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Sandra Lee, Academically
Thursday, May 31, 2007 | posted by Mike

You know how I like to take a "serious" look at food TV every once in a while. That's a product of nearly six straight years of academic training in the social sciences. And, yes, there are two degrees involved...I wasn't on the Bluto Blutarsky plan.

And so I'd like to take a moment to point you toward an article about an academic conference, the 76th Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, taking place this week in Canada. Among the many topics covered at the conference will be food and popular culture. One paper, written by a Ryerson University (Ned Ryerseon?!?) grad student Sarah Kornik, examines one of our favorite topics, Sandra Lee.

Still, she argues in her paper Nostalgia: Eating the American Dream, there is inherent nostalgia in the host's name, with a reference to Sara Lee products: "Like the show itself, the name suggests the nostalgia for home and comfort through baked goods while retaining a processed presence."


But some of these homecooking claims may be no more than an illusion, says Ms. Kornik, who has been watching the Food Network since she was 13. She offers the example of Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee, which is purported to be a home-cooking show.

The problem, Ms. Kornik says, is that the show features many recipes that recommend certain store-bought items and as a result it is transformed into "a half-hour advertisement for the packaged products incorporated into the recipes."

Ouch! That's pretty harsh language from someone in a field where they usually deal in coefficients of imbalance and regression analyses. Usually we just make fun of her for using Duncan Hines frosting. Maybe that's why we don't have our Ph.D.

The nostalgia angle is certainly a big part of the allure of these shows, and in particular the appeal of folks like Paula Deen, Ina Garten and Lidia Bastianich, who don't fit the typical "television" profile as much as they embody the maternal provider that we all wish would keep cooking for us. We'll probably have a lot more to say on this topic if we can track down the paper on the InterGoogle.

Yippee...time for another TVFF Quiz: The two comedy movie references in the first two paragraphs have something in common with one another. What are the two movies and what is their connection? As always, the first person with the answer in the comments will win themselves the envy of TVFF Nation by being mentioned in a post next week. In other words: Sometimes winning is its own reward.



Crumbs - 5/30/07
Wednesday, May 30, 2007 | posted by Mike

Surreal moment du jour: I was watching Fox tonight and they had a commercial for Hell's Kitchen. At the end of the spot, a voice over said, "Viewer Discretion is Advised." Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this a cooking show?

  • In addition to being nominated, Rachael Ray will be presenting at this year's Daytime Emmys.

  • Food Network's "Food Bytes" advertising model is moving the other Scripps networks.

  • Marcel responds to the egg controversy. His message is wrong long [ed. note: a Freudian error, perhaps?] and includes the sentence, "This accusation of culinary plagiarism is blasphemous," which I'm pretty sure doesn't make sense.

  • The money raised for charity during the SoBe festival has been handed over to the beneficiaries.

  • Gordo, Becks and Posh to open a spot in LA. (Hey, I could write headlines for British tabloids!)



"The Next Food Network Star" Countdown Enters the Final Stretch
Tuesday, May 29, 2007 | posted by Mike

The folks at the Food Network have apparently concluded that you have slept off your cookout lethargy and are ready to get geared up for the debut of the third edition of The Next Food Network Star. How do I know they're getting serious about it?

One word: Tuschman.

We're looking for a combination of culinary chops, star power, and the ability to handle the pressures of intense television production, and that's difficult to find in any one person,” said Bob Tuschman, Senior Vice President, Programming and Production. “This season, the finalists are exceptionally talented. Frankly, we put them through the ringer to find out who really deserved to join our pantheon of stars.”

That's right, they're bringing out the big guns. And you know they're going to need it when you consider who they're going up against.

Yep, the two-hour premiere begins this coming Sunday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, which means I'll be catching it on tape or via a rebroadcast due to my Sopranos loyalty. Of course, they'll be done in a few weeks and I'll be able to tune in more regularly. My sleep pattern will greatly appreciate this.



Grillin' & Chillin' Week

Or is it month? Maybe it just feels that way...

After a weekend of "Grillin' & Chillin'," I've come to two realizations:

1. There is only so much "Grillin'" a person can watch before they're completely turned off to the idea of grilled food. I reached that point some time Sunday afternoon.

2. Any dish that is plated "family style" on Emeril Live is guaranteed to be an abomination. There was something that involved grilled radicchio (I think), steak, a pile of arugula and twelve shavings of Parmesan cheese (spread over a grand total of three square inches...can't he spread them out?!?!).

Why am I so grumpy lately? I promise I'll be back to my old, chipper self later today.



Come On, Sandra Lee!
Friday, May 25, 2007 | posted by Mike

I know I'm supposed to be in a good mood. It's Friday, this is a long holiday weekend, TVFF HQ's pool is opening up tomorrow and I'm swinging by Triumph for a beer after work today, so there's no reason for me to be angry. And yet I am. Why is that?

Sandra Lee.

More specifically, it is this recipe which nearly sent me into convulsions.

