The State of “Food”

The Gourmand & I do not have cable. When we have access to cable, we are only interested in a handful of channels and on those, only a handful of shows, namely Good Eats on the Food Network, and Dirty Jobs and Myth Busters on Discovery. I can watch any documentary about anything except war so we scan the channels for those, old romantic movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Sponge Bob Squarepants.

Sponge Bob aside, the other selections have a common thread: they unfold slowly. They tell a story and the viewer is engaged in the outcome and wants to see the end, even if I have to hold my eyelids open with toothpicks to stay awake.

In Savannah, our hotel room had cable and while the Gourmand was in the shower, I turned on the Food Network. Rachael Ray was ending and Nigella Express was starting. Rachael Ray (Oprah and some very good publicists) have built a billion dollar empire on do-it-yourself fast fast fast american cookery.

My first exposure to Nigella Lawson was through her show “Nigella Bites” where this beautiful, statuesque woman poured over the food in the most sensual and provocative way, one left the room wondering why they suddenly felt so… hot!

This was years ago though, and this weekend, in Savannah, I watched Nigella Express, aghast. Her “challenge” had something to do with last minute entertaining from her pantry ingredients. She was breathless, but not sexy, much heavier than I remember and was clearly appealing to the Rachael Ray set, assuming they hadn’t yet changed the channel.

Nigella’s recipe went something like this:

Take a brick of Halloumi cheese (standard in your pantry?) and make thick slices. Lay them down in a jelly roll pan slick with olive oil. Add whole merguez sausages, and whole roasted red peppers, both straight from their packaging. Bake and serve.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this dish – I’ve cobbled together similar with questionable results. The problem is that it was aired on the Food Network! I started to look through the schedule of upcoming programs and everyone of them was competitive, either against another human being or against the clock.

Gone, it seems, are the days of love of kitchen and food. Now, success comes in serving pre-packed and processed foods and serving them up fast.

I for one still love to be in the kitchen. To pour over a slowly unfolding drama of shallots in butter, the hiss of fresh greens in a hot pan, the sizzle of meat on grill. To listen to the sounds of boiling water and garlic being mashed to a salty paste, that is where the love of food resides. Plating a dish and serving my friends and family on schedule is merely icing, but of course, I don’t get paid in advertising dollars.

I hold out for cable and watch “my programs” at family and friends’ homes (I cooked, after all!) I pray that Alton Brown and the rest will maintain their integrity in the face of the Food Network monstrosity or find a home on public television beside Julia Child and Jacques P├ępin, Mario Batali and Mark Bittman.

I hope the executives at the Food Network notice that they are losing their base demographic, or I realize that there, I no longer fit into the viewer profile.

  • Julie

    Here’s to people doing things with their hands, and appreciating the steps… and also to great food writing.