Anthony Bourdain's Guide to Food Television
MSN TV posted a slideshow/interview with Anthony Bourdain rounding up his takes on various food television shows. No surprises, really: he's a fan of Top Chef, questions the "douchebag" judges on Iron Chef America, admits that his wife watches Rachael Ray's talk show (and by default so must he!) but calls her "very nice," gives due props to Martha Stewart, Alton Brown, Emeril Lagasse, and Adam Richman from Man v Food, calls Sandra Lee's cooking a "war crime on television," and calls Toby Young a "useless" "egregious add-on."
Bourdain, like always, gives good quote:
On Spain ... On the Road Again: "I just think it's badly produced. There's nothing worse than seeing a genius like Mario -- he's the smartest, funniest guy I know -- waste his talent. I hope he had a great time making the show. And Mark Bittman, I don't think he adds value to anyone's TV show. He doesn't come off well on TV. Let's put it that way. I saw him make paella once on a TV show; he's been dead to me ever since."
On Kitchen Nightmares: "This show is a freak show. It's a circus of cruelty, like shooting fish in a barrel with a cut-down 12-gauge shotgun. There's no cooking. It's just a bunch of dimwits -- the lame, the halt and the delusional -- and [Gordon Ramsay] pretending to be angry."
It's a totally annoying pageview farm, requiring you to infuriatingly click "Next" over and over again, and then "More" just to read Bourdain's commentary, so we round it all up:
On Rocco DiSpirito's The Restaurant:
It was a slow-motion car wreck, wasn't it? It could have been a great show. It was a great concept. But I think Rocco's hunger to be famous did not put him in a good light. It was painful to watch. Since that show, there's been a lot of ill-will toward Rocco. It might be out of proportion to his crimes; a lot of chefs have gone on TV and acted silly. I think Rocco's particular crime was that he was always such a talented cook. This is a guy who made really good food. A lot of us would have cut off a pinky to have that kind of natural talent and ability. We see him now as having wasted that talent. I think he's penalized for being so talented. But Rocco doesn't want to be a chef. He wants to be an entertainer. I was rooting for the guy on "Dancing With the Stars." Compared to Kim Kardashian, he's a fairly impressive guy. When he's not shilling something on "Top Chef," he's actually a thoughtful judge and offers constructive criticism. But I don't see him as a chef anymore, so I don't feel like beating up on him.
On Ace of Cakes:
I like this show. It's kind of cool. I like Duff and the people he works with. That's the real world of cooking.
On Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern:
I don't know how he does it. I respect his stamina. Most of the food that he's been eating, I've had. I've got to hand it to the guy for being able to get up in the morning and face nothing but lizard parts and testicles, especially in some tropical climate without the benefit of alcohol. I honestly don't know how he does it. I would have hung myself in the shower stall.
On Spain ... On the Road Again:
I love Mario, worship the ground he works on. I think "Molto Mario" is the greatest stand-and-stir cooking show that was ever on the Food Network. It was valuable and informative. Mario is good for the world as few chefs are. He's changed the landscape of restaurants in really great ways. He's used his celebrity constructively to move dining in America forward. That said, I hate that show. I think it's no fault of Mario's. I just think it's badly produced. There's nothing worse than seeing a genius like Mario -- he's the smartest, funniest guy I know -- waste his talent. I hope he had a great time making the show. And Mark Bittman, I don't think he adds value to anyone's TV show. He doesn't come off well on TV. Let's put it that way. I saw him make paella once on a TV show; he's been dead to me ever since.
On Iron Chef America:
I have a soft spot in my heart for this show. But the judges, man. Have they had Richard Grieco on yet as a judge? I think they had Criss Angel on, for chrissakes. Who are these douchebags they put on there? Jeffrey Steingarten at least knows what he's talking about. The show gets really good chefs to go on there, and to have them judged by the likes of Mo Rocca makes me want to vomit in my mouth. I like Michael Symon, and I'm friends with all the Iron Chefs. I like all of those guys.
On Paula Deen:
Paula strikes me as a hard-working, likable woman. I'm glad for her success. I like her Southern-based shows, but I don't know if I want to see her in a muumuu cooking a Hawaiian luau. That makes the blood run cold.
On Kitchen Nightmares:
The British "Kitchen Nightmares" is wonderful. It's much closer to the real Gordon than anything we've seen on American television. The American version is pretty good, though. I enjoy watching it. That's the Gordon I know and have a lot of respect for. The guy worked hard and came up hard. He worked like a maniac for some of the best chefs in Europe and did, in fact, achieve remarkable things in England. I love his restaurants. I like him. I wish him well. If having to be a caricature of his former self is going to get him bazillions of dollars, then why not?
On Hell's Kitchen:
Gordon doesn't get much love and respect in the States from his peers. No one really gives a damn about his restaurants here. This show is a freak show. It's a circus of cruelty, like shooting fish in a barrel with a cut-down 12-gauge shotgun. There's no cooking. It's just a bunch of dimwits -- the lame, the halt and the delusional -- and him pretending to be angry. There's no suspense. None of these idiots would be qualified to work a Fryolator at a Chuck E. Cheese much less ever work in any Gordon Ramsay restaurant. The whole concept of the show is ridiculous. He would never hire these guys. Executive chef at one of his restaurants? I mean, please.
