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May 24, 2013 12:54 PM

PBS FREAK OUT - Joanne Weir. Come on, PBS- you can do better.

Am I the only one freaked out by this lady?

The format is that she "teaches" a student how to cook.

Here's a few of the big problems I have with her.

1. She speaks to her adult students as if they were 13-year olds
2. She glosses over (or skips entirely) explaining fundamental concepts that actually would be quite important and interesting for students to know
3. She solicits constant and repeated admiration for her cooking from her students, both while they are cooking and after while they are eating.
4. Many of the "students" are quite awkward on camera.
5. She possesses little to no charm. I can't see a single endearing quality to this lady-- yet she persists, every night, on PBS' Create TV.

Who is this lady, and what exactly is her appeal? To put her on PBS with the likes of Julia and Jacques (who possess charm, accessibility and knowledge-- critical factors in a TV cooking host) is mindboggling, to say the least.

Mr Taster

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    1. This certainly isn't her first stint on PBS. She was on when I lived in the Bay Area and that was over 10 years ago.

      I bought the companion book to her first show and I have to say the recipes in it are actually pretty good.

      Haven't seen her new show and probably won't because my local PBS station believes cartoons are more important than cooking shows so, sadly, we only get a small number of the PBS cooking shows

      1. 1. and 3. for me. I gave her another chance lately and only lasted a few episodes. She's not the only smug tv cooking host but her particular smugness is hard for me to overlook.

        27 Replies
        1. re: ennuisans

          People keep claiming this or that TV host or contestant is 'smug'. What are the tell tale signs of that? Is that something you only see on TV, or are there smug people around all the time?

          1. re: paulj

            It is an interesting concept. I think it is closely related to "snootiness", both in waiters and entire (somehow) restaurants .

            1. re: paulj

              I wouldn't call her smug, but I would call her condescending. She really speaks "down" to the "students" as though they are a bunch of morons. I don't care for that. It is the same reason I cannot watch Diane Sawyer, she talks her newstalk in such a condescending way. Ugh. Nope. Weir is not for me.

              1. re: jarona

                Is she 'talking down' to the students, or to you? Maybe she's taking the pedagogical approach of 'do not assume the students know something'. The videos are aimed at a broad audience, not customized to the knowledge of the studio students, or advanced viewers.

                If she's been teaching $1000 classes for years, she must be doing something right.

                1. re: paulj

                  I don't find her annoying, and once in a while I learn a trick I didn't know. But I agree, her show is mostly aimed at novice cooks. I don't see anything to criticize even though I'm usually not learning anything I didn't already know. There was a time when I didn't.

              2. re: paulj

                I'm trying to get past the defensive snark in your comment long enough to take the question seriously, because it's a fair one on its own.

                People like Weir, and Bayless, and Raichlen, and Flay, have worked and studied hard to attain a certain level of expertise that is commendable. I don't demean them for their accomplishments at all.

                But when they give instructions it is with an air that the knowledge is coming -from- them, as authorities, rather than -through- them, as teachers. And it is their apparent sense of self-satisfaction in their own knowledge and accomplishments that leads me to dub them as "smug".

                Anyone who is content with what they have learned is done learning, and that's not the sort of teacher I'm attracted to.

                1. re: ennuisans

                  I guess I just don't see the "air" you're attributing to them, especially with Bayless, who pretty much taught me the art of cooking through his books and TV show. He took me from meticulously following his recipes to being able to whip up delicious meals out of what I have on hand out of my own knowledge and experience.

                  And perhaps it's because I follow what he does closely, but its pretty easy to see how he's evolved over the course of his career. I strongly disagree that he's stopped learning, or that he would claim to know everything about Mexican cooking.

                  Weir is pretty basic for me at this point, but there was a time when I would have found her a really good teacher. There's absolutely a place for what she does, even if it mostly isn't for me. I also really like Anne Burrell, who like Bayless and Weir not only shows you what to do, but explains why. It's not just following recipes, it's learning to cook.

                  I don't like the personality of every TV chef, and some are better than others, but I don't see any of them as condescending.

                  1. re: JonParker

                    I've had the opportunity to take classes in Mexico with Rick Bayless and can confirm that he really hasn't stopped learning. Mexican cuisine as a whole is pretty vast, there is always something new to discover. But I can say that there is a marked different between how he was before winning Top Chef Masters and after; and I'll leave it at that.

                    He is a fantastic instructor. The classes I've done have been for both home cooks and chefs. He has the ability to move easily between gearing his style, approach and recipes so that they are appropriate to the skill level and interest of those widely diverse groups. No easy task. At least with the chefs groups he does share a lot of the tricks and short cuts he's learned over the years to make producing really good Mexican food in commerical kitchens really reflect the locality of the dish.

                    1. re: DiningDiva

                      "But I can say that there is a marked different between how he was before winning Top Chef Masters and after; and I'll leave it at that."

                      I just took a trip to Mexico City and attended 2 cooking classes with Rick - your comment is interesting as I was a bit put off by him and his wife. It was subtle, but odd.

