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Gluttony: Every Foodie's Favorite Deadly Sin
Friday, June 29, 2007 | posted by Mike

The Surreal Gourmet was running at a time when I wasn't quite the food TV junkie I am today, so my memory is a bit fuzzy. I think I remember that my dad liked it, thought. It jogged my memory a bit when I saw the video here. Sorry, I'd embed it here and make it easy for everyone, but the jackass who posted it to YouTube disable embedding. Thanks a lot.

Why am talking about this now? Because The Surreal Gourmet himself, Bob Blumer, is returning to the Food Network with a new show, Glutton For Punishment, which will debut on Tuesday, July 10th at 9:30 pm (ET/PT). What's the word?

Fun, fast-paced and full of practical information, viewers will watch as Blumer proves there is no distance too far and no challenge too intimidating for a genuine glutton for punishment. By relying on his knowledge of food and spirits, his physical stamina and his competitive spirit, Blumer attempts to triumph in new culinary arenas: whether he’s oyster shucking at the world shuck-off competition, wielding razor-sharp knives during a Benihana chef crash course or juggling bottles in a national Flair bartending contest, Bob undergoes intensive training as he attempts to face a daunting food or spirits-related challenge.

Upcoming episodes include Bob mastering the skills of a professional waiter in only five days to take part in the annual New York Waiter’s Race, flipping (and dropping) his way through numerous bottles to bartend against the world’s best in the NATIONS International Flair Challenge, getting a crash course in the cutthroat world of professional oyster shucking to hold his own in the Annual Urbanna Oyster Festival and trying to beat the heat that New Mexico has to offer during their world famous chili pepper eating contest.

OK, OK...that's all well and good Mr./Ms. Press Release Writer. But what does TVFF's Favorite FN Exec® Bob Tuschman have to say about it?

“We are thrilled to welcome Bob Blumer back onto Food Network,” said Bob Tuschman, Senior Vice President, Programming and Production for Food Network. “He takes on ridiculously entertaining culinary challenges in his new show and our viewers are going to enjoy going along for the ride.”

Lest you think that press releases don't contain interesting facts, I did come across a neat little piece of info in Blumer's bio. It says that his cookbook, The Surreal Gourmet: Real Food for Pretend Chefs, "was the first book to recommend 'music to cook by' for each recipe."

That's pretty cool stuff. Anthony Bourdain also talks about listening to music while prepping his mise en place. Despite my love of music, I have to admit I don't listen to anything while I'm cooking (unless you count Jeopardy! coming from the living room television).

Do you have a "kitchen soundtrack?" Or do you have a great "pairing" of food and music? Maybe Sticky Fingers while making caramel for desert? How about Bat Out of Hell with your fra diavolo?

Let's hear about it in the comments below! The most creative album/song and dish pairing will receive the usual TVFF prize (i.e. a brief mention in next week's Crumbs.)

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Garcia Situation Becoming a JAG-ged Pill for Food Network?
Thursday, June 28, 2007 | posted by Mike

UPDATE: Check out the TVFF interview with Paul Rieckhoff

When you're talking about a negative story in the press, there are two factors that determine how damaging it is. Those two things are the reach of the story and whether or not it has legs. There are certain things you, as an organization/politician/celebrity, can do to limit the reach and legginess of a story, but a certain amount of it is out of your hands. A new piece from the Military Times brought bad news to the Food Network on both fronts.

If a story is said to have "legs," that means it sticks around in the media's and public's consciousness. Your best hope for bad news is that it gets mentioned, dropped and forgotten. The new article points to the fact that the people who uncovered the discrepancies in Garcia's bio aren't letting go of the story. Of course, the bad timing of the trip to Ft. Dix right after these revelations give them a fresh hook for the story.

Garcia, who goes by the nickname “JAG” as a contestant on the reality show “The Next Food Network Star,” dodged elimination again Sunday night thanks to a solid performance in a military-inspired challenge at Fort Dix, N.J.

But because the bulk of the episodes were taped weeks ago, soldiers who participated in the event and supported Garcia didn’t know of his embellished military record.

In a nice little piece of cross-site synergy, the article refers to an ongoing conversation on the site's message board wherein comments, both pro and con, have been posted. Many of the people who knew him stick up for him as a nice guy who got caught up in a bad situation while in the service and who made a mistake when he embellished his story to the Food Network. Others commenters are much more vocal and vehement in their condemnation of Garcia. They even had a post from someone who claimed to have been at the Ft. Dix event.

I had to laugh at one entry, though, which calls Garcia out for not being from the Bronx, but rather from Bergenfield, NJ. Bergenfield is very close to the hometown of Mrs. TVFF. This is funny, considering JAG's rough-and-tumble persona. Mrs. TVFF isn't what you would call "street," so I'm just trying to reconcile that in my mind.

Caveat: Have fun reading the message boards and feel free to form you own judgement, but please take into account the pitfalls of blindly trusting anonymous posts, both pro and con.

OK, so we're seeing that the story has legs. But if the story is limited to a relatively small audience and it's only being echoed by knucklehead bloggers like yours truly, it's not that big a problem. Enter Paul Rieckhoff.

But pretending to be a combat veteran for any reason should not be taken lightly, said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of the non-profit group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

“That’s absolutely unacceptable,” he said. “It’s an insult to the 1.6 million Americans who have been to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Rieckhoff is an extremely vocal and extremely influential author, blogger and growing political force who has played a large part in getting the issues (particularly physical and mental health care) facing Iraq and Afghanistan vets into the news. He's the guy news shows bring in when they want someone with "in the field" credibility. And having him pissed off at you is not a good thing.

The Garcia situation (I refuse to go along with the ridiculous media tactic of affixing "-gate" to everything) is still limited in its reach and will only retain legs as long as he remains on the show. The final impact of the story will be dictated by how well JAG does. And so, the quote from the Food Network in the story is intriguing:

“Food Network remains committed to fully investigating Josh Garcia’s background,” Cara Brugnoli, a network spokeswoman, said Tuesday. “We are working with the military and others to conduct our research and we will release any relevant details when appropriate.”

