contestants on this type of show are the equivalent of the red-suited Away Team members on Star Trek. They are completely devoid of distinguishing characteristics and destined for an early departure. In other words, don’t bother to learn their names.
I really won’t have the patience or memory recall to be able to sort out who is who until we winnow the crowd down a bit. Feel free to dish in the comments if you feel strongly about anything that happened.

We spent a grand total of about three minutes before we jumped into our first competition, in which everyone had to flambé a dish. It’s good to know that I’m officially more qualified than one of the contestants because I’m aware of the fact that you don’t flambé with red wine. I would say that her time on the show would be a “flash in the pan,” but, alas, there was no flash in her pan.

I’m not sure if you saw the episode or not, but the one with the ridiculous hair was eliminated. What’s that? You didn’t see it and I’m a jerk for ruining it? Trust me, the final elimination included three out of four contestants with ridiculous hair, so that really wasn’t a spoiler.

Soon-to-Be Mrs. TVFF.com watches America’s Next Top Model at 8:00, which is basically Top Chef with couture instead of cuisine. Now we have TC moving to 10:00. Not the most nutritious bread for my Lost sandwich, but it will do.



Crumbs – 10/18/06
Wednesday, October 18, 2006 | posted by Mike

A big congrats goes out to Madeline over at Everything Rachael Ray for her awesome new site design. We are officially jealous, since our own redesign plans seem to be in a state of perpetual hibernation. We’ll get around to it some day.

Be sure to take a spin over to food network addict and check out the story about his trip to Charm City Cakes down in Baltimore. JRS even scored a picture with Mary Alice, the object of his unofficial (or has it become officially sanctioned and incorporated?) fan club.

In other news…
  • Tyler Florence gives a Q&A to the Philadelphia Daily News.

  • Gordon Ramsay is out of the British version of Hell’s Kitchen, but still apparently "adored" by millions of Americans.

  • And, just in time for Halloween, Gordon is named “TV’s scariest celebrity.”

  • Here comes a new season of Top Chef.

  • Scripps is doing well, and the cable division keeps chugging along, with Food Network putting up boffo numbers! (I have always wanted to use the word “boffo.”)

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The Hungry Detective Premiers

The Hungry DetectiveThe first episode of The Hungry Detective is in the books and we’re actually going to hold off on reviewing it. Why? Because next week, Det. Cognac will be pounding the pavement in the City of Brotherly Love. Since Philly is the TVFF’s hometown, I’ll be able to give you a better look at the show and, well, I just think it will be more fun that way. Plus, I have it on very good authority that “the Philly show kicks a#@!” (We try to keep TVFF.com a family website)

I will say this, though:

I’m certainly not a hater of Rachael Ray (there are websites for that if you’re interested), but $40 a Day was never one of my favorites. Mostly, I think, because I never really got the feeling that Rachael had found that cool little restaurant. Not to cast aspersions on her authenticity, but I never bought the concept that Rachael was walking around the city and stumbled upon her spots.

With Chris Cognac, the believability factor is much higher. He doesn’t come from Central Casting, and you believe him when he says, as he did in one of the preview clips (click on “Sneak Peek”) on the Food Network site, “I’m just a guy.” It certainly seems to be true, and that can be a great thing for this sort of show.

If you're not familiar with Det. Cognac, we’ve been able to share with you some of his background, and we look forward to getting you some more info in the future, so stay tuned.



Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie: One Last Time
Tuesday, October 17, 2006 | posted by Mike

For everyone following the back-and-forth, I want to direct you to the comments section of yesterday’s follow-up post. I think (hope) this settles everything, and that everyone has had a chance to make his points. I know I feel a lot better about things.

If you haven’t been following, scroll down to my initial review and work you way up. Be sure to read the comments.

On a personal note, we really need to thank Mr. Tate for engaging in this discussion. Quite often, folks in his position come in to an encounter like this with an “any idiot can start a blog...” attitude. Mr. Tate certainly didn’t go that route, and for that he’s a stand-up guy. His tone was civil and his arguments were well made.

I love the fact that there is someone as passionate about food and storytelling as Rob in his position, rather than someone simply working for a paycheck. We wish him and his show the best of luck. We’ll continue to tune in, and so should you.




Hey...Weren't You a Talk Show Host?

Gordon ElliottMaybe that’s not the most complimentary thing to think when you see someone, but it was the first thing to popped into my mind the first time I saw Gordon Elliott on the Food Network. After all, my only frame of reference for him was The Gordon Elliott Show, which was around during the mind-boggling avalanche of talk shows during the mid-1990s. I just figured that he disappeared into the atmosphere like Charles Perez (remember him?) once the show was cancelled. Of course, I thought the same thing about Marc Summers, and look where he ended up!

