Friday, July 25, 2008

Food, Glorious Food

I am obsessed.

Actually, my whole family is.

Most of the time the TV is on in our living room. Sometimes we're actually home to watch it. While occasionally we actually sit down to watch a show, most of the time it was just some necessary white noise to our daily routine. But to have a consistent, non-offensive, bland-as-vanilla-pudding TV white noise, we had to pick a channel. Something non-controversial and one nothing would likely come on our kids couldn't see. And that maybe had some interesting shows. We chose HGTV - Home & Garden Television, produced by our own local near and dear Scripps Networks.

Well, that went on for a while. We never really got into any of the shows, but it was nice to have something on the TV to just plop down, watch a few minutes of someone designing a deck or patio we'd never own, or refurbishing a rundown one-bedroom shack into a 10-bed, 9-1/2 bath McMansion. But we didn't really have a lot invested in it.

Then one day, somehow...someway... the channel changed. I don't know how it happened - maybe I pressed the wrong button on the remote. Maybe little elves invaded. Maybe the kids went too far looking for Nickelodean. All I know is now, for the last year or so, we have found a new household obsession that sucks out all the hours of our day, dominates our evening, and has even....yes even caused me to break out the pots and pans, shop for fresh Thyme, and contemplate the finer points of preparing quiche...

Food NetworkThe Food Network has taken over our lives.

Oh! Glorious, the possibilities. The varieties! The worlds of culinary sophistication and innovation! Me, who for 40 years has barely been able to make more than a basic cheese sandwich without burning it have now realized that cooking could be....could be..... FUN?

I've made the aforementioned quiche for a gathering of friends. I made Autumn Potato Gratin with cream and sage for Thanksgiving last year. I've been given cookbooks for Christmas, and made a fettucine with sausage tomato sauce, for goodness sake... I may just be getting good at this.

But anyway, in honor of the season finale of our favorite Food Network show, The Next Food Network Star (airing this Sunday at 10pm EDT), I want to share with all of you the amazing shows we love to watch.

Final ThreeKelseyThe Next Food Network Star - For weeks, 10 contestants have cooked, presented, dished and prayed their way through a competition of food smarts, personality, and likeability in order to be awarded next year their own cooking show on the network. My personal favorite, Kelsey, was eliminated 2 weeks ago, and the finale is between actor and improv comedian Adam, big talker Aaron and closet Romulan Lisa. I'm pulling for Aaron because he has the right combination of cooking skills and personality to make a good show. Two years ago the winner of this reality show was a guy named Guy, who now hosts:

Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives - Guy travels the country, profiling off the path, hole-in-the-wall restaurants with the best roadside food in the country. Not long ago he profiled a place on Magnolia Ave. in Knoxville that serves to die for onion rings, which I'm totally going to have to check out.

30-Minute Meals and $40 a Day are Rachel Ray's shows, and she of course is too perky for words. You just want to squeeze her cheeks. You pick which ones. Ahem. Anyway, she's friendly and enjoyable to watch (if she doesn't annoy you too quickly).

Throwdown with Bobby Flay - Bobby Flay competes with other chefs to see if he can best their own signature dish. I've seen him do macaroni and cheese, cheesecake, pulled pork, cakes and other items. At the end of the episode, someone judges to see whose version of the particular dish is best. Bobby usually loses, which is good because goodness knows we don't need this guy to get too cocky...

Good Eats - I want to be Alton Brown. I want to host this show, and I think I'd be pretty darn good at it, too. I may start my own web version of this show, or something like it come to think of it. Anyway, Alton takes a particular aspect of food or cooking each episode and dissects in until you know its history, lineage, background, varieties, molecular structure, DNA sequencing and any other obsessive detail you can think of to say about, like, carrots. Or mac & cheese. Or pasta. Or tacos. Or whatever. This guy is great, and seriously, if I can find a topic I am so doing what this guy does as a vidcast on the web.

Unwrapped takes a food product such as processed cheese, margarine, "comfort food", candy, cereal or other commercial product and shows how it's conceived, manufactured, and brought to the store's shelves. This one can be a little dry at times, but when it finds a subject that's really interesting it can be engrossing. Particularly something like candy bars.

Dinner: Impossible - This season there's a new host, one of the Iron Chefs Michael Symon. I'm not totally sold on the new guy yet (he's only had one episode) but the concept of the show is fun. The host is given a task, obstensively by a "Mission: Impossible"-type voice, to prepare a huge meal for a large group of people in a set amount of time. He draws out the menu and is provided with a kitchen, the necessary food material, and a staff of chefs to help him out. It's the time limit and the setting that makes the show exciting - in the past the previous host (Robert Irvine, who was kicked off the show because it turned out he lied about his training and experience background) had to cook at a Renaissance Fair like they did in the past, cook for a Pixar gathering, passengers on a cruise ship, and more. The first new episode Michael cooked a huge meal for the workers on a Boardwalk, and had to "gourmet" up Boardwalk food for them. Good fun.

Food Network Challenge - A competition between three-five chefs, usually pastry chefs, to create the best themed dish. Most of the time I watch this show, it's about cakes. Several chefs and their assistants have nine hours to completely create a cake based on, say, Disney villains, Pixar characters, classic cartoons, "most extreme", etc. Then they're judged on originality and style and the winner gets $10,000. The big challenge in these competitions is to not get too ambitious and try to do too much. One time Scar's (from "The Lion King") head fell off. And Mike and Sully from "Monsters, Inc." collapsed. You never know what's going to happen.

Finally, my personal favorite:
Ace of Cakes - Ah, Duff, you big lug. The bald, goateed baker who frequently sports a backward baseball cap or toboggan in even the most formal of settings. He and the staff of Charm City Cakes (a real, honest-to-goodness special-order bakery in Philadelphia) spend every episode making all manner of cakes for $1,000 minimum order customers. Guitar-shaped cakes, cakes that look like the set of the play "Avenue Q", a cake of Hogwarts castle for the premiere of one of the Harry Potter movies, a Super Bowl Cake for Colts vs. Bears, armadillo cakes, shipping depot cakes, roulette wheel cakes, cakes that move, cakes that explode, cakes that look like Corvettes. But what makes this show great is the cast - Duff is the main guy, Geof is the soft-spoken and dry-witted main assistant. There's the red-headed receptionist that is the smart-alec, and several other young assistants that each have their own personalities. This is a winner.

A couple of other shows on Foot Network I don't care for. I don't like Iron Chef America at all, nor can I stand anything with Paula Dean's face (or *shudder* voice) in it (sorry, mom). Emeril Live! was one of our favorites until his contract ran out and it went off the air.

So check it out. If you already have an interest in cooking, or just the sociology of food in general, you may get stuck there. And if you have no interest in cooking, well watch it anyway!

UPDATE: In researching links, I came across the site for The Next Food Network Star and they spoiled the finale! Interviews with the two people that didn't win are already up on their personal pages! So now I already know who wins... :( Bad form, Food

UPDATE II: Looks like they've taken down the videos that spoil the finale. It's safe to view the finalist pages again!


  1. Hey, we watch a lot of the same TV shows. Why no love for Iron Chef?

    Just wanted to drop in an FYI that Emeril Live has moved over to the Fine Living network and new episodes are airing there.

    (Full disclosure: I work for FL Online.)

  2. Oh no! I was on the website just a few minutes ago... did they wise up and take the videos down?

  3. Oh no! I was just on the Web site... did they take down those videos, I din't see anything that would give it away.

  4. Actually, I think they did. They had pulled the profile pages for the three finalists... That's where I saw the spoiler videos, in the interview sections of each of those pages. I haven't checked lately to see if they're back up...