First off, kudos to FN for taking this seriously.

But I'm wondering what that quote signifies. Are they going full bore on the investigation because they know he'll be around and they'll have to deal with it? Or are they demonstrating their due diligence while they wait it out, knowing he'll be dropped in the next week or two?

Let me know your read on this in the comments below.



Bring Out Dave Lieberman and Bring Out the Best
Wednesday, June 27, 2007 | posted by Mike

Dave sure has embraced the whole "online presence" thing. He's got a pretty nifty personal website, although it doesn't quite receive the kind of love and attention it needs, as evidenced by the fact that there are no events listed for June or July. Maybe he's just resting. It's really cute that he put his brother's birthday on the calendar during May, though, so we'll cut him some slack.

In addition to the site, he's also done educational videos about beer for herestobeer.com and of course there was the Dave Does series for FN's site. For the most part, all of this works quite well for Liberman since he's the kind of upbeat, young and energetic guy you associate with the InterGoogle and his no-nonsense delivery is well suited for the short-form structure of online videos.

Apparently, these are the same sorts of thoughts going through the heads of the folks at Unilever and Hellman's mayonnaise (that's Best Foods to those of you out west), because they're about to launch a new series of videos on the Yahoo! Food site featuring Dave Lieberman. AdWeek has the info on In Search of Real Food

The series, called In Search of Real Food, will be included on Yahoo! Food and feature chef and Food Network personality Dave Lieberman. The series, in 12 episodes, follows Lieberman as he travels across the U.S., talking to people about recipes and how they define "real food."

The settings will vary, from restaurants to events such as state fairs. And during one segment of the show, Lieberman will prepare recipes, some of which require mayo. He'll also write a blog for the site, Ogilvy said. In addition, consumers will be able to post videos about food stories and recipes.

Can I tell you how much I love the phrase, "Lieberman will prepare recipes, some of which require mayo." You don't say?

As always, the value of the series will rest upon the quality of the info that it provides, and any attempt to make it a blatant sales job would be embarrassing. I don't mind them selling me something if they give me some useful info or entertainment in return. I'm guessing that we won't get a tutorial on how to make your own mayo at home, though.

Ed. note: I don't mean to sound like I'm ragging on Hellman's. Theirs is the best brand available and I see absolutely no need to may my own mayo at home. I guarantee a bout of salmonella would be my reward for even trying.



Crumbs - 6/27/07

I neglected to make a mention of the fact that our "home town rooting interest" on Hell's Kitchen, Vinnie from nearby Milltown, New Jersey, got the boot this week. As I said when Eddie was told that his services were no longer needed, Vinnie was a bit of a knucklehead. If you're interested, you can check out Vinnie's site. Be sure to check out the "Recipe Cards" section and pick up the recipe for moonshine.

Is that even legal? I know everyone thinks a still is charming and Hawkeye and Trapper John and blah, blah, blah...but I'm guessing nobody is laughing when your neighbor goes blind from the bottle you gave him for Christmas.

  • The star of The Surreal Gourmet is returning to Food Network.



Compare & Contrast
Tuesday, June 26, 2007 | posted by Mike

So why, exactly, do we have three food competition reality shows running at the same time? I'm guessing that part of it is the fact that reality shows have traditionally started as summer replacement series and so there is an aligning of the planets around that. Maybe the food gods just like seeing me fidget as I endure three hours of programming a week.

I was thinking about that when I came across two reviews comparing and contrasting the Big 3 (as Hell's Kitchen, Top Chef and The Next Food Network Star shall be collectively known from now on). One is a blog entry and the other is a newspaper article, but they both seem to hit on all of the usual points.

Namely, those points are the fact that HK caters to the sadistic crowd, TC is for "serious" foodies and TNFNS is the feel-good show focused on personality. Regular viewers of all will undoubtedly see nuanced differences between the shows and may protest, but I think that pretty much captures things in broad strokes. The shows know where their bread is buttered and keep that in mind. If good art challenges you, then popular entertainment gives you what you want (or at least what you think you want).

The one show that has really broken with its traditional format this season has been TNFNS. I understand the urge to get the contestants out of the kitchen and into some interesting situations. The challenges have been fairly successful in their own rights, although they did come off a bit like a group episode of Dinner: Impossible. The producers felt they had to shake it up a bit and that's understandable.

The problem is that the new format hasn't given us enough insight into the central question of the show, which is who would make the best Food Network personality. Unless they plan to skip the food preparation show in favor of a more lifestyle program (and there is no indication that I've seen that they will) when it comes to their six-episode commitment to the winner, we're going to need to know less about whether Rory can make a lasagna in an Army base's kitchen and more about whether or not she's a complete disaster reading from a prompter. I'm not the only one thinking this, as I've seen a bunch of bloggers and folks in the comments section saying things along the lines of, "I think X is interesting, but I have no idea what his/her show would be like."

And so, TNFNS is getting back to it's roots next week. They'll be doing a full on-camera demonstration. And is there any doubt that the presence of Alton Brown will make this the best episode of the season? Nobody on the network has a greater understanding of the camera, how it works and how the on-air talent works with it than Alton Brown. Plus, from the preview, it looks like he's in his scruffy, Grizzly Adams mode, and that's always a good sign.

I, for one, am looking forward to getting down to brass tacks with these guys, and figuring out whether it will be worth tuning in when the new show debuts.

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I Was All Right, For a While...
Monday, June 25, 2007 | posted by Mike

In honor of the sniffle-fest that last night's The Next Food Network Star became:

Seriously, is there a way to get Aaron on the show as a late entry? He must have some free time on his hands since getting dumped from Hell's Kitchen. Everyone can have a nice, big cry. We'll even hit up the Kleenex people for some product-placement money.

The kids prepared a thankfully pizza-free meal for the troops at Fort Dix. I feel I can kid about this because (a) those knuckleheads thought it was a good idea to have their tape dubbed at a Circuit City and (b) because Fort Dix is about twenty minutes or so from TVFF HQ. Between this and having my post office infected with anthrax, I'm beginning to thing that maybe the terrorists aren't fans of light-hearted commentary about food television.

