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Impressions from a FoodNetwork newbie

In the past I only caught bits and pieces of the network's offerings -- just enough to get thoroughly annoyed by Emeril's verbal trademarks.

I recently visited a friend who has the food network on all the time, so I got my fill of Giada, Rachel, Emeril, Michael Chiarello, Ina Garten and, oh, I guess that's about it.

First impression -- I was shocked at the unflattering lighting on the stars of the shows. They managed to make Giada look plain, Rachel look tired, and Michael look like a blobby middle-aged bore.

Next impression -- Emeril was toned-down and never once said "BAM! Nor did he kick anything up. Somebody must have given him a crash course in dignity.

Impression #3 -- Ina Garten was the most charming and appealing, but I kept thinking "girlfriend, get yourself to a fat farm and drop 100 lbs!"

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  1. in my mind, ina garten is absolutely beautiful just as she is, inside and out, and furthermore, every recipe i've made of hers has been a raging success.

    4 Replies
    1. re: potterstreet

      I agree with potterstreet. Ina Garten, along with Nigella can stay exactly the way they are. And every recipe of hers I've ever made has also been a huge success. I like the catering tips, and that kitchen? love it! FN is for the food obsessed so a little forgiveness is in order for the bad lighting, wardrobe mishaps, and the quirky food quips of the stars. Concentrate on the food and less on the media driven obsession with being thin and young.

      1. re: sharonm

        "FN is for the food obsessed so a little forgiveness is in order"

        I have to disagree. FN USED to be for the food-obsessed. Now it's all talk, all the time about Unwrapped, Food Challenges (sky-high sugar towers that few people could make), and most hosts (most of whom have 2 or 3 shows) have little or no personality. They don't TEACH anything about food, IMO. They are over-the-top food personalities dumbed down for the masses. Unfortunately it's the masses that buy the crap they shell out.

        And I'm sorry - no matter what anyone says, the dreck that Sandra Lee puts out is *barely* food, and a lot of it is processed food.

      2. re: potterstreet

        My husband has the hots for Ina Garten, and I love that about him. I agree with potterstreet - I've had really good results with her recipes (although I have to spice up the indonesian chicken for my tastes).

        1. re: potterstreet

          Ok granted, he is not on the food network, but still I have to talk about him: Jacques Pepin. This is one TV cook that not only knows his stuff, but is also completely genuine and relaxed. There's no overly enthusiastic "mmmmmmm....SO good!" when he tastes things (the way the Giadas and Rachels and Sandras do it). His dishes are always simple and elegant and he always tries to teach you proper techniques when cooking. I have made many of his dishes and they have all been excellent. As my girlfriend always says: I wish we could go over to his place and just hang out and eat!

        2. Ina Garten is fabulous, and I could care less what she weighs. I'd take her any day over the skinny, hollywood-look chefs out there. Her show is just comfort on my TV. I'm not sure why people feel that everyone on TV should be thin and pretty, especially when a majority of us who watch are not size 2.

          As my husband says, "Never trust a skinny chef."

          I doubt it was the lights that made Rachael look tired. She's gotta be worn out with all that she does and how fast she moves and talks. I get exhausted just by watching her.

          Be greatful you missed Sandra Lee. You can't really call her a cook.

          1 Reply
          1. re: QueenB

            As I sit here watching Alton Brown making sushi (love him), I must post my observations regarding the FN. Ina Garten is wonderful and we love her, and her recipes ROCK. Sandra Lee is a joke with all her waste-of-time tablescapes. Tyler Florence is great. Nigella's new show is really good. Everyone else is mediocre. IMHO of course.

          2. It's supposed to be entertaining and educational.

            Two words.

            Alton Brown.

            No, make it four words. Add;

            "Iron Chef"


            4 Replies
            1. re: Bob Mervine

              "It's supposed to be entertaining and educational."

              Yeah, but it's neither.

              1. re: LindaWhit

                Your opinion and mine on both points is up for debate.

                I find the majority of Alton Brown's shows informative -- if not educational -- and entertaining.

                I started watching Emeril a half decade ago. I probably wouldn't have my passion for food today without the collective result of overdosing on FN for several years, some shows of which I still watch and much of which I don't.

                I respect Emeril as a businessman, but can barely watch a complete show today.

                FN has changed and I've changed. Good for me, bad for the network (and their advertisers) but since there still appear to be people like the OP just getting started, what's wrong with that?

                As much as I find Rachel Ray's kitchen work sadly lacking, she has encouraged thousands of people to try and cook something instead of opening up a package.
                Add the other chefs and shows that have done the same, and I think that has societal value.


                1. re: Bob Mervine

                  Alton's show is the only one I'd watch anymore - yes, he is informational, educational, and fun to watch.

                  And push come to shove, TFN is all about making money...unfortunately, dumbing down their shows is one way to do it. Some of the shows used to teach and teach very well (Emeril's first show, IIRC, was a good one for showing how to do things.) Now, they have too much fluff for me.