On Emeril Lagasse:
I like Emeril a lot. We get along. We hang out. I love his work and restaurants. I love hanging out and drinking with the guy. But I've told him to his face many times, "I love you and respect you. I just hate your shows." I guess I'm not a guy who could handle a studio audience. Emeril's just so damned lovable. But compared to who's on Food Network now, he looks like Escoffier. In retrospect, that was pretty distinguished stuff compared to what that network's doing now.
On Man v. Food:
I find Adam really likable. I just worry for him physically. What he does on the show can't be good for him. I don't know why or how he's doing what he's doing. I'm not sure I want to watch. It's terrifying. I don't know how I feel about it all yet. I asked someone on the network, "Did this guy sign a 30-page liability waiver? You're going to kill this guy!"
On Rachael Ray:
Rachael Ray now is a talk-show host. My wife watches her, I hate to admit it. She's America's little sister, because she's a likable person. I think people respond to her because of her personality and not her cooking, which is pretty damned awful. She's very nice, and I base this on no inside information: She's big now, like Oprah big; the sooner she stops cooking, the happier we'll both be.
On The Next Food Network Star:
It's an interesting window into the cynical and terrifying real criteria of how they grow their own talent on Food Network. I mean, they're pretty straight-forward about what you've got to do and who you've got to please and what the real priorities are to get a show there. You see the shear naked ambition of these often minimally talented cooks with the maximum ambitions of being television. The way they're judged is unattractive but fascinating just the same. You really see the process though: Media training trumps cooking every time. I used to be on the Food Network, but I think I slipped under the wire. The network at that point used to be run by a cabal of people getting bored with their own programming. For whatever reason, they gave me two years of traveling wherever I wanted, doing pretty much what I've been doing on "No Reservations." After two years, they wanted me riding around on a pony in a parking lot doing chili cook-offs instead of going to foreign countries. My feeling was, "Let someone else do that."
On Martha Stewart:
I may not want to crochet or bring out the old glue gun, but Martha cooks correctly. If you watch her cook, she cooks with great proficiency and economy of movement. That's a stone-cold efficiency that, as a professional, I gotta respect. She cooks well. The recipes on her show work. She doesn't dumb down her food. She raises expectations. Meaning, if you watch her cook, you might actually learn something and your fight might actually be better than it was the day before. That can't be said of other people.
On Semi-Homemade Cooking With Sandra Lee:
She makes her audience feel good about themselves. You watch her on that show and you think, "I can do that. That's not intimidating." All you have to do is waddle into the kitchen, open a can of crap and spread it on some other crap that you bought at the supermarket. And then you've done something really special. The most terrifying thing I've seen is her making a Kwanzaa cake. Watch that clip and tell me your eyeballs don't burst into flames. It's a war crime on television. You'll scream.
On Good Eats With Alton Brown:
It's an anomaly that his show is so informative. That's a pretty brainy show. I'm shocked that it's been on that long. Usually, anything remotely intelligent on the Food Network gets canceled. I don't know what happened, but he's on every other show on that network now. He legitimizes even their most atrocious product. He's kind of the front man for some of the various dubious enterprises. I think "Good Eats" is a good and smart show. His commentary on "Iron Chef" doesn't suck. You actually learn something! Of the Food Network personalities, he's a welcome anomaly.
On Top Chef:
I'm a fan. I like watching the show, even at its worst. I like being on the show as a judge. I watch that show because Tom Colicchio makes that show for me. First of all, they ask the chefs to do very difficult things; it is a genuine challenge that requires people to dig really deep. From a professional point of view, it's exciting for me. It's a good quality competition. It's the best cooking competition on television by far. It's due entirely to Tom. He keeps the show straight; no producer is ever going to go up to Tom and say, "We can't send her home this week because she's cute or she's got a good backstory." By virtue of his personality and his impeccable credentials, Tom makes the show riveting viewing. Toby Young, what's up with that? He's an egregious add-on. They were looking for a snarky British guy, and Toby wrote a successful book that made a good case for his uselessness. He's lived up to that promise.
On The Chopping Block:
There's something very Michael Corleone about Marco; he doesn't have to yell or scream like Gordon. This is a guy with enormous moral authority. It's interesting to note the relationship between the two of them. Marco is a natural-born genius. He's the original rock 'n' roll chef; he brought glamour and a sense of self-worth to all non-French-speaking chefs the world over. He's a revolutionary figure. He doesn't have to yell. But he can be deeply terrifying by just raising an eyebrow. Marco can walk into a room full of strangers and bark out a command, and everyone would do it, no matter what he asked. He's got a real commanding presence. He's physically imposing; he looks like a Venetian prince. He's just somebody born to authority. He is a legend to young culinary students and chefs of my generation. He's doing the show because, having never traveled seriously before, he likes it here. And he may enjoy sticking it to Gordon. I'm really looking forward to watching this because Marco just kicks ass.