I hate to nit-pick, but the mispronunciations continued on last night's episode. Can someone please let JAG know the correct pronunciation of the word chipotle? The "T" comes before the "L." While watching the show, I commented that I was surprised that Mr. Garcia whiffed on this, considering his apparent background. Mrs. TVFF replied that JAG never actually said he was Latino...maybe he just "let you believe" that he was.

Touché, Mrs. TVFF, touché.


Gordo's "Kitchen Nightmares" Gets Off on the Wrong Foot
Friday, June 22, 2007 | posted by Mike

Or maybe not. I guess it all depends on whether you subscribe to the belief that there's no such thing as bad publicity.

It hasn't even premiered yet, but Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares is already the subject of a lawsuit, thanks to a general manager who feels that his restaurant is being misrepresented in the show and who was forced, "to quit his job to avoid further abuse." Just wondering...is there really a workplace that doesn't involve some sort of abuse?

The point of the show is that Ramsay drops in, improves a restaurant that isn't doing well and everyone lives happily ever after. Well, Martin Hyde didn't get the fairytale ending.

Hyde's lawsuit said Ramsay falsely claimed meat was spoiled, used a defective chair to imply that Dillons' furniture was shoddy and even hired actors to pose as customers to make the restaurant look busy at the end of the week.

We'll see how this turns out. My guess is that FOX has a couple of pretty good lawyers who know how to write a waiver, so Mr. Hyde shouldn't plan on spending his golden years living off this windfall.

The funny thing about this is that Mrs. TVFF managed to catch the original British version of Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America last night. BBC America resides in the netherworld of the high 200s on my digital cable, so I never manage to see it. (I think Mrs. TVFF was searching around for We: Women's Entertainment.) She said that Ramsay was surprisingly encouraging to the restaurateurs and that he only popped off a couple of times, displaying his trademark temper. Somehow, I doubt we're going to be getting the serene Gordo in the American version.

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TVFF, The Hungover Gourmet & Tom Colicchio: Great (?) Minds Think Alike
Thursday, June 21, 2007 | posted by Mike

Well, maybe that's true for the second two, but I'll leave judgement on the first to you, dear reader.

A couple of days ago, I shared my thoughts on the whole "judging" thing when it comes to food television reality shows. Then we had a comment from Dan, a.k.a. The Hungover Gourmet, in yesterday's post saying:

Have you seen the second ep yet? The dismissal seemed like one of those decisions based more on who was more likely to be a better character than anything.

Of course, this illustrates the underlying question that we all have when it comes to these shows. Are these individuals being retained for their culinary skills or for their ability to draw viewers?

Time for the usual disclaimer. The Next Food Network Star is really about both, so let's leave them out of this. And Hell's Kitchen judging is based upon the side of the bed Gordo picks each morning. We're really talking about Top Chef, and now one of that show's judges has weighed in on the matter. Tom Colicchio leads off his latest blog entry with a discussion of the criteria given to the judges on the show. His post is in response to comments on his previous post asking exactly what goes into the decisions. It's clear that he takes his job as judge seriously.

And why not? In the case of each of these shows, the judges are people who are hired because of the legitimacy that they bring along with them. They have a responsibility to their own reputation to make sure they are part of an operation that is on the up and up. It can be a goofy process. It can be a process with which we don't agree. But it has to be a legitimate process.

It's good to see that they, too recognize this fact and care enough about the audience to say so. And it's great that they have a venue to talk about things like this. But, hey...the really important thing is that Tom Colicchio is listening to what all of you are saying in the comments. He cares what you think...even if Mario doesn't!

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Crumbs - 6/20/07
Wednesday, June 20, 2007 | posted by Mike

It's Wednesday, it's late and I'm tired.

  • Cat Cora will be there, too.



The Oeuvre of Colombe Jacobsen-Derstine
Tuesday, June 19, 2007 | posted by Mike

To nobody's surprise, Colombe will no longer be joining us on The Next Food Network Star. Things got a bit contentious with her housemates towards the end there, so I'm guessing they're not particularly sad to see her go, either. Mrs. TVFF also contends that she's not cute enough to warrant staying on the show simply for that reason, so it looks like the consensus is that it was time for Colombe to pursue other challenges.

And what might they be? Well, they keep plugging her as a Yoga/Fitness instructor, so there is always that. But then there is also the acting career, which is mentioned in her bio but has not been brought up much during the show. My guess is that the FN folks didn't feel like paying for the rights to show clips. I mean, if she's wasn't going to be around long, why bother.

So, exactly what does that acting career look like? Let's go to her IMDB page.

Her resume includes two Mighty Ducks movies, and it looks like that would be during her "child actor" phase (she would have been around 12). That doesn't stop some guy on her MySpace photo comments page from saying how beautiful he thought she was ever since Mighty Ducks, which is pretty creepy. I'm guessing she was some sort of hockey player, and the did have the nickname "The Cat," so that's pretty cool. She was also in Rookie of the Year, so I'm guessing she had the kid/sports movie scene pretty well covered.

As an adult, there are two major credits, Men in Black II and Moonlight Mile. Despite the fact I'm pretty sure I saw this in the theaters, I can't remember a single thing about MiB II other than they had to re-shoot the final scene because it was originally going to feature the World Trade Center. Moonlight Mile was supposed to be pretty good. It starred Dustin Hoffman, Susan Sarandon and Jake Gyllenhaal. I never saw it, but I can say that the Rolling Stones song after which is it named is fantastic.

She managed to actually land roles with names (i.e., not "Third Girl in Bar"), so that's a good sign. In the upcoming The Living Wake, she'll be playing the unfortunately-named "Prostitute." Talk about a name that paints you into a corner when it comes to your choice of career! Oh, wait...

I'd think about doing some additional research into this whole thing, but she's already been eliminated and my Netflix queue already has a six-month backlog, so feel free to share any Colombe-spotting stories you may have in the comments.