Like I said, it was a mild surprise to see Elliott hosting Door Knock Dinners, but it was even more of a surprise to find out how involved he was in developing and producing programming for the Food Network and other outlets. A nice recap of Gordon’s role at FN, and particularly his eye for talent evident in the discovery and development of Paula Deen, can be found in an article from last week in the New York Post.

Apparently, the queen of Southern cooking wasn’t an easy sell, but it was a decision that paid off handsomely in the end:
When the former talk-show-host-turned-producer first approached the network about doing a show with Paula Deen, the channel's executives were reluctant. After all, Deen had no TV experience or celebrity cachet and eschewed dishes like foie gras in favor of favorites like bacon-wrapped corn on the cob.

It took Elliott two years to convince Food Network executives to give Deen her show. But it's a good thing they did.
So, it should have come as no surprise to see Gordon Elliott as part of the team shepherding the contestants through The Next Food Network Star when that show appeared. A quick look at his bio on Wikipedia shows that he has been involved in local and national programming, on the television and on radio, both here in the U.S. and in his native Australia, so he obviously seems to have a knack for showbiz.

You can find out more about Elliott’s involvement in other television shows through his Follow Productions, which he founded in 1999, at their website. By the way, I always get a kick out of Follow Productions' bumper animation at the end of their shows. Those things are an art in their own right. (Watch how My Name is Earl's changes for each episode.)



Diary of a Foodie Follow-Up
Monday, October 16, 2006 | posted by Mike

If you haven't had a chance to check out my review of Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie, do it now and come back. If you have read it, I think you’ll be interested in a comment that we got from Rob Tate, a Producer on the show. His comment:
I'm not sure what you mean by "... amount of production that went into it." The location crew for Diary of a Foodie is only 3 people (less than Bourdain, which travels with at least 5). There were no sets, no extra lighting, no makeup... It looks good, because we shot it well. Period. I might add that the approach to Diary was to have VERY LITTLE production manipulation. Thus you have real people talking in real situations about real food. Perhaps the reason you didn't connect with all the characters is because they did NOT go through the corporate mill for being charismatic on TV. They are featured because they love food and have something interesting to say about it. The decision to have beautiful closeups and such was because we wanted to show the food in all its glory. You could do this with your instamatic if you so chose. It was not a corporate decision at all, but an artistic one. In fact, many of the decisions on the show are quite anti-corporate. They pledge allegiance to the small grower and the local/indigenous foods, and the sustainable farms and restaurants around the world. I don't want to give the impression that we don't take the comments to heart. Perhaps we need to find a way to be more transparent in our desires. I don't know. I hope you continue watching. Sincerely, Rob Tate Producer
First, let me start by saying that we truly appreciate Rob taking the time to share his thoughts with us.

I’m sorry that he took exception to my comments about the appearance of the show and I do want to reiterate that I did not use the term “corporate” in a pejorative sense. I actually have a tremendous amount of exposure to corporate video features and the good ones are dynamic, visually interesting and professionally and artistically shot and edited, just like Diary. The fact that the show is shot with such a small crew is a testament to their skill and to the skill of the post-production team. If I didn’t state it enough in the original review, I’ll say it again: this is a very good looking show.

They also feature authentic individuals telling their stories in a way that hired talking heads never can, just like Diary. No reader of TVFF.com would ever think that I’m in favor of “dumbing down” food programming.

For me, the problem that I had was the juxtaposition of the pace of the show with the timeless, ancient Chinese culture it depicts. Add to that interviewees with whom you are only now becoming acquainted, and it can be a bit of a challenge to keep up, especially if it is your first time with the show. Hopefully, repeated viewing will result in being able to get into the “flow” of the show a bit better.

As I said, I’m interested in how Diary addresses some of the topics listed among the future episodes. Not many shows would focus on food from a “neo-Luddite” standpoint. Those are ambitious topics and this is an ambitious show. Diary gets points for that, but I’m still not sure it’s 100% there yet. I stand by my original review, but I’ll absolutely keep watching and look forward to everything falling into line. If and when it does, Diary has a chance to be quite good.



Review: Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie

Gourmet's Diary of a FoodieBefore I delve into the review, I do want to mention a couple of comments in the post below.

