Wednesday, October 21, 2009

the week that was and is - food on tv

So normally on Wednesday, I fill this post with a few lines about interesting and/or local stories. Today, I wanted to chat about food related television. The topic has been milling around in my head for some time, and with some recent inspiration, I figured it was as good a time as ever.

First off, I think it would be safe enough to say that Food Network Canada controls a huge portion of the market here in Canada. Which, really, should come as no surprise. Being the only 24/7 channel dedicated to food, it would be pretty tough to top. However, in saying that, there is definitely more. Maybe not as obvious or readily available, but it's there. Take for example;

KCTS 9 (PBS) which is broadcast out of Seattle, Washington and provides a wide range of food related programming. While you will come across the occasional food related show during the week, the weekend is where food takes over. Anywhere from 4-8 hours of programming, including Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Primal Grill with Steven Raichlen, Joanne Weir's Cooking Class, Lidia's Italy, Chefs A' Field, America's Test Kitchen, Cook's Country, Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie, and KCTS's very own KCTS Cooks. While very few of these shows are as flashy as their mainstream siblings, the shows are very educational and to the point. Primal Grill, for example, does a wonderful job of showing how real BBQ is done south of the border. America's Test Kitchen is extremely informative, covering everything from recipes to cookware, and it's pretty difficult not to be impressed by Julia Child. Her humor alone is worth a few minutes of your time.

Travel Channel, which unfortunately for many is a specialty channel, also offers something for the foodie. In fact, I think they have 3 of the best food shows around; Adam Richman's Man V Food, No Reservations With Anthony Bourdain, and Bizarre World with Andrew Zimmern. None of these shows follow your classic structure, or for that matter, help you create the perfect dish. Instead they use food as the stepping stone to great entertainment. Adam Richman works his way around the US, in search of food challenges. While he gets stoned by most foodies on the internet, I find it very entertaining. Not only does he promote a city, helping to uncover some very cool gems, he takes on some intense challenges. From a 72oz steak to 6 of the hottest wings in the world, Adam isn't (IMO) promoting unhealthy eating, just good food entertainment. Anthony Bourdain, who I find fantastic in his own right, travels around the world, learning, discovering, and eating. While any number of chefs could film a similar show, it's Tony's down to earth, sarcastic, and witty personality that sucks in the viewer. Andrew Zimmern is currently filming his first season of Bizarre World after 5 seasons of Bizzare Foods. As someone who based his show around eating life's oddities, I'm glad Andrew Zimmern is developing a new niche on Travel Channel. Bizarre World takes his original concept one step further, allowing him to interact with the locals to discover both the food and what makes each region interesting.

One thing I also think Travel Channel does extremely well, is promotion. Having participated in their live chats, including a recent one with Andrew Zimmern, I can honestly say how great it feels as a fan. These live chats are actually quite relaxed, well moderated, and the fan questions cover almost all topics. What foodie wouldn't want to ask Anthony Bourdain a question? Even if you hate him. As well, Travel Channel has developed widgets for the blog world, allowing you to bring updates/new show information right to your desktop every week. On top of all of that, Twitter. Now I know that twitter isn't everyone's cup of tea (much like Facebook), but I quite enjoy reading actual, down to earth updates. No, that isn't some lackey in the offices updating for Adam Richman, it's him.

And finally what about those Canadian gems. You know what I'm talking about; Wok with Yan, What's for Dinner?, The Inn Chef, The Great Canadian Food Show, The Urban Peasant, Cooking for Love, Anna and Kristina's Grocery Bag. Sure plenty of these shows are over and done with, yet many still show up somewhere on the TV dial. I, for one, loved Wok with Yan back in the day. Those aprons (You Are Wok You Eat, Wok Goes up Must Come Down, Wok's New, Pussycat?, Wokkey Night in Canada) were EPIC and his personality was so wonderfully over the top. Mary Jo Eustace and Ken Kostick have been around for what also seems like forever. Their playful banter is oddly entertaining, and I think they have the ability to show how much fun cooking can be. I've seen my fair share of friends and couples who struggle to cook with each other, so maybe a few lessons from Mary Jo and Ken would be handy. While Carlo Rota isn't nearly as exciting in real life, compared to his role in 24, he does a good job of eating his way around our country. Anna and Kristina are another team that have created a perfect niche, testing and reviewing cookbooks. As amateur chefs, cooking for a professional chef, they work 5-8 recipes from a given cookbook. Heck, they even tried to conquer the El Bulli cookbook, something I wouldn't dream of.

Which brings me to something I mentioned in last week's update;

Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. said it plans to launch a cooking-focused TV channel next year, the company's chief executive, Ken Lowe, said in an interview Thursday.

The new Cooking Channel will be a 24-hour network that caters to avid food lovers by focusing on food information and instructional cooking programming. Offered in both standard and high definition, the new network will launch with a VOD offering and a fully interactive Internet and broadband platform as it delivers more content focused on baking, ethnic cuisine, wine and spirits, healthy and vegetarian cooking and kids’ foods.
Even with food occupying such a large market, I wonder if we can support another entry into the food arena. My concern isn't about filling the time spots, it's about how they are going to find quality hosts and themes. With Food Network already creating competitions to find the next big thing, and plenty of boring shows, will another food channel just be leftovers? Is Food Network prepared for battle? Will this be better for all of us? Who knows.


H.Peter said...

Bourdain is fantastic.
Other shows I watch if I happen to surf channels.

You are right though about the new shows. How much time can we waste?
The same though goes for all other TV segments. Comedy, drama, talk shows.

October 21, 2009 6:24 AM

KimHo said...

(Embarrassed for being such an inspiration...)

I won't call it leftovers but rather focusing in your target. The fact Food Network (and, by extension, FoodTV) is emphasizing on cooking competition means they think that is what the public want. However, there are people like you and me who have other preferences. As of quality, unfortunately, it is one of those subjective topics.

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