Lidia Bastianich Live
Monday, June 18, 2007 | posted by Mike

I mentioned last week that I had a pretty eventful weekend. As you all know, TVFF is a big fan of a number of PBS cooking shows, and there is probably none that we like more than the various series from Lidia Bastianich. Well, we were in for a real treat when we got to attend a live cooking demonstration with Lidia at our local PBS station, NJN. She was there to promote her new series, Lidia’s Italy, and encourage viewers to become members. The public relations folks at NJN were extremely generous and allowed me to attend, and sent along the images you can see here, all of which are provided courtesy of NJN. Photography by Bill Horin. You can click on each one to see the full-sized version.

The event was held on a Saturday evening and I arrived at the Trenton studios to check in at the reception desk. I had a bit of a surreal experience when they found my name as said, “Are you media?” I replied that I was (I suppose) and they invited me in to the soundstage. A delicious Italian antipasto spread was provided, and I took a seat at one of the back tables. The room was filled with VIPs and members who had been invited to attend, so I was trying to keep a relatively low profile.

The production crew was busy preparing the set and Lidia came out to a round of applause and sat in a director’s chair for a short question & answer session. Her first question was where her passion from food originated and whether she had formal culinary training. For her, food was something with which she grew up. In Istria, her family’s kitchen fed seasonal workers and nearly everything was either homemade or from somewhere in a nearby village. Growing up, she was always interested in science and never intended to become a chef. However, she ended up opening a restaurant with her husband in 1971 at the age of 23. She said that she did pursue formal training, but that she went after already owning and working as a sous chef in her first restaurant.

She was also asked about having her family on the show, and she said that it illustrated the “realness” of the show. This is cooking in her real home with her real family. Likewise, she said that her new series, Lidia’s Italy, is real Italy. She also dropped an enticing tidbit…she has another new cookbook coming in 2009. She also said that we can expect Grandma in a couple of upcoming episodes.

Her final question was whether food in Italy tastes different than food here. She said that it does. Part of it is the difference in soil, climate, and varietals, but often that the key difference is the proximity of the source to the restaurant and market. She also pointed out the extent to which Italians pride themselves on their gardens.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to ask my question (it would have been about how she decided to become a TV personality and what is the most important thing she wants her viewers to get from her show), and she was off to sign a few cookbooks before the on-air spots. She walked right past our table and we exchanged a quick smile and a “hello.”

When I tell you how thoroughly nice and gracious she was to every single person in the room, I’m not exaggerating. There were dozens of people speaking with her at one point or another and they all got a smile. Even when she was cooking, and it was clear that she was paying close attention to the food, she was still conversing with fans and crew. I overheard a few crew members talking about how amazingly nice she is.

She taped three 14-minute live segments, during which she prepared three dishes: mussels with oil, garlic and onions (I swear…I could smell it from the back of the studio); fennel, orange and black olive salad; and a Sicilian pesto that included tomatoes and almonds. The cooking segments, which she did with a co-host, were vintage Lidia in a live setting (I’ve seen her do live segments for WHYY in Philadelphia, as well). She does a great job of connecting with the audience while at the same time eloquently talking about the importance of membership and supporting public television.

When it was over, Lidia said farewell to everyone and that was when the really cool part happened. The stage manager announced that the food that Lidia had prepared during the shoot was going to be handed out to everyone who was left. I didn’t need to be asked twice, and I got in line. I was able to sample each of the dishes and the were all fantastic. The pesto in particular was good, with the almonds giving it a creamier flavor than the usual pignoli pesto.

This was amazing. This wasn’t just her recipe. This wasn’t just her restaurant. This was a dish that Lidia actually made. It’s not every day you can say you’ve tasted something prepared by one of your favorite food personalities.

Again, I’d like to send a very big thanks to all of the folks at NJN.



Straight From Planet Lovetron
Sunday, June 17, 2007 | posted by Mike

There are three things that really get me going. In no particular order, they are:

  1. Music
  2. Sports
  3. Food

Any time I get to combine two of them, you know it's good. That's why I was excited that tonight's episode of The Next Food Network Star featured a former member of my favorite basketball team, the Philadelphia 76ers. Darryl Dawkins, a.k.a. "Chocolate Thunder," a.k.a. resident of the planet Lovetron, a.k.a. the man for whom the collapsible rim was invented, made a guest appearance.

And if you're wondering how Mr. Dawkins got the nickname "Chocolate Thunder," you can check out the video below.

Non-Darry Dawkins Observations:
I turned to Mrs. TVFF when Tommy announced his "Grella-sized" meatballs and said, "How is that going to work as stadium food." And we saw how that turned out.

Also, I'm going to have to update my toy collection! Just like there was the Luke Skywalker action figures in various outfits (Bespin fatigues, Hoth battle gear, X-Wing pilot -- I had 'em all), I can't wait to get my "Bob Tuschman in Sporty Polo Shirt" action figure. The judges should do field trips more often...think of the merchandising possibilities!



Food Reality Shows: They'll Be the Judge of That
Friday, June 15, 2007 | posted by Mike

This was the first week that we've had the big three (The Next Food Network Star, Hell's Kitchen and Top Chef) food reality shows airing during the same week, so I think this is a good opportunity to do a little compare and contrast when it comes to one of the more intriguing aspects of these shows. That would be the method by which contestants are eliminated and what that process means to us as the home viewer with a rooting interest in one or more of the contestants.

What got me thinking of this was this past week's TNFNS, which eliminated Nikki despite the fact that Colombe was staggeringly terrible when she got her chance to perform in front of the judges. I would think that many who watched the show figured that Colombe would be on the chopping block, particularly considering the fact that she was close last week. Now, the cynical among you might say that Colombe is skating on her looks.

But the issue here is that we really aren't in a good position to be able to judge who should be eliminated, and this goes for all of the shows. We're not there 24/7 and we're not able to see what goes on in a way that allows us to form a full opinion. This is especially true because, as I mentioned in my gripe about Top Chef last week, it's very hard for us to be able to form a sound judgement about food. On American Idol, you can hear whether the person is a hack or not. We don't have that luxury with food. Licking your television screen will not get you any closer to the answer. (Although you will have a cleaner screen.)

