Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Twelve Days of Christmas, revisited

Originally posted December 23, 2005:

Ah, the holidays. Vacations are starting, guests are coming in, much chocolate and wine is being consumed. The next time I see y'all, it'll probably be 2006.

Everyone have a fantastic holiday season!

....On the twelfth day of Christmas, Food Network gave to me:

Twelve Giadas grinning

Eleven Saras sniping

Ten Sticks of butter

Nine Bobbys boasting

Eight Daves a-twitching

Seven Tylers flirting

Six Dirty restaurants

Five Ra-chael Rays!

Four Emerils yelling

Three french hens

Two Alton Browns


One hungover Sandra Lee

Monday, November 13, 2006

Do we need a recount? Iron Chef Superstar Battle

It was Batali and Ray versus Flay and De Laurentiis. The winner, by a thin margin, was Rachael and Mario!

Like so many things on the Food Network these days, I had a hard time getting through this show. I was alternately bored and irritated. I was going to recap this show, but JordanBaker beat me to it with this hilarious liveblog!

Rachael's manic personality served her well in this challenge. Giada seemed like she was stressed out. I did find Mario/Rachael's dishes to be slightly more appealing than Bobby/Giada's, so I can live with this verdict.

I think Flay and Giada should get a regular show together. I liked their interaction.

In other news, I still can't stand Rachael Ray.

I am a Mario Batali agnostic, though I am intrigued by the reports that he dated Courtney Love.

In general, I'd still rather hang out with Giada (and Bobby!).

Thursday, November 02, 2006

FoodNetwork.com, Watch your Back!

Food Network seems to be getting left in the dust lately. Not only are PBS and Bravo turning out shows that Food Network should be doing, but now my home page is changing to Yahoo! Food.

FoodNetwork.com is slow, hard to navigate, and their recipe search function is terrible. Sure, I'll still have to go there for recipes from Ina, Giada, or Nigella, but Yahoo Food is going to be my one stop shop for general recipes and All Things Martha. The local dining guides and food videos will be helpful, too. Check it out!

Monday, October 30, 2006

A Feast for the Eyes and the Palette: Nigella Lawson

While I was complaining about Rachael Ray and Paula Deen, an unexpectedly delightful show has moved onto the Food Network. I'm talking, of course, about Nigella Feasts.

Let's get the shallow stuff out of the way: I believe Nigella Lawson is one of the most beautiful women in the world. This is a woman who looks as great in a robe as she does in a little black dress. Her fair skin is gorgeous and her hair has the kind of volume I've been trying to achieve my entire life. As for her figure? Well, I don't know who wouldn't notice those curves!

While she is a striking beauty in photos, it is only enhanced by her classy yet unassuming demeanor she displays on television. In both her shows and her books she is wonderfully playful with language without getting too punny or precious. She is obviously a woman of great intelligence and wit, but is grounded enough to poke fun at her lack of professional chef training and imperfections as a mother.

But the real question is, can she cook? Without a doubt, yes. She shuns low-fat cooking, opting for taste, and uses quality ingredients. Nigella Feasts, which is based on the book of the same name, has featured several dishes that looked delicious.

Yesterday's show featured breakfast foods. While the granola and the raspberry swirl looked good, the real wonder of the show was how Nigella was able to cook some late night drunken grub food (Bacon and Tomato Hash*) wearing a slinky black cocktail dress and not come off like a cheap lush. If Sandra Lee tried the same maneuver, it would be more embarrassing than endearing.

I know that some think Nigella distracts from her cooking by playing up her looks, but I disagree. Nigella's coy looks and sensuous language add to the appeal of her cooking. This isn't staged gimmickry like Sandra Lee's backgrounds and low cut costumes; Nigella is comfortable in her skin and is not shy about showing that she loves to cook. Her love for cooking is apparent in the same way as it is with the other best Food Network shows: Barefoot Contessa, Everyday Italian, Easy Entertaining. On the flip side, the worst Food Network shows are hosted by cooks who clearly would rather be doing anything else: Semi-Homemade, the last few seasons of 30-Minute Meals, and especially Quick Fix Meals . No one is saying that cooks should spend an eternity in the kitchen, but like any other profession, if a cook has love for their work it will show.