Now, I'm not really sure why this one got to me. I think we've all seen enough of the "curtains of many colors" and the belief that "cocktail" deserves a full course on the menu to know what we're getting. And the 70/30 thing offends many a sensibility, but it does let me put chopped leftover cilantro on my Taco Bell Chalupa and pretend that I'm somehow making a meal that is "semi-homemade."

I was trying to figure out how you could "semi-homemake" what looked like a pretty tasty dish: Bacon and Scallion Potato Salad with Balsamic Dressing. I don't really consider using jarred mayo as a "cheat," so where was the 70% store bought going to come in? There it is, in the ingredients list -- "One 16-ounce package precooked rosemary and garlic potatoes."

Fine. Whatever. I happen to take a bit of pride in the fact that, when I make potatoes, they're pretty good. I usually roast them with garlic, rosemary and duck fat and they're in the oven for the better part of an hour (after blanching them first), but I understand that this is going "above and beyond" what most people would do. Am I thrilled about the precooked potatoes? No, but I suppose I could live with it.

What set me off was the first step of the preparation:

Place potatoes in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap; microwave on high setting (100 percent power) for 5 to 7 minutes.

Why the hell did I just buy precooked potatoes?

I know what you're thinking: "Hey, TVFF, there's nothing tastier than a warm potato salad!"

An excellent point, and one reinforced by the recipe's contention that you can "[s]erve warm or chilled," but seven minutes on high does not constitute "taking the chill off." You're cooking the precooked potatoes.

Oh, yeah, and the pre-chopped garlic drives me nuts. Just suck it up and use the real stuff.

That's it...I feel better. Thanks for listening.



"Kitchen Confidential" Out on DVD
Thursday, May 24, 2007 | posted by Mike

I'd have posted this earlier, but I'm still recovering form last night's season finale of Lost.

Dan over at The Hungover Gourmet must be reading my mind!

I was just thinking about the Fox sitcom Kitchen Confidential the other day and was wondering when it would be coming out on DVD. Well, I can wonder no longer.

Dan points out that the "underrated" show is out on DVD and certainly worth checking out if you missed it the first time around. While I'm not sure if it's worthy of purchasing, it will certainly be getting a spot on my Netflix queue, especially since the set has a few unaired episodes.

The show was certainly edgy for network television and, with the exception of one or two over-the-top characters and events, it did a good job of mining the restaurant kitchen as a source of comedic situations. And Philly-born Bradley Cooper, who almost always does a great job, is a very good likable scoundrel as Jack Bourdain (name apparently changed to protect the "innocent").


Crumbs - 5/23/07
Wednesday, May 23, 2007 | posted by Mike

Better late than never?

A big congratulations to Madeline over at Everything Rachael Ray for some great recognition! Be sure to swing by and check it out.

  • Gordon Ramsay the new British Prime Minsiter? Or maybe just that famed British wit.

  • Another less-than-flattering story about Rachael Ray and her rocker husband. It references one of the songs sounding like "the Who's 'Teenage Wasteland,'" so I'm skeptical of the piece. If you don't know the song is called "Baba O'Riley," you shouldn't be covering music. Yes, I'm a Rock Snob
  • From the Today show: America's Test Kitchen's list of top seven kitchen essentials. A food segment without Giada? How dare they?

  • A look at Mario's impact on Crocs from an investing standpoint.



Rachael Ray: In Your Pocket and at the Supermarket

The folks at Food Network aren't the only ones looking to go high-tech with food information. AT&T announced today that they're going to be introducing exclusive content from Rachael Ray available direct to your cell phone.

The new venture is a partnership with LimeLife, who will provide the content to AT&T subscribers exclusively for the first 60 days. The service, called Rachael Ray Recipes on the Run, will include a bunch of features according to a press release from AT&T.

  • Delicious Recipes! Enjoy 40 new recipes every month. Consumers can browse recipes by main ingredient or category, and get cooking tips from Rachael herself.
  • My Shopping List. Automatically add recipe ingredients to a shopping list directly on your wireless device. When more than one recipe is added, the quantities of identical ingredients will be combined. A bonus feature includes advanced interactivity that allows you to add custom ingredients and mark off items as you shop!
  • Rachael's Quick Picks! A fun, random-recipe generator, Rachael's Quick Picks allows users to spin Rachael's EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil) bottle to get "delish!" meal inspirations.
  • My Keepers. Mark recipes you like, and store them to your wireless phone for easy reference.
  • Recipe Sharing. E-mail your favorite recipes from your phone to friends and family.
  • Fans of Rachael will likely enjoy the many features, and the "My Shopping List" aspect looks particularly neat and useful. The service will cost $2.99 a month and AT&T subscribers can order the Rachael content at the Rachael Ray page on LimeLife's site. For those of you who already have AT&T:

    Here's how AT&T wireless customers can subscribe:
    Go to the Menu,
    Select Cingular Mall,
    Scroll down to the Shop Applications option.
    Rachael Ray Recipes on the Run is located in the "Featured Picks", "New Arrivals", "Living" and "Shopping & Local" sections.
    Although I'm not a big user of my cell phone for things like this, I am surgically attached to my Blackberry. (The folks at AT&T will be happy to know that both of my devices use their service, although I'm still trying to get my rebate for the Motorola RAZR I bought.) These types of devices will allow you to get to a wide variety of content, but the formatting is often less than ideal. Companies and media outlets that customize their content and make it easier for mobile browsers to view it are demonstrating some tremendous foresight and will be reaping the benefits in the future.