We're at the mercy of the show's editor, who pulls together all of the footage, figures out what the important stuff is and then puts it together in a way that is designed to heighten the dramatic tension. Of course, dramatic tension = not knowing who's about to get booted. So there are probably going to be a few red herrings in there. Hell's Kitchen really has a habit of doing this, especially after they get done eliminating the no-brainers at the beginning. Of course, that's FOX, and I suppose I just assume blatant manipulation from them.

That's why the judges are so important on these programs. Yes, they have to be interesting characters in their own right. But the most important thing for them to be is trustworthy and clearly possessing the necessary expertise that allows them to act as the viewer's proxy. If we can't clearly see and believe in Tom Colicchio's palate, Gordon Ramsay's ability to run a kitchen or TVFF's Favorite FN Exec® Bob Tuschman's eye for on-air talent, we're never going to be able to fully buy in to the drama of the show. And if that's the case, why watch?

Got a thought on this? Always suspicious of that disclaimer that reads: "The judges' decision were made in collaboration with the show's producers?" Feel free to weigh in with a comment below.

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A Few Thoughts on "Top Chef"
Thursday, June 14, 2007 | posted by Mike

Very few, actually. I don't have a whole lot to add.

Can we get Anthony Bourdain on there full time? I know he's the master of "extreme" ingredients and that was the tie-in for last night's episode, but I'd love to have him week in and week out. This guy was made to judge one of these kinds of shows. I'm sure he's not interested and that he'd probably get bored of it after a week or two. So he shows up for one episode each year, wows the contestants (who all think he's a culinary god) and keeps the legend of Bourdain going.

The best moment of the show was when he was giving Howie a hard time about not getting both of his ingredients on the plate and Howie starts quoting back to him from his book about how the best cooks won't send something out until it's right. Bourdain's reaction is priceless and you know he had to love it. The winner's reward -- Bourdain's books, presented as just that...a big stack of books -- was the icing on the cake.

But even if we don't get Tony for the rest of the season, we are getting Ted Allen, which is very good news. He's proven his judging chops with appearances as an arbiter on Iron Chef America, and he was always good on Queer Eye, although that show always had him playing the "nice guy" to the poor, straight schlub he had to help. It will be interesting to see how mean he can get, but I think he has enough culinary experience and expertise to be able to call people out when necessary.

You should absolutely check out Ted's blog on the Bravo site. It's funny, irreverent (the current post is titled "Hot Men in Banana Hammocks!") and he's not at all afraid to be critical when necessary...there's a swipe at Marcel's foam and a reference to Dave running up a big room-service bill during his stay for the season one vs. two faceoff.



A Bobby Flay Street Sighting!
Wednesday, June 13, 2007 | posted by Mike

You remember TVFF Cub Reporter Jessica, right? She noticed the plane with the TNFNS banner a couple of weeks back. Well, she's just been promoted to TVFF Ace Reporter Jessica thanks to this little exchange (paraphrased and condensed for dramatic purposes):

(Phone Rings)

TVFF: TVFF Branch Office, how may I help you?

Jessica: I'm in New York. I just left a meeting and I'm staring at BOBBY FLAY!

TVFF: Get out! What's he doing?

Jessica: He's taping a show.

TVFF: Get a picture!

Later, back at the TVFF Branch Office

TVFF: So, where did this happen, Chelsea?

Jessica: No, 51st between 6th and 7th.

TVFF: What show was he taping?

Jessica: Hmmmm...

TVFF: Was there also a guy with a bike there?

Jessica: Maybe...or it could have been a wheelchair...(regardless, we established that there were wheels involved)

TVFF: Did the guy also have a mask?

Jessica: Yes! How did you know!?!

TVFF: Throwdown!

Yup, it looks like Bobby was taping an intro to one of his Throwdown episodes and a TVFF correspondent just happens to stumble upon him.

What's that? You want proof? Check out this bad boy!

OK, you're probably just going to have to take our word for it. The TVFF IT department was unable to get the photo off the phone so we just took a digital photo of the cell phone. It's a bit "ghetto," but I'm not opening up the TVFF coffers to upgrade Jessica's data plan, so this is about as good as it's going to get.



Crumbs - 6/13/07

As you probably know, the new season of Top Chef starts tonight. Let's all hope and pray that it is gloriously foam-free. And why do we feel like the judges will quickly become the most compelling reason to tune in?

  • Jamie Oliver threatened by "Cornish extremists." Thank God it wasn't Cornish hens!

  • Del Posto, co-owned by Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich, will continue to operate despite an attempt by the building's new owner to have them evicted. Note to building owner: Good luck getting a decent table.



Was JAG Misrepresenting His Military Service?

Right after I give him a pat on the back for his knife-work, we get news that The Next Food Network's JAG, known on his birth certificate as Josh Adam Garcia, doesn't quite have the credentials we thought he had. According to some research included in a Marine Times article, a couple of key pieces from his bio didn't hold up under scrutiny. Specifically, claims that he graduated culinary school and that he served in Afghanistan have been called into question.

Regarding the culinary school experience, which took place at the New York Restaurant School. They were able to confirm that he did attend. However:

For starters, he never finished culinary school in New York.

“He attended, but did not graduate,” said Midge Elias, director of public relations at the school, now known as the Art Institute of New York City. Privacy rules prevent the school from releasing any further information, such as number of course hours completed or whether the former Marine used the GI Bill to help finance his training, as he claimed in multiple interviews.

Obviously, the issue that is of greater interest to the folks at Marine Times was his years spent in the service and the claim that he had served in Afghanistan. They have the details about his discharge a number of months before his enlistment was supposed to have ended. They also have some information about a hazing situation that he claims played a part in the discrepancy in his rank. He has referred to himself as a "corporal" when he was, in fact, discharged as a private. Be sure to check out the full article for the back-and-forth between JAG and the reporter.

