“I exploit you, still you love me…”

by Katie Pizzuto on October 21, 2008

in Uncategorized

It’s 2012 and I’m sitting in a cluster fuck of rush-hour traffic on the Jersey Turnpike, fumbling through 300 satellite radio stations that are no longer discernable from the payola-paved airwaves of the crap they once called “FM.” Finally I relent, turn off the satellite radio, and flip on the personal media center I’ve got sitting on the passenger seat…cherry red, the size of a pencil, and it holds 100 terabytes of digital media. As I sit in the sweltering humidity, listening to a newly discovered recording of the Ramones doing In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, I stare out into the haze of twilight and see a huge billboard sign promoting the Food Network (now owned by media giant Ray/Lee Productions, Ltd). Pasted up there is a photo of the two latest food celebrity babes hoisting up some impressive boobage with their mixing bowls, and a headline reading, “First They’ll Make The Pudding, Then They’ll Wrestle In It.” It’s at that point that Joey Ramone and I are left dumb founded, wondering exactly who drank whose Kool-Aid. Did an innovative brainchild desert its loyal foodie audience for the chance to be the opiate of the masses, or did unsuspecting Americans fall fodder to a network that peddles entertainment under the thin guise of education? Then, BAM, I’m pulled back to reality by a loud obnoxious Dunkin’ Donuts radio commercial starring Rachel Ray.

When the Food Network started back in 1993, I was wet with excitement. The thought that someone would actually have both the foresight and the guts to put food-related programming on the air 24/7 was thrilling for someone like me who looked at meals as something more than just sustenance. With the economy being as good as it was in ’93, they knew there was an audience to be gained that was growing in both affluence and culture. These guys and gals were mavericks in every sense of the word, and their goal was to take basic instructional cooking and make it entertaining. Man, did they ever get their wish—now, the pendulum has swung, and we struggle to find any instructional cooking amidst all the entertainment.

It’s a silly question but, do you remember when they actually used to, umm, cook on there? Taste was killer, as were East Meets West and How to Boil Water. I even got a kick out of Ready…Set…Cook! because the idea of creatively combining oddball ingredients and making a worthwhile meal was pretty much my standard weeknight MO. But little by little, people like David Rosengarten, Ming Tsai and Jamie Oliver disappeared. Molto Mario (clearly some of the best instructional stuff on there ever, but also entertaining and wildly passionate) got cancelled and is now only in reruns on Monday mornings. Why? Because all these guys were cooks and the network no longer wanted cooks—it wanted characters. In fact, I’ve gotta DVR Mario Batali’s show because the network openly refuses to air any instructional cooking during prime time! Over the course of 10 years, the programming has gone from being food centric to being food related. The network’s current tagline is “Way More Than Cooking.” Really? No shit? I was leaning towards something more along the lines of “Nearly No Cooking.”

Sandra Lee (the abundantly cleavaged, martini-pushing host of Semi-Homemade), when asked what was wrong with fresh minced garlic, replied, “Bleck! It’s messy and it smells!” It’s GARLIC for Christ’s sake! Its primary source of culinary allure and intrigue is the very fact that it smells to begin with! If it didn’t have an aroma, why the hell would you cook with it? A blogger once commented that, “Sandra Lee is to cooking what Ann Coulter is to tact.” I nearly peed my pants laughing. I will go on a limb here, capitulate, and admit that there is always a place for the Paula Deens of the world, that wrap a stick of butter in lard, deep fry it in vegetable oil, sprinkle it with rendered bacon fat and call it dessert. But is that all we can look forward to? Is there no room for slow food? Organics and biodynamics? Wine? Eating locally? How much EVOO does America have to drown in before it begs for something more? Where are the Jacques Pepins and Lidia Bastianiches of the world? I’ll tell you where they are, brother—they’re on PBS.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Linsey October 21, 2008

In the UK, the cookery shows here – and I mean the chef presenter ones – are still so popular that they take prime time on channels

Jamie Oliver is still popular, and a tad irritating at times, Delia Smith an institution for decades, Gordon f****** Ramsey (can he fit anymore swearwords in one sentence!)and Nigella Lawson (million calories in my food but I look great eating it) – all of them promote very good quality food knowing that pushing something as simple as a herb or a fruit can clear the shelves in the supermarket. Actually here the real cooks are the characters and the ‘characters’ that you describe dont get a look in long term.

The UK might have a reputation for crap food lol… but when it comes to our cookery shows we do demand that someone who actually knows what they doing is presenting it!