Adam: I think you’re right. Someone coming into Philly trying to upstage a local with a cheesesteak would be like a Minnesotan coming down to Texas and trying to outdo you with a rack of ribs. It probably can’t be done, plus you have the local pride in the minds of the judges, who are supposed to be impartial, but… Erin: You obviously live in the Central New Jersey area, not far from TVFF.com HQ, and there is no excuse for going to Ruby Tuesdays. Really, drop us a line at tvfoodfan@gmail.com if you need a recommendation! But you make an excellent point about chain restaurants and declining value for your dining dollar. I’m guessing that is what Applebee’s is trying to counteract with the Tyler Florence menu. And, to answer your question about why they still pack people in: (1) marketing (“But it looked so good in the commercial!”) and (2) standardized food, which means you always get the same thing you expect and are never surprised (and that goes for both disappointment and pleasant surprises).

See…comment and you shall receive responses! Now, let’s move on to the review.

Let me start off by saying that I’m dealing with only the first episode, which took viewers on a culinary trip to China, and the upcoming episodes look like they deal with a wide array of topics, promising to make the show more than a food travelogue.

Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie is what you would get if a corporate video crew filmed Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.

Now, I don’t necessarily mean that as a criticism (of either the show or corporate video folks, many of whom I know and will undoubtedly be giving me grief for this). But the style is a bit odd for PBS, for a food show and particularly for a food travel show that is taking you down the back alleys of Beijing looking for roast duck.

It’s quite glossy. The pieces are very well filmed, with plenty of camera movement, unexpected close-ups and bottom-third graphics that fly in from the side of the screen and keep scrolling along beneath the speaker. It’s well done, but you never forget about the amount of production that went into it, and I think that takes away from the content a bit.

Speaking of the content, the show spotlights a number of different locations throughout China, and the information they provide is interesting. The on-camera correspondents, however, don’t quite connect with the viewer and I had some trouble figuring out exactly who they are and why they’re telling the story. Perhaps this is because I’m not a regular reader of Gourmet. The segment back in the kitchen was fine, but I really didn’t learn anything.

As I said, it looks like there are some interesting topics in the upcoming episodes. Although it’s not a “must watch” for me, it may become the type of show that you drop in on when they’re covering something that is of interest to you. If you didn’t get a chance to check it out, look it up on the listings for your local PBS station.



Cheesesteak Throwdown This Week!
Sunday, October 15, 2006 | posted by Mike

I was checking out the Food Network earlier this weekend and saw a preview for a Throwdown! with Bobby Flay episode coming up on Thursday at 10:00. We mentioned some time ago that Bobby had come to TVFF.com's home town of Philadelphia and was going to duke it out using the city's pride and joy, the cheesesteak, as the battleground. And, if that wasn't good enough, it was rumored that Flay was taking on TVFF.com's favorite place, Tony Luke's.

Well, the rumor has been officially confirmed (thanks to the commercial) and we'll get to see what kind of strategy the outsider comes up with to try to win. As I've said before, there really isn't that much difference in the techniques involved in making cheesesteaks. It's more about the quality and type of ingredients, particularly the roll.

Regardless of the outcome, it looks like they managed to snag a cool location for the competition, filming right along Independence Mall in TVFF.com's favorite hangout, Old City.



The Hungry Detective’s Shift Starts Next Week
Friday, October 13, 2006 | posted by Mike

The Hungry DetectiveHow long until the cop references start to get on your nerves? I’m just wondering.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still suffering from symptoms related to Manthorne withdrawal. Don’t bait-and-switch me with an Iron Chef America like that ever again, Food Network. I needed my Ace fix.

On to business…

Let me tell you, there are two things bring people to TVFF.com right now: Nigella Feasts reviews and info on Chris Cognac’s new show, The Hungry Detective. It seems like everyone is eagerly anticipating the new show, which will debut on Food Network on October 17th at 10:30 pm.

We’ve mentioned before about Cognac’s online presence and his website, The Culinary Detective, but we’re in the lead up to the debut of the show, so here come the profiles and previews. Many of the questions are exactly what you would expect. (“How did you get a show?” “How did you start writing about food.”) Some of them get a little bit into his experiences as a detective in Hawthorne, California, located near Los Angeles.

WRAL.com has an interview that gives us a sneak peak into the stops that Cognac and crew will be making during the first season of the show.
A: What cities will viewers see in the first season?

Q: We are going to Boston, NYC, Las Vegas, L.A., Houston, Philly, Charleston, S.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Miami and a few others.
It sounds like a good mix of cities for the out-of-the-way food spots in which The Hungry Detective specializes. And, of course, Philly and NYC are both within a short travel of TVFF.com headquarters, so we expect to get some “news you can use” from the show.

We are disappointed that he won’t be recommending any good Chinese food in LA, though, telling us to, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

OK – that was bad – we promise no more cop jokes.



