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Thursday, 19 December
Food Can Make You Want to Die

It is with caution that I inform you that I often watch the Food Network. It's kind of embarrassing, really; I like to cook, but I'm a total amateur. I am cautious about fucking with recipes too much, and it would never occur to me to, say, add fennel to anything unless specifically directed to. But that doesn't have much to do with the Food Network, because the Food Network has about as much to do with cooking as Hustler magazine has to do with human relationships. Most of the time, cooking is utterly ancillary to what is actually going on, whether it be cult (or, depending on the person, "occult") of personality (the odious Emeril, the cloying Wolfgang Puck, the unclassifiable asshole Bobby Flay), naked advertising presented as infotainment (how do they make Milk Duds? We need a half hour on this!) or simple addleheaded travelogue tripe (The Thirsty Traveler mugs his way through Spain! Somebody forgot to ask the important question, "Who gives a ripe fuck?").

It's not wholly without its pleasures. If you're not a fan of the Iron Chef, that's fine, but I must question why anyone couldn't like a show that combines incredible, over-the-top theatrics with such utterly conspicuous consumption, and finally culminates in forcing cheerful, ridiculous rich people to eat concoctions such as deep-fried chicken brains and eel-flavored ice cream. ("It tastes like Autumn to me." Groovy! I prefer my food to taste like . . . food. But sadly, I'm not a fatuous rich person.) Another good show--and it goes without saying that because it is fairly intelligent, it is woefully underpromoted--is Good Eats, in which the affable Alton Brown patiently explains in lay science terms why cooking works the way it does. It's smart and charming and endearingly low-fi.

And of course there are the cooking shows. They are, to varying degrees depending on your affinity for whoever's hosting, all basically intolerable (apart from Good Eats, which is really a different animal). I won't even go into Emeril, unless I have a hatchet, in which case I will enthusiastically "get into him." Wolfgang Puck carries the lingering stink of the Eighties, and just kind of looks desperate and tanned in that panicky way that says, "I can't possibly be irrelevant. I'm tan!" And Bobby Flay is about as entertaining and informative as formica. He is resolutely unenthusiastic as he tours America, tasting various regional dishes, and invariably pronouncing said dishes in a bored monotone, "Delicious." "Delicous," in his context, makes it sound like it means "This gives me a wasting, consumptive disease." He speaks of other people's cooking as if he were clinically evaluating their toilets by licking them.

And finally, there is Jamie Oliver, a young, handsome Brit who makes food as if someone off camera has a rifle trained on him. But in a fun way! This moppet is so relentlessly cuddly that they gave him two shows, neither of them watchable (though I obviously managed, because I suck). Hyperactive Jamie scooters about London terrorizing fishmongers and vegetable stands, and then goes back home (or wherever--I think one episode had him cooking halibut on an agreeable Tony Blair's engine block) and maniacally cooks the fucking shit out of whatever he has found. He grabs . . . something. You don't know what. It's green. "Gitchyer mortar en pessle and bash the hell ou' uvvit!" And bash it he does, as if the food owed him a lot of money, his curly blonde locks flying madly. "There we are thin luv!" He's thrown the mortar and pestle into the plaster wall of the set and has now flung the whole green mess on to some fish morbidly shrinking in a pan. "Stir it oop, mates!" he screams, as if in the grips of a fever. Twenty minutes of this, and you can feel your pulmonary capillaries howling for oxygen, but whew, now he's done. and he's finally calmly devouring the ninety-two dishes he's prepared along with two dozen of his ridiculously pretty friends, also known as "paid extras." His demeanor suggests a man who, having come off of a shrieking adrenaline rush, has now made his peace with the unseen rifleman.

Food Network is, as I said, not without its charms. It is, in fact, a little more charming than the equally awful major networks, if only because of its single-minded nature. You can't really claim undue surprise from the Food Network the same way you can with the Big Four when they assault you with something as soul-wrenching as, say, Joe Millionaire. The Food Network is, after all, going to be about food. The worst they can do is prepare it.


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Comments

As someone who used to skip classes to watch The French Chef, I take the existence of Bobby Flay as a personal affront as well as incontrovertible existence (if more was needed) that God has a badly miscalibrated sense of humor. Fortunately, the Net has come up with its own answer to God's little joke in the form of the Anti-Bobby Flay Webring.

Comment number: 000191   Posted by: anapestic on December 20, 2002 06:17 AM from IP: 216.181.58.90

Ah, the food network. My personal favourite would have to be the extreme sexiness that is Tyler Florence. Who can resist watching him stop off at people's houses and hold their hands while they mull around in their dirty, disgusting kitchens attempting to make something more complex than frozen pizza? Television at it's finest, I'm telilng you.

Comment number: 000194   Posted by: rickie beth on December 21, 2002 01:34 PM from IP: 170.224.224.134

How could you cut up the Food Network without mentioning Nigella Lawson's softco-... "show"?
I remember one episode where they were shooting her in soft focus licking a melting ice cream cone, and she made some joke about how it "all look[ed] like some horrible old English porn film", apparently completely unaware that in every other episode, her cameraman spends at least as much time on her chest as whatever she has on the stove.

Comment number: 000197   Posted by: Craig on December 24, 2002 05:07 PM from IP: 142.161.0.91

Well, technically speaking, I don't think Nigella is on the Food Network; at least on my cable-ream setup, she gets aired on like the Style channel or something--some goddamn snooty channel I hate.

I was amiss in leaving out Tyler Florence, though--Food 911 chills me to the bone. I rarely miss it. His on-camera skills are . . . are . . . I don't know. Bad? That's as best I can do. He's so hilariously not quick with the wit. I really wish Public Enemy would record an update of their old song: "Food 911 Is A Joke."

Comment number: 000200   Posted by: Skot on December 26, 2002 09:57 AM from IP: 140.107.123.114

Oh, but I've got to watch Jamie, Jamie's so ... so ... adorably shaggable! (Then again, I do shag guys, so your mileage may, of course, vary.)

Don't miss Mario Batali (Molto Mario, not Mario Eats Italy), though. He's perhaps the least insufferable celebrity chef on the whole network, and the food is fantastic.

Odious though Emeril may be, I've got to say I've had one of the best restaurant meals of my life at Emeril's. (But if you go to New Orleans, go to Brigtsen's or Bayona or August first.)

Bobby Flay ... feh. He's got about as much use to humanity as Morimoto's appendix.

Comment number: 000270   Posted by: Chuck on January 20, 2003 08:27 AM from IP: 64.236.249.8

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