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.