Gourmet TV

Gourmet Magazine, the 65-year-old monthly glossy devoted to all things epicurean, now has a TV show. The 10-episode series, "Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie," launched last week on public television stations around the country; locally, it rolls out this Saturday, Oct. 14, on PBS affiliate WETA (Channel 26) at 4 p.m.

An early look at the show's first three episodes has me in viewer limbo-land. According to an official press release, the idea behind the show is to "look at the world food first," which I guess is a way of saying it's a food-travel show. The debut episode travels to China, from remote villages where dumplings are made by hand, to the fancy kitchen of a big-city restaurant serving up pan-Asian plates. The photography is stunning; in fact, it's likely the first time I've seen food treated like a movie star -- and that's a good thing. If the idea behind the luscious photography is to get you hungry, it worked on this viewer.

However, in spite of the mouth-watering, romantic imagery, the show's attempt to be a silky smooth puree has a few chunks to pass through the food mill one more time. The show's opening sequence, which is a collage of images with a narrated voiceover is a wee too preachy or perhaps self-proclaiming for my palate: "We are called foodies and the food world is where we live" sounds more like a mantra and more like something you'd hear at a religious service.

When not on location, the camera travels to Gourmet's test kitchen, with editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl at the helm, bringing a how-to component to the show. Unfortunately, this is the show's weakest link. Reichl, who's an engaging writer and passionate, highly respected epicure, needs some help in the on-camera department. Although I appreciate the departure from the formula-winning kitchen sex kitten approach (a la Nigella Lawson, who's just launched a new show on Food Network) of other cooking shows, Reichl's trademark mussed hair is no longer charming and iconoclastic. It's in Reichl's face -- in the kitchen -- and it's not appetizing.

I tried in earnest to follow her lead for making stir-fried snow peas with preserved cabbage, but instructions were vague, even for someone with cooking background. Thankfully, all aired recipes are available on the show's Web site, in magazine-standard detail.

In the show's third episode, which focuses on the growing home cooking movement of Italy, Reichl makes the really salient and interesting point about the different flavors of parmigiano cheese, depending on its date, but fails to deliver what those differences are.

Washington viewers will see a familiar face in the second episode, which features Jose Andres, chef of Jaleo, Zaytinya, Café Atlantico and Minibar by Jose Andres, where the episode is filmed. A six-seater bar tucked inside Café Atlantico, Minibar offers a tasting menu of 30 bite-sized experimental courses. The show gives an inside look at Andre's approach -- how cotton candy-coated foie gras came to be or what "white wine on a plate" really means -- showing his chefs hard at work creating in his "lab." This episode is scheduled to air Saturday, Oct. 21.

Fans of Anthony Bourdain's shows "A Cook's Tour" and "No Reservations" may notice familiar camera stylings in "Diary," as both are the handiwork of Zero Point Zero Productions.

Will I keep watching? Probably. I'm curious to see how this ten-course meal comes together.

Got a favorite (or not) food/cooking show to share with the class? Or maybe you live outside of Washington and already have seen the first "Diary" episode...or Nigella's new show. Sound off in the comments area below.

Also: Check in with me at noon today for a live hour of kitchen klatsch.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 10, 2006; 11:07 AM ET Food Media
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

i'll second the sentiment that the food porn/kitchen sex kitten shows of nigella and giada have really got to go.

i don't have a favorite right now. if i did, it wouldn't be anything involving rachael ray either.

Posted by: m | October 10, 2006 12:16 PM

For my money Lidia Bastianich is the true heir to Julia's throne. She's one of the few who teaches cooking rather than just teaching recipes. Jacques Pepin used to do that, but he seems to have run out of steam.

Posted by: Weekend Cook | October 10, 2006 1:01 PM

I really enjoy watching Paula Deen cook and like the food science, teaching, and approach of Alton Brown on his Good Eats show. Both are on the Food Network. I may be in the minority, but I find Rachel Ray annoying and grating.

Posted by: elpasocook | October 10, 2006 1:55 PM

I love Lidia Bastianich's low-key style too. I've learned a lot from her over the years. America's test kitchen is annoying, however they've also taught me valuable techniques.

Rachel Ray was OK for 30 minutes a day, but not 24/7. Somebody sedate her. Please!

Posted by: KiKi | October 10, 2006 2:43 PM

I love Nigella - her cookbooks are some of my favorite. I am a bit lukewarm on her new show ,though. Something seems off with the camera-work. I'll keep watching, however!

Posted by: Beth | October 10, 2006 3:31 PM

More annoying than Rachel Ray (and that would be hard to be) is Sandra Lee and her love of processed foods. The woman is a walking and unfortunately, talking symbol of what is wrong with the food industry in this country.

I love watching Alton and Paula and enjoy Sara Moulton also.