    And even if you're one of those folks who scoffs at the idea of browsing the internet from you cell phone or PDA while riding a train or sitting in a park, just remember that ten years ago you probably also didn't see the point of having a cell phone with you all the time or being able read about food TV news from some goofball in New Jersey.



    Congrats to Tyler: Announcing the Arrival of Hayden Florence

    Celebrity offspring followers (and I know you're out there) will be happy to know that Tyler Florence welcomed a new addition to his family. According to an entry on his blog:
    I am so happy to announce that early this morning, Tolan and I welcomed Hayden Florence into the world and he and his mom are doing great! What an amazing day.
    Tyler's site features a lot of entries about his older son, Miles, so I'm sure we'll get to hear all about little Hayden. We'll all be like cyber-aunts and uncles. It'll be nice.



    Food Network Going Web 2.0
    Tuesday, May 22, 2007 | posted by Mike

    You know how much we here at TVFF like us some cutting edge technology. That's mostly because, if it weren't for the Internet and blogs, we'd be standing on a street corner making smart-ass comments about Sandra Lee and the Deen Brothers. That would probably earn us a trip to the loony bin. Instead, we do it here and receive the accolades and adoration of literally tens of like-minded TV food enthusiasts.

    Well, we do like it when folks start to see the value of going heavily into the online world, and we've been advocating a larger presence for the Food Network when it comes to online. We're starting to see the fruits of such a move with a whole mess of new features and marketing. One of them popped up as part of the recent move of TVFF HQ.

    We hooked up the cable in the new place and it was a new carrier. The package offered by the company in my new location offered a whole heap of free (well, if you don't count the $752 cable bill every month) on-demand programming, including a number of Food Network programs. I think Mrs. TVFF did put a lock on Giada's South Beach episode, though, so that kind of sucks.

    But the past day or so has brought a couple of stories, one at Multichannel News and one written by Madeline Miller (moonlighting from her Everything Rachael Ray job) that talk about a couple of new advertising and publicity techniques currently being used.

    Madeline runs with the story of how all of the contestants on this season's The Next Food Network Star have spiffy new MySpace pages, complete with images and videos. Frankly, MySpace makes me run for the hills with the terrible custom designs (I'm quickly becoming a Facebook addict, though), but the kids like it and media outlets have been getting into it in a big way. If you want to check out the contestants, swing by Madeline's article.

    OK...that's weird. Remember my post about coincidences yesterday? As I was typing the last paragraph, my shuffling iPod landed on Earth, Wind & Fire's Shining Star, which was used as in the commercials for The Next Food Network Star. Coincidence, or proof that the big man upstairs is a TVFF reader? You decide.

    Anyway, the Multichannel News piece goes into a bit of depth on some of the Network's other projects, and the fact that they're partnering with a number of organizations, including those as diverse as the NBA and Disney/Pixar. Ask any marketer and they'll tell you that it's becoming increasingly difficult to reach an audience, particularly using the "old" media like television and print advertising. And it's still up in the air as to exactly how effective some kinds of online advertising (e.g. banner ads) are, so you can expect to see more and more of this kind of "viral" marketing in the future, as companies give you something (original YouTube videos, for example) as a way to not only get you more interested in their product, but also to hopefully get you to forward that cool content to all of your friends.

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    A Giada/Lidia Coincidence
    Monday, May 21, 2007 | posted by Mike

    If you watch enough TV food programming (or any kind of programming, for that matter), you're bound to come across little coincidences. For me, it usually comes in the form of something I've never heard of before being mentioned and explained and then hearing that same thing again shortly thereafter. I'm never sure if I've actually heard of it before but never noticed (as in the case below) or if it is just a strange coincidence that the first two times I've heard of it occurred in the span of a couple of days. For some reason, this seems to happen quite a bit with Jeopardy! answers that I get wrong and then are referenced somewhere else. It's a pretty strange feeling.

    Well, I had one of them this weekend. Now, for something to be mentioned by both Giada De Laurentiis and Lidia Bastianich isn't that much of a stretch, considering they're both Italian chefs. But I managed to catch the rerun (must have been daydreaming the first time) of the Giada's Weekend Getaways in South Beach and Lidia's show on the Puglia region, both of which included a burrata.