Regarding Afghanistan:

Likewise, the service has no record of Garcia ever deploying to Afghanistan, and certainly not as a member of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, the infantry unit Garcia said he accompanied to the war zone in 2002. In fact, Marine officials at the battalion’s home at Camp Lejeune, N.C., said the unit did not deploy to Afghanistan that year.


But, the former Marine admitted that it was during the final selections for the show that he let the “war hero” notion take hold.

“That’s my fault,” he said. “I let them believe it, that’s my fault.”

One thing to keep in mind is that there has been a great deal of attention lately paid to false claims of military service. And it's not just resume padding. There are laws that make it a punishable act to wear medals that an individual did not earn. This is a big deal, and even a little "fudging" or "let[ting] them believe it" is not going to be looked kindly upon. Of course, at this point, nobody is talking about any kinds of charges...I'm just pointing this out as context.

But this clearly creates an issue for the folks at the Food Network. The article includes a statement from FN:

“Food Network conducted routine background checks on the competitors featured in the series,” according to the statement, attributed to Bob Tuschman, senior vice-president of programming and production for Food Network (and a recurring judge on the show). “It has come to our attention that some facts about Josh Garcia may have been misrepresented. We are currently investigating this situation and will have a resolution soon. His updated bio, pending further review, has been posted on the Web site.”

They've made a bunch of changes to the bio and will undoubtedly continue to work and make sure everything is right, but it could become a progressively bigger headache for them if JAG continues to progress through the show. Obviously, they know how long he'll be sticking around. If he's only here for another week or two, it will blow over quickly. But if he's in it for the long haul and if the story gets any traction beyond this article, he's going to quickly become a problem and a distraction that the show and Network just don't need.



Arreverderci, Eddie!
Tuesday, June 12, 2007 | posted by Mike

Our time together was much, much too brief.

Hell's Kitchen "86'd" our favorite character (we use the term "character" because none of these conetestants are real people) last night. Gordon Ramsay said it was because Eddie couldn't control his station. That may be true, but I think he got rid of him because he couldn't think of any more "tiny" jokes, having to recycle the "that fish is the size of Eddie" line three or four times.

I just guess that we'll have to turn our love to Aaron, the crying Asian cowboy. To Aaron's credit, I think he only broke down in tears once last night. He did, however, bail out on his crew in favor of a nap in the dorm. Not exactly what you would call a team player.

At the risk of looking too self-congratulatory, I would like to point out a post a while back in which I said, "...with a name like Vinnie, there is some meathead potential." And, sure enough, he's just like every other "Vinnie from Jersey" I know -- and there are a disproportionate number of Vinnies here in the Garden State.

At this rate, I'll have nobody to root for.



See Ya Later, Mon!
Monday, June 11, 2007 | posted by Mike

I hope all of you are back to the work week and feeling chipper! I had a fun and eventful weekend, which you'll get to hear about in the relatively near future. But that's a story for another day...back to the business at hand.

Another episode of The Next Food Network Star has come and gone and so has another contestant, and this time it was the unfortunately-accented Nikki. The didn't let the fact that she's from Oakland prevent her from lapsing into an exuberant accent whenever she mentioned her "Jamaican Me Crazy Jerk Chicken!!!!" (Yes, those exclamation points accurately reflect her tone.) The judges didn't like the food or her overly-practiced delivery, and that was the end of that. No tears were shed in the TVFF household.

My issues with Nikki do include food-related matters as well. According to her page on the Food Network site, her bio lists:

Favorite food: Crab

Food you won't go near: Raw sushi

First off, is there really any reputable chef who won't eat sushi?

Secondly, the thought of eating raw fish repulses you but you have no problem eating a bottom-feeding crustacean? I've been crabbing quite a few times and let's just say they're not the most discriminating eaters in the animal kingdom.

Anyway, Rory and Michael both came off looking pretty good this week. JAG also showed some "mad skilz" (as the kids say), although the panel thought he was a bit too much of a "chef" and not enough of a "cook." The way he blazed through his segment of the group cooking demonstration was a site to behold, though. Colombe...well, I'll save that for later.

Is it me, or was the chicken pretty much completely raw? It was seared on one side for about a minute, and then it was thrown into a cold oven (remember, it was the first contestant's job to turn it on). I couldn't tell if it was swapped out or not.

Hey, I might not share Nikki's assessment of sushi, but I think we can all agree that the chicken from the demo is something you should avoid at all costs.



Batali, Bastianich Appearing Together in Washington, D.C.
Friday, June 08, 2007 | posted by Mike

Italian food and culture aficionados in and around the nation's capital look like they're in for a treat next month. The Smithsonian Institution's Resident Associate Program is featuring chefs Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich and actors Marissa Tomei and Stanley Tucci in an event called "Food, Film, and Friendship, Italian Style," which will be held on July 8th at 2pm.

According to the event's website:

Prepare to be entertained, enlightened, or just charmed as friends, colleagues, and New Yorkers—Italian American celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich, and film star Marisa Tomei—share an afternoon considering the merits of Italian cuisine and why food and film make for such intriguing and delightful pairings.

During this entertaining afternoon highlighted by video clips, these stars of culinary TV and film fame talk about food and why the culinary arts have become so prominent in today’s popular culture.

Moderator Jim Bohannon, a popular radio talk-show host, brings his own special perspective to the lively discussion.

Obviously, it doesn't get much better than Mario and Lidia when you're talking about Italian celebrity chefs. But my guess is that it's going to also be a real treat to get to hear Stanley Tucci. He's a tremendous actor -- the only character I really liked in The Devil Wears Prada (Mrs. TVFF made me watch it) -- and he's also a big foodie, as you could probably guess from his appearance on Mario's Italian Christmas special a few years back and his writing/directing/acting in Big Night.

Mario and Lidia are big fans of one another (and, of course, her son is Mario's partner in many of his restaurant endeavors), so you can expect a lot of love in the room for this one.

The event will take place at GWU's Lisner Auditorium and tickets can be purchased at the website above.

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Past "Top Chef" Winners Return, Annoy the Hell Out of Me
Thursday, June 07, 2007 | posted by Mike

This has been bugging me more and more as time goes on. After only being slightly peeved after watching the Top Chef all-star competition, I've become progressively more ticked off.