                  1. re: LindaWhit

                    I have to add Mario to the short list that is definitely headed by Alton Brown in the educational and informative. Whether one likes him or not, Mario knows his stuff.

                    Also, while my interest in Emeril has waned over time, his live audience show is very different than his Essence show. He's over the top with the prime time live audience but subdued and informational in the other daytime format.

            2. My wife and I love Ina's cooking, relaxed approach to entertaining, and liberated attitude towards drinks-with-dinner. On the other hand, Paula Deen drives me nuts. Perhaps its the dumbed-down approach she takes towards cooking.

              What I'd love to see more of are:

              1. More regionally diverse shows. The network is (unsurprisingly, given the nation's demographics) dominated by Italian themes. Whilst I wouldnt expect an Italian chef to mix it up once in a while and look to another cuisine (it would be nice though), it would be great to see shows built around Indian, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, or French cuisines (to name but a few). Ina's show is loosely French and we used to see Ming Tsai (sp?), but now it's mainly Italian and desserts.

              2. As noted by a poster above, a show or two on food technique. For example, the proper approach to cleaning, preparing and cooking a whole fish, or demonstrations of how to make the classic sauces, would help me extend my culinary ability.

              Thoughts? What shows would you like to see more of?

              8 Replies
              1. re: ooroger

                Wish Rosengarten was back.

                Loved Melting Pot, and really like Aaron Sanchez' restaurant when it first opened.
                Alton Brown, Mario Batali, and yes, I actually like Michael Chiarello's show.
                Ina, Nigella.
                Tyler Florence on Food 911 is tolerable, as with Tyler's Ultimate.
                Down with Sandra Lee!

                1. re: ooroger

                  Oh, you are so correct about the non-diversity of FN. The shows seem almost exclusively Western European/American. I live in San Francisco, so Asian food plays a large part in my diet; with all of the hours and hours of Anglo cuisine, would it kill them to dedicate one show to Asian cooking (Ming Tsai comes to mind). Actually, I don't watch FN much any more -- I find many of the shows annoying:
                  1. Does Giada have any say in wardrobe? Her shirts are so low cut, that when she rolls out dough her ... nearly fall out
                  2. Paula (and Emeril, and quite a few others) cannot speak English properly; neither can they pronounce foreign words; typos appear on occasion in Alton's infotitles (can the FN not afford an editor or a language coach?) Are these "chefs" a bunch of rubes, or so arrogant they don't want to bother?
                  3. Paula Deen THINKS she's cute. Please cut out the grimaces and giggling; 65 is not cute.
                  4. Rachel gives me high blood pressure. She's never made anything on the show that I couldn't have put together myself; and she has the vocabulary of a 12 year old.
                  Only shows I watch nowadays are Ina Garten (tasty, unfussy recipes; she seems poised and articulate); Michael Chiarello (don't know why an earlier post said he was "odd" -- I find him charming); Good Eats; Tyler's Ultimate (though they seem to have changed the format from earlier years -- he did a lot more traveling in search of the best recipe). Finally, I really, really miss Anthony Bourdain.
                  OK, sorry for the FN ranting -- I just had to let it out.

                  1. re: kzavarin

                    you are right, I have been waiting for a chinese or any kind of asian chef on food network for a while since ming tsai left , I hope they realize the audience need to see somebody besides bobby flay

                    1. re: monkfanatic

                      There is a good Australian-Chinese chef, Kylie Kwong, whose shows air on Food Network Canada: http://www.foodtv.ca/ontv/titledetail.... I enjoy her shows.

                  2. re: ooroger

                    I'd love to see something like "Cooks Illustrated" for tv... product and ingredient testing and reviews, making classic recipes healthier, fabulous recipes.

                    that said, we do enjoy Alton and Iron Chef. I haven't really caught Ina's show often, maybe just a couple times. Perhaps I'll give her another try. :)

                    1. re: jujuthomas

                      it exists - it's called americas test kitchen on PBS

                      1. re: Jeserf

                        Thanks, I'll have to look for that.

                        1. re: jujuthomas

                          Go to www.americastestkitchen.com for station info. It is made by Cooks Illustrated, so a lot of the recipes make it to the magazine and books.

                  3. Alton Brown is pretty much the only reason why I still tune into the Food Network. Giada's show covers Italian food in a mediocre fashion, and Paula Deen doesn't offer any interesting information. And as much as I like Iron Chef America it'll never really compare to the campiness of the original.

                    FN is really geared towards those who like fluffy content. They do the quick and easy route ("30 Minute Meals"), how to entertain guests, and the cutesy Italian stuff (going back to Giada). But if you want to further hone your culinary skills here however, you can forget it.

                    1. I don't really watch FN to hone my skills in any way. In fact, I've never once made anything they've shown. I watch purely for entertainment. And maybe I find it a little comforting too.

                      That said, I find Alton Brown's show boring and outdated. Ina is too quiet and monotonous. RR is ok. I prefer Giada, Mario, and Bobby Flay.

                      I also really like the travel-food shows like Road Tasted, $40 a day, etc. Oh, and the competition shows like Iron Chef and Throwndown with Bobby Flay.

