To a viewer trying to learn the subtleties of cooking, as well as efficiency in preparation and nuance of seasoning, the plethora of TV chefs can help as well as confuse. For several years now, I’ve tuned into various cooking shows to learn how the “professionals” do it and adapt the lessons learned into my own humble kitchen.
Along the way I’ve noted that the TV chefs not only have different methods of cooking, they have personalities that can annoy or delight. Below, a slightly tongue-in-cheek summary of the more celebrated of the chefs who grace our televisions.
There is a mighty cable network totally devoted to food and its preparation. Thus the many chefs reviewed, by default, are featured mostly on the Food Network.
According to Emeril’s bio, Lagasse is of Portuguese extraction, always dreamed of chefdom, studied in Paris, and worked at several very ritzy restaurants until he finally opened his own. Emeril has a doctorate in the culinary arts so this is a fellow dedicated to his craft. An insightful tidbit: Emeril also considered becoming a musician.
I’m so tired of Emeril Lagasse my eyes glaze over as soon as he comes on the air, which is little wonder in that it seems the Food Network has Emeril on 24/7. If it isn’t Emeril Live then it’s The Best of Emeril. For the former, still aired on Food Network nightly in the coveted 8 p.m. time slot, Lagasse cooks in front of a live audience with an accompanying band. We are also regularly treated to many Emeril food specials, including cooking in a school cafeteria. It really is possible to overkill a TV personality, and goodness, lately we see Emeril in commercials pimping toothpaste!
Emeril’s claim to fame is his infamous “bam” as he clutches favored spices in the palm of his hand, holds his arm high in the air, and with great fanfare, spreads the seasoning into the food while shouting a mighty “BAM.” Often there is a drum riffle to add more drama.
Emeril has a fixation with garlic and pork fat. What’s even odder, every time the man adds garlic to a dish in progress, the audience claps joyfully as if garlic were the elixir of the gods and only Lagasse has enough sense to use the bulb and use it in abundance. It really is possible to use too much garlic folks.
Bobby Flay is a redhead with a temperament to match his hair.
To read Flay’s bio one would think this was the god of the chef world. Bobby graduated from the French Culinary Institute and in May of 1993, was voted the James Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Chef of the Year.
All the plaudits mean nothing as they forget one thing. Bobby Flay has a notorious temper and has much difficulty keeping help. Now I’ve read this over the years on various and sundry gossip columns and foodie boards. This doesn’t mean it’s true, of course, but if one watches Flay a bit closely during any of his three Food Network shows, it’s easy enough for the discernable to see a barely-veiled temper. This hasn’t much to do with the average food TV viewer and if grilling is your thing, Bobby Flay does it very well.
Either love Rachael Ray or hate her. It’s as simple as that.
Indeed across the mighty Internet there are entire web sites devoted to hatred of Rachael Ray and filled with rants and raves against this perky hotter-than-hot Food Network star.
The “problem” with Rachael Ray, and I suggest it softly, is that the woman has a bit of a childish air about her and indeed, in large doses, Rachel could torment.
Rachael also has several Food Network shows and her repertoire expands almost daily. I imagine that Ray appeals to middle-aged cooks much like myself who view Rachael’s silly giggle good-naturedly as the child reminds us of our own children and grandchildren. But that’s just me. This is enough to keep her popular even while large segments of the population view her with enraged eyes and ears.
I saw Rachael when she was not in that child-world to which she ascends when she was cooking during her 30 Minute Meals. It was during a recent showing in Food Network’s series, The Next Food Network Chef, a reality competition series sponsored by the network. Rachael was giving advice to the would-be chefs entered in the contest and hoping to avoid elimination.
“Small bites are your friend,” she told a young contestant who was charged with eating a food concoction he had prepared.
“Never stop the action,” she shouted to another chef-in-training when the fledgling chef threw her arms up while cooking on camera and said she could not finish the task.
I thought Rachael sounded right adult during this segment of the contest.
As for her cooking technique, well it is quite simple. Rachael doesn’t possess impressive culinary degrees and has likely never been to France. She does spring from a family with extensive restaurant experience. Her set for the 30-minute series has about the oddest-looking oven I’ve ever seen. I searched for a picture of it but none was available. There are many queries across the foodie boards about Ray’s oven. Best I can describe it, the thing has levers instead of handles to open the compartments. And this oven thing has plenty of compartments; goodness knows what they’re all for.
Rachael is perhaps most famous for her “EVOO,” a Rachael-invented acronym for “Extra Virgin Olive Oil.” Well it does have fewer syllables but by reading the rants going on by the Rachael-bashers, “EVOO” is a very, very bad thing.
Good Eats is a cooking show that I never miss if at all possible. This show, starring Alton Brown, is anything but a boring exercise in culinary wisdom.
