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The Perfect Roast

 

While there really is nothing wrong with getting a roast chicken from your local grocery store for about $5.99, there’s nothing like making your own roast.  For those who are cost conscious, making your own roast chicken will cost more than picking one up at Ralphs/Vons/Safeway.  Drive, park, walk in, pick up, and purchase.  Depending on the drive time, takes what?  10 minutes?  For your own roast, there’s the prep time and cook time that we could be doing something else.  We could be at the park, hiking, rocking climbing, or doing something that would be bring the heart rate to a healthy level.  But really, would we?  Or would we be staring at the computer, chatting on line, or in front of the TV, watching another episode in the adventures of Snookie?

A perfect roast chicken is really, the easiest thing to achieve.  It takes as little as 3 ingredients [whole chicken, salt, and pepper] or as many as you would like depending on the herbs you want to use [thyme and sage being the most popular].  In following Thomas Keller‘s Bouchon roast chicken, there is nothing easier to make.  Yes, you have to prep the bird.  Take out the wish bone so that after it’s done cooking, you can carve out that breast without hindrance [if you’re new to this, about 3 minutes].  Rinse and dry the bird [1 minute].  Truss the bird so it cooks evenly and keeps the breast moist [2 minutes tops if you’ve never done it].  Stick it on a large iron skillet [less than 10 seconds].  In the oven for about 40-50 minutes depending on the size of the bird or until the thickest area of the bird reads 160F.  This entire process will take a whopping 1 hour, 40-50 minutes of which you’re not even doing anything.  Let it stand for 15 minutes and chow.

Yes, this bird will run you closer to $10 and you might be asking, “Why should I buy an uncooked bird for $10 when I can get one for $6?”  No arguments here.  But to me, there’s nothing like seasoning my own bird, infusing different flavors each time, and just waiting for it to cook.  There’s nothing like knowing what went in flavoring the chicken.  Again, I’m just saying that cooking home-y foods need not be complicated.  The 3 ingredient roast chicken will be moist and above all things, really damn tasty.  Get in that kitchen and invest about 15 minutes of prep time to get the perfect roast chicken.  If you want to be fancy, cut up some root vegetables [carrots, celery, onions] and some russet or sweet potatoes and throw them in a roasting pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then put the chicken on top.  The natural juices of the chicken will get all over those potatoes and vegetables and coat them with savory goodness.  At the end of the 60-75 minutes, you’ll have a meal for 3-4.  Happy days.

 

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Gratuitous Egg

 

I can’t think of too many dishes out there, that given a choice of adding an egg, I wouldn’t at least think about it for a few seconds.  I am just sucker for eggs of any kind on practically any dish.  Recently, I went to Marche Moderne in Costa Mesa and they had a dish that was an Idaho trout with a fried egg on top over potato hash.  Need I say more?  Do I even need to tell my gentle readers what I ordered?  Club sandwich?  Gotta have an egg in there.  A burger?  Fried egg.  Egg salad sandwich?  Please.  If there’s an egg on the menu, I will at least think about ordering it, even if I order something else.

Watching an episode of No Reservations, where Anthony Bourdain is once again in Vietnam, I completely and utterly know what he is talking about when asked if he wanted a fried egg in his banh mi [Vietnamese sandwich].  He said, “When is a gratuitous egg NOT going to be good?”  When we go out to eat broken rice, I almost always get a fried egg on the side and I plop it over my rice.  Break the yoke and cut up the egg white over the rice to get that perfect consistency and taste.  A little fish sauce and it’s over for me.  I know a lot of people might think eggs in sandwiches, other than an egg salad sandwich, is weird and not that tasty.  All I can say is, “Don’t hate it until you’ve tried it.”  My wife thought, or maybe still thinks, a fried egg in a sandwich is weird.  But now, even though she doesn’t ask for it, when I make her a sandwich, she never complains and she never asks me to take it out.  The runny yolk in the sandwich is perfection.

If you still think I’m mad, Thomas Keller’s world’s greatest sandwich is a fried egg sandwich with bacon, tomato, and lettuce.  Can you really argue with that?  Here’s a toast to glorious eggs!