Chris Kimball Gets Feisty
Thursday, October 12, 2006 | posted by Mike

Chris KimballYes, that’s right…two Chris Kimball posts in a week.

The host of America’s Test Kitchen and hero to food geeks everywhere sat down with the Washington Post for a Q&A while in town for a book-signing event. Anyone who has seen Kimball on the show knows that he can get a bit opinionated, especially when the time comes to head to the tasting lab. In fact, the episode from this weekend (which I had already seen) included a raspberry preserves tasting which concluded with Kimball saying, more or less, “The Smucker’s won the tasting, but don’t be cheap – try the expensive stuff I liked.” OK...maybe that was a bit of a harsh characterization, but that kind of strong opinion is present often enough to know there is something there.

Anyway, the reporter asked Kimball how much the recipes in the book allow for “creativity and interpretation.” His response:
None. Make the damn recipe my way. [He laughs.] I had someone write in a long time ago and say, "Lidia [Bastianich] cooks with her heart." And I wrote back and said, "Well, yeah, that's the wrong organ. You should use your brain." Until you know that recipe inside out and you really get it and you can make it without looking at the recipe, don't play with it. It's sort of like saying: "I'm going to play a Bach sonata. But I'm going to change the key." No. You play it the way he wrote it.
Interesting, especially when you consider that the dishes are not Kimball’s in that he did not dream them up or even work out the recipes himself. I think it shows that he is a strong believer in the methodology that his show and magazine employ to “perfect” the recipe, which includes testing it repeatedly until they feel that it is both right and repeatable.

Of course, this all gets back to the Rachael Ray vs. Mario Batali schools of thought on food TV. You have the “how to make this dish in your home” shows and the “inspiring you through my fantastic creations” shows. Both groups can turn off a portion of the audience (those who think the lessons being taught are overly pedantic or needlessly complicated, respectively), but I’m a big believer in the necessity of both sorts of shows. Food TV needs to inspire people to get in the kitchen, but it can’t leave them in a lurch when it comes to actually preparing the dishes.

From a practical standpoint, I know that substitutions are sometimes necessary because of the availability of ingredients, but how much liberty do you take with the recipes themselves? I’m talking about the amounts and the techniques, rather than using canned beans instead of dried beans or something like that. And are there any recipes from TV chefs that you feel familiar enough to try without the safety net of the recipe in front of you?

Thoughts are, as always, welcome in the comments below or at tvfoodfan@gmail.com.



Crumbs – 10/11/06
Wednesday, October 11, 2006 | posted by Mike

Bad news on the Rachael Ray/Celebrity Jeopardy front: Although our ace reporter was on the scene, the taping she attended did not feature Rachael Ray. She can, however, confirm that Drew Lachey is short. I hope you find that nugget of information to be both helpful and enlightening.



Schadenfreude Alert!!!
Tuesday, October 10, 2006 | posted by Mike

Rocco DiSpiritoCelebrity watchers like to mock Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton. Sports fans are currently turning their scorn on Alex Rodriguez and that football player who stomped on the other player. When foodies get the urge to revel in the problems of others, we turn to one Rocco DiSpirito.

Grub Street, the food blog of New York magazine, has an item about everyone’s least favorite celebrity chef’s precipitous decline since starring in The Restaurant. (Don’t feel too bad for him…he’s still richer and more famous than me or you.)

In addition to mentioning his firing from the “Food Talk” radio show, it seems that chef Rocco can add another company to his list of advertising gigs.
“He has been reduced to shilling for Bertolli's stealth-marketing campaign, which recently involved 100 poofy-toqued "chefs" staging a mock protest of the company (their grocery products, in this delightful marketing alternate reality, supposedly keep people from eating out).”
Grub Street ladles the ridicule on DiSpirito, claiming that he has reached the “pinnacle of cheesiness” with this campaign. Of course, this all supposes that Rocco DiSpirito and others who appear on reality television shows are capable of recognizing and feeling the shame of ridicule. As we all know, it has been definitively proven that they cannot, as they lack the proper “shame gene.”

Personally, I’m waiting for Rocco’s inevitable appearance on an informercial before I can feel fully content in my superiority. Hang in there, I’m sure it’s coming.



Is Racheal Ray Having a Baby?

Rachael RayNo, but that got your attention, didn’t it?

Because I just know that you’re dying for news about Ray-Ray’s plans to produce offspring, I wanted to let you know that, according to a post on (I kid you not) Celebrity Baby Blog, Rachael has no plans to slow down her ferret-on-speed lifestyle for a kid.