    What is a burrata? Well, it's basically a sack made of cheese...with cheese inside. If you're thinking what I'm thinking ("How do I get my hands on a cheese-bag that holds more cheese?!?!"), you should know that the recommendation is that you get one that is extremely fresh. Giada got hers at a restaurant called Casa Tua, which is apparently is Italian for "hard to find because we don't have signage." Lidia recommends one actually made in Puglia.

    Her son, Joe (who is MUCH more knowledgeable than some second-generation food TV personalities we could mention...) made an excellent point in relation to these water balloons of creamy goodness. He contends that the one factor that has changed the way we eat more than anything else has been the ability to transport fresh food quickly thanks to overnight and air shipping. It is the availability of these authentic ingredients that makes all the difference, and the ability to actually get those types of (particularly fresh) ingredients at your local store -- no matter where you are -- has improved dramatically in recent years. Lidia herself mentions having to make puttanesca with black olives from a can when she started her restaurant. Yuck.

    Anyway, just thought that was interesting. Your food déjà vu experiences and strange coincidences are, as always, welcome in the comments below.

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    Batali and Bourdain Dish to Grub Street
    Friday, May 18, 2007 | posted by Mike

    Looks like we missed a good one by not making an effort to get into Manhattan for the Borders appearance of Marco Pierre White. It wasn't that White's appearance has us regretting it...it's the fact that Mario Batali and Anthony Bourdain showed up. Grub Street, the fantastic food blog from New York Magazine, got them to sit down and chat. And chat they did...

    Be sure to check this out for their thoughts on Top Chef contestant Marcel Vigneron's penchant for borrowing heavily from Wylie Dufresne (they don't approve) and their estimation of food bloggers (I'm sure they'd both love TV Food Fan!).

    New Jersey readers will also get a kick out of Mario taking a bit of a swipe at The Mall at Short Hills. I've never been there, so I'm not sure if it's deserving of his dismissive comment. The only thing I know about it is that, when Mrs. TVFF goes there, she always returns with three new pairs of shoes and a dress. For that reason alone, I'm not a fan.

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    Paula Deen & Neely's Bar-B-Que

    One of the really fun thing about running this site and scouring the InterGoogle for stories about famous chefs and food television is the excitement that surrounds a Food Network appearance for a local restaurant owner. I see it quite often with stories in papers local papers announcing the fact that some food TV personality will be profiling a hometown favorite. Think of the kinds of places that Alton Brown visited during his Feasting on Asphalt journeys and you'll know the kinds of folks I'm talking about.

    These are entrepreneurs who could never even dream of paying for the kind of national exposure they get from an appearance on FN. That kind of plug would probably get them all kinds of visits from customers in the surrounding area. And in this day and age, even small places may have a website and mail-order operation going, so it could even be a gateway to something bigger.

    The major regret of my recent business trip to Atlanta was that I didn't get a chance to track down some good, authentic Southern bar-b-que. I've been kicking myself ever since, and then I got an e-mail from the folks at Neely's Bar-B-Que announcing their appearance on Paula Deen's show:

    Paula Deen, the queen of Southern cuisine says you have to pick a side, fried or barbecued, when it comes to southern cooking. Deen invited Memphis restaurateur of the year, Patrick Neely, co-owner of Neely’s Bar-B-Que and his family to her show, “Paula’s Party” to cook their favorite barbecue recipes. The episode called, “Fried vs. BBQ” will air on Friday, June 1 at 8 p.m., CDT on Food Network.

    Patrick and his wife, Gina, Patrick’s two brothers, Anthony and Mark along with their mother, Lorine joined Deen and her two sons, Jamie and Bobby for the episode. The show features several Neely’s Bar-B-Que recipes such as barbecue spaghetti and pork ribs. “It was a big party in Savannah, when we filmed the show with Paula,” said Patrick. “She really enjoyed the different Neely’s recipes that truly reflect Memphis barbecue.”

    This will actually be the second time that Neely's will be featured on FN, and their second time on the Network with a member of the Deen family. They were featured in an episode of Road Tasted last year.

    See, now wasn't that a happy little story to cap off the week?



    Mario Batali Debuts Signature Shoe Line
    Thursday, May 17, 2007 | posted by Mike

    You know you're famous when they name a shoe after you. First it was a certain basketball player from Chicago with his "Air Jordans." Now, you'll be able to emulate your favorite redheaded Italian chef with his "Bistro" clog.

    That's right. On the same day that Mario's alma mater Rutgers unleashed another year's worth of graduates on an unsuspecting nation (I can kid...I have an RU diploma!), Crocs, Inc., issued a release trumpeting the arrival of the Batali-endorsed Bistro, which is debuting at the Crocs booth at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago.

    So, what's so special of this model that has Mario singing it's praises?

    Batali is especially fond of the new Bistro shoe because it offers high comfort to workers in the restaurant and food service industry, while it is specially designed to meet workplace standards with a closed heel. In addition to its special slip-resistant design, the shoe also features a thicker metatarsal area to help protect the top of the foot, as well as a supportive arch and foot bed circulation nubs to ensure all-day comfort. The exclusive Croslite material conforms to the foot creating a custom fit and the added looseness allows the foot to bend and expand naturally to reduce fatigue. All of the new models are odor- and bacteria-resistant and can be simply sterilized in clean water and bleach.