What’s Really In It?

I recently read Mark Bittman‘s piece on oatmeal on the NY Times website.  The article is really about how McDonald’s will do anything to get customers into their doors.  This time, they are trying to do it by offering what they consider, a healthy alternative to their already bloated calorie laden menu.  If what he writes is accurate, the new FMO [fruit maple oatmeal] has more sugar than a Snickers bar, only 10 less calories than a cheeseburger or egg mcmuffin and costs more than a double cheeseburger [at least in NY].  To add more fuel to the fire, the McDonald’s FMO cream “ingredient” has actually 7 ingredients, 2 of which are actually dairy.

We really, really, need to stop thinking that this is good for you.  Yes, you can ask McDonalds to take out the cream, the sugar, the dried fruits and “customize” it the way you want.  But think about this, in the time it takes to drive or walk to McDonalds, wait in line, and wait for your FMO that’s calorie rich and sugar heavy, you could have had a nice bowl of healthy oatmeal at home.  Or if you’re in a rush, boil the water, pour the oats in the pot, get ready for work and dump the whole thing in a Glad plasticware and bring it to work.  Still better for you and you can at least see moderate the amount of “goodness” going into your bowl of goodness.  Making good oatmeal really takes 2 items: water and oats.  That’s it.  Boil the water, add the oats, reduce heat and let it simmer.  If you want to put some honey in there to sweeten it up, go for it.  But just remember, McDonald’s “cream” has SEVEN ingredients.  Just so you don’t think I’m making this up, it’s listed in McDonald’s website: milk, cream, sodium phosphate, datem, sodium stearoyl lactylate, sodium citrate, carrageenan.

I wasn’t aware of this before reading the article, but did you know that McDonald’s yearly sales of $16.5B is just under the GDP of Afghanistan.  Do we really want to hand over another $2.50 to a corporation who’s sole purpose is to get people to eat crappy food and make us feel like it’s worth it?

Trucks and More Trucks

 

 

Food trucks have been a part of our food landscape for a while, but we used to know them as “roach coaches”.  A truck where you can get tacos, sandwiches, burritos, and almost anything fried.  Those days, clearly, are gone.  Kogi has upped the ante.  And they’ve placed the bar rather high.  With the use of Twitter to tell potential diners where they will be, and an infusion of Korean and Mexican cuisine, I’m not sure where we go from here with “roach coaches”.  Now, there are food trucks galore.  The Nom-Nom [Vietnamese Bahn Mi], Grilled Cheese, and numerous knock offs, it’s almost overwhelming.

But the thing with these new trucks is that they’re not what you would consider “cheap” foods.  A good size meal at a Kogi truck could ring you up $10-$12 with a drink.  And you don’t get to sit, unless you find a nice rock or a comfy curb.    But what you do get is a much better quality in the food that we grew up.  For one, I am really happy to know that there are dozens and dozens of these little mobile kitchens all over SoCal.  I realize that these food trucks aren’t for everyone, but of the ones I’ve eaten, they really are doing something to be excited about.  It’s not going to blow the Michelin guide reviewer’s hats off…yet.  While I don’t think the Michelin Guide would ever pay attention to these food trucks, I hope that they continue to churn out good food.  I would certainly pay $10-$12 from a Kogi truck than to pay the same amount at a big box restaurant if I can help it.

 