Posted by: julie | October 10, 2006 5:41 PM

I agree with the masses--I learn so much when I watch Alton and I gain 10 pounds when I watch Paula Deen. However, I still love watching Bobby Flay too--something about those freckles...

Posted by: arlington foodie | October 10, 2006 6:21 PM

Oh come on...there IS life beyond the Food Network! Public TV shows have done an excellent job featuring cooks who are informative if not as full of fluff "entertainment".

They no longer air the show in my area, but I love Rick Bayless' program. Luckily those are available on video at my local library. Rick is a cook and an anthropoligist...I love the travel/cultural segments.

Another really great show they don't air in my area, but that I bought the series on DVD is "Chefs A' Field." A chef friend tipped me off on this program and it's amazingly well done. It profiles some of the nations best chefs and the farmers they build relationships with. Here in Seattle, Greg Atkinson visited a shellfish farm. They went into the labs and showed how they grow different kinds of alge to feed the young shellfish, how clams,mussels, goeducks, and oysters are raised for commercial purposes, and how they are harvested. Then the chef goes back to his restaurant and builds recipes around the shellfish profiled. It's fascinating.

Other "Chefs A' Field" episodes include chefs visiting maple syrup folks, a sugar farm in Costa Rica, salmon fisheries in Alaska, etc.

The Food Network folks have inspired a nation to be more interested in culinary things, but their prime time shows are an appeal to the lowest common denominator. It's the age old battle...do I stand up for quality or satisfy the masses? Those are choices chefs have to make all the time too.

The Food Network is mass appeal while public tv still taps into a learned, teaching environment. It's smart culinary tv. I've got it...Food Network is like Bone Fish Grill (for the masses, yet attempting to be more of a high-brow dining experience...the next step after Applebee's) and Public TV is The French Laundry. Other than the fact that they both serve "food", there really is no comparison.

Posted by: Seattle Tall Poppy | October 11, 2006 9:44 AM

Well, I like Alton pretty well, but I think I prefer "Simply Ming" for a show with simple recipes that I might actually cook. Of course, the best thing about Good Eats is that it gives you info about the ingredients and chemical processes that is useful beyond the sometimes bizarre recipes that Alton prepares.

I hate Bobbly Flay with the fire of a thousands suns. He is incredibly smug. It was a pleasure to see Ming smoke him on Iron Chef America. Bobbly Flay is a...well I don't think the WashPost decency guidelines will permit me to say what he is. Did you see him get up on the table and yell after he won an Iron Chef competition? Seriously. It happened.

But my most hated show is the Barefoot Contessa. She has no regard for budget or calories, and she has a food-gasm every time she tastes something (as do many on the Food Network). Really, the gross self-congratulation at the end of a dish hacks me off -- "Oh mmm...doesn't this just look perfect and delicious, I wish you could smell it" (she tastes it and groans, rolls her eyes with pleasure) "It's just sooo good and perfect."

Julia and Jacques never needed to do this. ("Let's taste this and see if the seasoning is correct." (taste) "Yes. It turned out well.")

Also, the Contessa appears to live up to her name by living in the fantasy-world of feudal Connecticut. She is an icon of the gross excess of late-stage capitalism.

Posted by: Rita | October 11, 2006 12:21 PM

On Bobby Flay, I couldn't agree more with Rita. The jumping on the table thing happened in the original series. He actually landed on the wooden cutting board with his shoes on and offended the entire country of Japan. That was the second time he met ... Marimota I think? ... and he had lost the first time - which was the first time they ever had an American chef. That must have been close to the end of the series.

I love that show. I hate that it's only on at 4 am on Tuesday morning now. They are so much fun to watch, even in perpetual reruns.

Posted by: Pat | October 12, 2006 12:31 PM

As an enduring fan of Nigella's former TV shows, I agree with the person above who stated that the camera-work seems off. Here's the thing: The old series was shot on film, which gave the picture rich clarity and gave an appealing intimacy to Nigella's gauzy, winky cheekiness. The new one on the Food Network is shot on video, and her persona is not translating as well. Video seems too far removed, and it looks cheap. Still, it's nice to see Nigella back in her curvy sweaters, adjectives and melted chocolate flying.

Posted by: BillSF | October 12, 2006 1:10 PM

Have to say I like "America's Test Kitchen" on PBS the best. It gives you recipes, taste tests, buying techniques. It really does it all.

Posted by: Ike | October 16, 2006 4:34 PM

Anyone who can watch Rachel Ray's new show and not find it an awful waste of timie just loves to watch anything on TV. She is grating, obnoxious, and virtually lacking in any kind of talent. She is no heir-apparent to Martha Stewart; her "in your face" style and constant recaptulation of "I and me" will start to irritate even her most enthusiastic supporters in short order.
She should stick to "30 Minute Meals."

Posted by: Charles Henderson | October 23, 2006 3:06 PM

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