In the post, adorably titled, “Rachael Ray's unselfish choice to delay motherhood,” we learn that Rachael has decided to put off having a baby because it would just not be fair to said theoretical kid.
“It be a would hugely selfish thing and a bad idea to try to have a kid anytime soon. I feel like a bad mom to my dog."
The writer does assure us that Rachael does love children, so that’s good to know. Come to think of it, who can actually say that they don’t like children and not come off like some sort of curmudgeon? I love children…when they’re someone else’s.

We have no doubt that, when the time is right, Rachael and her husband will add to their family a happy and healthy baby, thus creating the single loudest household in North America.

Why am I covering news about a non-existent child? And why is there a site dedicated to celebrity babies? So many questions...



Slashfood Goes to Applebee's
Monday, October 09, 2006 | posted by Mike

Applebee'sThe folks over at Slashfood cover everything under the sun when it comes to food-related content, and that occasionally includes forays into the realm food TV. Joe DiStefano – one of my favorite writers on the site – decided to take a spin over to his local Applebee’s for a sampling of Tyler Florence’s Huge Flavor menu. You can tell that DiStefano senses a bit of a credibility gap when it comes to the chain restaurant by the way he mentions The Ramones’ tenuous connection to Applebee’s, but he goes in with an honest attempt at objectivity, which is commendable. Plus, I know I’m in the mood for a big dinner every time I hear “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.”

Applebee’s has talked about an integrated marketing campaign that would include a strong Tyler presence in the restaurant itself, so the fact that there is “an overleaf with a larger-than-life image of Ty-Flo” should not be surprising. Also not surprising is the first-person voice of the menu, since the commercials and web site both use Tyler’s voice letting you know just how he put together the menu.

OK, but let’s get down to brass tacks…how did it taste?
After perusing the menu, I settled on the Penne Rosa with Sweet Italian Sausage. … I got a good laugh out of the barmaid when I told her to make sure that Tyler made it al dente.

Apparently he didn't listen, the penne was a tad overdone, but as a whole the dish wasn't bad. Perhaps it's out of some form of professional embarassment that the food review part of this piece comes at the end. But I have to admit, the tomatoes in the cream sauce did taste fresh. So what if the peas were frozen, the sausage wasn't grilled enough to make it crispy and the black pepper wasn't thoroughly mixed in. It's still probably one of the best things I'll ever eat at Applebee's. Ty-Flo has helped them discovered simple Italian pastas. Bravo!
All right – not a rave review, but not terrible, either. And, to go back to a point I made earlier, it sounds like the problems were in the execution rather than design, which means that at least their hearts were in the right place.

You’re right…Applebee’s “heart” is in it’s pocketbook and that’s why it’s doing this, but it makes me feel a bit better about Tyler’s involvement.

So, that is one opinion. Anyone out there give it a try? I went out for dinner this past Saturday, but the allure of Tortuga’s Mexican Village was just too great to resist.



A New Giada Show on the Way
Sunday, October 08, 2006 | posted by Mike

Giada De Laurentiis
Good news for everyone out there who enjoys Ms. De Laurentiis. Adam from GiadaFan is reporting that Giada is shooting a new program with plans to debut in January.

According to the post:
The Food Network has announced a new show for featuring a jet setting Giada de Laurentiis traveling around the world in search of great vacation destinations for food lovers. The show is called "Giada's Weekend Getaways" and will premiere on Friday, January 12 at 9:30pm.
Adam brings up the similarities to some of Rachael Ray’s shows, and it does sound a little bit like $40 a Day on a more reasonable budget. But Giada’s Italian Vacation was a lot of fun, so I have reasonably high hopes for this one.

And, just after hearing about the show, we came across a sighting of Giada filming in the Napa Valley. A general store and hot air balloon are involved, so you know a good time will be had by all.



But Where Were the Pigs-in-a-Blanket?
Friday, October 06, 2006 | posted by Mike

Gourmet's Diary of a FoodieAs we move closer and closer to the debut of Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie, we’re starting to see more and more interest in the form of traffic to this site looking for info and mentions in the media. We’ve already mentioned that we’re looking forward to it, and it made for a big deal in the form of a hoity-toity launch party at Mario Batali’s Del Posto in New York yesterday, October 5th.

By the way, I would have posted this story earlier, but I spent the last few hours looking through my apartment for my obviously misplaced invitation to the soiree.

Fortunately for those of us who couldn’t manage so much as a nose pressed to the glass, Advertising Age sent the “Freeloader,” their man(?) about town who attends events and reports back. According to the post on their site, the event, although slightly fussy and a little long-winded, was a culinary success:
For all our grumbling tummies, lack of sparkly black outfit and utter inability to distinguish one red wine from another, we have to say that was one party the Freeloader was glad to show up for. Folks, the bar has been raised.
You can get a run-down of the event (sans description of the food, which doesn’t seem to be the Freeloader’s area of expertise) from the article. For the record, I don’t think I could tell two, four and six-year-old parmesan cheese apart, either.



