Two tirades against food television

The Taste

Every time that the Food Channel eliminates cooking shows in favor of a contest or non-cooking related channel, there are rumbles from the media. But two recent rants caught our attention as particularly well-written, including both insightfulness and thoroughness. Both are well worth the time to read; here are just a few of the highlights.

Andy Greenwald in Grantland titles his essay, " Eat Bray Love:  The corruption of Anthony Bourdain, the return of Emeril Lagasse, and the state of food television." He first discusses the fall of Emeril Lagasse, who couldn't keep up with Food TV's desperate need to provide more sizzle, as "The schizophrenic network seemed committed to the idea of separating its viewership into either cartoony warriors or overmatched civilians, presenting the kitchen as either a battleground or a ticking time bomb. Food itself was either impossibly out of reach or beside the point, like fat floating on the surface of a broken sauce."

He goes on to look at Anthony Bourdain's fall from providing stimulating travel food on the Travel Channel, "a gorgeously shot valentine to global food culture" to his recent show, The Taste.  As he puts it, "But Bourdain's entire post-Kitchen Confidential career - embodying his bedrock belief that food cannot and should not be separated from the richness of experience that surrounds it - has been an eloquently stated and vibrantly lived refutation of everything The Taste  stands for. Now he sits on a garishly lit soundstage, defanged like an aging circus lion, ginning up halfway constructive things to say to deluded Capoeira instructors who make 'food for awesomeness' when the only reasonable response would be laughter."

Greenwald does give some positive reviews. One is for Chopped  (a guilty pleasure of ours) and one is for Top Chef, where he points out that Emeril is making a comeback - "Now in his second season as an adjacent judge, the onetime garlic tosser is heavier and slower, a Wookiee in winter. Stripped of his catchphrases and his band, Emeril has revealed himself to be kind, patient and insightful, able to articulate the nuances of food we'll never taste with expert, understated flair."

And over at The Braiser, Tina Nguyen explains Why I Love PBS Cooking Shows More Than Every Other Food Show Out There. Besides giving her own negative review of The Taste,  she laments the degradation of the Japanese version of Iron Chef, once it was transported here, "But there is a difference - a crucial one - between two people having a cookoff that happens to be televised, and a shiny, bombastic, Hunger Games-type show with swooping cameras, staccato editing, the type of dramatic music that could make Michael Bay give up, and SO. MUCH. FIRE.   After a year of editing this site, however, it's hard to even remember what the former show was ever like."

But she also finds cooking shows to enjoy - over at PBS. She singles out four in particular:  Yan Can Cook, for sentimental value;   Made In Spain  with José Andrés; and  Avec Eric where she notes that "the physical effect of Eric Ripert's voice is like having a pile of newborn kittens fall asleep on you." And then, surprisingly perhaps, she is also very fond of The Mind of a Chef, which is, perhaps, Bourdain's redemption.

Overall, as she sums up - and we couldn't agree more -  "I, like most of the people who watch food television, will never be a chef. But like most of the audience, I started watching these shows because I wanted to cook and I loved to eat. These days, it seems like PBS is the only network that actually remembers that."

3 Comments

  • NaomiManygoats  on  3/20/2013 at 5:37 PM

    I only watch the food shows that make it to Netflix, since my family ties up the TV with sports, etc. And some have been really great, entertaining, and a lot are fun to learn from. But I really tend to dislike the contests. I know I live in a dream world, but I prefer a nice, calm kitchen, that is very zen. Stressed out chefs that are cussing up a storm just stress me out and make me want to avoid the kitchen. The original Cake Boss for example, was pretty fun to see the outrageous cakes that were created by the family. But when they turned it into a contest to find the next cake boss, it was really not very interesting to me.

  • sfcarole  on  3/21/2013 at 11:21 AM

    I completely agree with these rants and can't stomach the Food Network any longer. I used to live for Molto Mario, and loved Tyler Florence, Bobby Flay and even Ina, Paula and Rachel. And Emeril used to have a show called "Essence of Emeril" that showed his much calmer, more intelligent side. So I too watch only PBS for cooking shows. I'm addicted to Jacques Pepin and with every show still learn something new. I would like to watch Made in Spain and Avec Eric, both mentioned by Nguyen, but I can't find them on the SF channel lineup.

  • Vanessa  on  3/27/2013 at 5:55 AM

    sfcarole - I've never even heard of Made in Spain and wasn't sure if it was available in South Carolina. But intrigued by the kudos, I googled it and found that full episodes are available online - see video.pbs.org/program/made-in-spain/.

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