October 4, 2009: It's no small statement to say that Food Network has changed my life.
It all began in the summer of '08. It was a kinder, gentler time, before the fast-paced ways of modern life sought to squelch the stable serenity of level-minded, short-thinking people like myself. Our family was crossing the country, as people were wont to do in those days, except we were doing it backwards and this confused all of us.
My little girl took sick with the grip in Albuquerque, so while the rest of the family went out foraging for food and entertainment, we stayed in the hotel and watched the Food Network for 12 straight hours. It was a remarkable time. In between fits of vomiting, my seven-year old described her preferences for certain shows, her appreciation of Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri, and her suspicions surrounding the glossy veneers of both Sandra Lee and Paula Dean.
It wasn't long before I was hooked, and by the time we reached Boulder, the kids and I were completely absorbed in that summer's battle for the Next Food Network Star. (Aaron McCargo won, and while my daughter preferred Adam, and I, Lisa (despite her awful mock commercial in Vegas, and that austere Nazi haircut), the race card clearly settled the difference in a close three-way race. (Lisa, incidentally, is conspicuously absent from the Food Network's "Where Are They Now?" web page featuring the Season 4 finalists. Coincidence? I don't think so! I think we all remember her oft-aired remark in the commercial for the final show -- "There's no room for error!" But was she actually saying "error" ... or "Aaron!" The question remains for many of us: Was this attractive, short-tempered, Nazi-coifed cook a racist? I'll leave that for you to decide ...)
But as if all that intrigue and action weren't enough, inspired by the awesome work of Mr. Fieri, we made four sidetrips to different Diners, Drive-ins and Dives he'd reviewed, and while one left my son vomiting in the car through most of New Jersey, it was an exciting and heart-warming chance to touch the earth upon which Guy had tread. I consider him the Chris Toelken of the kitchen.
My personal FN favorite remains Alton Brown, whom I consider a genius of his craft. His pancake recipe is a weekly staple of mine, and I've twice had outstanding results with his chili. My daughter considers him a "nerd," and while he gave me the creeps when I saw his first show on smoking, I've come to love him as a sort of garrulous gay uncle with no patience for anyone who doesn't use kosher salt.
I also admire Bobby Flay, though he dismissed me when I yelled across the room at him at the Mohegan Sun. Despite almost always losing his Throwdowns and Iron Chef battles, he's clearly a wealth of knowledge and dour New York-style sensibility. (And speaking of Iron Chef, how can you not love how the Chairman (whom I'm convinced doesn't even really know anything about food, but is just a fun guy) introduces each ingredient in his Martial Arts-style scream.
Of course, not all is good at FN. Paula Dean is the cooking equivalent of a greasy spoon, and while I loved her observation that cooking is a way of showing love, her recipes are vapid at best. Emil is a sham and a marketing concoction, as are some others whose cooking, knowledge and creativity, when held up to the likes of Brown, Flay, Fieri and other pros, shines an embarassing light on the Network. (I won't even comment on Lee's bizarre contribution.)
But despite the poor-taste offerings often pushed in the daytime, the FN continues to make food, and its preparation, the veritable artistic sporting event I enjoy it to be.
We're already hunkering down for The Next Iron Chef shows, and will be there when both Guy and Alton start their new seasons. I love the Food Network. I only wish I could force my eyes to vomit, in the Roman tradition, so I could keep watching more!