On the American shows, I occasionally catch episodes of The Barefoot Contessa – no idea what her real name is – but shes very relaxing to watch for a cooking show.

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2 erikagwen October 21, 2008

I’ll admit, I really only watch Sandra Lee to see what the OCD Queen has as the color of the day, and Paula Dean to see if that cute drunk son (Jamie?) or her husband (Santa Claus) will show up. The other shows on Food have turned me off completely. I blame Rachel Ray. Her voice makes me want to stab kittens.

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3 Coupe 60 October 21, 2008

Paula Dean absolutely gives me the willy’s. I physically cannot stand to watch her. She actually repulses me in a way that I can’t explain…I’m talking scream at my wife to change the channel…There’s just something about her…

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4 Coupe 60 October 21, 2008

and BTW, Katie I enjoyed your description of your feeling when the food network started…You wench

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5 Katie Pizzuto October 21, 2008

@linsey…we’ve got all of the above as well…nigella is HOT BTW! But Americans have an unfortunately high tolerance for crap if it’s wrapped nicely.

@Erika…step away from the kittens and have another of Sandra’s whatever-tinis 🙂

@Coupe…she licked whipped cream off some bald dude’s head at the recent festival in NYC!!! And hey, what can I say? I love food!

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6 LuvsChandon October 22, 2008

Agree with so many of your entertaining comments here! I rarely watch FN anymore, save to DVR a few episodes of Giada and I’m taking to being around on Saturday’s for the PBS cooking shows too, primarily Lidia and Bayless! Sandra is a wretch.

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7 Camille October 22, 2008

Here in Canada, we’re experiencing the exact problem with “FoodTV”, Canada’s version of the Food Network. Fortunately, we do get a few more of the good UK programs than you seem to get. The atrocities that FoodTV has scheduled in prime time leave me tuning into PBS &/or taping programs at odd hours to watch when nothing but crap is being shown!! I listen to the generations younger than me about how they LOVE Rachel Ray & the likes. I have to wonder if it isn’t because that type of cooking mirrors what lives have become for so many…wanting instant gratification, regardless of quality!? Little do they understand that quality cooking, enjoyment in preparing delicious, simple meals can be done in the same time as it takes to open up 5 cans of something & mix it all together!

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8 Katie Pizzuto October 22, 2008

The challenge I put forth to the Food Network is to create programming that promotes quick meals as a chance to do something more than cut open a pre-sealed bag of foodstuffs. What’s airing now is simply a how-to on combining processed food with a little fresh food and warming everything up to a golden crisp. Ask viewers to think about cooking as a form of creation, not as a form of reconstitution. There is NO reason a meal can’t be made in a half hour without the use of a single prepackaged ingredient—none! It’s not about demanding culinary expertise; it’s about stimulating interest and curiosity. It’s about building pride in a mom or dad that has just managed to pull off a 30-minute meal without the aid of Campbell’s, McCormick’s, Ragu or Jell-O. Please tell Rachel Ray to keep her canned peaches…eh, just tell her to put away her cans, period. Because in the same time it takes her to open that can and drain the syrup, she can simply cut up 2 fresh peaches and perhaps support local agriculture instead of the corporate processed food giants.

Meanwhile, Sara Moulton is fielding live phone-in questions without missing a step. Why? Because she’s teaching. Because she’s knowledgeable. Because she loves to cook. Because she’s not on prime time.

Somewhere in East Bumfuck there’s a loyal viewer that relates to it all because she or he hates to cook each night, too. And you’re more apt to hold on to that viewer if you validate their misery by showing them how to race through making dinner each night so they can get to more important things like watching Survivor. Telling them that every meal is worth the effort would mean questioning their values, and that doesn’t exactly make for stellar ratings.

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9 Coupe 60 October 22, 2008

You leave Rachel Rays cans out of this…They need to be prominently displayed on any show that she is on…This way I can enjoy the show as much as my wife does…

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10 Katie Pizzuto October 22, 2008

@Coupe….Nigella’s are MUCH nicer….tell your wife to start watching her instead….and she actually, kinda cooks.

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11 Linsey October 22, 2008

Katie – ever thought of creating a website or a book of exactly that – 30 min meals with good food thats easily accessible?

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12 Katie Pizzuto October 22, 2008

@Linsey, not a bad idea but i get a feeling i might get sued for having a book cover with me flipping Rachel and Sandra’s cookbooks the bird! Nonetheless, it’s food for thought (pun intended).

