Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Food Network: My On-Again / Off-Again Relationship

I used to be addicted to the programming on Food Network. During my lengthy recovery time from my multiple fractures, related surgeries, and kidney infection a year or so ago, my television viewing time was not restricted. Normally at home my brother and I are limited to an hour a day on school days and two hours a day on non-school days, but since I couldn't even hold a book and turn the pages by myself during my recovery, the Nazis who call themselves my parents lifted a few of their draconian restrictions.

Bobby Flay was one of the featured stars of Food Network whose programming I watched. He was, and presumably still is, on "Grill It," which usually showed him cooking some food on the grill or watching an inferior amateur do the cooking. When the amateur cooks, he or she usually breaks at least one of Bobby Flay's cardinal rules of grilling, i.e. "put it on the grill and don't mess with it" or "don't ever use lighter fluid unless you want your food to taste like lighter fluid." Flay is gracious and keeps his mouth shut when his guests massacre food. On "Throwdown," Flay travels to compete against professionals or gifted amateurs who specialize in a particular food. Surprisingly, the competitors are often even more obnoxious than Bobby Flay. My suspicion is that the real purpose of "Throwdown" is to show the viewing public that there are people on the planet who are less likable than Bobby Flay. Flay also competes on Iron Chef America, helps to manage the competition on "The Next Food network Star," and appears on repeat episodes of "Boy Meets Grill." Grilling is Bobby Flay's signature method of cooking. If he were asked to prepare a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, he would grill it, but only after liberally spicing it up with cilantro and chipotle, which he would pronounce chip - POH- tuh - lay; he always adds an extra schwa syllable when saying the word chipotle.

The show I probably enjoyed watching the most, primarily because of the sheer horror masquerading as food on a daily basis, was "Semi-Homemade." Its star, Sandra Lee, had a great rags-to-riches story, and is truly a shining example of self-sufficiency . . . that is, until it comes to cooking. Yet she hosted a cooking show on Food Network. I find the irony most uncanny. The premise of her show is cooking with seventy percent pre-packaged ingredients and thirty percent ingredients fresh or from scratch. The color scheme in Sandra Lee's set kitchen changes for each episode, and she dresses to match the kitchen. I've known some vapid individuals in my lifetime (my brother has dated approximately twenty-three cheerleaders, only two of whom could string a sentence together if two million dollars were wagered on it) but dressing to match one's kitchen out-vapids the most vapid cheerleader (even the one who worked part-time at a bank and gave away travelers cheques without requiring the customer to pay the face value of the traveler's cheques because the customer had a premium account that offered "free" traveler's cheques; this was a couple of years ago; I don't think traveler's cheques exist anymore) ever dated by my brother. Sandra Lee hasn't been on when I've channel-surfed to the Food Network lately. I heard she's in a semi-serious relationship with the governor of New York. I hope he has his own chef that comes with his position so that he doesn't have to eat semi-homemade cooking. If Sandra Lee had to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from scratch, I don't think she could manage it. Either the peanut butter and the jelly would have to be purchased mixed together in the jar, or the bread would need to be pre-sliced diagonally, or perhaps a knife would have to be pre-coated with the peanut butter/jelly mixture.

Another Food Network star is Paula Deen. Paula Deen is the reigning southern belle of the Food Network. If Scarlett O'Hara had been a real person and not a fictional character, her accent could not have come close to Paula Deen's in terms the intensity of her drawl. Paula Deen uses LOTS of butter in everything she cooks. I've heard rumors that her low-density-lipid levels, and those of her second husband, Michael Groover, are virtually off the charts. There was another husband -- Mr. Deen -- who is supposedly divorced from Paula and living elsewhere. I don't believe what they say about Mr. Deen. I think he's six feet under. Paula killed him off with a heart attack by serving him butter as a main course for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. If Paula Deen made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, she would add so much actual butter to the sandwich that one would be able to taste neither the peanut butter nor the jelly.

Almost evertime I surf past Food Network now, I see Guy Fieri's face prominently displayed. Fieri was the winner of (I think) season two of "The Next Food Network Star." It seems like his orignial show was "Guy Fieri's Big Bite." It may or may not still be on, but he seems to be on a host of other programs as well, most notably "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives." Fieri is a somewhat sloppy and larger-than-life guy with bleached spiky hair. If Guy Fieri made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it would probably be a perfectly normal sandwich, but I'd be scared to take a bite because I would suspect he forgot to wash his hands before he made it.

Rachael Ray is a hard-working and enterprising woman who somehow manages to be both likable and annoying at the same time. Ms. Ray has moved beyond the Food Network to a daytime talk show but, as far as I know, continues to film episodes of "30-Minute Meals." Unfortunately, the food usually looks like it was thrown together in three minutes or less. It might actually be fairly tasty for all I know, but it usually looks too mixed-together for my tastes. Call me OCD if you wish, but I don't like my food to touch. Rachael Ray's food always touches. If Rachael Ray made a peanut butter sandwich, she would probably liberally douse the bread with extra-virgin olive oil, which she would (DUH!) call EVOO. The sandwich, which Ms. Ray would refer to as a "sammy," would be prepared in one minute so that she could spend her remaining twenty-nine minutes concocting some meaty hash or something which she would serve on the same plate -- actually touching -- the otherwise edible peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Giada DeLourentis is a talented if slightly "precious" (thank you, Stephanie March, for the apt description, even though you would never in a million years admit that it was she to whom you made reference on Rachael Ray's talk show) chef who was born in Italy but has spent most of her life in the U. S. Nevertheless, she clings to the accent, particularly when pronouncing foods with Italian names. I don't expect her to speak in the manner of a ditch bank Okie, but the way she stretches out "parmigiano reggiano" is just a little too, well, precious. Based on observations, I would conclude that, Cordon Bleu-trained or not, Ms. DeLourentis is incapable of cooking without simultaneously displaying cleavage. If Ms. DeLourentis made a peanut butter sandwich, which would, I'm fairly certain, be made on ciabatta bread, every hormonal heterosexual male on the planet would want to watch her as she made it.

Alton Brown wouldn't actually make the sandwich, but he'd tell you all sorts of interesting scientific facts about peanut butter, jelly, and sandwiches in general. Alton Brown is my favorite on Food Network. Ina Garten, AKA "The Barefoot Contessa," would make lots of little sandwiches, PBJ or otherwise, for one of her little hoity-toity fake dinner parties, but she'd have to think long and hard before making one or doing anything else for a child through the "Make a Wish" Foundation. The Neeleys might manage to get a sandwich on a plate in the midst of their televised verbal love-making session.

The opinions expressed in this review of Food Network programming are just that -- opinions -- and as such are unimpeachable, or at least I think they are. Please don't sue me, Food Network. I'm not half as brutal as are the people who post on the "Television Without Pity" message boards. If you want to read some real snark about the Food Network, go there.


  1. I don't think Bobby Flay is really as cocky as he sometimes comes across. He just has a brach,
    new York-like attittude, although not all New Yorkers possess the trait. Yhe others I know less about.

    Is Sandra Lee really dating Cuomo? He could oneday make a bid for the presidency. Imagine the White House with Sandra Lee as first lady.

  2. Alton is my favorite for sure. My in laws are OBSESSED with that channel. When we had cable I was more of an A&E type of girl. I wonder what that says about us?

  3. I like the way you spell cheque. ;o))