Keeping the Resolution: Healthy Specials on Food Network

(Sorry, this should have gone up Sunday night, but I had Internet woes…) 

I started watching a special on healthy recipes on the Food Network that aired last weekend that I got me thinking.  It was a clip show taken from seven different shows that purported to offer healthy meals for the home cook.  Unfortunately, I have to say that I was pretty disappointed

Even on a good day, I am pretty anti-clip show, but this one was worse than normal.  The opening dish was Ina Garten’s breakfast yogurt parfait made with fruit, honey, and toasted almonds.  Okay, sounds pretty good, despite the fact it was not exactly something that could be thrown together before running off to work.   Unfortunately, the coup de grace for this special struck about three minutes into the recipe and the whole thing got erased from the DVR after Garten toasted the almonds.  Adding heat to almonds breaks down their 14 grams of heart healthy fats in the nuts into 14 grams of their unhealthy counterparts which pretty much defeats the purpose.

I make this point not to be critical of Garten or the Food Network.  But rather as a warning.  The first is to be aware that toasting almonds makes their fats go bad (I wasn’t aware of this until recently.   I found out the morning I had an article due and had to rewrite an entire recipe because of it).  Secondly, when someone says a recipe is healthy, it may mean different things.  I have found this to be especially true of Healthy Appetite on Food Network.  The show’s host, Ellie Krieger, often makes recipes in which she hides nutritous ingredients in her recipes, but does not necessarily make them low cal or low fat (which is what I need when I eat healthy.)

To key here is to remember that eating healthy means different things to different people and so that the health-concious eater still needs to read labels and look at what is being put into the food he or she eats.  Especially when it comes to low fat foods, which often replace fats with more sugar.

Anway, this week is dedicated to helping everyone keep their resolutions to lose weight.  Come back tomorrow for my take on healthy eating low fat style.

The Next Iron Chef Finale

**** Spoiler Alert: I will talk about who wins.  Please read with caution.

Well the Limited Series that was The Next Iron Chef Finale has come and gone in the throes of Battle: Swordfish.  This was an interesting battle between Chef John Besh and Chef Michael Symon, two chefs that took very different paths to the top.  Besh won the first challenge and established himself as the early favorite in the competition while Symon struggled mightily in the beginning only to steadily improve every week.

It came as no surprise, then, that Symon emerged victorious.  In fact, I think it was almost anti-climactic.  While I was cheering for Besh (this has to do more with my predicting him to be the final winner than any disdain of Symon’s cooking), I had this suspicion that Symon was going to win.  By the time the Iron Chefs were tasting each’s dishes, there was little doubt that Symon was going to be the winner.

And I think, based on that one meal, that Symon deserved to be the winner.  His dishes appeared to be more innovative and avant garde than Besh’s (ie more like what an Iron Chef would make), though this is easily attributable to Symon’s cooking style which is far more modern than Besh’s down home country style.

I did learn one thing from this show though.  If I ever had to make broth from swordfish bones, I need to roast them first.  This is a very important culinary tip…

Anyway, congratulations Chef Symon.  You passed the survival test that was The Next Iron Chef.  I expect big things out of you because you were born to cook.

Oh, and I hope there’s a rematch between Symon and Besh.  I would like to see the results.

The Next Iron Chef 4

I finished watching tonight’s episode of the Food Network’s The Next Iron Chef and I have to say that I find myself a little underwhelmed. Frankly, there is a lot to like about this show and only a little I find compelling.  Sadly, the part that I find compelling is just compelling enough to keep me watching.

I think I just find the whole concept rather silly.  Despite the fact I am familar with the work of Chefs Sanchez and Symon from previous Food Network shows (primarily Melting Pot), I am finding it hard to take these chefs seriously.  While the show is free advertising for each of the chefs’ careers, I have always looked at reality TV to be the domain of the amateur the up-and-comer, and the money-driven.  I also think that through the magic of editing, a lot of the chefs are going to get reputations they may not want.  (The series has made Aaron Sanchez look both apathetic and whiny, Michael Symon incapable of taking anything seriously, and Chris Costentino look like a real jerk.  Though his jerkdom appears to be eclipsed by that of judge Michael Ruhlman, though I think that has more to do with editing.)