    The price-point for the new model seems to be a bit higher than other lines, but I'm guessing you're laying out a few more bucks for the Batali tie-in and the enhanced features. And the fact that it's aimed more at the professional means that they're more likely to see those features as an occupational necessity. Oh, and they come in a couple of groovy colors:

    The Bistro (MSRP: $39.99) will be available in Mario Batalis signature orange color, as well as in black, chocolate, navy, red, and white. The Bistro will be available to retailers in late summer 2007 in womens sizes 6-12 and mens sizes 4-13.
    Wait...who wears a men's size 4? Those will apparently be shipped to a restaurant kitchen somewhere in Oz.



    Crumbs - 5/16/07
    Wednesday, May 16, 2007 | posted by Mike

    You'll be happy to know (or maybe not, you probably don't really care) that my Google "problems," which had been preventing TVFF from showing up in Google search results, seem to be fixed. As you can imagine, we get quite a few people who stumble upon the site thanks to a search on a TV food related topic, so hopefully this will get us back in the right direction when it comes to building this community.

    Of course, people don't have to just stumble up on TVFF. They could...I don't know...receive an e-mail from you, a loyal reader, telling them how they should check it out, too.

    • The Village Voice asks Lidia Bastianich what she would eat for her last meal. When I was reading it, I found it kind of morbid. Now I'm just hungry.

    • In other headline news, it doesn't look like Jossip thinks highly of Rachael Ray being named the fifth most powerful person in NY.

    • And we revisit the "Rachael Ray not having a baby" issue for the 2,867th time.



    "Hell's Kitchen" Contestants Announced, TVFF Gets Hometown (Kinda) Rooting Interest
    Tuesday, May 15, 2007 | posted by Mike

    Who are we kidding? Nobody actually roots for a particular contestant on Hell's Kitchen. The only thing we root for is a psychotic break followed by a cleaver attack.

    But, since I'm sure they'd just edit out any of the really good violence, I suppose we'll have to be content with the actual competition. And Reality TV World has the latest news on the upcoming season of the Gordon Ramsay starrer, presenting a full run-down of the twelve competitors who will face off with each other (and the feisty redhead) in the third iteration of the Fox reality/competition program.

    The twelve contestants who will be competing on Hell's Kitchen 3 are:

    - Aaron, a 48-year-old retirement home chef from Palos Verdes, CA
    - Brad, a 25-year-old sous chef from Scottsdale, AZ
    - Eddie, a 28-year-old grill cook from Atlanta, GA
    - Josh, a 26-year-old junior sous chef from Miami Beach, FL
    - Rock, a 30-year-old executive chef from Spotsylvania, VA
    - Vinnie, a 29-year-old night club chef from Milltown, NJ
    - Bonnie, a 26-year-old nanny/personal chef from Los Angeles, CA
    - Jen, a 26-year-old pastry chef from Hazelton, PA
    - Joanna, a 22-year-old chef's assistant from Detroit, MI
    - Julia, a 28-year-old short-order cook from Atlanta, GA
    - Melissa, a 29-year-old line cook from New York, NY
    - Tiffany, a 27-year-old kitchen manager from Scottsdale, AZ

    So, it looks like we have the requisite "old guy" (Aaron), but I'm not seeing the "non-food service professional" this year. It was always fun to watch Ramsay berate someone who has now clue how to operate in a professional kitchen, but it was also a nice bone to throw to all of us armchair cooks who secretly harbor dreams of making it happen some day. He/she will be sorely missed.

    But I do have to go with Vinnie, the 29 year old "night club chef" from Milltown, NJ, which is just a hop, skip and jump from TVFF's branch office. I'm still not sure what a "night club chef" is (perhaps he's able to cook despite deafening techno music?), and with a name like Vinnie, there is some meat-head potential, so I do reserve the right to jump off the Vinnie bandwagon. But I do have to give a fellow Garden Stater the benefit of the doubt.

    Just a reminder: The new season starts on June 4th.

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    The Last Ten Minutes of "Chef's Story"
    Monday, May 14, 2007 | posted by Mike

    Usually, I like to devote a lot of time to any reviews that I write, giving the programs the serious thought and contemplation that they deserve. This is not one of those times.

    You all know that we recently moved into the new TVFF HQ. Of course, there is no shortage of work to be done on the new facilities (mastering my circular saw technique on shelves and hanging bathroom hardware, in case you were wondering how I spent my weekend). So this has meant that TV viewing time has been at a premium. But I do watch when I can, as it's a nice rest from the seemingly endless amount of work that needs to be done.

    And for some odd reason, when I do manage to get a few minutes during a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, I keep managing to drop in on the last ten minutes of episodes of Chef's Story on my local PBS station (supported by viewers like you!). I mentioned this program a while back, at which time I jokingly called Inside the Chef's Studio for its seeming likeness to the the Bravo program Inside the Actor's Studio.