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13 Camille October 22, 2008

Katie….If you promise that the book cover would be as you suggested, I’d be up to co-authoring it with you…ha ha ha!!!

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14 Katie Pizzuto October 22, 2008

OK, Camille, I’ll have my people call your people. 😉

Truth be told, with all the hype a cover like that would create (having to “brown bag” it in bookstores like Madonna’s Sex) might be a great marketing scheme! Hmmmm….wheels are turning in my head….

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15 Linsey October 22, 2008

can i have royalties for the idea – hehe – like a regular supply of ur truffles sent over?

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16 Katie Pizzuto October 22, 2008

I’ll have my lawyer draw up papers, Lin, but no takesies backsies 🙂

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17 Linsey October 22, 2008

cool – i like orange truffles btw – u have any orange oil

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18 Katie Pizzuto October 22, 2008

truth be told, yes I do…when I bought the lemon/lime oils that i recommend in the recipe for the tequila shot truffles, it came as a 3-pack that included orange! That, and a little grand marnier or such and you’ll be set!

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19 Linsey October 22, 2008

waits for the legal papers and the truffles then – lol

actually we have those oils here to – i have a bottle of the orange oil – love it!

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20 malarkey October 22, 2008

Actually, the old Food Network also had it’s share of bimbos and pop-star chefs. Anyone remember Jacquie on Bobby Flay’s old show? On her bio page on the FTV website she had a quote that said “just remember if you are in france and you order pâté de foie gras you might get some horrible, hot quivering thing! there isn’t enough vintage margaux in the world to make me to eat THAT” … she of course was referring to seared or roasted foie gras, which, she’d apparently never had or seen before. And this person was employed as a sidekick to a chef?! Oy. Obviously as eye-candy only.

Remember Melting Pot? That was one of my favorites. Awkwardly scripted, often the chefs would be winging the dialog. Always hilarious if Wayne Harley Brachman was on.

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21 Katie Pizzuto October 22, 2008

Wow, yeah, I do remember that bimbo! But at least it was blatant eye candy and they didn’t have her posing as an instructor! And yes, I adored Melting Pot, too!

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22 Linsey October 22, 2008

The very first tv chef/cook that I remember is ‘the galloping gourmet’ aka Graham Kerr – I can remember when I was about 6 or 7 watching him ‘bouncing’ around the studio cooking.

He always had a charm about him!

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23 smokenmirrors October 23, 2008

Graham Kerr’s Galloping Gourmet was also the first cooking show that I watched. The guy was off the charts with incredible recipes and always a glass of wine in hand (and in the recipe!!)
This guy was the first chef to inspire me.
If I remember correctly it was a bernaise sauce that he ‘taught’ me how to make.
PBS now on occasion broadcasts his latest show
“The Gathering Place” Since his wife (and former producer) Treena suffered a serious stroke a few years back, Graham has re-invented his cooking,
gone are the heavy artery clogging dishes and in are some very good nutritionally healthy recipes.
He is still quite the showman…..although I do miss the days, when on his program the wine was flowing and every dish was swimming in butter.

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24 Anthony October 24, 2008

Its just like Emirill with his Bam saying. Is he really a good chef or not? Its all in the presentation on tv, not in the chef in my opinion.

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25 waterdr October 24, 2008

I have to agree with you on this one. Also Taste was one of the great shows for learning about food, wine, cooking and how to even enjoy some of the simplest dishes. I did have to buy the D&D cookbook that David Rosengarten published.

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26 Dani October 24, 2008

Katie, I couldn’t have put my feelings into words any better than you just did. I’m actually filming a wine education program right now and was told I would have a better chance on the Fine Living Network than Food Network.

They want the Micheal Chiarellos and not someone who is actually talking about nothing but wine in an educational format. I didn’t get a masters in viticulture to hoc Dunkin Donuts and Chefs knives!

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27 Bourdainiac October 31, 2008

I despise Sandra, but I am compelled to watch her show; it’s like bad theater. On her Oktoberfest show, she poured root beer into canned baked beans – ROFL. If that ain’t entertainment, I dunno what is.

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28 Katie Pizzuto October 31, 2008

Root beer in baked beans?? That woman must be doing some hard drugs! I do understand the trainwreck intrigue though! BTW, love your screen name…if you get a chance to read my “look at that mountain…” post, the last photo shows me in a bourdain shirt!

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