                      1. I think the question is who is the Food Network geared to serve. I don't think it is the people posting to this board. I think it is people like my sister. My sister didn't really do any cooking as she was growing up, she lived in a dorm in college and the got married immediately after. She was married to a picky eater and she had no skills.

                        One day I went to visit her and she was talking about 30 Minutes Meals and told me she tried to make one but it took her an hour and a half. After I finished laughing, I asked to see the recipe. It was for chili and had a rather large number of ingredients for a Rachael Ray recipe and of course much chopping of vegetables. I told her the receipe was doable in the 30 minutes once she improved her knife skills and stopped measuring every little thing.

                        Seven years later my sister is now a pretty good cook (although her husband is still a picky eater). She watches Rachael Ray simply for ideas (flavors and shortcuts) but makes the dish without a recipe.

                        I think that is the purpose of much of Food Network's programing. When I watch Rachael Ray I have the same opinion of someone above that said it is nothing I could not have put together myself (although I think the queen of this is Robin Miller). It is for people who just wouldn't cook otherwise. Many of the people posting to this board do cook every night and find their inspiration in many, many different places (including the Home Cooking board). You don't really need the Food Network, you just want to.

                        1. I just started watching food network too, and I cannot get through most shows because they are irrelevant to me. I have no need to watch Giana and Rachael go to a restaurant in some city and go "Mmmmm," as if to somehow transmit the sensation of taste through the television to me. And I refuse to believe that Giana swallows. No one eats that much rich food and stays that petite. The cooking and cake contests, making outrageous things that have entertainment value, teach me nothing and do not contribute to my life or cuisine. I think Paula is crude. I once saw her squirt melted butter on oysters cooking on a grill. Of course, the grill caught on fire. I know and understand that she panicked, but I was incredulous that a celebrity chef wouldn't know better than to squirt fat on hot coals. So she turned the huge cooking fan on it to put the fire out which just fed the flames. Someone from the audience had to come up and put out the cooking fire.

                          I learn things that help me from the technique and recipe shows. Alton Brown's show is far and away the best. I get decent tips when Rachael cooks. Nigela's food is too rich for my taste, but at least she cooks.

                          1. And to jujuthomas - there IS something like "Cooks Illustrated" for tv.....just not on Food Network. It's called America's Test Kitchen, by the guy behind Cook's Illustrated. Their kitchen is in Brookline, Mass. and the show is on local Boston tv and the "Create" cabel channel. Love this show! Too bad Food Network doesn't pick it up.

                            1. It seems like every time I turn on the FN I get that show "Unwrapped." What a stupid show. I wish they would just get rid of it. Who cares how Goobers are made or who Mrs. Dash really is? Every episode is pretty much exactly like any other and the cliche writing is made worse by that dopey host's delivery. "After a sweet coating of sugar is off to the deep freeze where the candy chills out!" Ooof, please, the whole thing reeks of corporate sponsorship.
                              Don't mean to be all negative... the other shows are great, love em all, and Ina can be as big as she wants to be because her love for food is inspiring.

                              1. I agree with most of you here, and am a big Ina fan.

                                I really enjoy Barefoot Contessa and have learned to ignore the blatant displays of her wealth during the show. I think it's distracting. No, I don't need to see the camera pan to her steering wheel to show off what brand of luxury car she's driving. Nor do I need to see numerous camera shots of her lavish home or apartment in Paris. Or the close ups of the fancy handbags, leather shoes and spoiled children that her East Hamptonite friends have. I love her recipes, but I'm on a budget and definitely pass on her dishes that call for expensive ingredients.

                                1. I'm sticking to PBS, it has better recipes, better people, and a huge diversity (most important) and I get it in HD (still haven't got FN in HD yet). Oh and most importantly, pbs is commercial free

                                  I too love Barefoot contessa or as my boyfriend puts it "Bearass contessa".........not nice at all

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. I agree that Food Network is NOT focused on true cooks. It is mostly a venue for people who don't know cooking to learn some tips about how to do it yourself.

                                    Rachel Ray seems a little psycho and annoying, but her show is probably the least intimidating to a new cook. She encourages 'eyeballing it' for amounts and 'season to taste,' which is key to becoming a good cook. And she doesn't use expensive ingredients. Giada makes Italian approachable, which is good since it's one of the easiest cuisines to cook. And by the way. I have a close friend that pigs out constantly and is thinner than Giada. No, she isn't anorexic. She just has one of those bodies.

                                    I love Alton. He explains why things work and doesn't just expect you to take it for granted. And he seems very REAl. Ina Garten does not seem real to me. She seems to be posing with her 'friends' that she's feeding, and seems terribly insincere. Her recipes are solid, but her show is boring. Bobby Flay is the typical obnoxious NYer, and I prefer that to a fake personality.

                                    I love Iron Chef, both versions. And my SO will watch it just to see whether Mark Dacascos will flip or not. He's a joke, but famous in the martial arts world. Interesting choice as a host.