My only complaint about Nigella Feasts is the schizophrenic camera work. I thought Barefoot Contessa was bad, but that's nothing compared to the artsy pretensions that go on over at Nigella Feasts. Cameramen: we know Nigella is gorgeous, but we do not need to count her pores. We also do not need to view Nigella through a row of hanging utensils. Hopefully the handheld camera look will go out of fashion soon and we can get back to concentrating on Nigella's cooking.

Food Network has been headed in the wrong direction lately, but adding Nigella to the lineup gives me hope. Now only if they could bring back Mario and Tony.

Nigella's life story is worth a read. She is not only an accomplished cook, but an accomplished journalist as well. She's also experienced a lot of tragedy, losing her mother, sister and husband to cancer.

1The recipe isn't listed on the Food Network site; what gives?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Food Network Tidbits

(and more Rachael Ray Show fallout, naturally.)

First, a few Food Network items:

Now for the Rachael Ray gossip:

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Rachael Ray: Enemy of peace and quiet

So, the Rachael Ray Show. I wanted to watch a few shows to get a feel for it and to see if it would improve at all, but I've yet to get through an entire episode. I can handle the cutesy phrases and manic hand movement, but the screaming is what makes it unbearable for me. That, and the fact that throughout interviews with Diane Sawyer, Dr. Phil, Emmitt Smith and Oprah herself, The Rach wouldn't let any of them finish a sentence1. I loathe this show with every fiber of my being and, if you pay any kind of attention to the body language of her guests, they do too.

The biggest revelation for me is that I always assumed that Rachael started out as a nice, humble cook and her increasing unlikeability was correlated to her increasing popularity. That is, the money and power turned her into a crazed person. Now I'm beginning to think that The Rach has always been a jerk, and she just had to play it cool for a few years in order to get her Food Network gigs.

Now that she's got the world by the cajones her authentic self has emerged and boy, it's not pretty. She is consistently petulant, shrill, self-absorbed, dismissive, and downright rude to the guests and audience on her show. It's one thing for her to harp on Oprah's cheese-spreading ability, it's another to throw a hissy fit when an audience member beats her in a good natured(?) game.

I'm not the only one who is hating on this show, and Rachael must have predicted this backlash when she penned this phony, faux-self-deprecating piece in Esquire.

Still, people can't get enough of her. Her show had the highest rated talk show debut since Dr. Phil, and according to Forbes she is the 2nd most trusted celebrity in America (behind Tom Hanks, but ahead of Michael J. Fox and Oprah). I don't even know what "trusting" a celebrity means; perhaps I'm just a cynic.

She'll also appear on Celebrity Jeopardy this fall2 and two Rachael-approved music compilations will be hitting stores next month.

I, on the other hand, have had enough of The Rach and I deleted her shows from my TiVo.

It's so peaceful in here now.

1She even interrupts newspaper reporters.

2Thanks to KitchenMage for the tip!

3This morning Adam Carolla had Perez Hilton (site semi-NSFW) on his radio show and they were talking a ton of smack about Rachael. This isn't surprising since Rachael once visited Adam's resturant on Inside Dish and there seemed to be no love lost between them.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Lessons in World Domination: Rachael Ray

Rachael Ray's talk show debuted yesterday and it had the highest rated syndicated debut since Dr. Phil rode Oprah's coattails to glory back in 2002.

I haven't actually seen the show yet (I deemed season 3 of Deadwood and season 4 of The Wire to be higher priority last night), but early reviews indicate that the show is a good substitute for coffee or speed:

"Rachael Ray Show" potentially annoying

Who needs coffee when you've got Rachael Ray?

'Rachael' is a ray of hope....

I'll catch up this week and be sure to post my thoughts.

Bonus: TV Squad picked out five bizarre quotes from Rachael's recent appearance on Larry King.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Food Network as Muse

What do you get when you mix Billy Joel's baby boomer rant with the Food Network? JordanBaker's brilliant, hilarious They Didn't Start the Fire (Food Network Remix). Sung to the tune of We Didn't Start the Fire, whet your appetite with this verse:

Giada, Sandra Lee, cleavage on the Food TV
Bend forward, stir the pot, get the viewer nice and hot.
Giada’s got a pumpkin head; Mario has chef cred;
Oil once around the pan, Sandra Lee was once a man.
Go now!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Requiem for a Deen

A couple weeks ago I promised a "monster post about the downfall of Paula Deen." This was easier said than done, however, because what is a blogger to do when watching Paula Deen becomes downright painful? I had five Paula's Home Cooking shows stored up on my TiVo and could only watch a few minutes of each before getting annoyed or depressed.

