Monday, September 22, 2008

The trouble with sex and the food channel

Look, like any red-blooded guy who watches the food channel, we are going to admit eventually that we watch some of those shows because the presenter is 450 degrees Fahrenheit, off the Scolville charts hot. And if you tell me you watch Nigella just for her recipes, you're a sick, sick man.

But wait, here's the twist to my post. I'm not going waste your time reading about how I drool over Nigella, Vivien and Rachael Ray. ( I have this weird thing for the Barefoot Contessa (Ave Ina!, but it makes the Guvnor ill; so I'll drop that here..)

No. It's this - drooling is essentially useless

Yes it is. And the reason is because if I asked you to select one person to have dinner with (everything after that, as they say in some of the more seedier aspects of the entertainment industry - can be negotiated), you would be silly to choose your culinary FHM top 10. Why?

Because the Domestic Goddess is essentially domesticated. She has kids, and a husband. And her hubby is the only one who has full rights to her Degustation menu; understand? Same goes for Ms Ray and her ilk. Look, even if you manage to win a dream date with her at Blumenthal's restaurant; what are you going to woo her with? Tales of your culinary misadventures in your miniscule apartment kitchen (notice the Freudian subtext)?

She's heard it all before. Tales of guys going into spasms watching her whip cream and beat eggs. Pretentious dudes going on about food and wine matching. (God help you if you ever went out with Jancis Robinson, MW). So, at the end, she's going to get up ,smile politely and thank you for a lovely evening and...go back.

Back to her kids to tuck them in and think about her next series which films in a few months. You? Unfortunately, it's a taxi to your matchbox sized apartment where you'll watch her on telly all over again

No, guys, the only person you should have your dinner date someone like Tony Bourdain. He may think you're a twat, but he'll drink with you and tell you stories about how his trips to Lebanon and Russia. In between, you'll have cigarettes and lie to each other about how many women you've slept with. All total B.S but at least it's the real deal.

Because at the end of the day, you'll leave and think about making that next trip to Palin. Or Uzbekistan. He'll inspire you. If he can do it, why can't I? (sans camera crew of course). All it takes is an airline ticket and a cheap hotel. Maybe I can get a bowl of Pho. Maybe I'll marry that cute chick selling that doesn' matter 'cause if a guy can't dream, then what's the point of living?

And it's a more realistic dream than you marrying someone on TV because she's already been spoken for but that girl you marry one day in the future- she's going to be your Domestic Goddess. Or you are - depending on who ends up cooking and cleaning.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Decoding Anthony

"Why don't you write a piece on Tony B?" suggested the guvnor.

It sounded good at that time but when I thought about it, it didn't seem to be that easy. What hasn't been said about that lovable racounteur and rogue that hasn't been already put in print? I needed an And I got one from the "Edge" financial weekly of all places

It reprinted a Forbes list of how much some of the more prominent food personalities made last year from all their whori..I mean, endorsements and hard work. The guvnor's favorite hush puppy, Rachael Ray, came in first at a whopping US$18.5 mio. Next came Gordon " I can't speak without (bleeping) swearing " Ramsay and in the middle were familiar personalities like Ducasse and Batali. Oddly, my hero came in last at US$1.5 mio.

Now that's not anything to scoff at, my friend. But that's not what I envisioned for someone with so much media exposure. And after a bit of thinking, this is what I came up with:

The reason I like, no, I love Bourdain is that he is as cynical as I am but doesn't want to give in to that last vestige of inner gloom that will consign him to eternal torment, or worse..Detroit. So, he maintains that disposition that is akin to Fox Mulder; "I want to believe. Make me a believer. Convince me that somewhere in this crocked-up world, a thin slice of redemption can be found in those slices of beef gently cooking in a bowl of pho on the streets of Hanoi."

Whimsical? Of course, life is whimsy. Bourdain reads that better than anyone on the Food Channel. He's a gadly, and one that has been blessed by the Phyrric curse of a life lived Bacchanally through imbibing, inhaling, snorting and injecting all manner of substances. That combination, which normally fells lesser mortals and turns them into severe opaque embarassments has had the opposite effect on him.

It has granted him godlike insight into, if not the human condition, then the precursor to the fall of Man. He is like Alan Moore's main character in "V for Vendetta". The combination of serums meant to destroy him have created a superhuman instead.They have wrecked his mind, teetering in on the brink of insanity and the cusp of genius.

What does this have to do with one and half million dollars, you ask?

Ask yourself, why hasn't he made more? I mean, he's not exactly raging against the machine, is he? We are now in the fourth season of "No reservations" and he appears in other shows. So, he's a system man, but...

..he sucks at the coddling up to the "Man". His Les Halles cookbook? Know anyone who bought it? Les Halles was never more than a really decent bistro when he helmed it, certaintly not in the class of Les Bernadine or Veritas. He doesn't cook on his shows. The only time I saw him cook was on " A chef's story" where he made a cardiac arrest-inducing duck confit. And I like duck confit.

