Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What About the Cooking?

Um... Hey, Food Network.

I've been wondering how you're feeling lately. You seem a little, well, "off" these days.

There was a time when you were always on, when I counted on picking up some helpful tips and new recipes from you on a daily basis. It didn't matter what time of day, either. Whenever I turned to you, you were there with a cooking demonstration led by someone seemingly well-qualified to handle their ingredients.

You presented yourself with a simple eloquence I could understand and appreciate. Sure, maybe you gave us five different chefs offering similar takes on the same dish, but your homey lack of pretentiousness made it all the more endearing. Besides, it gave us the ability to choose whether we wanted to learn from Tyler Florence, Alton Brown, Giada de Laurentis, Bobby Flay or Rachel Ray how to make the perfect chicken parmesan.

When you did reach outside the traditional cooking show format, we enjoyed the distractions of such fare as "Iron Chef America," "Unwrapped," "$40 a Day," and "Good Eats." You were the underdog, the little cable network that could, and we were all pulling for you.

Those days, sad to say, are gone.

Like a parent doling out too much candy to hungry children, you're settling for immediate gratification over long-term sustenance.

You seem to have forgotten that while we might like the sugary delights of your flashier offerings, we don't need a steady stream of them. Every now and then, like it or not, and for our own good, you need to make us eat our Brussels sprouts. They might not be sexy, but when you cut them in half, drizzle them with olive oil, season them with salt and pepper, and roast them on a baking sheet in the oven for 20 or 30 minutes, they really aren't half bad. Trouble is, I never would have learned that from your current programming.

Just look what you've done to poor Tyler Florence. His "Tyler's Ultimate" cooking show was our favorite. The recipes we took away from his first few seasons inspired us to try new recipes, purchase proper pots & pans and even a high-quality knife set. I even shaved off part of my little finger on a mandolin trying to master one of his recipes. The only complaint we ever had about him was his unrealistic cooking times for chicken. Apparently, his oven runs a few hundred degrees hotter than ours.

But in the past month or two, the only place we've seen our former favorite is hosting the pathetically contrived "Great Food Truck Race." This show, like so many others you have vomited out lately, provides the most meager amount of entertainment combined with almost no culinary information. Half the people on the show looked as if they hadn't showered in a month, so I can't imagine how you'd think we would look at them and say "I gotta eat summa what they're dishing out!"

While we thoroughly enjoy "Next Iron Chef" and "Next Food Network Star," we have to wonder if you've established some outrageously high quota on how many new celebrities you intend to spawn each year. You're already squeezing out your cooking shows to the point of having to establish a second channel just to carry them all. Where will you put all these new people?

And for being a channel based on food and how to prepare it, you're doing a great job of cannibalizing yourself. Most of the shows you rolled out this year are variations of shows you already had. "Food Feuds" is a barely tweaked variation of "Throwdown," except it promises the kind of staged strutting and posing one might expect to find on Bravo's many "Housewives" shows. "Meat & Potatoes" is an even less tweaked variation of "Diners, Drive Ins & Dives," but with a fraction of Guy Fieri's charisma.

Please, I'm begging you, don't go the route of MTV or Bravo. Don't forsake the format that brought you to where you are. Let your new channel take on the gameshows and reality programming you hope will bring you untold riches and leave your flagship channel alone.

And for goodness sake, somebody tell Alton Brown to take a vacation and eat a cheeseburger.

© 2010 Mark Feggeler

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