With very little fanfare, The Food Network launched The Cooking Channel, a TV channel for those of us yearning for the good ol’ days of the food network when the focus was on cooking. I’ve been putting shows on my DVR to see how it was doing and right now it looks like it’s Food Network castoffs which is fine by me because I like the old Food Network shows. Sadly, (or maybe luckily considering how crappy Food Network’s cooking instruction shows have gotten) the only original programming is retreads of The Best Thing I Ever Ate. As much as I love Lee Ann Wong from Top Chef, seeing her opine about some awesome hamburger is kinda beneath her.
Here’s my rundown of the show’s I’ve seen so far.
Julia and Friends – OH MY GOD. This show is a hoot. It’s so different from any cooking show that’s on today. This is a exercise in chaos. Julia corrects herself, makes messes, and has to check her notes. It’s so funny. The thing is, you will never make anything on this show. There is no such thing as streamlined. Everything has a million steps. Case in point – fish in pate a choux that requires a crepe base, fillets of sole layered with duxelles, fish mousse, and a choux paste top. That’s crazy talk and I will never do it but it’s nice to have a cooking show be ambitious and challenge it’s audience. Grade – B+
Melting Pot – This is from the good old days of the Food Network where they integrated ethnic cuisine much more seamlessly than nowadays. The format of the show is that there is a rotating band of hosts that focuses on a particular cuisine – soul food, Latino, Mediterranean. The lone exception is Padma Lakshmi who just does whatever the hell she wants to. I guess being married to Salman Rushdie had its perks. The thing with this show is that it ends up being hit or miss. The Mediterranean show is awesome because it has Rocco Dispirito AND Cat Cora before they were “Personalities” and actually had them cooking interesting and inventive dishes. Padma’s rotation was a incoherent mess and she was very stilted. Grade – B-
Chinese Food Made Easy – Some Chinese woman in England goes around the country cooking less greasy versions of Chinese restaurant food. The recipes themselves are fairly straightforward. Considering I ate fried rice for breakfast every morning of my life, I will learn nothing new on this show. The camera work is great but the “plot” sucks. She goes from teaching a member of the British Olympic rowing team to cooking to standing outside a market cooking. It doesn’t make any sense. Grade – C
Indian Food Made Easy – Similar concept as above but MUCH better execution. Because I a, less familiar with Indian food, I am learning something new with every segment (Yay paneer!). She actually seems to have a theme a scenario for each episode which follows through quite well. For example she’s teaching an old college friend (who she is clearly trying to seduce – “Just touch it and massage it. Doesn’t that taste good?” ) to make Indian food for watching the World Cup. The only challenge is that they set out a lot of recipes and zip through them quickly. Grade – B+
French Food at Home – I’ve saved the best for last. I love love love this show. The host is like Martha Stewart on acid – kinda patrician but totally loopy. I love that the show doesn’t talk down to the audience and the host pronounces the French words with as much authenticity as Giada does Italian. She just drops them in here and there like “creme caramel” and “buerre noisette.” And she’s got this weird English/Scottish/Irish accent I can’t place. But she’s smart and unafraid to show it. In one episode she carts around an atlas as if she were in Sense and Sensibility. The recipe themselves are doable and interesting and ones I plan to add to my repertoire. I can’t say enough good things about this show. Grade – A+++