First of all, I remember why, last year, I reached a point in the series where I thought to myself, "I really hope the producers find a way to have none of them win." The top finishers for both years, but particularly for the second season, are mostly insufferable. I know that Marcel and Steven are probably artificially inflating the "annoying" factor, but there's enough blame to go around.

Case in point: Why are you complaining that you're having to prepare a meal for the upcoming season's contestants? You're a chef. You don't get to pick and choose who you serve your food to. Shut up, load your foam canister and put the food in front of whoever Tom Colicchio tells you.

And another thing. You know what's really uninteresting to watch? Two blowhards argue about whose food tastes better. You might as well be arguing about who has the prettier imaginary friend, because all but about a dozen of us in the world have no way of getting to the bottom of your stupid argument. It's tiresome, it's boring and it just makes you look as smug as you clearly are.

Oh, and as for the advice to the new contestants to "not read what they say about you on the blogs?" Here's a hint: Don't act like a complete jackass and we won't call you on it.

And lest you think I'm just ticked off by the chefs...Why is Padma Lakshmi still the host of this show? Did we learn nothing last season? She adds not one iota from a culinary standpoint, and I occasionally have to ask Mrs. TVFF what she said just after she mumbles another set of instructions. Seriously -- if you listen closely, you can hear how often they have to "loop" her dialogue, so it must not be me. If she's just there to look good, can't we at least have someone who enunciates?



"Hell's Kitchen" Spoiled?

NOTE: This post is spoiler-free. Click on the link to the article at your own risk.

Might the cat be out of the bag just one episode in to the new season of Hell's Kitchen? Well, if you believe the folks at the online betting site bodog.com, it might just be.

The Internet is a wonderful place, where you can gamble on not just sporting events, but a wide range of other "competitions" of questionable integrity (and, yes, I am including the United States Presidential Elections in there). One of the things you can bet on is the outcome of reality television programs, and so some folks with some disposable income have been placing bets on the contestants on Hell's Kitchen. And then, a whoooooole bunch of bets were placed for one contestant in particular.

Sound fishy to you? Well, according to an article one E!'s website, it raised a red flag with the people at bodog.com and they suspended wagering on the show. This has happened a few times in the past, particularly with Survivor, although the accuracy of the voting has been so-so. If you want the full story and the name of the individual who has been getting all of the votes, you can check out the SPOILER-RIFIC article. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!

Well, I read it. Had it been one of the other two competition shows, I probably wouldn't have. But, when it comes to the importance of avoiding spoilers, I think the list goes like this:

  1. The Next Food Network Star
  2. Top Chef
  3. Hell's Kitchen

Why? Because, unlike Star, you're not really ever going to see these folks again. The Kitchen winner gets a place in Vegas that you'll never visit and even the Top Chef winner just kind of fades away, unless they're in the news for possibly cribbing another chef's recipe or being dragged back for a mildly obnoxious "all star battle," as they did last night. (More on this later.)

With Star, we've got (for better or worse) the winner for at least one short-season run of his or her new show. Yes, it might end up banished to 8:00 am on Saturdays (Hearty Boys), but they will be around for a little while, so you might as well let the drama unfold.



Crumbs - 6/6/07
Wednesday, June 06, 2007 | posted by Mike

As promised, it's time to hand out credit for the trivia question that we had last week.

We referenced "Bluto Blutarsky" and "Ned Ryerson" and asked which two movies we were talking about and what they had in common with one another.

"mrs.l" was the first one to get Animal House and Groundhog Day. Bluto, of course, was played by John Belushi and Ned (played by character actor Steven Tobolowsky) was the guy who accosted Bill Murray's character every day, trying to get him to remember him from high school before watching him step off the curb and into a puddle.

But the thing they have in common came to us from "david auerbach" (credit also to "seth," who sent it in a little later via e-mail) who remembered the involvement of Harold Ramis in both of the movies. It's amazing...this guy either wrote, directed or acted in: Animal House, Caddyshack, Stripes, National Lampoon's Vacation, Ghost Busters, Back to School, Groundhog Day, and Analyze This. Oh, and he was on SCTV, too. I think that qualifies him as a "Comedy Legend."

OK. Enough messing around.

  • Lidia Bastianich will be doing a live demonstration for NJN, the public broadcasting station in Trenton that services TVFF HQ.

  • Gordon Ramsay's pet lamb suffers the same fate as many of his Hell's Kitchen contestants.



Review: "Hell's Kitchen"
Tuesday, June 05, 2007 | posted by Mike

If you're looking for thoughtful, (hopefully) insightful commentary about food television, scroll down to the next post. This is a review for Hell's Kitchen.

The Next Food Network Star recruits its participants by asking them to submit an audition video. Hell's Kitchen recruits its participants by visiting an insane asylum. There is simply no other explanation as to how they manage to gather such a motley crew of masochists.

Chef Gordon Ramsay started off the season premiere with a wink. Promising to refrain from yelling and cursing, Gordon appears at a nicely set table. Of course, it all a charade and the show quickly moves to its bread and butter, a humiliating (for most) "signature dish" audition that obscenely and hilariously mirrors the significantly more restrained version seen on Star. That's about the last thing they really have in common.

Whatever criteria Kitchen has used in the past for choosing contestants was obviously tweaked a little bit, because they managed to really outdo themselves with this year's crop. Ramsay delights in getting to each of them, from the over-sized Asian Cowboy who inexplicably bursts into tears at least two or three times in the episode to Eddie, who has some sort of kidney disorder. I know I'm not supposed to laugh at Eddie. I know it makes me a bad person. But now that Ramsay told him he had a fantastic "little palate," I can't stop giggling whenever he shows up on screen.

From there, it shakes out the same way as it did in yeas past, with the group being divided into two kitchens and struggling to get dishes past Ramsay, who acts as the last line of quality control, watching out for uncooked chicken and overdone pasta. This year they split them into groups according to gender, although this hardly qualifies as groundbreaking in the world of reality television.