Where Our Food Comes From

The Travel Channel has a new show called, “The Wild Within“.  In watching two of the episodes, I’ve seen Steven Rinella [above, right] travel down the Missouri River in Montana as Lewis and Clark would have and go to Molokai to hunt food for the traditional community meal.  What I’ve liked about Rinella is his total respect for the animals he hunts and kills for food.  Yes, it’s a TV show and yes, I’m sure he gets paid well for doing what he does.  But in the Lewis and Clark episode, he and his brother were hunting and find a freshly killed antelope with half of its carcass butchered and hauled away.  He tells his brother that it sickens him when people kill an animal and not even respect the life it lived by taking what they want and leaving the rest of the carcass where it was killed.  He finishes that comment by saying if he saw the guy who killed the antelope, he would taken a shot at him himself.  That kind of respect isn’t just him pontificating the circle of life.  You can see the sincerity in his face that even though he hunts for food, he respects the life in which that animal was killed.  In the same episode, he uses the same model of flint rifle as Lewis and Clark would have used to hunt buffalo.  Because it’s not a modern rifle, he has to get much closer to the animals than he would otherwise.  With the help of a ranger, he is able to kill the buffalo with one shot.  As he says, a clean kill.  You never want to mindlessly shoot at an animal and leave it to suffer.  One shot.  Before he skins and butchers the animal, he and ranger perform a kind of ritual to pay their respect to that buffalo.  Rinella then skins and butchers all 800 pounds of meat, giving most of it to the local reservations while he takes a few pounds to his next destination.

This is where our food comes from.  It doesn’t matter that you and I don’t eat antelope or buffalo.  I know that we no longer “hunt” for our meats.  There are chicken farms and cattle ranches.  Slaughter houses are used to kill these animals and saran-wrap them for our benefit.  I’m not advocating that before we eat, we do a ritual in our kitchen to pay our respects to the animals that has been killed for our consumption.  What I am saying is that we ought to understand the process in which a life is taken for our survival.  And in this country, for many of us, it’s not survival as it is entertainment.  Maybe we take for granted the braised beef cheek with celery root puree a little too much.  We are only now embracing parts like beef tongue, bone marrow, and beef cheeks as haute cuisine.   100 years ago, these would be the foods the lower class would eat while the rich would devour themselves on tenderloins and filets.  There’s a point in the Hawaii episode when Rinella goes on to hunt wild boar on Molokai.  He has a local [above, left] lead them with tracking dogs and pit bulls to find these boars.  The track dogs sniff out the boars and when they do, they bark and howl.  Then the pit bulls follow to attack the boars and hold it down long enough for the hunters to come and take one of its legs and stab the boar for the kill.  Rinella says that because he’s a meat eater, it’s morally important for him to reach down in his stomach to do the very thing that will provide meat for his consumption.  And when faced with the boar, he found himself at a crossroad.  Does he look on or does he stab the boar?  After the hunt is over, Rinella is slouched over and the look on his face says it all.  It tells the viewer that killing the animal you are to consume at close range is a very, very difficult thing to do.  It’s not that the boar is an endangered species, but it’s that with your hands, you are taking a life away, even if that life was there for us to consume.  Rinella looked gutted.  He says he will never forget what it’s like to kill this animal with a knife in his hands.  And I believe him.  I couldn’t do it.  If someone were to tell me to kill a pig, I would think of Babe.  If someone were to tell me to kill a cow, I would think of all those Gary Larson cartoons.  It’s a very difficult thing to do and I hope I don’t have to ever be in that position to do it.  It’s the biggest reason why I don’t go hunting.

I realize that I don’t pay that much attention to where my meat comes from.  To me, they come from the grocery store.  But it’s deeper than that.  Because I don’t have to hunt for my food, I take things for granted.  I love what Gordon Ramsay does on his show, “The F Word”.  He makes his kids raise turkeys and pigs for 3-4 months only to have them take the animals to the slaughter house.  He wants them to grow up knowing where the meta they eat come from.  He wants them to respect the life that was taken for them to satisfy their hunger.  He also wants them to know it’s OK to eat that meat.  Those animals are there for us to eat, but to respect the animal to know where it came from.  And for me, it’s a way at least, to not be so wasteful.  Buy what we need.  Cook what we need.  Respect the life that was taken and understand that there’s a lot more going on then just reaching in that refrigerated section at the grocery store.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Indonesia.  I think the last time I was there was when I was 7 years old and we went to the Island of Bali.  I know a lot has changed since then and even my old co-worker, who is a Chinese immigrant from Indonesia told me, “Your version of Bali doesn’t exist anymore.  It’s more built out now and the rural areas where you used to visit as a little kid is gone.”  It’s sad, although understandable, the landscape of beautiful islands around the world changes.  Due to high demand of tourism and money to be made, it’s understandable for these areas to be built out with fancy hotels and shopping malls.  As these areas get built out, it’s only natural for the cuisines to change and for new chefs to introduce new ingredients to what was already a brilliant way of cooking in Indonesia.  While I remember, from my childhood, dishes like gado-gado, spicy fried chicken, and petai [Indonesian broad beans], I know that these “national” dishes have had their share of evolution.  But for me, it will always be dishes like beef rendeng, gado-gado, nasi goreng, and chicken curry, that will be most Indonesian.

