Nowadays, if you know which end of a spatula to grab, you can have a TV cooking show. They are proliferating like Charlie Sheen transgressions: a new one every day, it seems. Herewith, the PCI take on the best … and wurst.
Of course, I start at the bottom. As a disclaimer, I realize that all of these kitchen doyens (and doyennes) can cook better than I. I can also outshoot Shaq at the charity stripe, but that is something else again.
Emeril Lagasse has become a parody of himself. Back when his head was of a normal size, it seemed that he knew what he was doing. He was fresh, brash and full of boundless energy. He introduced the “BAM!” thingie, much to our delight. However, he has uttered this onomatopoetic stinger approximately 398,642 times since then. Or so.
Now, he has become more of a ballooned, self-absorbed raconteur, with a live band (why?) and adoring gaggles of Stepford descendants in the crowd. And umpteen wannabe chefs backstage doing the actual cooking.
In the large-noggin department, look at Giada De Laurentiis. This, of course, is her mother's surname, but when your gramps was a hot-shot movie producer responsible for making Fellini popular, you go with it.
I can't get past the eternal smile. Is she always that happy? Is there a coat hanger stuck in her yap? And must she slip into dialect when pronouncing every Italian term?
I do get a kick out of Alton Brown—who is really more of a comic actor-cum-food scientist than he is a cook. Some of his skits make me titter, while others seem more than little contrivances to keep him out of the kitchen. And I've never heard another highly paid professional (even NBA players) say “uh” more times per sentence.
Speaking of language, TV hashslingers have a new form of the future tense, the “imgonnagoaheadand.” As in, “I'm gonna go ahead and deglaze that pan.” Just a thought, but howsabout substituting, “I'll...”?
Rachel Ray, seemingly a conjoined Martha Stewart and Charo, is just too easy a target. We are lucky that a brilliant scribe, my good friend Bucky Hilts, has gone ahead and dished up the ultimate parody, “Every Freakin' Day with Rachel Ray,” a biting, hilarious send-up done in magazine format. Link here for this sidesplitter.
I do NOT need to hear from any chef the shopworn, “If you wouldn't drink the wine, don't cook with it.” Enough, already. Who buys wine they can't drink?
Ditto this: Your dishes are not “simple.” This term is as rampant on cooking shows as Gary Glitter is at college hoop games. No, Pierre, when you trot out a mise-en-place of 14 ingredients, including demi-glace (which all of us happen to have kicking around our larders) and a dozen apostles on staff, this is anything but simple.
I admire the techniques and provenance of Jacques Pepin. However, I must watch his offerings using subtitles. In fact, with his francocense-and-myrrh delivery, the captions should be automatic. I've been called every liberal epithet from brie-head to pantywaist, yet I opine that after 52 years in the U. S., M. Pepin could have learned a soupçon of English.
Mark Bittman doesn't do too much TV anymore, but you can catch him on the Times website, doing pithy, easy comestibles. I like his breezy style and endearing self-effacement.
I can also get through “America's Test Kitchen,” if for the reason that the talking heads show mistakes they've made … and how they arrived at the best version of a dish. The downside: Wan, bowtied majordomo Chris Kimball is the “Ascetic, Erect Yankee” from central casting. He's the type of guy who needs to get a suntan, if just once in his life.
I get the feeling that Mario Batali can actually cook. And I don't care about the orange Crocs.
Tony Bourdain cracks me up, the epitome of snarkiness (okay, birds of a feather …). But he rarely cooks. Still, “No Reservations” bites off a slew of megs on my DVR.
I avoid the competitive shows. Except of course, for the original Nippon version of “Iron Chef.” which is corny enough to make me watch occasionally. It only follows that Yanks have taken the show and made it serious, glacier swift and somnambulent with grim, self-important judges and your host, uh, Mr. Alton, uh, Brown.
“Chopped” exists to humiliate contestants. The premise is puerile and unworkable. Would-be winners must execute—quelle rapide—dishes using preselected ingredients that only a Venusian eatery would serve. You get, say, pork belly, macaroons, caviar and kiwi—now make something edible out of them. The judges make R. Lee Ermey look compassionate, ya jackwagons.
My three favorites all happen to be women of size—and rightly so.
“Two Fat Ladies” ran for but 24 shows in the late 90s. Co-host Jennifer Patterson passed in 1998. But she drove a big motorcycle (with pard Clarissa Dickson Wright in the sidecar) and wasn't above ducking out of the kitchen to toke on a Woodbine. Okay, every dish contained clotted cream and bricks of butter, but I love their Anglicisms and down-to-earth style.
Lydia Mattichio Bastianich is my all-time fave. It looks like she is cooking in an actual kitchen. Hey Lagasse, bone a chicken live the way she does. Most of all, her recipes are easily followed and she truly appears to love what she's doing. She's the only chef, I believe, who actually invites viewers into her kitchen. And that is a good thing.
Jeeze, I'm getting hungry. Hmmm, duck confit with a side of cornichons and whole-grain mustard? Or ramen?
Bon appétit, Julia.