I try to keep the non-food TV content to a relative minimum, but, as they say: man does not live on bread alone. Plus, I get a kick out of it and, well...it's my site, so I'll write what I want.
Anyway, there is a bit of Philly nostalgia (specifically, local television personalities) going on in the comments of the Chef Tell post below. These days, we live in a TV landscape of syndicated and national programs, a far cry from the heyday of local programming that lasted through the 1980s. It's a shame, in a way, because some of these local personalities are quirky and colorful in a way that would never fly in the homogenized world of national television.
Well, as these sort of reminiscences often do, the back and forth quickly escalated into a bit of a competition. Specifically, CurlyGirl thought it would be fun to try and one-up my Captain Noah reference. Apparently, CurlyGirl knows not with whom she is messing!
Curly...I'm sorry to have to do this. I didn't want to have to go this far. But I'm afraid that I must.
And so, I present to you...that Maneater from Manayunk...Stella!
Happy Halloween, everyone. If any of your are dressing up as Sandra Lee this year, you know where to send the pictures...email@example.com.
Let's get right to it, shall we?
I was flipping through my feed reader and came across the news around the same time that fellow-Philly native Dan at The Hungover Gourmet dropped me a note that Friedman Paul Erhardt, better known as Chef Tell, had died at the age of 63. According to his bio:
He was the executive chef at the Kronen Hotel in the Black Forest for over a decade before arriving in the United States in the early seventies. He moved to the United States after accepting a head chef position at Philadelphia's Marriott Hotel.
But Erhardt gained notoriety when he landed a 90-second cooking spot on "Evening Magazine," a Philadelphia based television program syndicated nation wide.
His stint on "Evening Magazine" opened the door to his television career. Since then Tell has appeared on "QVC," "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" and most recently, "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee." His quick wit and legendary cooking have led to other opportunities.
I'm hoping that Dan has a little more to say about Chef Tell's impact than I do, as I was still pretty young when he was on television regularly. I remember him a bit, though, and he's there with Jeff Smith and Julia Child in terms of being the earliest food television personalities that I can recall.
The Philadelphia Daily News has a nice obituary, which outlines his career and impact. I like the part about the Swedish Chef.
I also wasn't aware that he was local. I suppose that comes with being a kid and thinking that anyone on television was just "famous," and therefore didn't belong to any real geographic place. If you asked me where the person was from, I probably would have told you he was "from TV." For example, I never would have guessed that kids in Minnesota would have no idea who Captain Noah was. (Sorry, had to throw that out there for all of you folks from the Delaware Valley!)
Labels: Chef Tell
If you weren't aware of that fact, you've now had two opportunities to learn it, thanks to the astoundingly similar challenges posed to the contestants on this season's Top Chef and Next Iron Chef. But, hey...it was a pretty cool idea, so I won't complain.
Anyway, both challenges included an aspect that is personally familiar. For TC, it was the dread and despair of being in Newark Airport. I refuse to call it "Newark Liberty." For NIC, it was the fact that the one time that I actually had a good meal on a flight, it was flying business class to Germany on Lufthansa.
I know what you're thinking: Hey, how did you get to fly business class to Germany?!?! Well, the former day-job had a policy that, if you had to fly overseas, you were eligible to fly business class. I was attending a week-long meeting in Hamburg and that meant I got to fly in the lap of (relative) luxury from Philadelphia to Frankfurt on Lufthansa. And, let me tell you, the food was pretty darn good. I don't remember too many of the specifics, but I can say that the wines were very good (and refilled quite often!) and it was my only experience with rabbit, which was tasty, although not something I would eat every day.
In short, Lufthansa = air-born culinary cred in my book.
Last night's episode nicely underscored my point from a little while back when I talked about what I liked about NIC, and the fact that the episode ran on the same night that the Red Sox finished off the Rockies in the World Series seemed fitting. In my post from a couple weeks back, I said:
But there’s something also to be said for watching virtuosos duke it out just for bragging rights. Sure the winner gets a nice contract with Food Network and the exposure for his or her restaurant that comes with it, but my guess is that the “title” itself would be enough for many of them.
Seeing Chef Sanchez's reaction to his elimination -- he was on the verge of tears -- was echoed an hour or so later in the reaction of the Rockies to the end of their post-season run. In both instances, it was the example of individuals who are already wildly successful in their own right, but who were compelled by their competitive drive (the thing that "got them there" in the first place) to take these competitions so seriously.
I've been to a bunch of minor league baseball games. They're fun. The hot dogs and beer are affordable and the players are all struggling to be noticed and move up to the big leagues. But I've never felt particularly elated when the home team won. Why? Because winning for these guys, although a great reward, is just an means to a greater end, which is to make it to "the show."
