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Some have called me and my family food snobs. In all honesty I would not disagree. It’s the language we speak—hours are spent analyzing the fine tuning of a perfect braised roast, the complexity of a seafood broth or the gentle addition of honey to any number of savory sauces. We all have our personal copies of Bill Buford’s Heat and think it is a fabulous read (if you haven’t, you must!) and have traveled very long distances for exceptional eating.
And yes, those insanely gifted chefs like Flay and Batali who show up on the Food Network and Iron Chef are so masterful it is almost painful. If only meritocracy were truly the measure of food programming! But given its absence in so many other entertainment fields I shouldn’t be surprised that it doesn’t exist with chefs and cooking shows either. It’s jut that it is becoming increasingly more pronounced.
We have had a long time collective distaste for pert but talentless Rachel Ray, the uninspired Giada and a whole slew of other yawner food show wannabes. Frank Bruni’s article in this week’s Sunday Times Magazine, How to Cook Up a Food Celebrity, is just one more demonstration of the move to the mediocre. His article is a feature piece about Katie Lee, the latest cooking show sweepstakes winner (you too can host your own show!!) whose only credentials for being on the food network are her exceptional good looks and her marriage to Billy Joel. Enough! With so many gifted chefs out there I would love to learn from, this just seems ridiculous and absurd to me.
To give you a taste of where food programming is going, here’s the latest envisioning by food network producers:
A few months ago I accompanied [Katie Lee] to a meeting in Beverly Hills with the two young producers working directly on her pilot. Over peppermint tea on a patio outside the Four Seasons, they and Lee spitballed scenarios for the “Untitled Katie Lee Project.” They envisioned her inviting a small group of girlfriends over to her town house for a “spa night” of healthful eating and facials. They pictured Lee bolting to the home of an acquaintance who is less skillful in the kitchen than she, surreptitiously helping her cook, then dashing away before the acquaintance’s date arrives to a sumptuous meal.
One producer: “The ideas are endless.”
The other producer: “You’re like the girl next door, everybody’s friend. People relate to you.”
The producers said they should ideally show enough of Lee’s life at home so that she could put her stamp on a variety of products — like linens or clothes. “If you’re wearing a sweater, people will want to know what it is,” one of them said. “They should be able to go to a Web site.”
The other: “Yeah, because you’re very stylish.”
Stylish? Linens and clothing? So maybe someone somewhere really does want to dress like these “I just play a chef on TV” types. But there are none in my database.
But bless you Bruni for including this quote from the passionate food adventurer Anthony Bourdain who, though arrogant, is watch-worthy. This is just too good:
“Why people want to watch people cooking and eating on TV — I’m still trying to figure that out,” says Anthony Bourdain, a longtime restaurant chef whose phenomenally successful best seller, “Kitchen Confidential,” became his pivot into information-packed food-travel shows. “In the beginning,” he adds, harking back to Julia Child and even Emeril Lagasse, “some believable ability with food, some kind of credential, was at least implied.” He doesn’t think that’s the case anymore, and says, “Just as teenage girls need nonthreatening teen idols, whether they sing or appear in vampire movies, America clearly needs likable people who appear in the kitchen.”
I’m not going for likable, in the kitchen or anywhere else. I’m going for delicious, memorable, high amplitude, sumptuous. And that’s what we hope to have in our house, food networking mis-programming be damned.