                      1. re: emily

                        Emily, was this the recent Culinary Adventures trip?

                        I will say that he was MUCH more open and approachable before TC Masters.

                        Love your avatar, BTW :-)

                        1. re: DiningDiva

                          Yes, it was. Surprisingly, I liked Ricardo's class much better!

                          1. re: emily

                            Not surprised. Ricardo is a real sweetheart :-).

                    2. re: JonParker

                      By way of contrast, compare Bayless and Weir's didactic methods compared with, for example, Bridget from America's Test Kitchen.

                      Mr Taster

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        I guess I don't see that much difference other than being aimed at different audiences. Bayless I probably can't judge objectively, since I see him through the prism of his cookbooks, where he goes into great detail about his methods and ingredients. I like Bridget too, and I occasionally pick up something interesting from ATK or CC, although Kimball drives me batty.

                        I have to admit that I've never watched Raichlen, and Flay only once in a while. Flay does ok, but his shows seem geared more toward "here's how to make this recipe" than the "here's a recipe that will teach you things that you can apply in your daily cooking" that Bayless and even Weir do. I guess I have that criticism of ATK too -- cooking the same dish 40 times to learn how to perfect it is not practical for most of us.

                        Here's an example. Last week I made "Leftover Enchiladas." I used frozen shredded chicken left over from a Zuni Cafe chicken I had roasted, roasted tomatillos and garlic, a container of leftover chopped cilantro and white onion, and a caramelized white onion, some toasted rehydrated chiles and some spices and herbs. I used a lot of techniques I had picked up elsewhere, including which onion to use (Bayless), roasted chicken (a Chowhound thread), roasting chiles (Bayless again), the mixed cilantro and onion (me -- I made it as a taco garnish). They were freaking delicious, and that was because I'd learned how to deal with the ingredients. I chose the herbs and spices, I chose the chiles, I decided how much of everything to use. But it was good because I'd seen most of these things done and done them myself. I didn't do pan after pan of enchiladas looking for the perfect recipe, I did the things I understood. That's the best kind of teaching. I would have no fear (well maybe some) about inviting Rick to dinner and serving him one of my recipes, but that's because I don't just know Mexican recipes, I know Mexican cooking. Maybe not at his level, but I bet he'd like it.

                        1. re: JonParker

                          < I guess I have that criticism of ATK too -- cooking the same dish 40 times to learn how to perfect it is not practical for most of us.>

                          Of course not. That's why they do it for you.

                          1. re: Jay F

                            Yes, but my point was that doing that is teaching how to make a recipe, not teaching how to cook. There's a real difference.

                            1. re: JonParker

                              Except that when they explain the choices they've made--"We exchanged half the sugar for honey for a moister batter" or whatever--we learn to cook from having those choices explained. The recipes that didn't work is the valuable part of ATK to me.

                        2. re: Mr Taster

                          Bridget is part of a team, one that makes a big deal about 'trying 50 variations so you don't have to'. The role of the cook on ATK is to demonstrate the finds of that team. There isn't a big difference in the style of the various cooks (roughly 3-4 come to mind).

                          Even so posters complain about their (ATK) 'best ever' claims.

                          For what it's worth the cooking shows that I follow most (as in try to watch any new episodes) are:
                          Mind of a Chef
                          Pati's (more for the subject than the style)

                          I often get more from competitions like Chopped or ICA (yea Garces!) than instructional shows.

                          What I can learn from the show is more important to me than the presenter's style.

                            1. re: MGZ

                              That is your opinion, to which you are entitled. However, there are MANY people who hardly know how to boil water and find ATK a wonderful starting point in their effort to learn how to cook. For some people, knowing that a recipe - no matter how boring or basic it may seem to us more experienced home cooks - has been tested, tried, and found true, is comforting when they are just starting out and hoping to satisfy their families, new mates, or just themselves. Where you may see it as LCD, I see it as a show that allows total newbies a comfortable and not-scary opportunity to learn how to create a meal. Not everyone who watches cooking shows are the type to who have experienced a Bayless class in Mexico City or have reached the level of having (watched enough cooking TV and) learned enough that that they can whip something up on their own. I find the term LCD a bit derogatory. I find people interested in cooking who can and do take a lot from ATK, a really great thing. There are people in this world who were picking up Taco Bell or Burger King for dinner every other night and may not be ready for Bayless, but ARE ready to start cooking their own food at home. I have been cooking full meals since I was eleven years old, but I am not so ignorant that I don't understand that cooking is as scary and complicated to some folks, as physics is to me.

                              1. re: Justpaula

                                Justpaula, I appreciate your thoughts. And keep in mind there's almost nothin' here from a stinky old 'hound like me, that ain't just opinion.

                            2. re: paulj

                              For what it's worth, I pretty much second all of this.

