So lately I've been addicted to the Food Network. Now, if you watch the network already, you can understand my addiction. If you don't watch already, you probably have images of Julia Child or stuffy soufles or maybe Rachel Ray just bugs the crap out of you. Sure, there are a lot of annoying chefs on that channel (can you say "Bam!"? I can, but I refuse to support Emeril. Ever.), but there are also some talented and appealing hosts, not to mention some highly entertaining programming. Here's a breakdown of what to watch on one of the only channels that makes me feel like I'm learning something I can apply to my everyday life.
The Secret Life of . . .
Next to The Soup's Joel McHale, and the hosts of "Cheap Seats" on ESPN Classic, Jim O'Connor may be one of the most appealing personalities on cable television. Though not as satirically biting as those other guys, he's always smiling, he's quick-witted, and he genuinely enjoys his job--including the food that he tastes. "The Secret Life of" explores the history, the meaning, and the preparation behind common (and not-so-common) foods. Just recently I watched an episode devoted to hot dogs, and I finally learned the difference between a New York Dog (sauerkraut and fried onions) and a Chicago Dog (mustard, relish, onion, pickle, tomato, peppers, and a poppyseed bun). This is information that I can use!
Iron Chef (and the less enjoyable Iron Chef America)
If you, like me, are any kind of pop culture afficianado, you already know about these shows. Lately the Food Network has been pushing the American version, but for real entertainment check out the Japanese original. The concept is simple: a rich Japanese eccentric, dedicated to the concept of amazing cuisine (have you seen him bite into that raw bell pepper?) builds Kitchen Stadium, where challengers face off against the premier chefs of a variety of cuisines with only 60 minutes and one mystery ingredient to create the best meal they can. NBC is apparently ripping off this show with their less-appealing Celebrity Cook-Off (or something like that) this week. Skip it and TiVo reruns of the Japanese show instead. Believe me, with the ridiculous voice-overs, the strange concoctions, and the absolute frenzy and seriousness with which the show presents itself, you can't help but laugh. This is quality entertainment.
Paula's Home Cooking
Best enjoyed on a lazy Saturday afternoon, Paula cooks the Southern comfort food that you know you want to try and that will undoubtedly destroy your arteries. Everything includes a ton of butter and real cream, but don't let that keep you away. The hostess is Southern hospitality embodied, and she enjoys tasting her dishes as much as she enjoys preparing them. Amelia and I have decided that if we ever visit the South we'll go out of our way to find her restaurant.
I'll be the first to admit, I have to be in the right mood to enjoy Alton Brown. The guy is unstoppably cheesy, and at times the jokes on the show just fall flat. But Alton explains the science behind what we take for granted: why certain pans heat better than others, why the wrong temperature can ruin a meal, and why certain meats cook faster than others. I have one of his cookbooks (pictured left) and while I'm no master at his more complicated meals, I have learned how to cook perfect baked potatoes. Plus, the book reads like an entertaining science book, with helpful hints and equipment guides that other cookbooks just don't have. It's the one cookbook I can just sit down and read, whether I'm getting ready to cook or not. The show, when it works, is excellent. And when it doesn't . . . well, that's what remotes are for.
So there you have it. A few reasons to tune in and enjoy one of the most entertaining channels on television. On top of all that, there's reality tv (The Next Food Network Star) if that's your thing, there's classier fare (Everyday Italian) if you're trying to impress, and there are countless specials on America's crazy culture of food, from BBQ contests to tours of candy factories. If even a small part of you enjoys cooking, give it a try. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.