adventures in craft beer and real food

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Television commentary: Feasting on Asphalt

As somone who got turned onto cooking by Alton Brown's scientifically minded and entertaining show Good Eats, I'm excited that he's hosting a new television program.

It's called Feasting on Asphalt, and it will feature Alton Brown traveling around on his motorcycle and eating road food. Sounds like a good deal for Alton, not only because he loves motorcycles, but also because it gives him a chance to do more than his geeky Good Eats gig. Which after so many seasons has got to be good for his career. If he continues doing Good Eats, I hope that the quality remains at the level that it has been.

Alton Brown already got in a vehicular accident and broke his clavicle. He'll be ok, and seems to be in good spirits about it.

Before I give you the link (which in classic Food Network online fashion is totally useless anyway), I want to warn you that few things in life suck more than the Food Network's webpage. It's slow, full of ads and unnecessary java, and it crashes Firefox from time to time. Which as anyone who uses the latest version of Firefox on Mac OS 10.4 can tell you takes some doing. That said, here it is. But don't say I didn't warn you.

Edit: You may be more interested in reading about the new show on Alton's own website.

It's interesting that Alton Brown's webpage was redesigned for the debut of his new show. His old webpage, still viewable using the Internet Archive, prominently featured Alton in a long black coat considering an onion while holding a Kershaw knife behind his back. The layout seemed consistent with his Good Eats persona: whimsical, amusing, and useful. It is the first major overhaul of the website since 2001. The new layout seems to share these same qualities, but showcases his new travel show with the diner "EAT" sign on the mainpage and the "OPEN 24 HOURS" and "Guest Check" images on his store's page. Could this be hinting at a change in programming? Only time will tell.

If Alton Brown is seeking to have a travel show on the Food Network long term, I am have worries about how that would integrate into the network's regular programming. The Food Network has gone completely nuts for travel and eating out shows, eschewing shows that actually involve cooking. With Rachael Ray's transformation from the master of quickies -- er, Thirty Minute Meals -- to $40 a day, to her celebrity gossip flop Inside Dish, and her latest Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels, the network seems to have gone too far in one direction. (Note: As much as I like to make fun of Rachael Ray, I agree with much of what Jill Hunter Pellettieri says about her in Slate.) I would hope that Feasting on Asphalt, if any good, will replace existing travel programming instead of merely tack another travel show onto the regular schedule. I'm worried about the broader implications of cutting a cooking show from the primetime line-up and perhaps replacing it with another travel show. As Sara Dickerman of Slate pointed out, the network has cast its culinary talent into television exile. Jacques Torres, Wolfgang Puck, and Sara Moulton all have been virtually eliminated from the network. Even Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour doesn't make it on television much any more. Now, I can understand why: culinary talent is not the same thing as television talent. Jacques Pepin is an amazing chef. But his program on PBS are not particularly entertaining. I'm told that Emeril and Mario Batali are both excellent and accomplished chefs (their restaurants are too far away to visit at this point in my life), but it's obvious that they were not made for television.

That brings up a larger issue of how we approach our time and our food. We want everything to be easy and fun. Cooking isn't just the flash of an expertly executed flambé, it's also the monotony of peeling carrots and shocking asparagus and cleaning pans. Cooking is about transforming earth's bounty into cuisine... or at least food. Which can be fun, yes. I like cooking myself. But its primary role is not to entertain us or amuse us so much as feed us. To be good at anything in life, including cooking, you have to put some elbow grease into it. You have to want it and work for it. If you have fun along the way, so much the better.

The problem is that many programs on the Food Network don't teach you the first thing about cooking. As far as I'm concerned, Good Eats is the lone survivor of the the network's obsession with hausfrau programming.


LDub said...

I've looked on Food Network's website once or twice. Try doing ANYTHING via the SNCF website...I dare sucks worse...

Nicholas said...

I'm sure you're right, but it's doubly difficult for me not knowing French!

LDub said...

It's theoritcally possible to navigate the site in English, too...theoretically...