Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Host with the Most

Recently I've received some comments about cook show hosts. I've been watching cooking shows for a long, long time, although I have gaps in my history during times that cooking shows were out of favor or I didn't have a TV; usually the latter.

My impressions, of course, set the standard and anybody who has a contrary opinion is simply wrong by definition. Not really, but wouldn't the world be cool if it worked that way? My world, that is.

Let's start with Graham Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet. Who couldn't have fun with Graham Kerr, and to hear his ex-wife talk, who didn't. I liked Graham's style. Very enthusiastic and cavalier. When cooking with wine there was always a "slurp for the cook" which I greatly appreciated. Graham's dishes were straightforward and after watching the show between classes as a student, after all he was quite the Cult Figure, I gained my first appreciation for understanding food. Graham, who's show was produced by soon-to-be-ex wife Trudy eventually fell from favor not to return for many decades, or so it seemed.

Next, Julia Child: the way to cook. If there was ever a Taoist Master it was Julia. She made even the most involved dishes look simple because she broke down the preparation into small parts and never sweated the small parts. The main lesson I learned from Julia was to use the best ingredients: fresh food, fresh vegetables, butter, butter, cream and, dare I say it again, butter. In a voice only she could make she once intoned that, yes, yes, you could use margarine, but only if you didn't care how it tasted. Hers was also the voice of moderation and though her food was often rich it was never overly rich.

Justin Wilson typified the down-home Country Chef who was crazy like a fox. Following a first career of redneck comedy, Justin blew onto the scene with outrageous recipes for cajun fare that always entailed lots of spice. LOTS OF SPICE. I wrote previously about inedible pork chops. With Justin you had to watch what he was doing, and watch what you were doing. If a recipe sounded wrong, believe me, it was. Unless you're cooking for a thousand people you don't need a cup of cayenne pepper. Seriously. In my mind Justin brought out the importance of a roux in Southern cooking and treated the roux with great reverence. I learned that it really does take at least 30 minutes to prepare a decent roux, and you have to stir it all the time otherwise it will scorch and if that happens there is only one cure: start over.

Wolfgang Puck, a newcomer to cooking TV has been dragged to the stage against every instinct he possesses, or so it seems. I read about Puck years before I ever saw him on TV and the reviewers were in consensus: genius, enfant terrible. Watching him on television I can't help but get the impression he'd be happier cooking his audience, rather than cooking for them. His dishes are mostly impossible to duplicate and generally uninteresting. There may be other opinions, but I'm not interested in hearing them.

Bobby Flay. (See Wolfgang Puck) Bobby is not your friend. He will drink your beer and bring your daughter home very late.

Mario Batali. Mario, baby, it's only Italian food. You know, pizza and spaghetti. Quit pretending anything else. If you unzipped Mario, do you know what you'd find inside? Another Mario! He's that full of himself. And no, Mario, you don't need to fly to Naples to buy that special fish for your Italian dish. Catfish will do just fine.

Next a question. Is Alton Brown a cook, a producer, a performer or a scientist? The answer is "yes." I like Alton only because I can tolerate his manner as entertainment. His lengthy explanations of food, such as the two zillion varieties of rice explained

one. at. a. time.

do help those who have an interest in food and probably drive the rest of humanity to hunger strikes. I find Alton's recipes workable and open to variation, but I lose patience as he spends an hour to complete a 20-minute task. Yes, Alton, it's all about you. We know.

Finally, I end with a cook that invokes passion whether pro or con. Rarely will you find a person neutral about Emeril Lagasse. I confess it took me some time to warm up to this showman and the "BAM!" thing, but once I did I appreciated his show because he would consistently demonstrate 4-5 recipes that I could do with ingredients available to me (Mario, you listenin' babe?) and mix and match this and that. I realized that Emeril is the closest to how I cook; a lot by feel and intuition.

Emeril's greatest lesson is simple: it's cooking, not rocket science.

Lots of people don't cook, or don't cook well, because they're afraid of the complexity. Fancy words like souflee, sautee and all those French words really put people off. Emeril has gone a long way to make cooking accessible to people.

So, yeah, when I cook and I throw a handful of spices across the kitchen into a bubbling pot I do shout "BAM!" and my family knows that something good is going on in the kitchen.

And when I ignite brandy in my sautee pan I shout "FOOM!" and my family knows to start dialing 911.

Oh, well.


Anonymous said...

My husband loves Alton Brown. I am forced weekly to listen to him explain how to make a peanut butter sandwich (first step: buy farm; second step: grow peanuts). I say listen because I cannot bear to watch. Those "hilarious" moments are much less annoying if you're not looking directly at them. One can pretend that the zany sound effects are coming from the dog's squeaky toy.

Have you seen Giada de Laurentiis' show? A pretty lady makes yummy food using ingredients I have heard of. A winning combo.

Anonymous said...

Oh, how I miss the cooking shows!!!!

We downgraded our cable subscription. I forgot how much I loved these until I read this entry...

And again, you've taken words out of my mouth. Apparently share a passion for Macintosh computers as well as good cooking and great food.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind "Good Eats" at all. I still watch it on Tivo. Sometimes he's just too quirky (ex.: cutting layers from a cake with two beams of wood and a saw blade. What??). The other night, I watched the chuck roast episode again. I love the episode but I can't even imagine what raisins and green olives taste like with the tomato juice braised meat.

I'm glad FoodTV started up. I have no idea what I'd do without it. Anyone remember David Rosengarten?

kilowatthour said...

ooooh, you are so right about bobby flay. he is dead inside.

Anonymous said...

Wolfgang Puck’s Corporate Philosophy Sucks!
Hello to all the Wolfgang fans out there. I was one too but im sorry to report that there is a major problem at Wolfgang corporate. My mother worked at the South Florida Wolfgang Puck Restaurant for 6 years. She took a short vacation last month and came back to find a message on her machine stating that the restaurant had closed. None of the employees were given any prior notice to the day of the closing! The talk around the employees is that the restaurant and corporate didn’t want to risk losing a few weeks revenue (if they told the staff).
What a nice way to tell a full loyal staff that they not only have no job but today is your last day? What’s worse is that there was no PR backlash, story in the paper, etc. All I know is that I will not buy my usual soups and pizza bearing his name from this day forth.