Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Food Network Rises Again

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, the Food Network was worth watching.  There were real chefs with real shows, topics explored that did not include drive-ins and diners and dishes featured that had origins outside of the United States.  But then, gradually, a new breed of show moved in, and the neighborhood changed.  Canned foods became ingredients, dinners were made in thirty minutes and Noho Star was outed as one of New York's hidden gems.  Now I won't deny that I enjoy Noho Star's margaritas (a lot) on occasion, but has anyone who's lived in this city for more than five minutes NOT heard of this place?

Many hung their heads in despair at the changes that had taken place, and wondered, will it ever get better?  Well, if the new crop of shows is any indication, things are definitely looking up.

I find The Chef Jeff Project, a show about teaching underprivileged young people to cook professionally, to be totally heartwarming and kind of inspiring.  I haven't quite made up my mind yet about Alex Guarnaschelli's The Cooking Loft, but her food looks good and she's pretty charming.  But my favorite?  The show I think will lead the channel towards salvation?  Anne Burrell's Secrets of a Restaurant Chef.

I remember noticing Anne Burrell for the first time back when Mario Batali was still on Iron Chef America.  She was his sous chef on most episodes, and what struck me was that despite Mario's huge personality, she still stood out.  Maybe it was the cropped bleached hair, but more likely it was due to the fact that she is just very sassafras...she's got a personality that can't help but shine through.  

Turns out she can cook too.  A protege of the corpulent Mario, she finally opened her own place, Centro Vinoteca, a year or two ago.  New York diners saw what she could do at that point  and now, thanks to her show, so will the rest of America.

First of all, everything she makes looks delicious.  I can practically smell it through the TV...especially those shortribs she made yesterday morning.  God they looked good.  And so appropriate for the grey weather!

Secondly, she cracks me up.  She's like that really fun but kind of eccentric midwestern transplant friend who lacks the filter between her brain and her mouth.  She'll tell you to "brown the crap out of [your shortribs]", to pour off excess grease to avoid "an Exxon Valdez slick" on your stew and if she wants you to ignore something for a while, she'll tell you to "treat it like a stepchild".  Plus she punctuates all of these Burrellisms with a weirdly endearing guttural growl....kind of like what  jazz singers do when they're at an emotional crescendo.

Now I would just like to point out that yes, I realize this show is in its second season already (I believe the first season consisted of six or so episodes over the summer).  But I write about it now because a) The Food Network picked the show up for real only after the first season and b) I think Ms. Burrell has really hit her stride with the second season.

So set your DVRs for 9:30 on Saturday morning and prepare to see the redemption of a network.

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