Saturday, August 27, 2011

Anthony Bourdain vs. Paula Deen et al.

I have great respect for Anthony Bourdain and immensely enjoyed his Kitchen Confidential and, to a lesser extent, his television shows and other writings. He is extremely knowledgeable about food and a witty raconteur.

The criticisms he recently and very publicly leveled against Paula Deen and a number of other Food Network stars were legitimate, but his decision to attack the TV chefs personally served only to change the focus from the worthwhile issue - the unhealthfulness of much of the food presented - to the personalities involved, including himself. Ratcheting down his exuberant rhetoric might have led to a worthwhile debate on the responsibility (if any) of television food networks to preach the gospel of healthy food. This is a complex issue, and, although I deplore much of what is shown on Food Network, I feel there is enough good stuff to balance it out. Besides, I am suspicious of too much paternalism, even when I agree with the thrust of it; generally, it's better to let people choose what they like.  And in any event who's to say it's not better to make fried chicken at home than to buy it at Popeye's?

Personally, I am a Food Network junkie, but I cannot watch Paula Deen because the food she prepares gives me the creeps. I don't think it's amusing, as Alton Brown recently pointed out, that there is a new measure of butter called a "Paula." And I was appalled watching the new show The Pioneer Woman, today, when Ree Drummond and Paula (guest starring) were joking about how many pounds of butter they keep around and how they cannot fathom cooks who measure butter in mere sticks. This is a terrible message to be sending in the midst of an obesity/diabetes crisis.

HOWEVER . . . there is a huge amount of great and wholesome food showcased on Food Network and its companion Cooking Channel. Beautiful simple Italian dishes (David Rocco, Mario Batali, Gabriele Corcos) feature what is essentially the Mediterranean diet, with heart-healthy olive oil instead of butter and the focus on excellent seasonal ingredients. Mark Bittman (The Minimalist) makes it his mission to get people cooking easy and flavorful food which, not incidentally, is not laden with fat. Ellie Krieger's Healthy Appetite features excellent, low-fat nutritious dishes. And even Bobby Flay's more complex offerings are not particularly loaded with fat and cholesterol; in addition, he occasionally features healthy meals. There are many other good chefs and shows, and plenty of opportunities to learn great recipes that are good not only for the soul, but for the body. Sure, there are many items that I consider to be too fat- or cholesterol-laden, at least for every day, but that's a personal choice.

For a list of the Food Network and Cooking Channel shows I like, click on  More below:

Aarti Party (Indian or Indian-influenced food)
All Bobby Flay cooking shows (Boy Meets Grill, Grillit!, Bobby's Barbecue Addiction)
Everyday Italian with Giada DeLaurentis
Extra Virgin with Debi Mazar and her Tuscan chef husband, Gabriele Corcos)
Molto Mario (Batali)
David Rocco's La Dolce Vita
Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello
Secrets of a Restaurant Chef with Anne Burrell (just ratchet back on the salt)
Spice Goddess with Bal Arneson
French Food at Home with Laura Calder
The Minimalist with Mark Bittman
Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger

Good Eats with Alton Brown
Tyler's Ultimate with Tyler Florence (the old ones where he cooks)
Jamie (Oliver) at Home

This does not cover the many excellent cooking shows that can be found on educational channels, featuring some fantastic chefs who prepare a lot of delicious yet sane food, most notably Lidia Bastianich, Jacques Pépin, Ming Tsai and Rick Bayless.

Bobby Jay

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