Whether you're talking about the World Series or Next Iron Chef, there really isn't an agenda of personal gain or monetary reward. Sure, they'll get a sweet gig on the Food Network and a couple thousand dollar bonus for winning the Series. But what really is at stake in these competitions is the respect and admiration of one's colleagues and the satisfaction that comes with knowing that you came out on top when you competed with the best.
What we saw from Sanchez and the Rockies last night is the honest emotion of striving for the top of the mountain and just coming up a bit short. That is the very definition of drama, and it makes for compelling television.
Labels: The Next Iron Chef
IRON CHEF AMERICA: ALL STAR HOLIDAY BATTLE
Premieres: Sunday, November 25th at 9PM
In another All Star Culinary Showdown, the Chairman has invited Paula Deen to partner up with Iron Chef Cat Cora and compete against Food Network’s own Tyler Florence and Robert Irvine.
That's right, another one of those all-star battles, just like we had last year with Bobby, Mario, Giada and Rachael. But this time it's ladies vs. gentlemen. Having seen Robert in action under pressure and knowing that Tyler has NYC kitchen experience, I have no doubt that they'll be able to work reasonably well under the ICA conditions.
Likewise, we certainly know that Cat can withstand the bright lights of Kitchen Stadium. But Paula Deen? Really?
Maybe I'm down on Paula as a result of catching about three minutes of her selling cast iron pans on QVC the other night -- yeah, it was pretty bad -- but I'm just having a tough time seeing the easily excitable Ms. Deen working well in such a setting. I have a feeling that she's just going to get in the way.
Cat -- a word of advice: Five minutes into the competition, put Paula on the deep-fryer and just leave her there.
This Friday, October 26th, country music superstar Blake Shelton stops by Paula's Party. He shows off his talent in the kitchen with a recipe for Texas Brisket as well as his talent with a guitar when he serenades Paula and the audience. Plus, Paula gets a sneak peek inside his tour bus to bring him his favorite treat - fried pickles!My interest in country music is limited to Johnny Cash's Live at Folsom Prison and Dylan's Nashville period (good, underrated albums), so I'll be tuning in for the pickles.
DEAR FOOD NETWORK: THANKSGIVINGOf course, in order to get there, we have to come up with an Next ICA winner, don't we?
Premieres: Saturday, November 10th at 9PM
Paula Deen, Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence, Guy Fieri and Robert Irvine, come to the aid of five Food Network fans solving their turkey day dilemmas from boring side dishes to tough pie crust to “how on earth does everything get done on time in my small kitchen.” Unsuspecting fans get the shock of their lives when their emails are answered face-to-face by their favorite Food Network personality.
IRON CHEF AMERICA: THANKSGIVING BATTLE
Premieres: Sunday, November 18th at 9PM
Having won the Next Iron Chef competition, our new Iron Chef enters kitchen stadium to be challenged to the ultimate Thanksgiving battle!
Episode Five: Lead and InspireAnd, obviously, the Holiday Season means the Holiday Spirit. (Did someone say spirits? I'll have gin!) Emeril gives back:
Premieres: Sunday, November 4th at 9PM
The remaining three chefs continue the overseas portion of the competition as they fly to Paris for the next challenge. The meet up with host Alton Brown (Iron Chef America) who explains the Chairman’s next test: Lead & Inspire. The chef’s must become the ultimate Americans in Paris as they are charged with each creating a meal for a party being thrown by the US Ambassador to France, Craig Stapleton. With guests that include foreign dignitaries, French celebrities and Parisian friends, the chefs must create dishes that explain “America” through their meals Complicating matters, the chefs must each lead a team of French sous chefs and overcome language barriers to produce these amazing meals. Afterwards, the judges eliminate one chef.
SERIES FINALE: Attain Greatness
Premieres: Sunday, November 11th at 9PM
The remaining two chefs walk into the hallowed halls of Kitchen Stadium to complete their final test: Attain Greatness. With the Chairman looking on and host Alton Brown (Iron Chef America) commentating from the side, the two finalists compete in a head-to-head final showdown by commencing in an official Iron Chef America battle. After a new panel of surprise guest judges evaluates their food, one of the chefs will be selected as the winner and become the new Iron Chef!
EMERIL LIVE: EMERIL’S AFTERSCHOOL SPECIALLast but not least, nothing says "Thanksgiving" like Elvis Presley:
Premieres: Saturday, November 3rd at 8PM
There’s a special school in Harlem that is near and dear to Emeril’s heart – The Children’s Storefront School. Emeril returns to the cafeteria he designed for them to make one very kicked up lunch for the entire school! And as a special treat, he invites them back to the studio for a full pizza, taco and ice cream sundae bar! This very touching episode of Emeril Live encourages kids to cook foods that are healthy and homemade.
