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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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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Five Food Network Chefs Haters Love To Hate

“There's Always Going To Be Haters”

Since it signed on in 1993, Food Network – or the “TV Food Network" as it was called in those days – has presented us with quite a variety of food personalities. “Celebrity chefs” we call them, although many are not chefs at all. Some are “celebrity cooks” at best. But whether “chef” or “cook,” all are certainly celebrated in popular culture. And like most pop celebrities, they are either beloved or hated.

“Hate” is a strong word. Webster defines it as “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.” Honestly, how many TV chefs do you really fear? I think the Urban Dictionary does a better job of describing a “hater” as “a person that simply cannot be happy for another person's success. So rather than be happy they make a point of exposing a flaw in that person. Hating, the result of being a hater, is not exactly jealousy. The hater doesn't really want to be the person he or she hates, rather the hater wants to knock someone else down a notch.”

That definition resonates. So here, in no particular order and presented along with my own personal approbation or excoriation, are five “celebrity chefs” haters love to hate.


Giada De Laurentiis

Giada has a lot of haters. There are websites and blogs dedicated to hating on Giada De Laurentiis. It's almost a subculture. Some haters think she's pretentious and some haters think she's a poser and a fake. Some say, “She looks like she's afraid to get her hands dirty.” People hate on her because she smiles too much. People hate on her because she shows off her cleavage. People hate on her because they think her head is too big. A bunch of haters call her “man hands.” The hater media went nuts a while back with a story about Nicole Kidman “spitting out Giada's food” on TV.  One of the biggest reasons people cite for hating Giada is her “over-enunciation” of Italian words.

(Sigh)

I'm not claiming to be a personal friend, but at least I have met Giada. I've been in a room with her, spoken with her, spent time with her – which is more than most of her detractors can say. You want my two cents? You'll get it anyway. Calling another human being a “bobble head” is a strong indicator of your level of maturity. You want to hate on her because of her smile, her figure, her head, her hands – fine. I think hating somebody because of the way they look is the depth of shallowness.

Ignorance is also a poor excuse for hating someone. For instance, on the subject of her “over-enunciation” of Italian words, food blogger Brooke Newberry says: “Giada is totally from California. So what’s up with the Italian food pronunciation?”

Mi dispiace, tesoro, ma sei un idiota non informato. (Google it if you need to.) Giada is not “totally from California.” She's “totally” from Rome and hardly spoke English when she moved to California as a child. Funny, when Texas-born Mexican-American chef Aarón Sánchez “over-enunciates” Spanish words, nobody bitches. Why does Giada get the hate treatment for correctly speaking her native language?

Lest you think me a completely uncritical fanboy, there is one thing Giada does that drives me to distraction: she “grabs” everything. She grabs a bowl, she grabs a pan, she grabs a spoon, she grabs an onion. Please, Giada, grab a thesaurus!

As for the rest of the ninny-whiner BS, back off on all the “hate” and do a little research on Giada's background. You might find some holes in your bigotry.

Giada is philosophical about the whole thing. I asked her about it once and she said, “There's always going to be haters and there's always going to be people who like you and you just can't please everybody.”

Bobby Flay

One of the most common “hater points” about Bobby Flay is that he's cocky and arrogant. “Jerk” and “dick” are some of the more common epithets hurled in his direction. People think his shows “Throwdown” and “Beat Bobby Flay” are just vehicles to reinforce his arrogance by allowing him to beat down and lord it over lower level cooks. It's television, people. The Food Network execs are way more responsible for Bobby's image than Bobby himself is. And besides, he does lose now and again.

Muhammad Ali is credited with saying, “It's not bragging if you can back it up.” Bobby can back it up. He's been a linchpin at Food Network almost since Day One. He's had fourteen shows and specials on the network, eight of which still air regularly. He's also made crossover appearances on many of the network’s other programs as well as guest shots on shows like The Early Show over on CBS. Add in a half-dozen Daytime Emmy awards and three citations by the James Beard Foundation, including Rising Star Chef of the Year in 1993, a dozen best-selling cookbooks and a sprinkling of other television and movie roles, and I think maybe the cockiness is a little justified.

Based only on what I saw on TV, I used to think Bobby was a jerk, too. But after I met the man, spent some time talking with him, and watched his interaction with an awestruck young fan who had just won some sort of local cooking contest, my opinion completely changed. Isn't it amazing what a little education and information can do?

Guy Fieri

Boisterous, bleached, bowling-shirted Guy Fieri rubs a lot of people the wrong way. I'm one of them, but not really because of anything personal against Guido. I just don't like the way Food Network packages and markets him by shoving him down my throat 24/7/365. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. But again, that's television. Find a good vehicle and drive it to death.

Guy is one of those “not a chef” celebrity chefs. He started his food career in grade school selling pretzels and washing dishes. After developing a more defined food focus as an exchange student in France, Guy worked in restaurants and wound up with a degree in Hotel Management from UNLV. The rest of his meteoric rise is Food Network history.

Never one to mince words, Anthony Bourdain describes Guy as “silly,” but also bears him grudging respect. "I look at that and think what a lot of people think: ridiculous and painful -- even insulting. But I also think 'That’s one hard-working man, glad I don’t have to work that hard.'”

Guy's over-the-top personality is not my cup of tea. I don't relate to man caves, hot rods, and hard rock. I've never met Guy. I don't “hate” him. I just don't think we have much in common. I could be wrong. Maybe the opportunity will arise for him to change my mind someday. It happened with Bobby.

There is one thing that endears Guy to me, though, and that's his attitude toward his name. His great-grandfather was one of thousands of Italian immigrants who changed the family name to “fit in” and “be more American.” To honor his family and his Italian heritage, Guy changed his name back from the Americanized “Ferry” to the original “Fieri.” And he properly rolls the “r” when he says it, too. Uh-oh, he'd better be careful; somebody might accuse him of “over-enunciating” an Italian word.