Paula used to be like a favorite great aunt1, the one whose recipes you secretly like more than your own mother's. You knew she had some hard times in her past but she was too private and dignified to broadcast her troubles to the world. She's the one you planned your wedding around, knowing that if she couldn't be there, the day wouldn't be complete.

But what happens when that aunt, for whatever reason, becomes a shell of her former self? You steel yourself before a visit and tell yourself that it won't be as bad this time, that maybe she's better now. When you get there her sad eyes and desperate loneliness make you want to cry, but instead you put on a brave face and a warm smile and try to enjoy her company. No one wants to be pitied, but sometimes when she's in the midst of yet another socially inappropriate remark you just wonder what happened to the old her, the one you still love.

And so it is with Paula Deen.

I love Paula and have no way of knowing what is going on with her, but the way she looks, acts and even cooks this season is downright disturbing. She looks puffy, tired, and all-around haggard. I now get more traffic to my site via "what is wrong with paula deen" queries than "sandra lee naked" queries (and that's saying something). Paula seems uncomfortable in front of the camera at times and the delivery of her Southern-isms is forced.

Predictably, her recipes have begun to decline. Paula has always turned out food that looked really good, even if it was unhealthy. Lately though, she's been venturing into Sandra Lee territory with some really awful looking dishes. I was afraid this would happen. There are limits to Southern cousine, as evidenced by Paula's five fried chicken recipes.

Sadly, we've seen all this before with Rachael Ray. Like Rachael, Paula has a a magazine and a new talk show debuting next month. Like Rachael, Paula has gone from being friendly and folksy to being over-the-top, loud, and obnoxious. If this quote about Paula's new talk show is any indication, it will be unwatchable:

Hosted by Paula Deen, 59, the hourlong program will be more “Romper Room” than “Cooking with Master Chefs.” At the taping of an early episode, Deen spent time trying on a young audience member’s stilettos, telling jokes and staging a live crab race. She named her entry “Cocaine Connie.”

“I’m keepin’ the hair high and the expectations low, and that way I can’t lose,” Deen drawled afterward.

Strangely, the Food Network is pinning its hopes on Paula's Party to attract younger viewers:

Aside from airing at night, Deen’s new show will feature a studio audience and less cooking instruction. Food Network thinks her biting sense of humor and somewhat unruly behavior will help attract a younger audience.

“We consider it Paula unplugged,” Tuschman says. “You never know what is going to come out of her mouth.”

So I find myself in a familiar place, lamenting the state of the Food Network. Sara Moulton left the network and is headed for PBS. Molto Mario was cancelled. Tony Bourdain moved over to the Travel Channel and now has one of the most interesting shows on television2. Food Network is losing (pushing away?) all of its heavy hitters, and pretty soon all that will be left are the amped-up versions of Rachael Ray, Paula Deen and Sandra Lee. Watch your backs, Ina and Giada!

At least I'm not the only one who thinks this is ridiculous. This blatant MTV-ization of the Food Network worries me. Sheesh, maybe if things don't work out with Paula and Michael they can give her a dating show, a la Flavor of Love. For old times' sake, maybe they could call it Butter Flavor of Love.

Call me when you get back, Paula. I'll be waiting for you.

1As opposed to your black sheep, drunken aunt.
2Really, Bourdain in Beirut is one of the better things I've seen on TV all year. Set your TiVos.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Food Network Summer Programs: Hot, Hotter and Hottest

Three new Food Network shows have premiered in the last couple of weeks.

Hot: Road Tasted

Featuring the spawn of Paula Deen, Road Tasted consists of Jamie and Bobby Dean traveling around the country to taste different kinds of food. They visit locally owned, small restaurants, a la Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels or $40 a Day. What with the travel aspect and the let's-turn-the-Southern-charm-up-to-eleven aspect, I fully expected to hate this show. Surprisingly, I've grown to like the Deen boys and this light little show. Jamie and Bobby truly are charming and personable - sort of like the Paula Deen of yesteryear*. I enjoy the banter between the brothers ("Brother!"), and they are kind and easygoing with the guests. It's not the best thing I've ever seen on the Food Network, but it's nice, light summer fare.