Is The Food Network a Good Investment?

ScrippsI’m really no expert when it comes to the stock market. Sure my 401(k) is doing pretty well, but I’m fairly hands-off. And, yes, I do remember thinking, just about six years ago, “Wait…it’s a company that’s based on trading energy? How can they be making that much money? This doesn’t make any sense.” And we all saw how that turned out.

But what I’m really no good at is the difference between putting out a good product and having a strong business plan. Yes, you can sometimes knock one out of the park by recognizing a great product and investing (“Gee…this search engine really works well!”), but you can get in trouble with a company that has something cool to sell but no infrastructure working in the background.

The difference between great product and sound investing principles is at the core of an article by Ben Ruddy on TheStockMasters.com under the title, “Can Giada Save E.W. Scripps (SSP)?” Ruddy is obviously a big fan of the shows and personalities on the Food Network, and that attraction is what sent him off to look at the finances and potential of Scripps. Again, he likes what he sees in the company’s current performance.

Where things start to go sour for Ruddy is when he starts to think the potential for less-than-stellar growth in the future. Because of the options for food programming on other networks, as well as stiff competition facing other components of the company like their e-commerce venture, Ruddy ultimately cools on his enthusiasm for investing:
We are going to lean back at the table, hold our stomachs, and pass on signing on to a whole order of the seemingly delectable desert that is SSP.
But he does still like the shows, and we all know that’s what really counts.



The Heat Is On...My iPod
Thursday, October 05, 2006 | posted by Mike

Heat by Bill BufordAre you like me? Do you ever think to yourself, “I would get through many more books if only someone would follow me around and read to me?”

Since my iPod follows me pretty much everywhere I go and I usually manage to forget to toss a book in my bag, I’ve decided that the only way to get through Bill Buford’s Heat would be if I got myself the unabridged audiobook. This is actually my first attempt to “listen” to a book, so we shall see how this goes. If anything, it should be an easier way to “read” for someone who has a daily commute that features a bus and a train in each direction, with plenty of waiting time on each trip.

I’ll be sure to let you know if there are any interesting tidbits in the book that haven’t already been covered, either here or elsewhere.

Actually, if you’ve thought about trying audiobooks on your iPod or computer, you should check out www.audible.com/bzz. They’re offering a free trial subscription (use that link) to Audible, which is the service I’m using. You can get Heat or any other (one) book you want for free. The link will be active until 12/31/06.

Full disclosure: The offer for Audible comes from BzzAgent, a word-of-mouth marketing program that I do. I received free downloads to try and tell my friends about Audible. I tried it and (although we’ve never met), you’re my friend, so I’m sharing with you. I don’t receive any compensation or rewards for you signing up for the free trial. Be sure to read the terms before signing up.

If you have any questions about the Audible offer or BzzAgent in general, or if you think you’d like to join BzzAgent, drop me a note at TVFoodFan@gmail.com. Also, if you try it out, let me know!

A U.S. Lunch Crusade: Christopher Kimball

Christopher KimballYou’ve heard us go on (and on and on) about Jamie Oliver’s crusade against unhealthy school lunches over in the United Kingdom, documenting the various political, educational and cultural forces at play in the story. For every person who thinks Jaime is contributing to the health and wellbeing of the country, there is another who just wants him to butt out and let the kids eat their bangers and mash or kidney pie or whatever stereotypical British dish they might be serving. (TVFF.com’s knowledge of food in the U.K. is quite limited.)

But, what has been a fun little side-story for us in the United States looks like it could become something bigger thanks to the actions of another food personality. Granted, he doesn’t have Jamie Oliver’s notoriety or boyish good looks, but America’s Test Kitchen star and Cook’s Illustrated editor Christopher Kimball is working toward making American school lunches healthier.

According to an online article from USNews, Kimball started locally (in the Boston area) and founded an advocacy group called Parents Against Junk Food. From there, he wanted to take his cause to a national level, but that’s where things got complicated:
Christopher Kimball thought it would be so easy: Point out that school lunches are unhealthful, and taste awful, too, and the Tater Tots would disappear from the menu. But with legislation he backed to reform the federal school-lunch program sidelined in Congress's rush to adjourn this week and hit the campaign trail, Kimball feels it's time to move the battle to the home front. "This is not going to be an easy thing to solve," he says.
Kimball clearly recognizes the challenges he faces, but he makes an excellent point when it comes to why changing the system in schools is important. For much of the country, children are essentially a “captive audience” when it comes to the school lunches. Due to cost or time constraints on parents, they’re reliant upon the food sold in the cafeterias and vending machines in the school. So Kimball has called for stricter rules and regulations on the types of food available to students.

