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Todd English, Food Trips: Japan

Did anyone else see the premier for his new show? I saw it in the home market (WGBH), so maybe we got it before it's aired elsewhere. Whatever your opinion of Todd English, the show has some promise.

It had really great footage of Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, the best I've seen. It really captured how it feels to watch the tuna auctions, and then walk through the outer market. It's great stuff, and if you've never been, this is about as close to the experience as you can get without going in person.

The second half of the show explores other kinds of Japanese cuisine (beyond sushi). There's a focus on finding Kobe beef, but really it's just more interesting to catch glimpses of the many kinds of specialized restaurants in Japan (whereas over here, you get your approximation of sushi and tempura and tonkatsu and robata all at one restaurant).

There are clips where he makes a (rare) appearance at Olives to throw together a quick recipe for us folks at home. These sections are pretty useless.

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  1. I saw it, too. Thought it was good. I used to travel to Japan, and the show brought back memories of their wonderful cuisine and customs.
    When they were having the shabu shabu, and talked about how the server would cerve most of the meals on her knees. The places we visited in Osaka- the server actually came out of a small door ( about 3 feet high), brought out the food, and served it. Also, we also always had our own geisha who was there to make sure our glass was never empty!

    1. I saw this as well -- I thought it was generally well-done, but would have been better with a whole lot less Todd English. Obviously that's impossible, since his company co-produced the show and they are no doubt intent on continuing to grow his "brand". But even after years on tv he's just not that good on camera -- awkward and oddly nervous-seeming as host, and his voiceovers are positively awful.

      That said, the photography was fantastic, they chose interesting places to profile (I thought the tongue restaurant was a real find) and they spent enough time on each one to explore them in some depth, which is unusual for most food-travel shows I've seen. For my taste, actually, they moved a little TOO slowly -- I think they could have trimmed a bit and shown more types of japanese restaurants that aren't represented here in the US. BUt better that than just jumping around a lot and never really exploring anything in depth.

      I thought the Olives segments were (perhaps unintentionally) enlightening, as they showed how over-the-top some of his preparations are. They'd have just shown some perfectly pristine piece of (actual) Kobe beef in Japan, simply grilled with salt, or maybe served sashimi-style. Then they'd go to the Olives kitchen and take a big hunk of "Wagyu" loin and cover it with one 12-ingredient sauce, lay it over green beans, skewer it with tongue popsicles, and then add yet another sauce. Kind of hard to see how japanese simplicity was the inspiration there!

      (Small disclaimer: I used to work with someone on the show's production team.)

      1. when is it on and which channel?

        1. WGBH (Boston) co-produced the show, it looks like it showed the Japan episode first as a teaser -- more to come later in January and February. I googled up an official website for the show -- http://www.toddenglish.com/foodtrip/
          but there's not much there, just a place to sign up for broadcast updates (i.e., become assimilated by the Todd English BORG). Probably simpler to go to your local public television station website and check their schedule -- it appears there's no national feed -- individual stations can choose when and if they want to air it. The show title is Todd English Food Trip, by the way -- not Trips -- which may help in trying to find broadcast times.

          1. I have been searching and searching the internet for this program in the NY metro area .. no luck. I know WLIW carries the show, but I couldn't find this episode.

            I'm going to Japan in a few months and would like to see this specific episode.
            Any ideas?

            1. I've now seen 3 of these - two in Japan, with sushi/sashimi and then kobe beef, and one in New York. The New York one was much more interesting than I thought it might be. He took the lowly dumpling, from ravioli to pierogi to kreplach to samosa to xiao long bao, going from one ethnic restaurant to another, and successfully showed the differences and the similarities.

              I didn't particularly want to like his show. I never thought that Olives (one of his restaurants in Boston) was worth the money - there were simply much better places for the type of food he was serving. What I'd seen of him on TV as guests on other folks' series, or on the old USA Iron Chef, just left me cold - I never saw him as much of an explainer, and he never expressed himself in the way that you would get from someone like Tony Bourdain.

              But all three of these shows have actually been done very nicely. Whether visiting Tsukiji, eating Kobe beef in a very traditional way, or talking to the world famous kreplach chef, his conversations are succinct and clear, and he shows a true respect for the chefs or proprietors and their product.

              However... He finishes each of his shows by cooking something at Olives - something that he was inspired to create from that particular trip. And now I understand why I don't like his food. He may or may not have chops - technically, he seems competent enough - but his creations are just plain disasterous - there is nothing he has made that made me want to even just try a little piece. Nothing he makes is anywhere as delicious looking as the original pieces he was "inspired" by. After the dumplings in NYC, he makes ravioli filled with tomato soup. As MichaelB mentions above, he takes a Wagyu loin, sears it and covers it with a thick sauce.

              I just don't get it - or rather, he just doesn't get it. He seems to get it while he's doing the interviews and tastings, but when it comes down to executing in his own kitchen, the product is a complete zilch. No wonder I never liked eating at Olives.

              Nevertheless, I would recommend the series. It's been informative and interesting so far. Just switch the channel for the last 10 minutes. (Or watch, laugh, shake your head and be happy that there are plenty of other places to eat than Todd's places.)

              2 Replies
              1. re: applehome

                I agree applehome -- I caught bits and pieces of the New York dumpling episode this weekend. I thought he was okay as a host and not as annoying as I thought he might be. But something happens to the man when he hits his own kitchen. I ate at Olives (the original in Charlestown) several times over 10 years ago and stopped going because I grew out of wanting 73 ingredients in towers of architectural precision. Everything he cooks just seems over-the-top and not in a good way.

                1. re: applehome

                  I agree about the sessions in the Olives kitchen. His food is so unappealing. He was affiliated with a restaurant in a new Marriott Hotel here in Seattle -- don't know if he still is, but the resto has made almost no waves in the local food media. That said, I did enjoy the parts of the show that were in Japan, and especially the New York dumpling show. I thought that was an excellent premise for a show. I don't think he cames across well on TV, though. They should just omit the "cooking in the Olives kitchen" part of the show, and use the time for more exploration of the local food wherever he has traveled.

                2. I agree that the show on Japan was excellent. However, I don't think that English's cooking is bad. Olives is good and Figs is even better (his more casual restaurants).But, even better are his cookbooks, the Olive's Table and the Fig's Table. Unlike alot of cookbooks with restaurant affiliations, the proportions are correct and the finished product is excellent.

                  1. The Food Trip site now has an episode guide with about 12 episode synopsis.
                    It's the Episodes link on the left at http://www.toddenglish.com/foodtrip/