Also, despite my love of all things Alton Brown, episode 4’s homage to Good Eats was out of sync with the melodramatic seriousness for which Iron Chef is famous.  If we are to believe this show is the passion of a reclusive billionaire in love with food, why is he allowing Brown to have his moment of silliness where he talks about about food preparation while dodging the behinds of airline food workers?

Oh, and didn’t we already see airline food done in Top Chef

What I am loving is the dishes the are prepared.  I am constantly amazed by the quality and the creativity of the chefs.  Chef Costentino’s continued references to historical food has me drooling to do research on what the past can teach us about modern food.  I have enjoyed the stronger culinary points of veiw offered by Chef Morou and Chef Sanchez.  They are making things that are far outside of what I could hope to do given that time frame.  Then again, the impossible dish is one thing that Iron Chef brings to the Food Network.  Whereas Emeril, Rachel Ray, Brown, Sara Moulton, Bobby Flay, etc. are cooking things that can be repeated (with practice) in a home kitchen, Iron Chef is the domain of the unusual, the outlandish, and the delicious.

I am getting that with The Next Iron Chef and that is why I keep watching.  Even if my two favorite chefs have been kicked out of the competition.

The Next Iron Chef Episode 1

I am in the process of watching the inaugural episode of The Next Iron Chef and I am not entirely sure what I think.  It is not that I am not enjoying the show, but I just do not have a good feeling for what the show is trying to accomplish.

Part of me wonders, what the chefs on this show want from being on it.  Is it really the pinnacle of chefdom to be on Iron Chef?  If so, where’s Thomas Keller?  Where’s Jacques Pepin?  Where’s Todd English?  Other the Alton Brown, are any James Beard Award winners on the show?  Also, every chef in the contest was, I believe, either an Iron Chef America competitor or a Food Network host which means that they are invested in being TV chefs, not necessarily chefs.  Not that this is a huge issue, I would gladly dine in Michael Symon or Aaron Sanchez restaurant any day, but again I ask what is the motivation?  Is being on The Next Iron Chef good enough exposure to increase their stature or is being an Iron Chef worth it?  I am not sure, but my guess would have been no until I saw Michael Ruhlman was a judge.

The second thing that strikes me about the show is that unlike most Food Network programs, this one is not geared towards the home cook.  I realize there is a lot of pageantry in Iron Chef, so this should not be too surprising, but it stands in sharp contrast to programs like the The Next Food Network Star.  Still, coming off Top Chef, I felt comfortable with dishes that take longer to list the ingredients than they take to eat.  

I’ll keep watching and hope that I get more into it, but I think ultimately, this show may be a miss.

Top Chef Finale II — Review

Warning: In this post, I talk about who won the Top Chef finale. 

Another season of Top Chef has come and gone.  This was my favorite season right up until the finale.  It occurred to me that Season 3 was a lot like Season 1.  Both were loaded with talented chefs who did not exactly sparkle on camera.  I would rather watch Sam, Marcel, Ilan, or Elia, but I would rather eat a dish prepared by Casey, Brian, Hung, or Dale. 

To make matters worse, the finale was a hodge-podge of interesting ideas gone awry.  First, the live audience was largely window dressing and it was obvious Padma was uncomfortable.  Second, having three contestants did not work for me.  I think in terms of building a story line, having three square off was more interesting than having any two compete, but I did not like that the judges picked a winner for each course without taking into account the chef’s overall tasting menu. 

Third, the celebrity chef as sous chef motif fell flat.  Watching famous chefs chop garlic is not why I watch Top Chef.  I wanted to see the collaboration and synthesis that happens when two chefs work together.  Instead, I got random musings from Hung and Rocco Dispirito about how Hung had a plan and Dispirito was superfluous.  Last, the addition of the fourth course and previous contestants from this season was unnecessary and forced. 