    What I have caught of the actual interviews between host Dorothy Hamilton and the three chef's I've seen (Bastianich, Bourdain and Flay) has certainly been reminiscent of the interplay between Actor's host James Lipton and his thespian guests, although without all of the gushing and effusive praise. But, just as you get ready for the "Bernard Pivot Questionnaire" and Q&A on Chef's Story, they instead take you into the kitchen.

    Cool, right? Well...

    It's certainly great to see the chefs in their element. It's a straightforward preparation of a dish and each of the ones I've seen do a pretty good job of walking the viewer through it. Of course, they all have considerable TV experience, so their effectiveness is no surprise. Bourdain goes through duck confit, and just barely disguises his belief that a trained chimp could make the dish. He gets a good response from the crowd of culinary students when he explains that he wouldn't use his own knives to take the ends off of the leg bones.

    But the problem is that Bourdain's audience response is the exception rather than the norm in these pieces. It's not a masterclass in the sense that people are calling out questions or asking to have techniques demonstrated more explicitly. There's just no give-and-take with the students and it feels like a big missed opportunity.

    Ahhh....of course, you can order the DVD of the episode, which does include all of the extra goodies (including, I believe, a full Q&A). Since this is a PBS show, and we know how much it's costing you to watch it, we won't begrudge them trying to make a buck or two. But giving a little more to the viewing audience would have been nice.

    Anyone else watching this more regularly than me? Love it?/Like it?/Hate it? Let us know!



    "Eat Me at Foxwoods"
    Friday, May 11, 2007 | posted by Mike

    Sorry for a title that maybe three of you will actually get. If you want in on the joke, go here.

    It looks like the pie-in-the-sky dreams of Food Network celebrities in DUMBO aren't the only thing to keep NYC-area foodies excited these days. There are considerably more definite plans for a big food personality shindig happening not too far from Gotham. Foxwoods Resort & Casino, located in Connecticut about two and a half hours outside New York City, will be hosting the Foxwoods Food & Wine Festival on September 14-16, 2007.

    The weekend looks jam-packed with events, which you can apparently attend by purchasing individual tickets as well as tickets for the whole weekend. Tickets for the full weekend for you and your special someone will cost you $1,025, so unless TVFF hits the lottery, I'll be doing something else that weekend. Of course, there is a Celebrity Chef Poker Tournament which is open to the public, but it's unlikely that would be sufficient to get me in a car four hours each way.

    So, who will be there? According to an article in the Norwich Bulletin:

    Food Network stars Giada De Laurentiis and Dave Lieberman, as well as “Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen” host Lidia Bastianich and “Simply Ming” host Ming Tsai will all be on hand for the event, the casino announced Tuesday.

    You can see the full run-down of food personalities here. You'll want to check out that page (1) for the particularly saucy headshot of Giada and (2) for the THICK LINE right below Giada, Dave, Lidia and Ming and before the listings for all of the other chefs who will be part of the event. I'm sure they didn't mean any disrespect by it, but I think you're sending a pretty obvious message by putting that line there: "Don't bother reading any further...you won't know any of the people below." Ouch. Wasn't it enough to put the "beautiful people" at the top?

    Anywho, everyone (him, her...but not me, sigh) who goes to these sort of confabs always seems to have a good time. Plus, you can get in a little gambling and maybe win your admission price back. Or you can stumble down to the gaming floor after a night of wine and spirits tasting, which might not be the best gambling strategy.


    Big Surprise: Perky Rachael Enjoys Coffee
    Thursday, May 10, 2007 | posted by Mike

    Those Tyler Florence spots aren't the only commercials running seemingly non-stop on my TV these days. There's also one from my favorite donuts chain that had a food TV tie-in. But the question is whether you're seeing it, too.

    There was a post a while back about Rachael Ray signing on as spokeswoman for Dunkin' Donuts, purveyors of a wide variety of donuts and breakfast sandwiches that hold a paralyzing grip on me. I could eat a bacon, egg and cheese on a poppy bagel every day of my life if I could justify it to my cholesterol. But, alas, all things in moderation.

    So they've been running the commercials for the past week or so and they feature an on-the-go Rachael stopping by her local DD to pick up some coffee. The "new guy" working at the store gets introduced to her when she makes her sudden (and speedy) entrance. It's pretty cute, and not terribly surprising that they have a creative spot since their last campaign was pretty good, too. Here is the press release announcing the new commercial.

    Created by Hill Holiday of Boston, Massachusetts, the new $40 million multi-channel marketing campaign consists of a media mix of television, radio, print, outdoor and online spot placements. In addition, Dunkin' Donuts will augment its advertising campaign with in-store marketing and personal appearances by Ray to benefit the brand. The campaign reflects the company's "America Runs on Dunkin'" platform and showcases Ray on the move at a fast pace, visiting a Dunkin' Donuts store for her morning coffee and bagel.