Premieres: Wednesday, November 14th at 10PM
Chef Robert arrives at Graceland to receive his challenge from Priscilla Presley. She asked him to dispel the myth that Elvis only ate junk food and prepare a down-home, country-style, family dinner for one hundred fans who have come to celebrate Elvis. The fans have been enjoying the events at the “Elvis Conference” and entered their names for a “secret event.” Big George and special guest, southern food writer and cookbook author Jennifer Chandler, are on hand to help Chef Robert prepare food fit for the King! Can he please Priscilla or will he have a Memphis meltdown?
Labels: Food Network
I don’t read nearly as much as I should. Scratch that. I read plenty, but it’s usually Web sites, e-mails and various other things that don’t really qualify as literature. And, yes “other things” includes this site, so don’t think I’m being snooty or anything.
I’m talking about books, honest to goodness printed volumes that have been written, edited and published, which would assume that there’s at least a modicum of thought and care put into them. With this in mind, I’m proud to supply you with a link to the upcoming Sandra Lee memoir, Made From Scratch. That’s right – you can order it now and have it shipped to you as soon as it’s out. (And, of course, if you use that link over at the top of the post, you’ll be contributing a tiny little bit to the TVFF beer fund.)
I’ll just be honest with you. I’m not going to read it. Why? Because (a) I have a stack of books to read a mile high and (b) the folks at Television Without Pity will do a much better job of tearing this thing to shreds than I’d ever do. Yes, I’m looking at you, Spoonie!
But I did want to share with you one funny thing that I found. If you check out the listing on Amazon, they’re now allowing people to “tag” products with words that are relevant to the item in question. My guess is that you can search on those tags and find similar materials. Now, what could possibly go wrong with that?
Well, the folks at Amazon must have anticipated some shenanigans, because they took the time to write up guidelines, including:
By default your tags are public so everyone can view them. You should not use:
Profane or obscene language, inciting or spiteful tags
delusions of grandeur
kakes of kultural insensitivity
crimes against food
in need of a sammich
DISCLAIMER: TVFF does not condone, support or advocate the misuse of social media tools like tags to defame any person or institution. Unless it’s really, really funny – like this.
Labels: Sandra Lee
Well, Luddite, get yourself to New York City's Chelsea Market for a chance to shop for Food Network paraphernalia at a new storefront operation, opening next month.
Food Network and Chelsea Market Baskets today announced they will launch a Food Network-branded area in the front of the Chelsea Market Basket store in the Chelsea Market building in Lower Manhattan. Chelsea Market Baskets is the first retailer beyond Food Network’s online store to provide a physical space and sell Food Network products including DVDs and cookbooks. The retailer will also sell Food Network talent cookbooks and other related items.
“We are thrilled to partner with a proven retailer like Chelsea Market Baskets, at the home of Food Network, Chelsea Market,” said Lia Buffa, Director of New Business & E-Commerce, Food Network. “They have been here since the building opened and we know they are the right partner to represent the Food Network brand locally in New York City.”
The branded space will launch in early November. Other items for sale will include Food Network-branded soft goods such as aprons, oven mitts, canvas tote bags, t-shirts and track jackets. In addition, they will also offer spices, rubs and olive oil from Food Network talent.
“We are all very excited about the opportunity to partner with Food Network, bringing new and fresh energy to our exciting and expanding retail space. We think there is good synergy with our focus on inspired specialty foods, tastefully designed packaging and baskets along our Chelsea Market, New York identity,” said David Porat, President of Chelsea Market Baskets.
It's funny, but despite being in New York fairly regularly (like this past Saturday, for example), we've never made it down to Chelsea Market to check out the Food Network's digs. Perhaps this will be enough to get our butts on a Downtown A train (or, on a nice day, a healthy walk down 9th) for a look-see.
Although it doesn't say anything about it in the release, one wonders if there will be space in the store for signings and demonstrations, which would be a great way to entice shoppers to come down, see a live demonstration by one of the Network's celebrity chefs and, of course, buy lots and lots of branded merchandise.
Labels: Food Network
Well, not according to the press release issued by Food Network's parent company, Scripps:
The E. W. Scripps Company's board of directors has unanimously authorized management to pursue a plan to separate Scripps into two publicly traded companies, one focused on creating national lifestyle media brands and the other on building market- leading local media franchises.
The two companies that would exist after the separation would be:
- Scripps Networks Interactive, which would consist of the national lifestyle media brands and associated enterprises that operate collectively as Scripps Networks, including television's HGTV, Food Network, DIY Network, the Fine Living Television Network and Great American Country and their category-leading Internet businesses. The new company also would include online comparison shopping services Shopzilla and uSwitch and their associated Web sites. These businesses have combined annual revenue of approximately $1.4 billion and 2,100 employees.
