Saturday, March 14, 2009

Food shows I watch and master chefs (food, tv)

I don't watch cooking shows. I don't wish to replicate any recipes, and I am rarely wowed by the food being shown. The only exception is probably Lidia Bastianich's show, because her food looks so rustic and has that straight from her home passion to it. On the rare occasion when I do catch an episode of Iron Chef America, I usually just watch the presentation, eating, and judgement.

That being said, I do watch a lot of food shows. Shows that showcase fine food around the world that I might want to try some day. These are shows that I DVR because it's about food and its cultural importance. On the travel channel I watch Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and to satisfy my inner glutton, Man vs. Food. On the food network, there is only one show I DVR. Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives is my favorite show because it's a great showcase of good American food and the people who make it and the how these places become such an important part of a neighborhood. There is great American food out there. It's just hard to find even in the US itself, let alone the food that gets sent overseas being presented as American food.

Then there are the restaurant related shows. I watch these to see top chefs trying to inspire with their passion for food and how the restaurant business works. I've mentioned before that I enjoy Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares and Hell's Kitchen. Two other shows of this genre that I watch are NBC's new show, The Chopping Block, with Marco Pierre White, and Last Restaurant Standing on BBC America with Raymond Blanc.

These two chefs are not that well-known over here in the US, but both are amazing in their own way. Raymond Blanc has a two-Michelin star flagship restaurant in Oxford, and his passion for food can be seen very clearly throughout the show. I feel that he also truly cares about the people and tries his best to get the contestants to open their minds with regards to food and the business of running a restaurant. One of the most amazing things about him is that he never really worked under a master chef like many current top chefs have. He was also a key mentor to Marco Pierre White and took him to the next level. Here's a terrific article about the two of them reminiscing about MPW's year at Blanc's restaurant, Le Manoir:

Marco Pierre White. Before he was on NBC wagging his finger and going, "tsk tsk tsk", he was the man who brought English cooking to the highest level. He was, at the age of 33, the youngest recipient of 3 Michelin stars (a record since broken in 2002) and perhaps the first mainstream celebrity chef. He retired in 1999, right before the celebrity chef boom, and so there are many Americans who do not know who he is. Like Kurt Cobain, there are people who question whether his legendary status was overhyped due to a short career, as opposed to a fad that was going to fade away at some point.

I knew of Marco from the early 90's, when a 4 episode documentary-type show was shown in Hong Kong. That show ran once in the UK before Marco pulled it off the air. He didn't want to be on TV. He wanted to be the chef. Thanks to the wonders of the internet and youtube, you can find all 4 episodes online. While the show order begins with him cooking for Albert Roux:, I am most drawn to his meal with Raymond Blanc: . Just look at that amazing terrine, trotter, and dessert!! Please watch all 4 episodes if you love good food.

I found this series to be very interesting and strangely prophetic. He was only 27(!!!) at the time, and all the chefs knew that he was on his way to burning out at the pace he was going. There was also that part where MPW said that he wanted to be out of the business in 10 years and be in Italy. I also liked the part where he was blunt with Raymond about the fact that maybe 5% of his customers really knew and appreciated what was going on. Of course that number is much higher in the current culinary world than it was back then, but it's still probably on the low side. People don't understand guys like MPW. They understand guys like Jamie Oliver. But in terms of genius, I think they're worlds apart. It's also fun to watch a young Gordon Ramsay and Stephen Terry in his brigade. Heston Blumenthal also came through one of MPW's kitchens.

Speaking of Gordon Ramsay, I still like his shows and I believe he's the right fit for them. He's the drill sergeant. If you need a restaurant remade in a week or a 12 week crash course on becoming a head chef, he's your guy. But his lack of respect to other great chefs rubs me the wrong way. It's been noted that he's not had kind words to say about MPW, Blanc, or even Joel Robuchon. My guess is that he's jealous. You can tell he's worked really hard to get to where he is, but while the other ones have worked hard too, I feel they have more genius/talent in them and he's jealous of that.

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