    "Rachael Ray embodies the spirit of our loyal customers," said Robert Rodriguez, Dunkin' Donuts brand president. "As an energetic self-starter,
    she not only understands the benefits of a great-tasting cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee served fast, she also counts on it to fuel her every day."

    And -- whaddya know!?! -- I'm not the only one who thinks the ad is pretty good. The columnist over at the Chicago Sun-Times gave it a "B+." The campaign has also garnered a couple of mentions in other places, including this article from a paper down in Austin ("The stars at night, are big and bright..." Sorry for the Pee Wee's Big Adventure digression.) They point out in the piece that the new campaign coincides with DD's movie into the Austin market, so having a national celebrity gives them an "in" with the locals.

    So, are any of you who live in "non-DD land" seeing the spots? Or is it just for those of us with a Dunkin' presence and those who will soon be getting one? Let us know.



    Crumbs - 5/9/07
    Wednesday, May 09, 2007 | posted by Mike

    Well, we have a winner for our little quiz from last week. "don digiovanni" knew that the "Koka Kola" mentioned in the post title is also the name of a Clash song. Actually, I'm guessing that "don digiovanni" knew how to Google "Koka Kola" and that's how he came up with the answer. What he didn't mention in his comment was the real point of the title, which is that the song includes a cynical line about advertising: "I get good advice from the advertising world." We'll go ahead and give him credit anyway.

    OK, I promise my next quiz won't be related to Clash lyrics.

    • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Food TV from a critic at the Chicago Sun-Times. Sandra, Guy and Robin might not want to read this one. No punches are pulled.

    • George Duran, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich doing some good deeds. (See page 3 of the article)

    • The New York Post didn't like Rachael Ray's True Hollywood Story.

    • Another way to get on the Food Network: A new show, Chopped, is looking to find the top sous-chef in all the land.

    • Epicurious gives you five non-FN food shows you should watch.



    High-End Mario vs. Low-End Mario
    Tuesday, May 08, 2007 | posted by Mike

    It is with tremendous shame that I admit that I've never been to one of Mario Batali's restaurants. Considering the fact that I live a one-hour train ride from four or five of them, there is really no reason for this. It might have something to do with the fact that Mrs. TVFF and I don't usually go out for a very nice Italian meal. Typically, we opt for a neighborhood Italian restaurant when we do go out, and I cook so much Italian in the house that it's not typically the cuisine of choice when stepping out on the town. Still, this is no excuse for not trying Mario.

    Of course, going to one of Mario's places wouldn't guarantee that the orange clogged maestro would even be in the same time zone as you, so you're going there more for the wisdom he imparted on his staff and the menu that he initially put together for the place. Just as we said when we talked about the whole Tyler Florence/Applebee's menu, a chef with his or her name attached has a responsibility to ensure a quality product.

    And so we get word on the Mario Batali-inspired frozen pasta dishes that we quickly mentioned in a Crumbs post from a month or so ago. The word? So-so.

    Mario Batali wanted his new line of "Regional Recipes" frozen dinners (launched under the Progresso brand) to be as close as possible to real Italian food, which means assertive seasonings, fresh ingredients and al dente pasta.

    He got it partly right. Testers who sampled the Orecchiette Pasta with Italian Sausage and Broccoli were pleasantly surprised by the heavily spiced sauce and tender-crisp broccoli,that lacked that all-too-common soggy, frozen-dinner taste and texture.

    But while tender-crisp is a quality desirable for broccoli, the same cannot be said for pasta. Many pieces tasted unappetizingly undercooked.

    I'm sure that Mario would not like to hear that the texture of his pasta was the dish's downfall. If Mario is taking after his mentor, Marco, someone at Progresso can expect a hot dish of risotto to the face.

    As we said, it's not like Mario is slaving away over huge industrial vats of sauce. But, for the low, low price of $100,000, you can have Mario slaving over a meal for you and your friends or coworkers. Oh, and there will be a magician.

    I flew to Las Vegas at Batali's invitation for a $100,000 lunch created by the world-famous chef and his long-time friends, bartender Tony Abou-Ganim and magician Billy Harris. The trio have teamed up to create an exclusive dining and entertainment service, dubbed Magic, Martinis & Mario, for - well - the kind of people who can afford a $100,000 lunch.

    The burning question for me, and probably for everyone else is of course: "Exactly what is a $100,000 lunch like?"

    Sadly, I can't tell you. I arrived at Batali's Enoteca San Marco with a big appetite and even bigger expectations, but the only thing I got to sink my teeth into was a pitch as to why the privileged will pony up for this exorbitant, albeit unique, experience.

    I'd really like to hear about the company that takes them up on this offer. Actually, I'd like to attend the annual meeting of that company, just so I can hear a share-owner get up during the Q&A session and ask, "You paid HOW much for lunch?!?!"