- The E. W. Scripps Company, which would include daily and community newspapers in 17 U.S. markets; 10 broadcast television stations clustered among the nation's largest 50 markets, including six ABC affiliates, three NBC affiliates and one independent station; the character licensing and feature syndication businesses operated by United Media; and Scripps Media Center in Washington D.C., which includes the Scripps Howard News Service. These businesses have combined annual revenue of about $1.1 billion and employ about 7,100 people.
There was also the requisite disclaimer to let employees know that they don't need to start looking for opportunities elsewhere:
The proposed separation is not expected to have a material effect on the day-to-day lives of employees working at the company's television networks, newspapers, broadcast television stations, Internet search businesses, licensing and syndication subsidiary and other related businesses.
With the many items we've posted -- usually around earnings report time -- about Scripps' television holdings keeping things moving forward for the company, I suppose this isn't a huge shock. In case you haven't noticed, this isn't a good time to be in the newspaper business. There are a lot of reasons for this, most of which being Internet-related. Print advertising is down, local paper readership is dwindling and even reliable income like personals and classified ads are being lost to eBay, Craigslist and online dating services.
So that's the official word from the company, but what does it mean for the future of SNI and to you, the viewer? Here's an interesting bit of analysis from the Financial Times which states that this may not be the end of the drama:
The source said that the new structure, scheduled to be in place by the second quarter of 2008, will make it more feasible for a sale of some or all of the newspapers or television stations, consistent with the desires of some shareholders, particularly as to the newspapers.
One former television executive, now working for a website, said Scripps Networks Interactive may be bought by a company like Microsoft or Disney for its high growth media assets. The source said Scripps Networks Interactive will be much more attractive to a potential purchaser seeking to bolster its digital media platform if it did not have to purchase the entirety of the E.W. Scripps company as now constituted.
Obviously, this is where it could get interesting. As the piece points out, a company like Microsoft, Disney, NBC Universal or some other conglomerate wouldn't be looking to get into the ink and paper business again, but the networks and the online shopping sites could certainly be attractive.
What would something like that end up meaning to the on-screen product? It depends on the buyer. An existing television network may look to integrate some of the programming across its various outlets. Notice how there's no ABC Sports any more? It's all ESPN on ABC now. But with sports, you're talking about a much wider audience than those who may tune in for niche programming like food, home, garden, etc.
The one instance where I can remember a network trying to use a food show across outlets was Rocco's The Restaurant, which appeared on both NBC and Bravo. Eh. Of course, the same networks did have some success pulling Queer Eye in the other direction during its height of popularity, so there is always the possibility. But that wasn't just a niche program...it was a show that could have been pigeonholed but that defied stereotyping and became a cross-over hit.
Cross-promotions, some gentle re-branding and maybe a guest appearance by Alton Brown on My Name is Earl will probably be the extent of it, though, as the new owner will likely want to focus on the Food Network's already loyal viewership and rely on its strong demographic profile as a consistent advertising money-maker.
Although the buzzword "synergy" doesn't quite have the same heat it did ten years ago, taking advantage of the successes of the parts of a company is still a smart business move. Having the FN purchased by one of these big media companies would likely mean we'll see some of the effects -- both positive and negative -- of the further consolidation of media ownership.
BTW...You're talking to someone who studied public and mass communication in college, so don't get me started on media ownership consolidation. Jeez, if you think this post was long...
Labels: Food Network
First, there was TVFF Ace Reporter Jessica spotting him on a street corner in New York City. On a side note, you'll be happy to hear the Jessica is now gainfully employed in New York City full-time (she happened to be in NYC for a job interview when she saw Bobby), so we're expecting fresh reports on a regular basis, since she's only working a mile or two from Food Network Studios.
This time, it's Dave -- the Official Brother of TVFF -- who was out celebrating his friend Jay's birthday down in Atlantic City. As you can see from the photographic evidence, the man himself was there, and he consented to some pictures with the guests. I'll let Dave tell his story:
We walked into Bobby Flay's Steakhouse at the Borgata for Jay's birthday. We looked at the menu and laughed at the price saying that for so much money for some cow, we better be able to milk it once a day. I ordered the spicy southwest ribeye steak that had roasted red and green chilis and garlic on top. $42. I also got a side of smashed baked potato with crème fraiche, goat cheese & green onions. $9.
After we ordered, we made a few jokes about the what seemed to be quite expensive sides of beef. During our wait for our food and a little humorous banter about what type of loans we should take out and what body parts we could spare so we can pay the bill, our friend said, "Oh my god! It's Bobby Flay!" We thought she was joking. We turned around and it was him. Straight out of the kitchen was Bobby. We went over and asked him for a few pictures causing what might look like a mob of fans around Donovan McNabb at an Eagles training camp session. He obliged to shake hands and take pictures with us. Afterward, he wandered around the restaurant talking to people.