Here in LA, it’s really, really difficult to find Indonesian food.  And the Indonesian food we do find are lumped in with Singaporean or Malay food because of their similarities.  When we recently went to 3rd Street Farmer’s Market and saw a stand called “Singapore’s Banana Leaf” and the word underneath the name “Indonesian”, nothing else mattered.  I didn’t care that there was a Tapas place next door or that behind me was what seemed like quite an authentic Mexican joint.  I was focused and centered on getting some Indonesian food.  It’s so hard for me to choose which basic Indonesian food to get.  It’s one of those times when you haven’t seen a food for so long you just want to eat what you love most instead of trying new fusion or versions of it.  For those who haven’t had the chance to try Indonesian food, I am sure many of already had it without knowing it.  The world famous [literally] satay originated from Indonesian and to this day, there is nothing like a true Indonesian chicken or beef satay.  I’ve had my fair share of Thai chicken and satay, and while good, it doesn’t compare to the Indonesian version.

Of course it brings back some childhood memories.  It also brings back an Indonesian restaurant our family loves in Hong Kong whenever we go back.  The Indonesian Restaurant on Granville Road on the Kowloon side may not be the best Indonesian restaurant in Hong Kong, but it holds a special place in our hearts.  We went back there in 2009 when we visited Hong Kong.  I know as long as it is open, we will continue to have at least one meal there when we visit.  Always looking for Indonesian food.  Always hoping that the Indonesian food I find will be half way decent.  Singapore’s Banana Leaf is decent – it doesn’t have the same exact flavors I remember, but to find it in LA is a treat in itself.

National Snack Month

A day after the US Government gave a stern recommendation that Americans eat less and better foods, the snack food lobby, whose main goal is to get Americans to eat more unhealthy snacks, declared February as “National Snack Month”.  It’s grotesque to me that these corporate lobbyist do not care about the health of their family and friends.  Or if they do, they don’t care about everyone else’s but their own.  We don’t need another “snack day” or “snack month”.  Isn’t enough that there are still millions of Americans who are out of work?  Isn’t it enough that Americans, by far, are the most obese out of all the nations on this planet?  Must we continue, as a way to make more money, kill our fellow citizens in pushing unhealthy snacks to our faces?

My wife has been working hard on the classes she’s been teaching and as she works, she likes to snack.  Isn’t it enough that as she walks by, she says of her Goldfish Xtra Cheddar snacks: “It’s extra cheddar because they put powder on top.”  [By the way, she wants everyone to know, that she is not obese!]  This isn’t to condemn anyone for buying snacks and eating snacks – snacks from Nabisco or the like.  I like it, you like, we all like it.  But where is the line drawn in reaping millions and millions of dollars in getting people to be obese in this country?  According to 20eat.org:

“Here’s the report’s headline number: $4.2 billion, which is how much the industry spent marketing its wares in 2010.

To put that amount in perspective, consider the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, the USDA’s sub-agency that “works to improve the health and well-being of Americans by developing and promoting dietary guidance that links scientific research to the nutrition needs of consumers.” Its annual budget? $6.5 million,according to The New York Times reporter Michael Moss.”

$4.2B and $6.5M.  How can we compete?  Part of it is educating ourselves to understand that while Goldfish snacks are not evil per se, we don’t need 3, 4, 5, or 6 packs of them as our daily snack ritual.  We have to undertand that while the Sunday coupons may give us an extra $0.50 off that Pepperidge Farm snack, it is still 4 or even 5 times more expensive than a bag of carrots, celery, apples, or grapes.  No, carrots and celery are not as sexy as a bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies, but it’s also a lie that we need to eat a bag of carrots to stave off starvation.  It’s a lie that we need to chomp on 3 or 4 Pepperidge Farm cookies and wash it down with a glass of chocolate milk as a snack to be fulfilled.  The amount of sugar in that snack is pushing our diabetic culture spiraling out of control.

