The Foodie 13 – TV Shows

If anyone’s been wondering, running a semi-successful food blog can be exhausting.  I have no shortage of inspiration and ideas to write about, but finding the time to get it all down on virtual paper can be a bit of a challenge.  Plus I impose deadlines on myself (like posting a new Foodie 13 every 2 weeks or so) to try and ensure I’m keeping things fresh and relevant for followers from the internest.  With that in mind, I give you our next installment of the Foodie 13

There’s nothing I love more than foodie TV.  Growing up I could sit and watch cooking shows for hours on end, always captivated and entertained by what was happening onscreen.  When the Food Network finally came to Canada, it was one of the first times I felt like there were other people out there who were just like me.  There’s something so magical (and perverse) about the seeming perfection that’s portrayed on food television that I can’t get enough of, even though like most media, it upholds an unrealistic and mostly unattainable ideal.  As an adult, I find it’s almost the only television I bother with anymore, except for the occasional movie, infomercial (for laughs) or gameshow (Supermarket Sweep anyone?).  So, in no particular order, an ode to some of my favorite TV pleasures both new and old, beloved and reviled.

1- Iron Chef (Japan) - Plenty of people hate this show and think it’s terribly gimmicky, but it’s exactly that kitschiness that I love.  From the bad dubbing and voice-overs, to the cardboard cutout-like poses of each of the chefs, it’s so over the top that you can’t look away.  A few things I especially loved about this program were the Prince of Pasta’s rising out of the floor second-rate intro, the floor reporter always calling for Fukui-san (which to this day I still think of as squeegee-san), and the papi (grandfather-like) Japanese chef Rokusaburo Michiba.  Attempting to watch the American version proves that it literally pales in comparison, and as I’ve noted before, I can’t even be bothered to watch unless Jeffrey Steingarten is on.

2- The Urban Peasant - Watching reruns of this show today is proof that the sands of time can soften memories.  When I was younger I was transfixed by James Barber drunkenly cooking up a storm, but when you revisit the show now, you realize how unappetizing and unsanitary his food and preparation are.  I liken that time in food TV to the wild west; an era where people did not know better, or necessarily realize what would make good TV.  It was definitely the polar opposite of the hyper-stylized completely pre-prepared Rachel Ray type shows we have today, and for that reason alone, it makes it on my list.  Plus, you can’t deny that he always looked like he was having a rollicking good time!

3- Good Eats - Long before Alton Brown became the affable, American version of Shinichiro Ohta, there was (and still is) Good Eats.  A show for the food geek in all of us, Alton managed to combine science, cooking and some unique comic performances into one tight and tasty package.  Always informative, the show specialized in not only teaching you the recipe, but explaining the why behind the recipe too.  I value Alton Brown’s opinion so much that when I once saw a $200 blender on one episode, I ordered it the very next day.  And while the RPM turned out to be nothing more than a flashy kitchen gadget with a tachometer, the show’s cooking advice has never steered me wrong.

4- Cook Like A Chef - I’m almost positive this show never aired outside of Canada, but I couldn’t help but include this small piece of Canadiana.  The premise behind Cook Like A Chef was a revolving cast of great Canadian chefs, showcasing their unique talents for the world to a cool, jazzy tune with lots of 360* shots.  Typically each episode consisted of 2 or 3 segments of the chefs preparing tasting portions of their signature dishes.  Notable names attached to the project included Ned Bell, Michael Bonacini and Carolyn McCann Bizjak, most of whom are probably unknown outside of the Great White North anyway.  While the show originally aired in 2001 shortly after the Food Network’s Canadian inception, it’s been enjoying somewhat of a renaissance now that the Food Network has put a greater focus on Canadian content again.

5- Feasting On Asphalt/Waves - I consider these two Alton Brown shows two sides of the same coin, which is why they only occupy one space on the list.  Feasting On Asphalt was a 4 part mini-series that chronicled Alton and co.’s motorcycle journey across America to sample some of the best road food and regional specialties from coast to coast.  Taking that concept to another level, Feasting On Waves picked up where Asphalt left off and highlighted unique culinary delights in the Caribbean via a boating expedition of island-hopping.  It was a shame that both seasons were so short, but I can still remember how enraptured I felt when I watched the tour they did of the CuisinArt Resort in Anguilla.  For a gardener like me, that place seemed like a little slice of paradise with it’s gigantic indoor greenhouse producing all of the food used by the resort.  I’ve since heard that it’s not a very good resort, but the show so romanticized it for me that I think some day, I’d still like to go.

6- Chef School – This is another show that I don’t think got much play beyond Canadian airwaves, but this below the radar reality tale followed a group of students from the  Stratford Chef’s School for most of their 2 year education.  Not just the regular reality fluff, the show explored a topic prevalent in the restaurant industry (addiction) and how it affects everyone around it.  There were kids you loved, some you hated, but in the end you went away hoping they all managed to find their path.  A vast improvement on the concept,  which was originally showcased in Epicurious’ serial minis that followed students from the CIA for 5 to 7 minute episode increments.  The Chef School episodes involving poise and floral arrangements are not to be missed.