Hotter: Feasting on Asphalt

When I heard that Alton Brown was doing a cross-country road trip on his motorcycle, I was excited. Good Eats is one of the best shows on the Food Network and I couldn't wait to see how Alton would put his spin on the traveling food show genre. Plus, "Feasting on Asphalt" is so poetic, so Alton, that I had high expectations. The scenery is great, Alton busts out his knowledge at every turn, and the food choices have been predictably quirky (brains - ew!). However, the show is somewhat of a letdown due to poor pacing and the realization that Alton is human, after all. Look, the show is pretty darn good, but when you're talking about Alton Brown you expect great things. There are only a few episodes left and I will continue to watch them, but I wish I had lowered my expectations before viewing this show.

Hottest: Throwdown with Bobby Flay

I can't believe it either! How is Bobby Flay, my nemesis, most arrogant cook on the planet, hosting my favorite Food Network show of the summer season? I couldn't wait to watch Flay bust out his smarm on the common man so I could bust out the snark on Flay, but instead he's been humble, funny, and sincere. The ultra-competitive Iron Chef Flay is nowhere to be found, and instead he seems like he enjoys meeting the amateurs and is genuinely having a good time. I started to like Flay during the last Next Food Network Star season because he gave the contestants solid advice and criticism, but this show has cemented it for me: I am now a (mild) fan of Bobby Flay.

The challenger cooks have been good-natured and up to the challenge; indeed, most of them have whupped on Flay. I was concerned that Food Network would play these amateurs for laughs or that it would seem like they were being duped, but all of the cooks seem eager to challenge Bobby Flay. The contestants believe that they are taping a profile for Food Network, and that's essentially what they do for much of the show, before Flay enters the picture. However, I'm not totally convinced that the bait-and-switch is necessary, because I think plenty of cooks would want the challenge (and exposure) of going mano y mano with Flay. At any rate, this show is more of a showcase for the amateur's talent than a show about Flay or even the competition itself.

Still, Flay's good, the contestants are good, the food's good, but the key to this show is Flay's two soux chefs, Miriam and Stephanie. They keep him in line and aren't afraid to let him know when he's screwing up a recipe, running out of time, or just generally being a chump. I could see a Three's Company remake starring Flay and those two women. But who would play Mr. Furley?

*I'm currently trying to compose my thoughts for a monster post about the downfall of Paula Deen. It's been painful to watch, as my favorite Food Network host has turned into a cariacture of herself, alternating between amped-up bawdiness and sedated melancholy. It's truly terrifying.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Food Network or...Something Else?

There's been a lot of discussion about the sensual and sexual nature of the Food Network. Via BoingBoing, I bring you Food Network or porn - can you tell the difference*?

I recognized all of the Food Network stars (and none of the porn stars), so the quiz was rather easy. They included some great Giada-in-ecstacy shots and even a scary Rachael Ray shot, but where the heck was Sandra Lee? Perhaps her food doesn't taste good enough to warrant eye-rolling and moaning, just scary drunken staredowns:

*somewhat not safe for work

Monday, July 10, 2006

R&R: How Cool is That?

Rachael Ray's new talk show premieres September 18. Mark that on your calendars, people, because I have a feeling we're about to embark on the snarkfest to end all snarkfests, especially if the following commercials are any indication.

What I'm Not
I'm not a chef, I'm a cook.

I don't bake. I'm really adventurous. I'll try anything once.

Daytime Needs Her

She's got the tv, tv shows, cookbooks; she's like your best girlfriend.

She is the best thing to happen to daytime tv.

Daytime tv needs somebody who's not afraid to be different.

Rachael Ray and R Words

Rowdy, risque, radiant, real, romantic, rebellious.

Everyone needs a little R&R: Rachael Ray

Eat vs. Shop
I like to eat while shopping.

Don't tell them!

They wanted me to do this stuff where I go, "Hi, I'm Rachael Ray, watch the show because you'll get blah blah blah.... It's not going to work, guys!"

You should also know that Rachael Ray has received a Seal of Approval from the Attractive Daytime Television Viewers of America:

By the way, how tired is the whole chick on a motorcycle thing nowadays? Not only did Mariah do it for a Pepsi commercial, but Ms. Piggy did it for The Great Muppet Caper*!

I can already foresee that I'm going to develop a love/hate relationship with Rachael Ray's show. How excited am I? This excited:

*As noted by the incomparable FourFour.