It starts with us.  It starts with our generation where we can educate our kids and our kids’ generation that natural foods are good tasting.  But we also have to cook more.  Our kids will not understand the value of nutrition if we continue to call Dominoes and bring home McDonalds as a piss poor substitute of a family dinner.  The “Leave It To Beaver” generation of Sunday dinners are gone.  So far gone that less and less people eat at home on a weekly basis than ever before.  Watching Jamie Oliver‘s “Food Revolution” should wake us up when our kids do not know what a tomato or potato looks like.  As Jamie Oliver said in his TED Awards speech: “[Clutching a fistful of french fries] This is not a vegetable.”  To end this blog with this quote from John Seymour seem to bring it all together for our culture:

“Undoubtedly there is much labor in the preparation of meals from fresh ingredients. To shell a bushel of peas, for example, takes a long while and you can do nothing else at the same time. But those of us who are privileged to live in a home where the ancient skills of preparing and cooking food are still carried out often wonder, as we contemplate another culinary delight, if the time saved by the “modern” housewife is really worth it. For, my God, what a world of difference there is in taste between the heated-up instant meal and the meal that is carefully prepared and cooked from fresh ingredients.”
– John Seymour, Forgotten Household Crafts

Traveling With Reckless Abandon

 

Italy.  Milano.  Firenze.  Roma.  Venezia.  Those were the cities the misses and I visited during our trip during the summer of 2008.  There are many memories that come to mind when I reflect on that trip.  It certainly created a lot of memories for me/us as we had the privilege of going a country that I have always loved.  This time around, I was not on a coach bus on a tour, chasing the many wonderful parts of these cities like a group of cattle being herded by a tour director.  This time, we went on our own.  Booking flights, hotels, finding transportation, and all in all, being on our own to find sustenance.  I’ve written here before about our experiences with pizza and gelato,  but it’s this experience of traveling outside the confines of a set tour that has made a deep impression on what it means to be traveler and not a tourist.

The picture above was taken from the Ponte Vecchio of Florence along the Arno River.  A hot day in June, where the sun beat down on a city and its people with full intensity.  On most tours, you would be lucky to have seen the Ponte Vecchio from afar, let alone walking through it.  The fast pace whirl of visiting the Academia [Statue of David] take much of the day that many tours do not even take people into the Uffizi.  After the Academia, you would be whisked away to go shopping for leather goods and gold.  After which, you’re thrown back on the bus that take you to the outskirts of the city where you have a meal at the hotel and call it quits on Florence.

Through our travel through Italy, our friends F & E lent us their little Peugeot, a 2 door hatchback [above] that took us from Milan to Cecina [80km southwest of Florence where we stayed] to Rome and back.  With this little engine that could, we survived driving through most of Italy like we would have never been able to see on any tour.  That little car took us along the coast of Italy down to the Eternal City where once we were able to find our hotel, rested for a week before we took it all the way back to Milan.  This was the first time I/we had ever done anything like that outside the States and it made me/us more confident that in the future, we can do the same.  Driving through Rome with its thousands of scooters coming right along side of your car was both scary and exhilarating.  The city breathes its warm breath through the twists and turn of the streets that took us into the historic part of Rome along the Tiber River.