Of course, the unhealthy lifestyle is also being reinforced in the home:
"Parents are feeding kids the same things at home," Kimball says of nuggets-n-Tater Tots cuisine. "This is their regular diet."
In the end, Kimball realizes that it’s more about changing attitudes and behaviors, and draws upon his experience with the magazine and show to point out that, if adults can start cooking at home, kids can also learn how to eat a more nutritious diet.
"You see people who didn't cook before," he says. "They try it, they like it, and they realize what they've been missing."



Tyler Florence's Applebee's Site
Wednesday, October 04, 2006 | posted by Mike

Huge FlavorWe’ve been seeing plenty of commercials lately for the new Applebee’s/Tyler Florence partnership. Seeing these spots made us thing two things: (1) It looks like Tyler came up with some interesting dishes and (2) it also looks like Tyler did plenty taste-testing while putting together the menu. (We kid because we love!)

Of course, any advertising campaign worth its salt these days has a web component, and the Tyler Florence spots are no different. Applebee’s has just launched Huge Flavor, a mini-site located off of the main Applebee’s site that, according to the folks behind the campaign, “aims to introduce people to Tyler, let them understand a bit about his background as a chef, and
understand the relationship with Applebee's.”

The site is done in Flash and features plenty of moving parts, with a number of video spots, including the commercials that have been showing on television. You can check out descriptions and close-up shots of the four dishes that are now on the menu. The site design is very nice, the video runs pretty smoothly and the ability to click on video chapter titles and graphics of the dishes themselves encourage exploration.

There are a bunch of other video vignettes on the site, and one of the focuses is the variety of ingredients that went into creating the dishes. When we talked about it a while back, I mentioned that the opportunity afforded by a project like this was to have a respected chef bring interesting dishes with more challenging ingredient combinations to a restaurant-going public that otherwise might not try them.

If the aim of the campaign is to entice non-foodies with interesting dishes while at the same time assure Tyler’s existing fans that they’re getting something sophisticated from the respected chef they already know, the site does a good job of addressing both audiences.



Crumbs – 10/4/06

First, I have to thank Jessica (for her post) and Genève (for her comment). I’m glad you liked the Feasts review and I’m always thrilled to get feedback (tvfoodfan@gmail.com).

Second, everyone and their brother want Nigella’s chili and trifle recipes. You can find them both on the Food Network site, here.

Third, CRUMBS…
  • The secret to Dave Lieberman’s success? Short recipes.

  • Rachael Ray’s ratings might be fantastic, but the writer of this article has a bone to pick with her about her line of appliances at Target.

  • Jamie Oliver: Hated by schoolchildren but loved by headmasters.

  • A fictionalized show based on Gordon Ramsay starring Eddie Izzard? I’m there.

  • Giada De Laurentiis in high-definition? I’m there.

  • Like Emeril before her, Rachael Ray is sending food into space. Due to the cost of rocket fuel, I’m guessing it will cost slightly more than $40 a day.



Bill Buford's Food Network Article in The New Yorker
Tuesday, October 03, 2006 | posted by Mike

The New YorkerSince we’re taking care of stuff I was too lazy to address sooner, dB of FoodCandy and Madeline of Everything Rachael Ray pointed out that I hadn’t addressed the recently posted article by writer Bill Buford (author of Heat) in The New Yorker all about the history and state of the Food Network.

Buford claims to have spent seventy-two hours watching the Food Network (minus sleep time) in preparation of the article, which is more than one month’s safe allotment. The article gives the back story on how the Network was founded, how it started out and discovered a number of chefs who are still going strong on television and how they made the move away from “dump-and-stir” shows toward “food entertainment.” It also features a comment from the ubiquitous Bob Tuschman, which means the article clearly contains more actual “research” and “journalism” than we here at TVFF.com are able to muster.

Perhaps the most charming part of the article is the story of the discovery of Patron Saint of Food TV® Julia Child. It’s a great story and one that I had never heard, so the article is worth a read just for that. Later, Buford returns to the “A Star is Born” story line when he recounts Rachael Ray’s discovery. It’s a sign of the times, I guess, that Julia’s story leads to a legendary career on PBS and Rachael’s leads to a media empire.



Alton on Spinach

Alton BrownEvery now and then (i.e. pretty much all of the time), something slips through me unnoticed, particularly when it’s on a web site that doesn’t offer an RSS feed (c’mon, Be Square Inc.!).