After a decent amount of time (Friday night) and 2 baskets of bread later, our food came out. My spicy southwest ribeye was a good size steak. 1 -1 1/2 lbs with roasted green and red chilis and garlic on top, a red chili sauce on one side and green sauce on the other. The presentation of the meat was very nice... but the surprise came when I went to cut the first slice off my slab-o-meat. It cut like a hot knife through butter. The meat melted in my mouth. It had a wonderful consistency and a perfect balance of sweet meat and herbs and spices from the cracked pepper, roasted chilis and chili pepper sauce.
The smashed potatoes, a large helping well enough for two to share, also had a nice flavor, but as far as sides go, they were tasty, but nothing to write home about.
We finished up dinner and I still had plenty of meat on my plate... by the way I judged it... $12 left... and a bunch of potatoes.
For the price, not an everyday eatery. Maybe not even monthly for some... but by far it was probably the best cut of meat I've ever tasted. Five Stars.
There you have it, a satisfied Bobby Flay customer and independent confirmation that Bobby is not only still spending time in the kitchen, but that he's even doing it at one of his non-NYC spots.
Hey, I know these sort of sightings extend beyond TVFF's immediate family and close circle of friends, so be sure to let write me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a personal encounter you'd like to share, especially if you have photos.
And especially if it's with someone other than Bobby Flay.
Labels: Bobby Flay
OK. A quick one today, as it's Mrs. TVFF's Birthday and I still haven't wrapped the present.
Oh, but be sure to check back tomororow when you'll get to hear about another member of TVFF's family.
Labels: The Next Iron Chef
Just in time for the holidays, Food Network will offer a unique gift that keeps on giving by launching a “SWEET” charity auction through eBay’s Giving Works program to benefit the network’s new official charitable partner, Share Our Strength. The charity auction will run online at www.ebay.com/foodnetworkauction from October 16-26, 2007.
The top lot in the auction features four tickets to SWEET, New York’s largest dessert party taking place on November 16, 2007. Food Network and partners will host this event to kick off the Food Network NYC Wine & Food Festival, coming to Brooklyn in 2008. SWEET will bring together Food Network’s top stars, as well as New York's premier pastry chefs, confectioners, cheese makers, bakers, ice cream purveyors and chocolatiers in one of the largest culinary celebrations ever. The auction winner will receive VIP treatment and meet some of the Food Network’s biggest stars including Giada De Laurentiis, Duff Goldman and Michael Chiarello.
Other high profile lots with signed, authentic items from Food Network stars will include:
- Chef coats from Iron Chefs of America, Mario Batali, Masaharu Morimoto and Cat Cora
- Aprons signed by Rachael Ray and Giada De Laurentiis
- Alton Brown’s motorcycle jacket from the wildly popular Feasting on Asphalt series
- A chef coat from Ace of Cakes star, Duff Goldman
All proceeds from the SWEET event will go to Share Our Strength and the Food Bank for New York City. Proceeds from the online auction will be donated to Share Our Strength. The auction will be managed on eBay Giving Works for Food Network by Kompolt agency, well-known for their work in high-profile, high-value charity auctions.
Labels: Food Network
Maybe you can wait. After all it is only a few days until The Gourmet Next Door debuts. But in case you can't...
I was tooling around on my Comcast On Demand service, looking to see what was listed in the Food Network section. In the past, they've had a couple of random episodes of Good Eats and Weekend Getaways, but they've been pushing the On Demand thing lately and I figured I'd take a look to see if anything has changed.
Well, lo and behold, I stumbled upon the debut episode of The Gourmet Next Door. It was the bistro episode (ep. #GY0103). It was...a bit ragged. Finley certainly brings her passion for French cooking to the show, but it's clear that this is her first time hosting a program. We'll cut her some slack, especially since we can remember those early clips of Mario from his Chefography.
I'm on a French cooking kick lately, so I'll try to tune in. If nothing else, the opening sequence is peppy!
Check it out for yourself if you have On Demand. If you don't, I suppose you can just hang in there until Sunday.
Labels: Amy Finley
So, our post about The Next Iron Chef America spurred some discussion the other day. More to the point, the last part of the post -- which included some pretty inflammatory remarks from Alton Brown -- raised a few eyebrows. A couple of commenters pointed to the remarks as evidence of Alton's ego (check out Dan's thoughts at The Hungover Gourmet for more on this point of view). I don't necessarily disagree, but here is something to keep in mind:
The quote comes from an article written and carried by Food Network's parent company, Scripps.
Now, obviously these are separate entities within a large organization and I'm not implying anything by the association, but it makes for an interesting twist.
