The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Season Three of ABC's "The Chew"

It's been a few years since I wrote anything about ABC's daytime gabber/eater “The Chew.” (1 p.m. ET; noon CT) With the September 9, 2013 kick-off of a new season, Season Three, I thought I'd share a few new thoughts.

Yes, I have been watching. Nearly every day, actually. The show kind of grows on you. It's programmed on my DVR for two reasons: First, I can watch it at my convenience. Second, and more importantly, I can watch it without commercial interruption. This means that I really only have to invest about forty minutes instead of an hour. “The Chew” has to be among the more ad-packed shows on daytime TV, and if you can bypass twenty minutes-worth of crap touting the health and beauty products, cleaning products, and toilet paper pushed by the network, plus the allotted local spots for every car dealer and ambulance chaser in town and the interminable promos for network and local programming, the show itself ain't half bad.

The regular “Chew Crew” – Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Carla Hall, Daphne Oz, and Clinton Kelly – have really gelled into a nice ensemble. In the first couple of shows, it was obviously every man for himself. Nobody clicked. Everyone was doing their own thing and trying to find their own place. And they have succeeded nicely. You can tell they've established themselves as a “family” and they're having fun, which makes them eminently entertaining to watch.

The format itself has settled in as well. The opening segment is often the best part of the show as the hosts chat up everything from news of the day to sometimes hilariously personal anecdotes. This is where the “family” really shines through. Clinton and Michael's running gag about spanx, the digs at Carla for her frugality and her wanting everything cut into quarters, and the shots at Daphne for her psyllium husk fetish – as well as Michael's exasperated dislike of the “Baby vs Puppy” schtick – probably evade new viewers, but seasoned watchers get a real kick out of the banter and byplay. Again, it's like sharing an inside joke with the family.

Everybody needs a day off now and then, and the occasional guest hosts taking places around the table usually fit in pretty well. Some are just network plants sent in to promote whatever new projects are in the offing, but there are a lot of fill-ins with some respectable cooking credits, too. Curtis Stone comes to mind. Bobby Flay, Geoffrey Zakarian and other foodie favorites pop in from time to time and there are always celebrity guests like Jake Gyllenhaal, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jewel, and even Rupaul around to jump into the culinary pool. Agents have figured out that “The Chew” is legit and book their clients accordingly, the same as they would on Leno or Letterman.

But it's not all fluff and chatter. “The Chew” is a fairly good “dump and stir” show, too. There are a lot of tips and techniques imparted as well as some great recipes, all of which are available on the show's website and many of which are featured in cookbooks generated by the program.

There are still aspects of “The Chew” that annoy me. Even though he has carved a comfortable niche for himself, Clinton Kelly still bugs me. It's like he views “The Chew” as a daytime version of his “What Not to Wear” vehicle or something. HE'S the “star” and Batali, Symon, Hall, and Oz are there to be HIS supporting cast. When he doesn't like something the producers have foisted off on him, he lets it show in no uncertain terms. Admittedly, some of the bits and gags are downright silly, but his attitude screams “I'm only here for the paycheck and the exposure, people.” I can tolerate his over-the-top style and delivery in small doses. Unfortunately, he does nothing in small doses and I find the show easier to watch on the rare occasions when he's not there. He may find himself to be “freakin' fabulous,” but I consider him “irritatingly irksome.”

Obviously, Mario Batali is the main draw for me. That said, he's the one who takes the most time off. I realize he has a very busy and demanding life outside of “The Chew” studios, but besides his creative cookery, he brings a dry wit and humor to the mix that is sorely missed when he's not there. But questa è la vita. (That's Italian for "c'est la vie.")

Michael Symon is fun. Mario can project a sly, worldly sophistication even though he's clad in shorts and orange Crocs. Michael is just a jeans and flannel or t-shirts, blue collar Everyman. He's frequently cast in the role of stooge or foil, but he pulls it off with good-humored patience and grace. And his cooking skills are phenomenal. Okay, he “caramelizes” when he should “brown,” a fact I've belabored since Day 1, but beyond that irritant, I find him quite engaging and enjoyable.

Carla Hall has toned down the juking and jiving that used to drive me nuts – and damage her credibility as a serious cook. It's more choreographed now and has been scripted and incorporated into her persona, allowing her to spend more time sharing her culinary knowledge and less time acting out a silly stereotype.

Daphne Oz has come a long way from the vacuous bottle-blonde shoehorned into the cast for her photogenic looks and her famous surname. She apparently went to culinary school at some point and is now an actual presence in the kitchen segments rather than just a pretty prop. She'll probably never live down her “psyllium husk moment” from the inaugural episode – I don't think Mario will let her – but her POV has broadened and developed even has her personality has come forward and established itself. She's still kind of everybody's little sister, but she's got enough sass and bite to hold her own among her peers. And we learned on the first episode of Season 3 that she is pregnant with her first baby. Awwwwww! If her co-hosts truly did not know and were just acting for the camera when she dropped the “baby bomb” on national TV, they should all get Emmys for their performances. It was a fun moment.

All in all, “The Chew” launches into Season Three as a fit and trim ship, entertaining and informative and well worth the forty minutes of my day. (Thank goodness for DVRs.) Grab a bite of “The Chew.” It's become quite a tasty morsel.

1 comment:

  1. Luv Luv the CHEW......Clinton is a good host however I wouldn't be disappointed if someone were to hide his glue gun! Come on....what the heck? World class Chefs and we are wasting time crafting? Really?