Saturday, December 12, 2009

Camera Obscura: Best Food Shows On TV

I've been watching hours and hours of the Food Network, which has to be something only an American would do. We have such abundance and crave more than the old-fashioned 'some-dude-in-an-apron-makes-some-casserole' segments which used to air on local noon news programs. So there are a few shows on the network which both entertain and inform.

Alton Brown gets all into the chemistry and physics and history of food on his show, so watching "Good Eats" from time to time makes me feel like I am being educated more than entertained. It's the network's 3rd highest rated show and it's the only food program other than Julia Child's to receive a Peabody Award. And Good Eats is also marking it's 10th anniversary on the air. Go behind the scenes here. (Bonus: Alton was a music video cameraman in the early days, serving as director of photography on R.E.M.'s video for "The One I Love"!!!!)

"Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" features a squirrely looking guy named Guy. Guy Fieri, in fact, who was a sort of American-Idol-like winner, except the contest he won was the Next Food Network Star show. But what I like best about this show is that it features honest-to-pete local restaurants, usually family-owned and a place locals hold in high regard. Our nation is overgrown with chains of identical restaurants, which I find to be god-awful places to feed. And then there are the food troughs, aka buffet-style places, which make me run away in fear.

Here in Hamblen County, likely the one notable non-chain outfit is "Hillbilly Cabin", which is sort of okay in a way. It has pretty tame fare, though when Harrison Ford comes to town to visit his soon-to-be-in-laws, he always goes there for a meal.

There used to be a lot more individually owned and creative eateries than we have today, and I'd like to see more of them. And too often, Guy's show focuses on some 4 pound stack of goop getting served up and I don't eat 4 pounds of anything much at one time. Okay, maybe I could eat a pound or too of unagi sushi. Or a pizza, I could eat a whole pizza, as long as it is not 4 feet in circumference with 10 pounds of ingredients.

Cooking contest shows are getting common, on several networks, but none of them offer the simple challenge provided by "Chopped". The set-up is very simple and the contestants are either good chefs or they are "chopped" away pretty fast. The set-up: four chefs must make an appetizer featuring a few ingredients which they do not see until the clock starts, and then they have maybe 20 minutes to make and serve the dish - one contestant is then out. Then they go onto an entree section, same deal, making a dish using secret key ingredients, one contestant is dropped and finally a dessert course is required.

A well-stocked pantry is there, sure, but chefs must make use of whatever secret ingredients the show offers -- and these can be some insanely challenging ingredients: one appetizer challenge was to use bittersweet chocolate, mussels and figs; kiwi, wonton wrappers and gummi bears ... you get the idea.

It's sort of like the game I play here at the house - what can I make to eat out of these left-over barbecue beans, a can of condensed milk and some old black olives .... it ain't pretty. But then I am no chef. Here's a sample of the Chopped show:

Another food show I have seen recently is one on the Travel Channel called Man vs Food -- no I am not linking to it 'cause it is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Some dude travels about looking for a restaurant which serves gigantic sized portions of food and dude tries to devour it in record time. Why would someone purposely try and harm themselves with food (and not in a food fight, just through gluttony??) It's weird and unpleasant and kinda sad to watch someone be so debased for a 12 pound double-deep-fried cheeseburger. Would this show even be on anywhere except America?

If you run the phrase "food blogs" through the old Google Machine, you get around 349 million returns. That's more blogs than people in the U.S.

Google says in 2009, the fastest rising search in the food and drink category is for "acai berry". What is Acai Berry?? An Amazonian berry which is food for many in South America and popular in the U.S. because Oprah talked about it.


  1. We LOVE Diners Drive Ins and Dives. Also, we've been watching "Next Iron Chef." And of course Top Chef is a fave.

    That and Giada ... I think the best thing about cable TV is the Food Network. I pretty much keep the TV on Food Network and Bravo these days, since I can't handle the stupidity of the networks or cable news.

  2. james1:58 PM

    Ihave to say that A.B. is good on any food network show,iron chef,good eats,road food etc. Rachel ray's 30 mi. meals a favorite also.Downtown used to have many fine places to eat,Roberts and Turner drugs had the best hotdog I ever ate,Cherry Cafe Amuch patronized and missed.Penlands,Petros,Freels lunch counter which later became The Cottage restaurant next door,Blue Circle and many others which are long gone.Ah,the good old days.

  3. SB - stupid sure holds sway on cable, no doubt. i like ICA, wish they would do reruns of the original IC show ...

    james - too bad they all went under. so few left, even in knox-vegas.