Skip to content

Kickin' it up a notch

Avery and I have always been fans of Saturday morning cooking shows on Public TV. When we learned that we would be getting the Food Network as one of our cable channels when we moved to Connecticut, we were ecstatic. Here is a quick-and-dirty guide to food shows good, bad, and ucky: 

"Yan Can Cook": In the past, Martin Yan used to be known for his quick don't-try-this-at-home vegetable chopping skills, but lately it seems that he has moved away from that audience-grabbing schtick to merely making googly-eyed smiley faces at the camera while on location doing stories about things such as the intricacies of rice-washing. Don't get me wrong — I adore Martin Yan's series, especially the "Best of Asia" episodes that discuss the cooking traditions of Japan, but sometimes the effect of his hushed commentary while standing alongside his "friend", an often elderly Asian grandmother-type who shoots daggers at him each time he tries to lend a hand with her cooking process, is more humorous than anything else. That and his marinades are becoming a little predictable.
You'll always hear Yan say: "Chop it all up, chop it all up, chop it all up…"

"Jacques Pepin's Kitchen: Cooking with Claudine": I started watching this series with great interest when it first came on. Here was the busy, urban 20-something daughter of a world-renowned chef learning how to whip up some cool French dishes…it promised to show the rest of us an extraordinary but practical way for young people to cook, unlike Jacques' many other shows which concentrated on dinner party-esque racks-of-lamb with haricots verte arranged beautifully on fine china. (And all that could be cooked in just 7 hours! Voila!&#41 Instead, it is 30 minutes of Jacques cooking while Claudine looks on. He'll occasionally let her do something important like putting a pot in the sink or handing him a clean spoon, and every once in a while he'll actually let her assist in the food preparation by letting her slice a potato or peel a clove of garlic, and that's where the weird part comes in: every few minutes he chastises his daughter for not peeling the garlic fast enough or not being able to peel the apple in a single, circular peel, or not knowing how to stir the sauce properly. Both Avery and I end up watching this show simply to see just how Jacques will make Claudine feel stupid and clumsy: will he totally ignore her this week, or just mutter offhanded comments? This show has also spawned a lot of questions: does Claudine actually like her father or is she just getting paid really well? Does she really not know how to cook at all? Is it all just an act, like professional wrestling? Will this week be the week that Claudine finally cracks and stabs her father in the hand with a serving fork?
What you may hear Jacques say: "No, no, no…here, just let me do eet." and "Aren't you finished peeling that potato yet? Just give eet to me, I will do eet."

"Baking with Julia": We usually just ended up watching this one by default, because nothing else was on. Baking is something that neither one of us has the patience for, and since everything that is baked from scratch seems to take two days to make, the show was — for the most part — bor-ring. And what's up with Julia Child these days? She hovers around her guests like somebody sewed the bottoms of their pantlegs together and then acts like she's never set foot in a kitchen before by asking them inane questions like "What is that, that you're adding to the water there, to make the dough?" "That would be flour." "Aahh, flour, yes." One scary episode featured Julia tasting the fresh-from-the-oven baked good and then bursting into tears as they finished the show. We still can't figure that one out.
Don't be alarmed if you hear Julia ask: "Are those…those are eggs that you're adding, aren't they? Oh…and the yellow sticks? Aahh, butter, yes."

"Hot Off The Grill With Bobby Flay": I watched this by accident (read: nothing else was on&#41 one night. Bobby Flay cooks the food, presumably on a grill, and his lovely assistant watches him. Really. Just watches. She sits on the opposite side of the counter from Bobby, observes him and occasionally makes comments like "Mmmm, I love avocados" and "I judge the freshness of a pineapple by its smell." When they go to commercial, she turns to the small, intimate audience sitting on overstuffed armchairs surrounding the fake kitchen set and excitedly yells things like "We'll be RIGHT BACK with our special guest MING TSAI on HOT OFF THE GRILL! STAY TUNED!" She never touches food, not once. And I don't know how Bobby got his own show, but he seems to know next to nothing about cooking. Special guest Ming Tsai mentioned Thai Bird Chilies on that episode and baffled the hell out of Bobby. Even I know what Thai Bird Chilies are, and I don't even have my own cooking show.
Notable Bobby Flay quote: None, as I've only seen that one episode so far. The assistant thing confuses me.

"Essence of Emeril / Emeril Live": When Emeril Lagasse first started to become the Next Big Thing in the cooking world, I pictured him somewhere in the age range of 60 – 65 years old with distinguished-looking grey hair. Little did I know that he was on the younger side, and quickly becoming the hot new Food Network heartthrob. We've eaten at both of Emeril's restaurants in New Orleans, and there's no doubting that he's a good and innovative cook, but along with the massive heaps of praise comes a big ego. Emeril is on all the time. Either you just missed his show, or it's coming on in 15 minutes. He's always kickin' it up a notch, or training his audience to yell words on cue, like "BAM!" (when he throws his "Essence" into his dishes&#41 or "LANGUSTA!" (for no reason whatsoever&#41. Commercials for Emeril's show incorporate an annoyingly catchy "Kickin' It Up A Notch" them song. Emeril raises the roof. Emeril makes the ladies on the front row swoon. The other day, Emeril put a scoop of vanilla ice cream atop a piece of warm berry pie. The audience said "Ooooo" and Emeril threw his hands up into the air and screamed "I'm Emeril Lagasse!" as if he was the first person ever to think of putting ice cream atop a piece of warm pie.
Emeril loves to overuse the phrase: "Kickin' it up a notch" as in "We'll be kickin' it up notches unknown to mankind on tomorrow's show."

I've touched on the major ones, but there are others that I've watched. Who could forget Paul Prudhomme, so heavy that he needed to sit in a special cooking chair with wheels to do his show? Who could forget him frying up a 3-inch square slice of ham in 4-and-a-half sticks of butter? And Dessert Circus! Is that still on? Interesting (albeit confusing&#41 concept, those cartoon hippos in tutus, especially the way they intermittently floated across the screen while an unfunny French man made fattening pastries. And the Frugal Gourmet! Ah, we hardly knew ye, yet we never run out of jokes involving you and your assistant Craig.

As young Claudine Pepin loves to say (through clenched teeth&#41 as she lifts her wine glass (fiercely gripping the stem&#41 at the end of "Cooking with Claudine": Happy Cooking!

Posted in Observations.

0 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.