To travel is to do what all Nike commercials have been imploring us to do for years.  Just do it.  While I realize that for 99% of us, money stops us from doing everything we may want, doing what is within our means is worth all the pennies in heaven.  Our wild and crazy ride from Cecina to Rome, 278km of Italian roadway and countryside.  I know in many ways, we could have been more “reckless” in our travels.  We didn’t do anything crazy and we didn’t get in trouble.  I guess that’s not what I mean by “reckless”.  What I mean is to go off the beaten path, even if that path turns out to be a dud.  We certainly had our share of that on our trip.  We double backed on many roads and got lost many times.  We were tired, hot, thirsty, and just wanted beverages with ice.  But none of that mattered as we went through each city with open hearts.  We got to see and experience things that a tour could never have offered.  We spent over 1.5 hours in the Sistine Chapel alone.  At one point, we just sat there for about 20 minutes.  Taking in all of Michelangelo’s work, unencumbered by time.   We took our time in the Academia, totaling over 1.5 hour while many tours whisk you in and out in 25 minutes.  We sat at the Spanish Steps for about 30 minutes, resting from an otherwise tiring day of shopping and eating.  Many tours wouldn’t have even dropped you off to walk on the steps.

I know at some point in our lives, we will need to take tours and cruises.  No longer will we have the energy and vigor to double back and explore as when we were young.  But until that time I hope we continue to travel this way.  Getting lost in a city because it’s the best way to get to know a city.  And for that, I’m glad that little Peugeot took us to places along the way we never would have otherwise ventured.  It was sad to say goodbye to her when we returned to Milan.  She was good to us.  She was good for us.

Stiff Competition

I had never heard of the Bocuse d’Or competition until I it on Top Chef as a prize for winning an elimination challenge to be part of the team.  It’s clearly the top cooking competition in the world.  Yes, even more so than the Iron Chef America.  It’s really the cooking Olympics of the culinary world.  It’s named after Paul Bocuse, the then president of Salon des Métiers de Bouche [Culinary Sector Exhibition and Trade Fair].  This was one of the first, if not the original cooking competition where the cooking is live, with preparation and presentation of dishes in front of an audience.  The first competition took place in 1987, and as it evolved, so had the audience.  By 1997, in support of Mexico, there were marachi bands, foghorns, cowbells, etc. rooting on their compadres.  This competition takes place every 2 years and 2011 is the year of the Bucose d’Or.

The competition starts with 24 countries in the World Finals and each team consists of 2 chefs, 1 head chef and 1 sous/commis [who must be under 22 years of age at the time of the competition].  The competitors have 5 hours and 35 minutes to prepare 1 meat and 1 fish dish.  No food can be prepared [no cutting, no pre made stocks] ahead of time.  24 judges judge each team based on cooking technique, presentation, sophistication, creativity, and visual beauty.  Clearly, this isn’t something to be taken lightly and it’s a tremendous honor to win.

Having taking place in France until just recently, it’s no surprise that the home country has taken home the top prize 6 times.  Other European siblings such as Belgium, Norway, and Sweden have all faired well over the years.  America has never finished in the top 3.  Ever.  Highest finish for us is 6th place.  This year was no different.  The winner this year was Rasmus Kofoed of Denmark.  Rounding out the top three are chefs from Sweden and Norway.  Gavin Kaysen has represented the US in 2009, but this time, it was up to James Kent.  It just wasn’t his, or the USA’s, year.  Chef James Kent finished in 10th place.  Several food writers have been writing about the event and the aftermath, and it looks as though Chef Gavin Kaysen is particular devastated this year as the Coach.  Eater and Michael Rulman have both posted good articles about the Bocuse this year and after reading it, I realize just how much pressure and stress goes into the preparation of the event and in 5.5 hours, it’s all over.

I wonder where it stops.  Is it not enough that we have the coveted Michelin Stars, the pressure in attaining and keeping it.  The pressure of just surviving in an industry that has a failure rate near 60%-70%.  I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, while it would be great to see the US take home the Bocuse d’Or, I’m quite happy eating away at a French Laundry, a Per Se, Lolita, Momofuku, and the like.  It doesn’t matter to me that none these world class chefs have never represented the US at the Bocuse d’Or.   I’m happy living in my bubble, where good food is easy to find, but great food transforms an experience to something special.  And even though Chef James Kent didn’t win the Bocuse d’Or, I know his restaurant Eleven Madison Park is amazing and a must try for me when we go back to New York.

