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Review: "Shopping with Chefs"
Wednesday, July 18, 2007 | posted by Mike

Despite what you may think, the Food Network isn't the only member of the Scripps family of channels to feature quality culinary programs. Shopping with Chefs, which premiers July 22 at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT (it will run regularly on Weekends at 1:00 p.m. ET beginning July 28) on Fine Living provides useful information about how to buy equipment and ingredients in a fun, energetic format.

We were lucky enough to catch an early peek courtesy of a screener from the folks at Fine Living. The disk was accompanied by a very cool and handy reusable shopping bag and magnetic shopping list. The giveaways were not only a cute gift, but they also had a good tie in with the tone and content of the show itself. Shopping with Chefs features Jill Davie and David Myers, two chefs who have previous on-camera experience thanks to appearances on Food Network Challenge and Iron Chef, respectively. The viewer gets to accompany Jill and David as they go to the farmer's market, supermarket and restaurant supply store, where they provide their insight into how to pick fresh herbs and fish and what immersion blender would be the right choice for the home user. Both are extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic, with Jill approaching Rachael-esque levels of perkiness from time to time.

The show seems to revolve around themes for each of the segments, which begin and end with each of the commercials. The first was a trip to the farmer's market for greens and herbs. The second act had them helping a couple entertain guests, explaining how to choose fresh salmon, the best kind of indoor grill pan and the right fish turner for the job. Segments on peppercorns and pepper mills and how to choose and care for knives and mandolines rounded out the episode. Occasionally, little "pop-ups" will occur during the show, providing insights. They'll also pause for a "Chef's Tip du Jour," where they offer a "secret of the kitchen" to help you get that restaurant taste at home. Both examples provided in the "du jour" were new to me, and sounded like good ideas. The show also has a cute method of letting you know what's coming up next by providing a list of the segments in "shopping list" format along the side of the screen, accompanied by the sound of a cash register as they move on to the next segment.

The selling point of the show is that you get the feeling that Jill and David really know what they're talking about when it comes to the equipment and ingredients. Other shows that have tried to use this format seem to go with a generic "host" type who offers bland assessments of the products, sounding as if they're reading off the package itself. Not so with these folks. Check out David's assessment of garlic presses, an item that Mrs. TVFF and I don't necessarily see eye-to-eye on (hint: I'm with Dave on this):

The one other show that does this sort of thing well is America's Test Kitchen, and the reason for the success of each is that they take an honest look at the products. They'll tell you when you're wasting your time and money on a lousy product. They'll also tell you when you're spending too much on features that would only make a difference in a restaurant setting. The end result is that you really get the feel that you're learning some valuable lessons. It does move a bit quickly at times, and it might have benefited from slowing down just a little bit, but they do a good job of actually demonstrating the tools.

The only thing that missed the mark was the "real couple" they use to demonstrate the salmon segment. They seem nice enough, and they were a believable couple, but it felt a bit tacked-on and unnecessary. The photo of them entertaining at their dinner (which was given authenticity because it looked like it was taken with their own digital camera) didn't do much, and the whole thing was superfluous. They could have couched the segment as a hypothetical dinner party scenario for the home viewer and it would have worked just fine.

The show is at its best when it relies on the charismatic hosts and the real life experts with whom they interact as part of their shopping. I got a lot more from David's talk with a knife shop owner than I did from the couple. It also reminded me that I need to get my knives professionally sharpened (the show said it should be done every six months), since my 8" Wüsthof can't slice peanut butter these days.

Ultimately, Shopping with Chefs succeeds for the same reasons all good food shows succeed: It presents information that is useful to the home chef, and it does it in a way that doesn't dumb it down for the viewer. Davie and Myers provide expertise without being intimidating and the show provides insights that will benefit everyone from the beginning cook to the master home chef.



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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