So, what was the motivation for this whole thing? Was it an attempt to stir the pot and get some press for the new show? Or did Alton go "off the reservation" and pop off? If there's something PR people love, it's when people start giving "interesting" quotes to the press.
I've been thinking about this for the whole thing and finally chalked it up to a one-time thing, but my peaceful commute this morning was interrupted by an interview in the Philadelphia edition of the Metro newspaper with Alton Brown, which included this exchange:
How do they compare to contestants on shows like "Top Chef?" On that show they don't make it look easy.
For people on "Top Chef," boiling water is hard work. When America watches it, they think that's what a chef is. My mom could outcook half the people on that show.
OK, we've now officially ventured into the realm of trash talk.
Will we be lucky enough to get a response from Gail Simmons? We can only hope.
Labels: Alton Brown
One of the fun parts of working in the new location (Center City Philadelphia) is the chance to explore and find new places for a quick lunch. Case in point: Mama's Vegetarian on 20th Street that serves a simply amazing falafel sandwich. You can take a look at it here, but it really needs some sort of cross-section illustration to do it justice.
I know that Alton and Bobby and Giada provide most of the grist for the mill that is TVFF, but regulars here know that one of my favorite shows is the decidedly gimmick- and glitz-free PBS offering, America’s Test Kitchen. In light of my recent discussion regarding the need for more technique on food television, this is a show that exemplifies the best of chop-and-drop programming.
Even though I’m more than happy to drop in on any episode of ATK, even ones I’ve already seen, it’s good to hear that we can expect new episodes starting in January, and a new series called America's Test Kitchen: Cook's Country beginning of next year.
America's Test Kitchen is the most-watched cooking show on public television, attracting 3 million viewers per week. The 8th season of America's Test Kitchen starts in January 2008. The same folks behind America's Test Kitchen are also cooking up a brand-new show, America's Test Kitchen: Cook's Country, which is filmed in a Vermont farmhouse and relies on the practical, no-nonsense food that has made Cook's Country magazine so successful. The show features 13 episodes that were taped in Vermont from September 21 to October 5, 2007. It will air on public television stations beginning in July 2008.
What makes it so good? It’s not just that they actually show exactly how to do nearly every step of the recipe. What really sets them apart is the fact that they’ll often comment on the rationale for doing something in a certain way and why they didn’t do it some other way. This feature is a result of their oft-stated methodology, which includes repeated testing of recipes to determine how to achieve the absolute best results in the home kitchen.
Do you end up with a little bit of a "least common denominator" with this? Sure, but it also ensures that even a knucklehead like me can get it right.
Labels: America's Test Kitchen
A fairly restful weekend for me equated to more food TV watching than I’ve done recently. It was a bit spread around, and it was good to reconnect with the Saturday morning programming on Food Network and the afternoon PBS lineup. I also flipped through a couple of my cookbooks, so I’m hoping that motivates me a bit to try and tackle some new recipes in the near future.
Of course, I capped it all off with the debut of The Next Iron Chef on Sunday evening, which had been preceded by an Iron Chef America marathon that took up much of the day. But the big event was certainly the unveiling of the new reality competition show.
Yes, usually I follow the phrase “reality competition” with a slight eye roll, but that’s OK. Even manufactured drama can be fun from time to time. And there is no denying that the Network put its A-team on this program, combining the less-polished, more natural look of The Next Food Network Star with the high-stakes expertise of Top Chef to create a nice balance. It’s a fun ride, and one worth checking out, especially since it will only run for eight episodes, I believe.
But the thing that really caught my eye was the glaring difference between this show and the three other cooking competition shows – the two mentioned above and Hell’s Kitchen. I was struck by the relationship between the contestants, which combined professional competitiveness with a presumably honest warmth and compassion for one another – in short, a collegial atmosphere of friendly competition that isn’t common among these sorts of shows.
That isn’t to say that other shows don’t have contestants that bond and form positive, supportive relationships. That’s certainly the case on the last season of TNFNS. But that comes about as the result of living together for a period of time and sharing time in competition, a factor that can breed camaraderie even in competitors. Here, they were trading shouts of support and good-natured trash talk right off the bat.
This was something more natural and immediate, and I think that it’s the result of the fact that all of these contestants are already acclaimed successes in their own right.
For so many reality contestants, the competition is their shot at the big time – a catapult from obscurity to fame (TNFNS) or a validation of a still somewhat young career (Top Chef). There is an inescapable insecurity in even the most self-assured contestant (I’m looking at you, Hung) that prevents them from being confident enough to just “play their own game” and know that it will be enough to win, or at least have it be enough for them to feel like they gave it their all.
Those contestants are fighting for their professional lives, which can make for compelling drama.
But there’s something also to be said for watching virtuosos duke it out just for bragging rights. Sure the winner gets a nice contract with Food Network and the exposure for his or her restaurant that comes with it, but my guess is that the “title” itself would be enough for many of them.