Sad State of Affairs

 

I still watch the Food Network, although the love affair has been gone for a while.  What sealed the deal for me was the latest viewing of only half of a new show.  Restaurant: Impossible is another underwhelming, unoriginal idea from this network.  If it were an original idea, it might have been good.  But clearly, the producers of this network are running out of ideas.  And fast.  Restaurant: Impossible has a simple premise.  Robert Irvine, the infamous chef of Dinner: Impossible, takes a fledgling restaurant and tries to turn it around in 24 hours.  If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s already been done.  It’s been done superbly by the BBC’s original version of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares.  The only difference of the British version is that Gordon Ramsay takes 7 days, rather then 24 hours to turn a restaurant around.

I’ve never been shy about stating that I’ve never worked in the food industry.  Never walked into a professional kitchen.  So all of these opinions I have do not come from any experience in running or cooking in a kitchen.  These restaurants, as far as I can tell, are real restaurants with real hard working people.  To try and turn it all around in 24 hours is not serving these hard working families because it takes weeks, if not months to do this in the “real world”.  As it were, Gordon Ramsay has already stated that it’s a gut wrenching show for him as he has developed ulcers in trying to turn these kitchen nightmares into successes.  And some, after he has put his stamp on them, have even closed after he leaves.  I fully understand that the people sign up willingly to be on a show like Restaurant: Impossible, but for Food TV, it feels less about the owners of the restaurants then it is trying to put Robert Irvine front and center in its Americanized, watered down version of Kitchen Nightmares.  And to take people’s livelihoods and try to change it all in 24 hours and then leave to have them “sink or swim” is both maniacal and self serving.  This is the latest hackneyed concoction of another unoriginal idea from the Food Network.

While Anthony Bourdain may have his own flaws, he correctly stated that while the network deserves all the successes they’ve had, they are indeed an evil empire.  When he was approached by the network to do a cross country trek to rate the best BBQ fairs in the US after he hit it big with “A Cook’s Tour”, he clearly saw the light.  He turned that down and realized that no one wanted to see him trekking cross country in his cowboy boots, eating BBQ ribs and brisket and determine which fairs are the best.  But more importantly, he never once wanted to have anything to do with that.  But “they” kept pushing him.  And then he found a new home in the Travel Channel to do what he really wanted to do.  And the rest is, as they say, history.

A lot of these shows are rehashed ideas over and over again with different makeup.  Iron Chef America is clearly a complete and utter rip off of the classic Japanese Iron Chef [at least they’re not shy about that].  No more needs to be written about Restaurant: Impossible.  The now defunct Tyler’s Ultimate is a knock off of A Cook’s Tour with a twist at the end where he cooks the dish he’s traveled the world to eat.  Barefoot Contessa, Everyday Italian, Giada’s Home Cooking all seem the same to me.  Take a successful woman, put her in a fab house and let her cook, all the while having orgasmic reaction to food while saying, “How easy is that?”  The Next Food Network Stars and The Next Iron Chef America are very, very poor versions of Top Chef and Top Chef Masters, respectively.  Is it just me, or isn’t it telling that it’s “The Next Food Network Star”, rather than “The Next Food Network Chef”.  And poor Robert Irvine and Ann Burrell.  To have them slave away at a show called “America’s Worst Cooks” is almost agonizing to watch.  And don’t get me started on Cupcake Wars.  Really?  When did cupcakes ever float up to the top of the food chain?  And the judges make it seem like it it’s haute cuisine.  It’s a freakin’ cake.  But smaller.  Next!  The thing they did get right was to finally cancel Ace of Cakes.  While a few episodes of what they can do with fondant is cool, we get it.  You can artistically make anything out of cake and fondant.  No need to bludgeon us to death with it.

So, where do we go from here?  As far as I can tell, Food TV has left the building.  It left the building about 3 years ago.  Even Bourdain’s early hatred of Emeril Lagasse has disappeared when FoodTV dropped the most popular show it ever had without a public “thank you” to the one chef who made the network.  That’s the true shame of it all.  So here’s to you Food Network and your tepid and unoriginal shows.  Because while the producers are around a meeting room trying to convince Mario Batali to do another knockoff of Bobby Flay’s “Throwdown”, I’ll be watching Top Chef on Bravo.