Bernie Nguyen: A taste of television

BY BERNIE NGUYEN: TAKE A QUACK AT IT

Published October 5, 2005

The one network I can always rely on to entertain me is the Food Network. Because food is a) required for survival and b) oh so wonderful, it's logical to make a channel dedicated to celebrating sustenance. And man, is it good.

Sarah Royce

The Food Network, though specific to its subject, provides hours of diverse television. Besides your regular cooking shows (which also vary in terms of host, cuisine and theme), there's "Unwrapped," a show that reveals the making of everyday foods like ice cream; "Iron Chef," the perennial favorite of competitive cooking fans; and "Easy Entertaining," which provides tips on how to plan and prepare the perfect party. It's a crash course in kitchen for the visual learner.

Of course, I've got my favorites and my not-so-favorites. Though all food is good, the host of a show is what really makes or breaks it. Take Emeril Lagasse: When he first appeared on the scene, I liked him a lot. He was funny and clever, his food looked delicious and he used to punctuate his shows with periodic bursts of "BAM!" and a quick dash of spices. But today, he's old news. He's been around so long that he's become commercialized - he's got several shows, none of which entertain me anymore. The man sticks uncooked sludge into a hot oven and pulls a golden-brown souffle out of the lower rack. Who can take him seriously?

Same thing goes for Bobby Flay. I hate him. I loathe him. He needs to flay himself. His smug face and annoying, cough-drop voice is exactly what I don't want to see hovering over my barbecue. As a self-professed barbecue expert, Flay has pretty much ruined grilling for me. Every time I stick some ribs onto an open flame, I picture his face, and I want to poke it with the grilling fork.

Aside from these bitter annoyances, I have things that I adore. Sure, Rachael Ray needs to shut up once in a while, but I absolutely love her show. She's taught me how to slice onions, how to make quick salad dressing and marinades and the best way to jazz up a burger. After watching an episode of "Thirty Minute Meals," I made some excellent macaroni and cheese - and not even out of a box! What I especially love is that no matter how her food turns out, she actually does cook it on the show - you get to see the whole process from start to finish. Finally, a show that works on a premise other than little elves in chef's hats slipping finished food into hot pans. However, she really needs to stop saying E-V-O-O for extra virgin olive oil, especially since she has to explain it every time anyway: "Now I'm going to add just a drizzle of E-V-O-O - that's extra virgin olive oil - " Seriously, Rach. It's not cute. It's just annoying.

Another show which I enjoy is Giada de Laurentiis's "Everyday Italian." I love Italian food and watching this show has made cooking it a lot easier for me. Of course, I have some problems with Giada herself - her habit of saying everything in a pretentiously Italian accent. Parmesan becomes parmesano reggiano, spaghetti becomes spa-GHE-ti and mozzarella becomes MOTZ-a-REL-la. But the elegance of the food she cooks and the pretty kitchen set make her's one of my favorites.

One complaint that I have (and it's a big one, too) is the sheer absurdity of the most idiotic remake ever to hit the small screen: "Iron Chef: America." For the uninitiated, "Iron Chef" was originally an awesome Japanese series about three chefs, the Iron Chefs, who fought other cooking gurus in an hour-long battle over who could cook the best dishes with a secret ingredient. When "Iron Chef" first premiered in the United States a few years ago, it was addictive - ingredients were usually flopping around, huge cleavers flashed and billows of steam issued from every pot. Excitement! Anticipation! FOOD!

Then some corporate honcho decided to capitalize on the fabulously foreign idea and turn it into "Iron Chef: America." What they didn't realize was that without the Japanese names ("Fukui-san!"), the odd-but-entertaining dubbing and the gaudy costumes, the show would be nothing more than a few pretentious chefs running around and making excuses for why their food isn't good enough (ahem, Bobby Flay). Just don't mess with the original "Iron Chef." It was golden as it was, and the watered down American version just doesn't make the cut.

When it comes right down to it, though, the Food Network can barely go wrong. No matter your taste, there's something for you. I know of no other channel that can hold my attention and serve as background all in one. Besides, it's the Food Network. How could it possibly be anything but good?

 

- Bernie is still searching for a mint condition copy of "Make way for Ducklings." Sell her yours at banguyen@umich.edu.