Still, antics and story devices do not matter.  What matters is what went on the plate.

Overly complicated dishes seemed to rule the day.  There was not a plate sent out that had less than six flavors on it.  The finalists confused complexity with skill and got so wrapped up in showing off their skills, they almost forgot the basics. 

This is what happened to Casey.  The desire to produce something complex made her so nervous, she did not taste her dishes, she made some questionable choices, and allowed Howie to take too much control. 

Blind devotion to complexity is the only way I can explain how Dale married curry with lobster.  Why would one ever pair subtle, sweet lobster with a powerful spice blend?  That dish was bad enough to cost him the title of Top Chef. 

Then there were Hung’s dishes which were overly complex, though visually stunning.  Every plate (with the exception of his cake) was composed off a dizzying amount of ingredients and lacked basic seasoning. How many times did the chefs say “This needs acid”? 

In the end, the judges chose Hung, who may have been the best technical chef in all three seasons.  Also, for perhaps the first time all season, he added a little passion to his cooking.  Towards the end, I was pulling for Dale because I thought every dish but the lobster were fantastic, but when they said Hung won the prize, I was happy for him.   

Congratulations Hung!

Top Chef Part II–Before the Show

Okay, due to a scheduling conflict, I am just now firing up the Top Chef season 3 finale.  I am voting for Hung, but cheering for Casey.

 So that means Dale will obviously win…

Top Chef Finale Part I (SPOILER ALERT)

In this post, I talk about who was eliminated from part one of the Top Chef finale.

It was rather fortuitous that Food and Media day happened to land on Wednesday, the day part one of the finale of Top Chef aired.  It strikes me that I might have set things up that way…

I am not a TV critic so I will not delve into the episode except to say two things.  First,  I looked forward to this finale far more than I did the Season Two finale, though I liked last season better.  Unfortunately, this episode fell really flat.  There was no tension or drama or instructions on how to make poi or poke.  This felt like an ordinary episode of the show except everyone kept talking like they were stressed out, but there was no tension or drama.  Where’s Marcel when you need him?

Second, I think Brian’s elimination was a poor choice.  During the entire episode, I kept thinking Casey (who I’ve been rooting for for the entire season) was going to get the boot.  Serving raw meat feels like a far worse sin than having too much on the plate.  Now, the decision to ask Brian to pack his knives and git could have been based on comments made that were not aired, but I thought Casey was a goner for sure.  My fear is that Casey is a fan favorite and that kept her on the show if it was at all close between she and Brian.  I know Top Chef is a TV show first and a cooking competition second, but something about tonight’s episode felt off.

I am not claiming they kept Casey on for her sex appeal or any of that nonsense.  I just wonder how Brian, who braised a lean piece of meat in three hours got kicked off when no one said anything bad about his dish.  Maybe the smoked tomato butter was enough.

With that being said, go Casey!  I’ll probably swap weeks and have another food and media post next week to discuss the Top Chef finale and my reactions to it.  My guess is that Hung takes it.

Also, when The Next Iron Chef comes on, I’ll be covering that on the blog as well.  As part of covering each show, I will discuss one recipe that I find interesting.  I will not give you a recipe because I will not have had time to prepare the dish since Bravo has yet to decide to send me previews of each episode and I do not present recipes I have not made myself.

The dish that I could interesting in tonight’s Top Chef was Dale’s huckleberry sauce.  I found these links.  Check them out!

http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,,FOOD_9936_28858,00.html?rsrc=search
http://homecooking.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.bbonline.com/mt/paradise/recipe1.html
http://www.mooses.com/printouts/duck-breast.shtml
http://www.italiancookingandliving.com/recipes/archive/1658-Panna-Cotta-with-Huckleberry-Sauce,cs=13,cc=,ps=,pt=nc,.html
http://www.starchefs.com/features/indian_spotlight/html/cumin_ostrich_t_john.shtml

I’ll try to make as many as I can and get back to you.  Now, tell me, what did you think of tonight’s Top Chef?