                              1. re: paulj

                                I agree about
                                'ATK's - though some of their best of, is NOT.
                                Mind of a Chef
                                Pati's (more for the subject than the style)'

                                When Bobby does straight ahead cooking he is great.
                                I think the whole competition/reality genre has ruined the respective 'food networks' for me. I have tended to dwell on the PBS offerings, and surfed back, usually in vain, to the food networks for something.
                                I really like watching chefs/cooks actully cook.
                                Kim Chi Chronicles for Jean Georges.
                                Hubert Kellers Secrets Of A Chef
                                Eric Ripert's web show...
                                I'd like to see more Thai, Asian in general, Indian and African. It's a big world.
                                I miss Paul Prudhomme.

                                1. re: paulj

                                  Just watched the 'home fries' episode of ATK. The reason Julia does not talk down to the viewers is she talks up to Chris. :) Bridget too, but it's more noticeable with Julia.

                                  Punning aside, having a studio audience that is knowledgeable, but not expert in this recipe, does set a different tone than having a 'dumb' student or child.

                                  Ruhlman's Reach of a Chef is good reading if you want some insight into celebrity chefs, both owners like Keller, and TV cooks like RR.

                            3. re: ennuisans

                              The only Flay show that I've watched much is Throwdown. Learning is built into the structure of that show.

                              Raichlen comes across as a learner in his interview on The Splendid Table.

                              1. re: ennuisans

                                Your post reminded me of a recent cooking segment with Jerry Seinfeld and his wife, for her cookbook. She made chicken cutlets as if she had invented chicken cutlets. It was rather pathetic.

                                I appreciate your comments of "cooking from vs cooking through them"

                                1. re: ennuisans

                                  That is a great explanation of that particular brand of smugness!! Your examples are an interesting combination since the "work" they have done is to repackage someone else's cooking and I think that is what comes off as smugness! On the other hand real chefs like Eric Ripert and Hubert Keller actually surprised me with their PBS shows. They appear intimidating and unyielding critiquing wanna be chefs on Top Chef and yet on the PBS shows they are warm and welcoming to home cooks wanting to stretch their boundaries. Flay, Weir, et al want you to pay attention to THEM (authorities)... real chefs want you pay attention to technique in order to produce good food (teachers)!

                            4. I liked her back in the 1990s when it was just her, the camera, and the TV audience. She cooks mostly Italian, and I got along so well with her, foodwise.

                              The new show doesn't bother me particularly, but I don't watch it unless I happen to be sitting in front of the TV and I click past it as she's cooking something interesting.

                              Unlike you, I find the awkwardness of her students rather natural, actually. I know I'd feel awkward being taped (or whatever the process is called now) in a situation like that.

                              All that really bothers me is that she's forced to shill for both Anolon and the wine industry, as they're footing the bill.

                              When something bothers me as much as this bothers you, I don't watch it. Or I admit to myself I'm "hatewatching" it.

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: Jay F

                                Crikey, love the "hatewatching" term. If I could tolerate the "ranch woman cooker blogger" on FoodNetwork, that's the word I would use. Actually pretty much all shows on that network these days, sadly, now that I think about it.

                                1. re: breadchick

                                  Food Network actually caused me to give up all but the most basic level of cable. I just couldn't look at Guy or Chopped, or any of the idiotic FN competition shows, and they show so little besides Guy or Chopped or those idiotic competitions, so I cut the cord.

                                  I've seen Pioneer Woman on youtube, and read about her because she uses Fiestaware. I think I would hatewatch her, too, if I watched her at all.

                                  1. re: Jay F

                                    Food Network jumped the shark many years ago. I'm with you and similarly live in a post cable world. Just, gimme my local channels and some PBS . . . .

                                    My question is how long 'til the cable companies figure out that a la carte service is what folks want? In the meantime, streaming works for me and most other people who think about it. HBO's the bitchy little holdout keepin' the cable monopolies from drowning.

                                    I just discovered the MLB channel through the Roku. It's gonna be a good summer.

                                    1. re: MGZ

                                      MGZ: " HBO's the bitchy little holdout keepin' the cable monopolies from drowning."

                                      I am able to pay $10+ per month now to be able to stream HBO to my computer. It's available through Comcast/Xfinity.

                                    2. re: Jay F

                                      I watched once, most of an episode, and I don't wish her ill or anything, but that's gotta be one of the worst shows ever. So bloody boring.

                                    3. re: breadchick

                                      Oh, the ranch woman...I just can't watch her. It's her voice that gets me, I suppose, and I avoid Giada, too. Enjoy Ina Garten, although "how easy is/was that" type comments pile up over time. As far as Create shows I do watch ATK, John Besh, Bastianich and Pepin. Weir with the students - no.

                                    4. re: Jay F

                                      LOL "hatewatching" that is brilliant! I, too, engaged in "hatewatching" back in the late '60s when I was a kid. It involved a local cooking show. I think it was called "Cooking with Bea Beyer." This woman was so annoying! I would watch with my friends just to have a laugh!

                                    5. oh, i am so glad someone else has the same opinion, I just can't watch her, and i have tried

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: dolly52

                                        I can watch her but only with the sound turned off. Her voice (and most of what she is saying) irritates me. If it looks like she is cooking something I might like I look for the recipe online.