So, he falls in between. He has charisma but he's not classifiably clean. Weep not for Bourdain, he is annointed and will never go hungry or lapse into abject poverty. But he will never scale the heights of Ramsay because he is not as talented, ruthless or self-esteem challenged. he will continue to look you in the eye, and tell it like he sees it, and sod it if you don't like it. But he wants you to believe, and inside, he wants to as well.

And that's why the dude is the man.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ainsley, take your meds, please!

In Bourdain's "A Cooks Tour", he is none too complimentary about Ainsley Harriott, cringingly describing him as "..a grown black man doing shtick, capering and coddling an audience of bison-sized white women who, were Harriott not on TV, would probably call the cops if he wandered into their neighbourhoods."

After having watched a few epsiodes of "Ainsley's Barbecue Bible" on, of all places, Astro 552 (the education channel), I can only say this:

It's like watching the world's most horrendous train wreck. There's luggage everywhere, bodies strewn, a cacophony of chaos..but you can't pull your friggin' self away!

I swear, not even Stroobants painful pronounciation of 'Soup too-lang" or Martin Yan's dead ringer for that ching-chong caricature called Hop Sing on "Bonanza" have I cringed so many times.

It's not that his recipes suck. They look do-able, and he takes ever loving concern to point out that should you not be able to find that wild, exotic ingredient at your local Sainsburys; you can substitute something MSG, I suppose

But the floppy hat kills me, the mincing and the Merrilee Parker squeals. I used to watch "Food Planet" and nearly die in ecstasy whenever she came on, cooking her Beef Burgundy and saying "Scrumptious!". Now, I've found out that she used to work as a food economist for our Ainsley and the fact that he uses the same tagline (albeit two octaves higher) disturbs me...a lot

Another thing that disturbs me is not really his own fault. It's the media perception that blacks are good for grilling and that's all. Rulhman's fine book " The reach of a chef" discusses the plight of a classically trained black female chef who was offered a television cook 'soul food'. The racial typecasting still remains. Look at "licence to Grill". I pity both Robert Rainsford and Ainsley. I'm sure they would rather be making a beurre blanc or sauce velote but noooooo...we want you grillin' them steaks with a can of Grape soda next to you.

Anyway, back to Mr Harriott.

The kids dance with him. He dances around the barbie while cooking fruits flambe. I have to admit, he's better than Prozac. So, you want to watch him because you want to believe in a better, kinder world. A place where cooking isn't just a few ingredients slapped together, it's transcedent: it takes you to another realm of existence

And that's why I'll watch it again. Not because of his naff fashion sense, but the fact that he's part Willy Wonka,part C.S Lewis and a dusting of Enid Blyton. A touch of absurdity, a dose of naievete and a patina of a shadow like reality.

But Lord, I wish he'd drop the dancing.

Oh Minerva! Another food blog?

The one thing about blogs is that it now gives everyone their Warholian 15 minutes of fame. Or in some cases, barely 15 seconds. I'm confused. At one time, you jealously hid your diary away from prying eyes (espcially your parents) less they found out that you had some sick perverted fantasy over Cyndi Lauper..but now, hey, everyone is happy to tell the world that they like dressing up as a pizza delivery guy and starring in their own grainy handycam movie (complete with heavy '70's bass - wacka-wacka-wacka!)

Anyway, food blogs dominate. I suppose because..well, people eat. And they like telling you about what they ate. People like food. People like sex too but there are more than a few who I would prefer they keep their commentaries to themselves. But a new restaurant, hey, I'm up for that

So, when my good buddy, whom I'll call "The Guvnor" (as he wants to seriously remain anonymous)asked me to write a food blog; I said "Great, another one to match the 15 Gajillions out there." So, he said, why don't you write a blog critiqing food reviews?, that's an idea.

But the more I thought about it, the more I decided to go with this concept:

Schadenfreude on Toast will comment on food programmes, food personalities and if I have time...the food itself. I mean, come on, who needs another frakking review of that noodle place down the road followed by a 3.2 megapixel shot with a handphone to accompany it? But I love taking the piss out of people. I can't do it on my Christian blog as I have to play nice and the kiddies are reading :-)

Along the journey, I'll take and make references to the two people who I regard as my Master Po's to my Kwai Chung Kane. One is "The Guvnor" and the other is my brother, whom I'll call "Dr Bones". Bpth have had incredible impacts on my culinary growth and I'm sure they'll continue to do so (Although I do worry about Dr Bone's predilection for Aussie Burgers)

So, here it is. If you ever wanted to lay waste to the whitest black guy I ever saw on "License to Grill" or comment on Anna Olsen's two pound cakes this is the blog for you.

Welcome Home.