Pop Goes the Culture
By Paul Tatara
TV isn’t especially important to me. I don’t really “watch” it as often as I glance at it while I’m doing other things. All I usually need is something semi-tolerable that can hold my interest for a few minutes at a time, then drone on in the background until I turn my attention to it again. If it’s easy to fill in what I missed when I finally get back to it, all the better. The Food Network, in particular, is perfect for this kind of viewing.
The trick with the Food Network, though, is finding a host who doesn’t make the skin crawl off my bones like I’ve been poached in brandy. I don’t know who’s doing the hiring at this place, but they seem convinced that the more heroically grating the cook, the richer the broth.
These guys, of course, are pornographers. When you get right down to it, every one of The Food Network’s cooking shows hinges on people eventually sticking things in their mouths and moaning out their satisfaction. And you have to sit through a lot of preparation before you get to the money shot. It helps considerably if you can actually bear to spend an entire episode with the central protagonist.
It’s not a complete loss—there are a few shows that are worth your attention. I like Giada De Laurentiis, for example, who cooks tasty, unpretentious dishes and seems like a real sweetie, even though her wild-eyed grin has an alarming, “Fatal Attraction” vibe about it. Still, the network seems generally hell-bent to torture you while you ogle their cuisine. Here are the chefs that who gnaw at me the most:
Emeril Lagasse (Screaming With Emeril): “ISN’T THAT GUMBO LOOKIN’ GOOD?!!! OH, YEAH, I LIKE—BAM!! YOU GOTTA PUT SOME OF THIS IN IT, AND YOU GOTTA—BAM!! AND THEN YOU FRY UP THE ONIONS AND YOU GOTTA STIR IT AROUND AND—BAM!! AND DOESN’T THAT LOOK FANTASTIC THERE?!! AND OOOH, YEAH—BAM!! BAM!! BAM!! (cough) BAM!!”
Jesus Christ. By the time he’s done you feel like a prison guard’s been shooting over your head for an hour. The most bizarre thing about Lagasse’s show is a live studio audience that applauds when he puts in garlic! It’s great that he has fans and all. But the crowd is so fawning, it’s like watching a comedian play to a bunch of drunks.
Alton Brown (Good Eats): I don’t want to say that Alton Brown is the most unattractive man on television, but I’m more than willing to type it. Brown’s show is a cartoony-cute contraption in which he intersperses recipes with assorted ramblings on the science of cooking. This would be watchable enough if the director didn’t seem inexplicably compelled to shoot Brown in the kinds of lingering, super-tight close-ups usually reserved for amoebas, or, on the human side of things, Liv Ullmann. You can actually see the pores in his face at times, which doesn’t do much for your appetite, let me tell you. The only person I can think of who makes me change the channel more quickly is Dick Cheney.
Paula Deen (Paula’s Home Cooking): I grew up in Alabama, so I know when somebody’s puttin’ on the hee-haw for the benefit of city folks who don’t know any better. And Paula Deen is puttin’ on the hee-haw. Her liberal use of the phrase, “Ya’ll” sometimes sounds like it was inserted phonetically by a Chinese factory worker. There are moments when she drops it utterly randomly, to the obvious delight of the crowd. Plus, it’s supposed to be soooo naughty that her gut-bomb recipes consist of frying the main ingredient, dipping it in butter, rubbing it down with lard, and frying it again . . . or some variation thereof. At the very least, her eventual onstage coronary should be a major hit on YouTube.
Rachael Ray (30 Minute Meals and $40 a Day) The hellish, multi-headed hydra of Food Network hosts. At this point, shots of Ray stuffing her increasingly round face are more ubiquitous on the tube than Lucy going bug-eyed behind a sofa. There’s a very unappealing, desperate cheerleader aspect to Ray’s go-go personality, which is only fitting because everything she cooks seems geared toward a Super Bowl party. Melted cheese and fried jalapeno rockets compete with London broil and mustard-stuffed chicken taters for control of your gurgling. And you get the feeling that if you didn’t eat it all, Ray would slap you to death while grinning like a possum. As a special bonus, her contract specifies that she must say “EVOO,” instead of “extra-virgin olive oil,” twice per minute on any show in which she appears. Cool!
It’s enough to make you order in.
Paul Tatara is a freelance writer living in New York City. He was a film critic for CNN.com from 1997-2003, and also wrote film reviews and pop culture commentaries for GoodAuthority.org during that time. For the past few years, he’s been focused on helping raise his son, Jack. But he’s back in writing saddle again. Visit wallofpaul.com for more doses of undiluted Tatara.