While it's ironic to admit, since I come from a long line of folks who look like we could hoe potatoes, pop out kids, and toss back a pint or twelve simply all in an afternoon's work, I've never really been a foodie. Genetics and inactivity contribute to my pudgery far more than an adoration of all things tasty, frankly.
I don't think I have especially discerning taste buds, except where wine is concerned, either — I'm not a supertaster. And on more than one occasion, after navigating the minefield of what's healthy to eat, and in what portion, and when to do it, I find myself fervently wishing for the complex issues of foods, calories, portions, fats, and other issues to simply be solved with a food pill. I'd be ecstatic.
But that wouldn't be much fun, and especially not when television over the past year or two has slowly given me an interest in food for the first time, and not only that, has made me appreciate cooking as a truly artistic endeavor.
It was all my Mom's fault, really. She's a Food Network junkie, and kept telling me to check out Alton Brown (she knows my love for all things funny and geeky and Alton is both), as well as shows like Iron Chef America and Top Chef. I did, and fell instantly in love with the care, finesse, and artistry so often required to make a perfect dish, whether it's an amuse bouche, a dessert, a tasting menu, or a simply fabulous plate of mac and cheese. I not only fell for the fabulous Alton and Iron Chef, but also for the foul-mouthed poetry of Gordon Ramsey on Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares, as well as the snide polish of Bravo's Top Chef. And I couldn't stop there. Pretty soon I was also equally hooked on The Next Food Network Star, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, Everyday Italian with Giada, and more.
Now it seems like food is everywhere on TV, and it's never looked better. And I'm right there watching it, discussing the merits of Top Chef finalists (where I always seem to root for the underdog, having adored both Tiffani and Marcel), passionately discussing "plating" and "presentation" on Iron Chef America, arguing about whether Alton Brown looks better with or without a beard (I vote without) and yelping with delight each time Ted Allen shows up as a judge on either Iron Chef America or Top Chef (for some mysterious reason I have to scream "Ted!" at each sighting, a habit that annoys everyone around me to no end). And, of course, grinning happily everytime Gordon Ramsey calls someone a "donkey" on Hell's Kitchen. He's not evil, after all. He just wants it done right.
I think perhaps all this fabulous foodiness may have something to do with the times we're living in at the moment. Right after 9/11, there was a huge increase in people's interest in home decor and organization. To me it seemed as if all of us were trying to make our own little sanctuaries just a little bit prettier, a little safer, and even more removed from the pressures and fears of the outside world.
Now in a similar way, we've got all this glorious food on TV — reassuring us that each of us is a potential gourmet (and gourmand), that each of us can make a restaurant-quality tasting menu right in our own homes. Of course, the devil on our shoulders is also there, as society's reminding us as never before of how bad food can be for us, how dangerous it is, of how self-indulgent we Americans can be, and how we need to be careful to guard against obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and more. Incessant commercials remind us to guard against high cholesterol, exhorting us to serve Cheerios at weddings.
And yet there it is, all this lovely food on TV, and all these people who have shown me the real artistry that can be a part of cooking. And it's all good, frankly — it reminds me of how fantastic lean meat can be when prepared right, and of how beautiful and tasty crisp green vegetables can be, or delectable slices of fruit, impeccably sliced and presented. There's sometimes a cliched perception, I think, that a love for food is what leads us to gluttony, yet honestly I have become more convinced than ever that a love for food has led me to treasure each small bite, at its best, as a little bit of perfection in just the right size — a small taste of heaven.
Next up? A look at my favorite reality-TV food contestants, from Top Chef, to Hell's Kitchen, to The Next Food Network Star.