If this were basketball, these other shows would be the playoffs, with each competitor clawing and scratching to see who comes out on top. But TNICA is what would happen if LaBron James and Tim Duncan faced off all alone in a gym somewhere. It’s wide open and a blast to watch.
(By the way, those sort of one-on-one or two-on-two matches between professionals actually do happen and are apparently sights to behold. They say the intra-squad scrimmages among the original Dream Team were some of the most amazing basketball ever played.)
Oh, lest you think that everything about TNICA is good-natured and touchy-feely, Alton is here to disabuse you of that notion:
Make no mistake, said Brown, "The Next Iron Chef" isn't a run-of-the-mill reality, cooking show. This has been a food fight with flair between hardened experts -- so don't expect another version of Bravo's "Top Chef.""Those people are one step up from Denny's," said a fiery Brown. "My mom could do that. There's nothing cheesy or cheap about (Iron Chef)."
Not just the name of Joe Jackson’s fantastic debut album (and, hey, look at that – a link to Amazon), but my motto for the coming weekend.
My unexpected encounter with Delilah the other week led me to the Kitchen Kapers website. Despite the fact that the Delilah demonstration had taken place at the Marlton store, there is actually one quite close to TVFF HQ in Princeton’s Palmer Square. Located off the Nassau Street, the main road through town that basically separates the university from the shops and businesses, the Kitchen Kapers is in a charming little area that also includes restaurants, the library and not one but two really good ice cream shops – the gourmet formulations of The Bent Spoon (I had a habanero chocolate once) and Halo Pub, with more traditional flavors that were a constant and inexpensive presence during my college career (try the Tahiti Vanilla Bean and Maple Walnut).
Anyway, when I was on the Kitchen Kapers site, I noticed that they have a number of events, including a knife sharpening lesson and service this Saturday at 10 am at the Princeton location. According to the calendar:
You may remember that, during my review of Shopping with Chefs, I commented on the sorry state of my Wusthof chef knife and mentioned my need to get it sharpened by someone who knows what they’re doing. Well, not only will I have a chance to get it sharpened (along with my paring knife – sweet), but maybe I’ll learn a little more about how to keep it in tip-top shape all year long. Kitchen Kapers appears to be a mostly Mid-Atlantic, but I do know that we have quite a few local readers of TVFF, so be sure to check out their calendar of events.
Bring up to three knives to be professionally sharpened by Adam Fischer from Wusthof-Trident of America. Adam will answer questions and demonstrates proper knife sharpening skills which will help you to be more efficient in the kitchen.
Kitchen Kapers appears to be a mostly Mid-Atlantic, but I do know that we have quite a few local readers of TVFF, so be sure to check out their calendar of events.
I guess we could characterize this as a mild upset. Or maybe they were throwing Casey’s recent “success” out there as a red herring. Or maybe there just wasn’t that much difference between the three finalists after all and it came down to a last meal where Casey spit the bit and Dale just came up a bit short.
Regardless, it really doesn’t matter that much, as I laid out some time ago. I’m sure we’ll hear about Hung from time to time, and we may very well hear from a couple of the other contestants in the future. Heck, they could end up being the next generation of great chefs for all I know. It’s just that, as far as food TV goes, the Iron Chef winners usually don’t have much of a shelf life past the final episode.
For that matter, the careers of all reality show contestants have a pretty limited lifespan, Guy Fieri’s continued employment notwithstanding. And, really, I get a kick out of Diners, but do we need someone dreaming up new ways to tell us how much the food “rocks?”
The seeming disposable nature of these food competition contestants underscores the point made in an article by New York Times food critic Frank Bruni (h/t to PhilaFoodie for passing this along). He uses the Top Chef finale to come at the situation from the opposite angle, lamenting not that we’re denied the ability to look over Hung’s and Casey’s or Amy’s and Rory’s shoulders, but rather that these shows bring on true talents like Batali, Bourdain, Ripert and Boulud without asking them to pick up a chef’s knife.
One after another, the country’s most esteemed culinary practitioners — Eric Ripert, Daniel Boulud and Geoffrey Zakarian, to name a few — sauntered onto the set, where they ate on command and frowned on cue.
What they didn’t do was cook. And in that sense the show perfectly illustrated how far these celebrities — on “Top Chef,” on “Iron Chef” and its progeny, on any number of programs — have traveled from the tedious, earnest hands-on work that gave them their luster in the first place.
Bruni’s essential point is the same that we’ve been making for some time, which is that there’s just not enough cooking going on with these world class chefs. It’s almost like the more knowledgeable and experienced a chef is (i.e. the ones who really have something to show us), the less likely we are to actually see him or her in action.