Brown had initially embarked on a career in acting, producing, and directing films before he realized he loved cooking more than films. Brown graduated from the New England Culinary Institute and then moved on to a goal of making shows about cooking way more interesting than the dull shows of yore.
And Alton did just that. For if ever a cooking show combined offbeat entertainment, perfect demonstration of food preparation, and wry but interesting tidbits about the food subject at hand, it would be Alton’s Good Eats.
One never knows how Brown will begin an adventure into culinary excellence but it’s sure to amuse. Once, the entire show was based on a fictional tropical island where there was no electricity much less microwave ovens. Brown carries the theme of cooking without gadgetry throughout the entire show, teaching the somewhat baffled audience just how stranded victims, far from the niceties of civilization, can prepare simple but elegant meals with banana fronds for plates and coconut for seasoning.
Alton peppers his show with tidbits on how to use everyday household items for food preparation and how to accomplish a food preparation task with the most efficiency toward the desired result. Brown teaches the viewer the physics of eggs and butter, at times summoning a mad scientist to illustrate what happens to sugar as heat hits it, and how eggs are best used in a recipe and why they work.
According to Brown’s bio, he strived to create a cooking show that was far from the dull fare of his era. Good Eats is truly the best, most-action packed, and enlightened half hour of food knowledge. The show is the benchmark for how to do it right.
Martha Stewart has experience ranging from life on Wall Street to lifestyle guru to a stint as an actual jail inmate and a brief attempt to recruit an “apprentice.”
Stewart also has a bad-tempered reputation that precedes her. Except with Martha, after a lifetime of public exposure, she manages to keep any temper flares well away from the cameras.
I always get the feeling I should put on white gloves when watching Martha Stewart. And frankly I’ve never seen the woman cook a single thing that I would ever want to make in my own kitchen.
Martha Stewart, seen in her syndicated series Martha Stewart Living on various channels across the spectrum, tends to concentrate on cooking items for entertainment, be it for a children’s birthday party or an adult afternoon brunch. For viewers wanting a dashing way to cook a handy hamburger, best move on beyond Martha.
One of the newer cooking shows as of this writing, and hence its featured chef, would be Food Network’s Ham on the Street. This show’s chef, George Duran, also has an extensive background in the film and TV industry and he too left it all to be trained in France and pursue his own cooking show.
Duran’s show is certainly offbeat, for at times the viewer might find Duran handing out burritos from a manhole in New York city or munching on an entire turkey while sitting on a park bench. Duran counts on the surprise of his settings and the challenge of cooking under different circumstances to entertain his audience.
Once Duran went to a campground, raided everyone’s rustic pantries, and cooked everything he found over an open fire. The results were mixed, at least to my own viewing eyes. Somehow he managed to come up with a fairly accurate campground favorite, “S’mores.” Other strange concoctions that ascended from Duran’s fire pit included day-old vegetables and even a grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
George Duran is more about entertainment than actual cooking; few cooks would get involved with wrapping leftovers in aluminum foil to later pull a handsome culinary creation from the ashy embers of an open fire.
Giada De Laurentiis
Giada De Laurentiis has two things against her in terms of being a respected female chef. And neither of them has to do with cooking.
Yes, that last name should ring bells as Giada is a granddaughter from deep within the bosom of the famous De Laurentiis family of film production fame. So she’s rich. Or at the least her upbringing was anything but middle class. Add to this handicap, the woman is absolutely gorgeous and regularly cooks with tops so low-cut that I often stare in amazement that anyone would ever cook in such a getup. Indeed, half of Giada’s chest is displayed during her cooking demonstrations and, besides the perils of splattering bacon in such attire, it must be difficult for any male viewers to pay any attention to Giada’s cooking skills.
Giada is featured on Food Network’s Everyday Italian and also stars in such Food Network specials such as Behind the Bash. This beautiful chef received fine training in France and worked in several upscale restaurants before opening her own cooking business.
Everyday Italian does attempt to teach us mere mortals how to prepare Italian-inspired dishes allegedly enjoyed by the common man. Giada handles her subject well but I can’t get beyond her beauty and how wasted it is behind a sweaty stove.
Beyond the Bash is more in keeping with Giada’s persona and background. The show features her gowned and made up in tandem with the glamorous event that is featured for the program. This might include the preparation for the Oscar ceremonies or the behind-the-scenes catering efforts for a major charity fundraiser.
Giada, with her knowledge of cooking and her insider status to glamour, is perfect for this show; although, why any budding cook would watch this show for naught but entertainment value is beyond me. Very few of us middle-age cooks struggling with the timing of a most ordinary meal would ever be involved with the preparation of small quiches for thousands of Hollywood celebrities.
The above are but a few of the famous chefs who try to woo us with promises of instant cooking knowledge accompanied by a few chuckles.
I rate Alton Brown the best of the lot.