    So...slightly chewy pasta for ten bucks or handcrafted dishes and sawing a woman in half for ten thousand times that amount? I'll be stopping by my frozen food aisle.



    How Much Does "Today" Like Giada?
    Monday, May 07, 2007 | posted by Mike

    Enough to build her a new kitchen.

    OK, maybe not. The kitchen in question will surely be used for a number of guest chefs and will host many demonstrations. But the fact that the folks at NBC poured some serious money into building a new kitchen studio sure seems to indicate that they're excited about having a regular contributor who is also a whiz in the kitchen. Of course, I'm sure they got a company discount on the GE appliances, so maybe the financial commitment wasn't too great.

    Giada gave Today viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the old cooking arrangement as well as the construction of the new facility.

    For years the TODAY team and chefs from around the world have whipped up amazing dishes in the show's main studio. Now, TODAY's got a whole new kitchen and TODAY contributor and chef Giada De Laurentiis was on the show to cook up a feast for the special unveiling.

    Two thoughts on the video:

    • Great job by the Today producer responsible for picking the music used in the piece. The Stones and Curtis Mayfield!?!?

    • At one point, while pointing out some of the details of the new kitchen, Giada says about the lights: "I like how cylindrical they are." I may be parsing that sentence a bit too closely, but does "how cylindrical" mean that there are degrees of cylindrical-ness? I thought objects were either cylinders or they weren't. Apparently, I need to have a discussion with my 10th grade geometry teacher.



    Koka Kola; or, "The Way They Sell Food"
    Friday, May 04, 2007 | posted by Mike

    I have advertising on the brain right now. Part of that is the trip that I was just on, which had me sitting in rooms all day with people who create and shoot commercials for a living. We talked quite a bit about the strategies behind advertising, and it was an interesting discussion.

    The other reason I have been thinking about advertising is the fact that they've been running a new Applebee's/Tyler Florence commercial lately. This one features the Bruschetta Burger. The spot is pretty good because (if memory serves me correctly) he pronounces "bruschetta" correctly and, like the last bunch of Tyler/Applebee's commercials, the thing looked pretty darn tasty. Frankly, if you put pesto on anything, I'll bite.

    But the appetizing burger that Tyler was preparing got me thinking. It looks good now, but how would it look on the plate at my local restaurant. I don't eat at Applebee's enough to know how well-presented their dishes are, and I know that "casual dining" chains like that do a better job with presentation than fast food joints, but my mind immediately went to this site, which made the rounds a couple of weeks ago and which you should absolutely go check out.

    One of the biggest clichés in advertising is that you "sell the sizzle, not the steak." It's fitting that they should use a food metaphor because nobody is more guilty of this tactic than food and restaurant advertisers. How many times have you been excited to try a new item, only to have it come out looking nothing like the commercial or print ad?

    Of course, a lot of this comes out of the advertising put out by fast food chains. They have food stylists and professional photographers shooting the ads. But you're much more likely to have Beavis & Butthead in the kitchen of these places than you are to have a Bobby Flay in-the-making.

    A great chef has a couple of traits. Obviously, he or she must have a fantastic palate, a sense of creativity and a passion for the food. But they also must be able to run a kitchen in a way that ensure that the food going out to customers is prepared and plated according to exact specification. You'll just never get that at a chain fast food place and a chain casual dining restaurant will only be as good as its local staff.

    But we're introducing the whole food TV aspect into the equation, and that makes it a little more interesting. Just like those advertisers, food celebrities prepare the food, but the "hero" shot is almost always a plate that has been reworked by a stylist. The exception, of course, is some of the plating monstrosities turned in by Emeril on Emeril Live. They're terrible. I'm not even joking about that.

    So when a celeb lends his or her name to dishes at a chain restaurant (or to any other product, for that matter), they're opening themself up to criticism if it doesn't match the public's expectations of how it should taste or look. These dishes need to use high quality ingredients. They need to be prepared strictly according to the recipe. And they need to be presented in a way that makes the chef's involvement seem reasonable. That's a lot of trust to put into a restaurant chain, and you have to commend chefs who enter into these arrangements and then demand that kind of quality.

    Anyway, that's my two cents. If any of you have tried any of these dishes or have thoughts on the matter, drop me a line or leave a comment.

    FRIDAY FUN TIME: Hey, since it's the weekend, here's a little fun contest. The title of this post, "Koka Kola," is an obvious reference to the soft drink that OWNS Atlanta, the city I just visited. (Seriously, I went three days without seeing a Pepsi product.) But the funny spelling is appropriate in another way. What is it? (Hint: If you remember the last time we did one of these, that would put you on the right path.)

    The winner who posts a comment or e-mails me will receive a "TVFF Gift Pack," which includes a mention in next week's Crumbs post and the grudging respect of all of your friends. Budgets are tight, people.



    I'm back....

    ...and I'll have more to say a little later today. Sorry for just disappearing like that, but it wasn't like it was fun & games or anything. I'd have rather spent the time with you!

    Enough kissing up? OK.

    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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