Alton Brown, never one to shy away from sharing his opinion on all matters food-related, took to his site and weighed in a few weeks back on the spinach/E. coli story. In addition to putting the outbreak into perspective, he offers some interesting insight into the possibility that the outbreak, although unfortunate in the short term, may end up serving as a wake up call with long-term benefits.
I don’t want to sound like some crazy, anti-establishment bio-terrorist but maybe, just maybe this is a wakeup call. Truth is our food system has major flaws which point to one reoccurring theme: too much of our food is produced by centralized, industrial concerns.
Apparently, Alton is also feeling a bit feisty because he takes a couple of swipes at some governmental and regulatory agencies for their handling of the outbreak. His comments on how everyday consumers can protect themselves from issues like this, such as buying locally grown food and eating seasonally, provides good advice in this instance as well as a smart plan for ensuring that you will get the best, freshest products year-round.

And, although he mentions the "bio-terrorist" thing in an offhand way, he’s not totally off base. A lot of people started to pay attention to the threat of bio-terrorism after those anthrax mailings back in 2001.



Review: "Nigella Feasts"
Sunday, October 01, 2006 | posted by Mike

Nigella LawsonThe message boards and web sites dedicated to food and food TV are always abuzz with anticipation of the next big show or personality. The object of this anticipation lately has been not a “fresh new face” or undiscovered talent, but rather the return of a favorite personality and a renewed focus on cooking over “food entertainment.”

Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Feasts serves as a tremendous reminder of the fact that food should appeal equally to all of the senses. Lawson has always had her cooking described as “sensuous” and “sumptuous,” and the new show is no different.

The debut episode of Nigella Feasts focuses on “comfort” foods prepared for a party and features crow-pleasing, indulgent dishes including chili, guacamole and a chocolate cherry trifle. The show includes the trademark Nigella close-ups of the ingredients as they’re sautéed, stirred, folded and dished out to eager party goers.

Lawson’s Style Network program was filmed, a feature that added greatly to the sense of warmth and intimacy of the show. Curiously, the new show appear to be recorded on video tape or, possibly, digital video. The result is a colder, less comforting visual presentation.

Nigella Feasts is similar to Barefoot Contessa and Everyday Italian in format, with a set of recipes designed for some sort of event or guest. Just as we do with Ina and Giada, we follow Nigella to the market where she gives us advice on shopping. Another interesting sidebar is when Lawson goes to the pantry to find the ingredients for her chili, only to digress with information and hints about pantry items that she picked up while traveling and which have nothing to do with the recipe. It works well, because it adds to the sense that we just happened to drop in on Nigella while getting ready for her party and she absolutely must show you the new item she picked up on her latest trip.

Just as the format of Nigella Feasts mirrors the format of Contessa and Everyday, the appeal of Nigella is quite similar to the stars of those shows. Like Ina Garten, she invites you to indulge in rich foods, luxuriously serving your guests and being the star of the evening. And, as with Giada De Laurentiis, her sultry demeanor makes the already delicious-looking food all the more appealing. It’s no wonder that Feasts is scheduled to follow those two shows, as it will undoubtedly find a friendly audience in that spot.

The best food shows treat cooking as an artistic and emotional expression and feature a host that is able to communicate the joy of preparing a meal. This is a very good show, and one that is all about the food. For all of the British tabloid coverage and attention that Nigella Lawson receives, her personality never overwhelms what she is there to do. Nigella Feasts effectively portrays the passion of its host and pulls the viewer into the dish being prepared until you want to run out to the kitchen and get started. In fact, I’ve already grabbed that chili recipe.



FoodCandy Meet-Up Recap

dBA great time was had by all who attended Friday’s meet-up of FoodCandy members, and the crowd featured quite a collection of NYC-area food bloggers, including host dB (pictured at left) of FoodCandy, Tanya of IateApie and lots, lots more.

I have to admit it was a bit surreal to have someone I had never met recognize me and say, "Hey, are you TVFoodFan?"

The food at Nolita House was very good, and I thoroughly enjoyed the macaroni and cheese with bacon.

It was a great opportunity to share food, drinks and conversation with fellow bloggers and foodies, and I know that I learned a lot and got a chance to meet a bunch of folks with whom I can keep in touch via the web.

If you want, check out the write-up, including the photos that dB took. In case you’re wondering, I’m the one in the last photo on the first page of pictures. And, no, my hair doesn’t usually look like that.

Hi, I'm Mike and I created TVFoodFan.com as a place where you can come to get the latest news and views about what’s going on in the world of culinary television.

Contact Us at: mike@tvfoodfan.com

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