As someone who gets home from work fairly late, I can certainly appreciate the appeal of “home cook lessons” from Rachael Ray and Robin Miller. But the fact of the matter is that I’m more likely to reach for a recipe from a cookbook on my shelf than I am to take one off of the website after seeing it on a show – due in large part to the fact that recipe-providing shows are relegated to daytime and Saturday mornings, when I’m usually sleeping off my hangover.
So the type of information that I need isn’t how to stretch my chicken purchase into three meals or how to cut corners by using a jarred pasta sauce. What I need is tips and hints that will let me translate that cookbook recipe into something great. We’re talking about hints on how to tell doneness of meat, how to pick quality ingredients and why it’s important to render the fat out of that duck skin (and why I should put that fat in my fridge and use it later to roast potatoes).
At the end of the day, I get that sort of info from Mario, not Sandra.
Hey, how did my recap of the Top Chef finale turn into a rant? Oh, that’s right:
Long Commute + Laptop = Soapbox
Labels: Top Chef
So, are you as excited as me about tonight's finale of Top Chef?
Yeah, that's what I thought.
Seriously, it's been a very good season and I am looking forward to seeing how it all shakes out. We'll have more on that tomorrow.
Sorry for the late addition to the site. This would have gone up sooner, but I'm also minding a triple-batch of Mario Batali's basic tomato sauce, the tomatoes for which came up to the VERY TOP of my largest pot, much to my relief. The sauce will be broken into one-cup baggies and frozen for future use. How economical of me!
They say that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. I'm thinking that the two fields for which this is especially true is the areas of business and entertainment. With this in mind, you should know that it is no small feat that two food celebrities, Rachael Ray and Lidia Bastianich, were named by Crain's as members of the 100 Most Influential in Women in NYC Business.
Others on Crain's list of the 100 Most Influential Women in NYC Business include: talk-show host and cooking celebrity Rachael Ray; producer Elizabeth McCann; Nina Zagat, co-founder of the Zagat Survey; Jean Afterman, assistant general manager of the New York Yankees; Emily Rafferty, President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Lidia Bastianich, TV chef and local restaurateur...
We at TVFF love lists. And we know that you probably love lists like this, too. That's because everyone likes lists. I don't know what it is, but the only thing better than a list is a list about a "controversial" topic that is revealed from bottom to the top on television, a la the American Film Institute's 100 Movies countdown. There's just something about the American psyche that makes us love these things.
You know who else loves these things? The people who appear in them! This is really true for companies who try to get on lists touting them as the top this or most respected that. Why? Because it can be good for business, and because it can be used as a selling point. In fact the Wegman's near me has a sign on the outside of the building proudly proclaiming it one of the ten best places to work.
And -- believe me -- I've had bad days where a job at the cheese counter at Wegman's has seemed like a legitimate career change.
The programming on Food Network is always at its best when it manages to combine entertainment and information, the pinnacle of which is probably Good Eats, at least in my opinion. It seems that, when the folks in programming decide to go with one rather than the other, they always err on the side of entertainment. Not that this is a bad thing – after all, if you really want to learn something, read a book. But a new special debuting this month appears to have some interesting and informative content.
As part of a larger announcement about upcoming shows like The Next Iron Chef, Nigella Express, 2 Dudes Catering and The Gourmet Next Door, the Food Network included a note about Edible Enemies a look at food allergies. The show will debut on Saturday, October 13th at 4 PM
No one really understands why an ice cream cone is a special treat for one child and can be fatal to another. Edible Enemies is a one-hour special report that looks at the mysterious increase in both the number and the severity of food allergies in the United States. Food Network investigates a pre-school and a University, where they hear heart-rending stories of near-death experiences and talk to researchers and doctors on the front lines of the fight against this medical mystery. Viewers will learn how food allergy sufferers shop for groceries, eat at home and in restaurants, and will showcase one special restaurant that caters to patrons with food allergies. See how the future looks for food allergy patients living in a world with ‘Edible Enemies’.
Food and its effects on society is a topic ripe for closer inspection, so it’s good to see Food Network taking advantage of its bully pulpit and, hopefully, providing information that can help shed awareness on these issues. Is this a trend that will continue? Will we see shows about the obesity epidemic, the potentially harmful effects on humans of hormones and preservatives in food and the environmental impact of factory farms?
These truly challenging subjects are a potential minefield for the Network, however, due to their reliance on advertising from many of the large companies that are responsible for the problems and a viewership that doesn’t particularly want to hear about the issues. Do you try to force-feed information to a public that is happy to stay willingly ignorant?
Of course, that was also the way things worked with global warming until recently, with advocates only now making a true breakthrough when it comes to getting the message out to a receptive public. Here’s hoping that the Food Network decides to trust and respect its viewers enough to give them the full picture.
Labels: Food Network