7- Pasquale’s Kitchen Express - A blast from the past that I’ll occasionally turn on during lazy Sunday mornings when there’s nothing on the agenda.  I remember the infamous Pasquale from my childhood, but as more of vague concept than a concrete memory.  Pasquale was cheesy, and a complete Italian stereotype, but during the 80′s I’m sure what he offered seemed incredibly exotic.  Plus, the man loved to sing.  That’s got to count for something, doesn’t it?  Watching it now only serves to reinforce that I would never make any of the recipes he does today (again with the unsanitary conditions) but it’s still good for a giggle every now and then, especially the closing theme song that reminds me of something that should’ve closed a Rocky movie.

8- Fink - More Can-con of the socially conscious variety.  Fink is the story of Paul Finkelstein, a high school teacher/chef who revolutionized the lives of a group of teens by encouraging them through food at his student-run cafeteria, The Screaming Avocado.  I don’t mean to imply he was the first person to do this (because I know he was not), but it’s great to see Canadian figures in the media who mirror the philosophies upheld by other notable sustainachefs like Jamie Oliver and Alice Waters.  With a world of little fatasses bursting at the seams, it’s timely and important to acknowledge that food and nutrition should be taught to children and enforced at school.  If they aren’t learning it at home, where else are they supposed to get it from?

9- Just Like Mom - For a long time I thought I was the only person on the planet that remembered this show (or that I’d possibly made it up in my head).  But a conversation with the Everyman last night (while I was working on the bones of this post) confirmed that it did indeed exist, because he remembered it too.  It took me awhile to come up with the name (because my recollection was merely of the concept) but I finally did, and now I’m going to share it with all of you.  Just Like Mom was a children’s game show that was semi-popular in Ontario during the late 80′s.  There were always 3 child contestants and 3 parental units, and the final round of the show involved allowing the children a chance for a free-for-all cooking or baking competition.  In retrospect, it was almost a juvenile precursor for Iron Chef, only the twist was that once completed, the parents had to guess which creation belonged to their child via taste test (always the best part).  If you ever wondered what would happen if you tried to make cookies with ketchup and ice cream, this show was probably meant for you.

10- East Meets West - Ming Tsai was making fusion cooking accessible to home cooks long before it became such a prevalent restaurant trend.  A charismatic host, his show could teach you everything you ever wanted to know about Asian ingredients without seeming intimidating or difficult.  Plus, he was one of the first TV chefs I can remember who publicly discussed food allergies (something that is still not all that commonplace even today) though not entirely an altruistic pursuit; from what I understand one of his children or someone in his immediate family suffers from an allergy, making the cause a bit more top of mind for him.  It’s still refreshing to see someone publicly discussing the impact of food limitations.  And I completely credit his show with planting the seed for my love affair with Asian cuisine.

11- In Search Of Perfection - A show that constantly fascinates me, it chronicles Heston Blumenthal from Britain’s The Fat Duck in a madcap quest to create the pinnacle of food excellence each week.  The majority of his creations are not practical for home cooking applications, but the joy and utter whimsy displayed is worth the view nonetheless.  Over at A Hamburger Today last year, Kenji Alt went on a 30+ hour bender in an attempt to create the Blumenburger, and hilarity ensured.  A delightful piece of foodie fluff that shows us what we could do in the kitchen with an unlimited budget and all the time in the world.  It’s also a fantastic compendium of inspiration if you only intend to use bits and pieces of his techniques and formulas in everyday life.

12- Jamie At Home - It was hard for me to pick a favorite Jamie Oliver series, but this was the one that most closely jives with my own food principles.  I won’t lie, part of the appeal of his program lies in listening to his melodious accent and bizarre outbursts of chuckles, chortles and unidentified noise (hee hee hee ho hooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo wakka wakka, etc), but the main draw is the enthusiasm he has for food and convincing others they can cook real meals.  In addition to that there’s Gennaro, the witty Italian, though he doesn’t make an appearance on At Home nearly as often as he did on other programs, is always enough of a reason to tune in.

13- Top Chef - I’ll probably get a lot of flak for suggesting this, but I do love Top Chef.  After 5 seasons it’s become somewhat formulaic, but I still can’t help but watch.  Perhaps I’m enamored with the way Tom Colicchio constantly dissects his food, or maybe I just like watching a motley mix of chefs vie for their chance at the big time.  Who knows?  I do know that every time a season’s over, I immediately start counting down to the next one, and am looking forward to Top Chef: Masters right now.  That’s got to count for something!   I could take or leave the “reality” aspect of the show, preferring to concentrate on the ingenious challenges, like the one where they had to make a meal out of food found at a gas station.  Part hotbed of creativity, part amazing food for thought, equals pure entertainment.  I stand behind my decision, dissenters be damned.

So that’s it, it’s done, that’s all she wrote (literally!)  Honorable mentions that just missed the cut include No Reservations (though more of a travel show), The Chef’s Domain, and America’s Test Kitchen (and only because the primary host has 0 charisma).  Hope you enjoyed it!

Until next time…

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