Food (TV) Nation

In ascending order, the best shows on the TV Food Network, ever:

  • Iron Chef America. I always liked the concept of the original Japanese show, but never cared much for the show itself. I know the new, American version loses a lot of the stuff people like about the original, but I guess that’s the stuff I didn’t like, because I just love this show. So far, the best matchup was Bobby Flay and Ming Tsai, and I fervently hope that the new season will feature more matchups between current and former TV Food Network personalities. You know what’s odd? My favorite of the current Iron Chefs is Masaharu Morimoto. They’re all cool, though.
  • Molto Mario with Mario Batali. It wasn’t nearly as good when the live audience was added. Still, the organic approach Batali takes to Italian cooking–the exact opposite of Ming Tsai’s approach–reminds us that yes, cooking is an art, but it’s also just food. It’s folk-culture, and folks are simple. I don’t think I can make anything Ming makes without going to the store first, but I think I can make everything Mario makes just by opening the cupboard.
  • Cooking Live with Sara Moulton. Most of what I want to say about Sara applies to Emeril, the next one up on the list, except that while Emeril gets tiresome after a while. Sara never does, because how can you get tired of nice? Her current show is not as good as her former show, but it’s still very, very watchable.
  • Emeril Live with Emeril Lagasse. He becomes more a parody of himself with every show, but forget that for a moment and watch the guy teach. I know good teaching when I see it, and Emeril does what he does and everyone watching thinks, “Hey, I can do that.” He might be something of a clown, but if he cooked you dinner you wouldn’t turn your nose up, would you? No. And every night, he convinces a nation of cultists that they can make the same stuff. I’ve figured out why he gets a little old, too, and it’s not (entirely) his persona. It’s that he’s a very thorough instructor, so if you’ve been watching his show for some time, you’re going, “Yeah, I know that already; just move on.” But you weren’t saying that the first year or so of watching him. That’s what he does. He makes you good enough so that you’re ready to move on, and if that’s not good teaching, I don’t know what is. And I already said I do.
  • Taste with David Rosengarten. It was a lot like Good Eats without as much science. Some friends have told me they thought he was kinda snobby, but he did some great shows on hamburgers, pancakes, and normal, everyday food, and he showed you how to make that stuff well. The spare set was kinda annoying, but Rosengarten’s obvious glee every time he sampled something well-made more than made up for it.
  • Two Fat Ladies with Jennifer Patterson and Clarisssa Dickson Wright. Man, I don’t think these two hilarious, brilliant ladies (and I mean that in every respect of the word) ever prepared anything I’d ever want to eat, but they had so much fun doing it and were so funny I had to watch. I really loved them. Jennifer Patterson once used cocoa in a recipe and said, “Say what you want about the Belgians, but they do make the finest cocoa!” I couldn’t believe it! People on television should be smarter than us, I think; why doesn’t the rest of the country?
  • East Meets West with Ming Tsai. Despite his overuse of the word “actually,” Ming Tsai is great. Yeah, I know he’s great to look at (even I’ve got to admit that), but he was so good on this show because while he demonstrated these really tricky dishes, making them all look quite easy, he knew that his personality was as important as his instruction, and he balanced the two very nicely. I have one of his books and dream of being good enough to prepare the recipes!
  • Good Eats with Alton Brown. First of all, what a geek. Secondly, the approach this show takes just rules. Here’s an ingredient. Here are some things you think you know about the ingredient. Here are some things you should know about the ingredient. And here are some things only I know about the ingredient! Alton is my idol. Truly. This is not only the best show on the TV Food Network, but it’s one of the best shows on TV ever.

Honorable mention for all the wrong various reasons: Ready Set Cook! when Jacqui Malouf was the host; just the Jacqui Malouf parts of Hot Off the Grill; $40 a Day with Rachael Ray; 30-Minute Meals with Rachael Ray; Chef du Jour when Lauren Groveman was on; Everyday Italian with Giada diLaurentiis.

Wow. It becomes quite obvious that I prefer the demo shows to the feature shows, doesn’t it? Yep. The increase in feature shows in the past two years has meant that I watch less and less of the Food Network. Date Plate is a good idea, but they need to get rid of the real chefs and let people just cook what they can cook. And that’s really more of a demo show than a feature. Other than that, though, I’m just not a big fan of the features.

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