And that's pretty much it when it comes to Hell's Kitchen. It's a televised, culinary train wreck, albeit one that's a hoot to watch. Think of it as the devil on the one shoulder, opposite the more angelic Star.



Review: "The Next Food Network Star"
Monday, June 04, 2007 | posted by Mike

First things first: It's pronounced "Bruce-ketta."

Now that that's out of the way, the new season of The Next Food Network Star represents a significant change in tone from the previous seasons. They promotions claimed that they were raising the stakes and offering the biggest prize in television, and the attitude of the contestants has changed accordingly. Gone is a lot of the lightheartedness and innocence seen in previous seasons, replaced with a greater awareness that they only get to stay if someone else leaves. And if that means watching as the opponents put chicken broth in a supposedly vegetarian polenta, then so be it.

Having the contestants live together obviously increases the emotional impact of the relationships, setting up the possibility for some real personality conflicts. And the personalities do make for some fun viewing. Even the folks set up as the heels have some appealing characteristics, a point that the judges make when they offer their criticism to JAG.

The judges return from previous seasons, and both Susie Fogelson and TVFF's Favorite FN Exec® Bob Tuschman do a good job of alternatively playing Good Cop and Bad Cop, offering encouragement and constructive criticism. The appearances by Food Network guest stars in the premiere episode are a mixed bag. Duff Goldman, who shows up to run them through a cake decorating challenge, is not quite the insider that other celebs would be, perhaps thanks to his his geographic and temperamental differences from the prototypical FN chef. But, here, he's also not quite the "buddy" to the contestants that you might expect from the puckish baker. Seeing him away from his friends and coworkers, he just seems different, a point he would probably concede.

Robert Irvine shows up and has some fun playing drill sergeant to the nervous prospective chefs. After doing his thing and offering some commentary on the proceedings, he kind of disappears. This is especially unfortunate since I would have liked to hear his take on how Vivien's salad came out. Bobby Flay comes off friendly, and graciously excuses the "cobbler-tini" that gets dumped on his "Calvin" suit. Between appearances like this and the more humble version of Bobby we've seen on Throwdown, he and the Network have done quite a bit lately to get rid of the perception of Flay as "smug" or "aloof."

Although the Food Network personalities supply the star wattage on The Next Food Network Star, viewers tune in to see someone who looks a little like them have a shot at something many of us dream about. And it has, until now, presented this in a way that sugercoated the internal competition that goes on among the contestants. Unlike other similar shows (Hell's Kitchen and Top Chef), Star was more about who was the best man or woman for the job. There was something more "friendly" about that.

The lack of host Marc Summers in this season also contributes heavily to the new tone. He was a cheerleader (in a good way) for all of the contestants and served as a bridge between them and the judges and celebrities. Now, it feels a little more like they're on their own. Either Summers or perhaps George Duran would have played a nice role in making the contestants and, indeed, the viewer feel more comfortable.

But that's not what this season is about. The new dynamic takes both them and us out of our comfort zone in relation to previous seasons. It makes for higher drama, and that's a good thing for a show that was too often devoid of a true rooting interest in the past. It gives the show a punch, although it does it at the expense of some of the innocence of previous seasons.

(Note: I almost said that, with the higher stakes and backstage intrigues, Star was starting to move into Hell's Kitchen territory. And then I saw the season premiere of HK, which managed to go completely off the deep end. It made the new Star look like the old Star. Check back tomorrow for a review of HK.)



"The Next Food Network Star" Reaction/Review Coming Later

Nope, I didn't see it. Too busy watching The Sopranos. Then, due to a scheduling snafu, I wasn't able to watch the immediate rebroadcast. However, I did tape it and I'll try to fit it in tonight. I caught a few minutes from the middle portion of the program, but I'll hold off on saying anything until I can see the whole thing.

Those of you who also spent your time on HBO last night saw a Food Network reference on Entourage. Johnny Chase falls in love with a condo that features a "Viking Kitchen" (fitting, since Johnny used to star on Viking Quest!). The real estate agent tells him that it was upgraded "when an Iron Chef contestant stayed here." I think you've officially entered the entertainment zeitgeist when you're mentioned on Entourage.



It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's "The Next Food Network Star!"
Saturday, June 02, 2007 | posted by Mike

I guess you can call this the original "banner ad."

We alluded to this with our post yesterday but I wanted to be able to get confirmation that we weren't seeing things. I got a tip from TVFF Cub Reporter Jessica that there had been a curious sighting in the skies over TVFF HQ in New Jersey. She noticed a plan flying around and towing a banner promoting the debut of The Next Food Network Star this Sunday, June 3rd at 9pm (ET/PT). Unfortunately, she didn't have a camera on her or I'd be posting a picture of it that would probably have the photo quality of a Bigfood or Loch Ness Monster snapshot.

Jessica took a look at the logo for the show on FN's site and said she was pretty sure that was it and we were able to confirm that, indeed, the folks at FN promoting the show had planes flying with banners over New Jersey and New York. Considering the nice weather we've been having and the beginning-of-summer urge to get outside and walk around, I'm sure the were able to attract quite a number of eyeballs.

The funny thing (and the reason yesterday's post is titled "Viral Marketing, Jersey Shore Style?") is that, for anyone who grew up in New Jersey, these types of banners immediately conjure up thoughts of summer and trips "down the shore," where banner advertisements for restaurants, bars and other attractions are a regular sight for beach-goers. I'm not sure if they're as prevalent on beaches elsewhere in the country...any thoughts?

Anyway, we just thought that it's a delightfully nostalgic and low-tech way to get the message out. In a day and age where we zip through commercials on our TiVo and block pop-up ads on our computer, I'm guessing that just about everyone would look up to see what's written on a banner like this.



Viral Marketing, Jersey Shore Style?
Friday, June 01, 2007 | posted by Mike

We're working on confirmation of this, but we got word from someone that they saw a rather low-tech example of Food Network's advertising the upcoming The Next Food Network Star. Hopefully, we'll have more info on this soon...



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.

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