Sandra Lee

Sandra Lee has almost as many haters as Giada and for many of the same reasons. There's a lot of hate over Sandra's cleavage-baring outfits and her painted on smile. The main difference is that Sandra's haters aren't as vocal and virulent about it. Well, most of them anyway. Anthony Bourdain alone more than takes up the slack. "Pure evil. This frightening Hell Spawn of Kathie Lee and Betty Crocker seems on a mission to kill her fans, one meal at a time. She Must Be Stopped. Her death-dealing can-opening ways will cut a swath of destruction through the world if not contained." See what I mean?

A lot of haters think Sandra Lee is a plastic princess. She's bashed on a regular basis on hater websites like “Semi-Horrible Cooking” and YouTube channels like “Sandra Lee Sucks.” New York Times critic Amanda Hesser slams Sandra for seeming “more intent on encouraging people to create excuses for not cooking than on encouraging them to cook wholesome simple foods.”

I don't know Sandra Lee, so I can't “hate” her, per se, but I can disagree with her “Semi-Homemade” culinary POV. I'm an elitist fresh food snob and unrepentantly proud of it. Whereas Sandra's philosophy revolves around using thirty percent fresh ingredients and seventy percent canned or packaged dreck, my methodology runs in exactly the opposite direction. Except thirty percent might be a little generous. Bourdain further rips her signature style, "All you have to do is waddle into the kitchen, open a can of crap and spread it on some other crap that you bought at the supermarket. And then you've done something really special." That said, Mario Batali, himself no stranger to the fresh vs processed battle, opines, “She gets people out of fast-food chains, and that’s a good thing. At least she gets them in the kitchen, even if they are using frozen berries.” You can't disagree with that.

Sandra Lee came to Food Network about the time the network execs were turning away from actual trained chefs and bringing in more “relateable” cooks. She never actually wanted to do a “cooking show,” preferring the realm of home and garden. The network wonks basically said, “Fine. Do decorating and tablescapes if you want to. As long as you find a way to cook, too.” So, drawing on her two-week cooking course at Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa, “Semi-Homemade” was born.

Aside from all that, Sandra has had a difficult path in life and I admire her pluck and courage. Like I said, I'm not a “hater” but neither am I a fan.

Paula Deen

Speaking of not being a fan, I've seen Paula Deen, the woman who advocates frying butter, in person and I remain largely unimpressed. Her “live cooking” demos are usually just excuses for her adoring dupes to gather and listen to and hoot about her tales of adult diapers and her husband's feet while her faithful and overworked assistant does all the actual cooking. Without an ounce of culinary training, Paula Deen employed enormous grit and determination to elevate herself from her “Bag Lady” days preparing bag lunches for office workers in Savannah to a successful restaurant in that city and then on to a national television empire. That much is admirable. Her empire crumbled, however, when some of her less admirable personality traits began to manifest themselves.

My wife and I watched some of her early televised efforts. They were.......cute......in a crazy Southern aunt sort of way. But even then her personality made something in me itch. I've lived in the South for more than forty years. I've resided in Virginia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, and both Carolinas and I've traveled extensively in Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, and the rest of the South. And I will tell you one thing most emphatically: in all my years and all my travels, I've never met anyone who says “y'all” as much as Paula Deen. Even my wife, born and bred in the “Heart of Dixie,” whose family tree has Southern roots that extend beyond “The Recent Unpleasantness” all the way back to before the founding of the republic, says there is not one leaf on even the remotest branch of that tree that sounds or acts anything like Paula Deen. My wife thinks she's an insulting stereotype. And I think that's also the source of my itch. I knew a woman in East Tennessee who sounded just like average folks most of the time; until she went to New York or Chicago and wanted to get something out of a Yankee. Then she became more country than Dolly Parton's left shoe. She stopped just shy of wearing a festive frock and a big floppy hat and saying, “fiddle-dee-dee.” Makes me wonder about Paula's “moonlight and magnolia” personality as well. As the country folks say, there's just something that doesn't gee-haw about that woman.

Apparently, I'm not alone in that assessment. TV personality Clinton Kelly, who was crudely insulted by the butter queen on his own show, says, “I find her shtick more annoying than a hangnail.” He adds that upon meeting her, “her good old-fashioned ‘charm’ struck me as artificial.”

Even though I have seen her in person, I don't know her personally so I can't “hate” her. But neither can I stand to watch her, live or on TV.

Well, that's five, I guess. But I have to give honorable mentions to Rachael Ray.

Another “non-chef” celebrity chef, she has obviously gained the affection and approval of her peers. Anthony Bourdain simply adores her: "We know she can't cook. She shrewdly tells us so. So, what is she selling us? Really? She's selling us satisfaction, the smug reassurance that mediocrity is quite enough." And Emeril Lagasse once said, “[She] doesn't know anything about food. I would not put her on.” With endorsements like those, how can you go wrong?

I've seen her described as “a chattin' n' chewin' machine fueled by sheer annoyingness.”

What Giada's and Sandra's smiles and cleavage and Guy's spiky hair are to some people, Rachael's voice is to me. Two minutes' exposure and my ears begin to bleed. I've heard it described as a “hoarse bark, bark, bark that sends me up the kitchen wall. She sounds like a dog left out in the rain.” And I am among legions of intelligent, well-spoken people who absolutely cringe over her cutesy additions to the culinary lexicon. “Delish?” “Yum-o?” “Sammie?” I'm sorry, my sandwich does not need a nickname. And if you really want to piss off any worthwhile Italian cook, just call extra-virgin olive oil “EVOO.” That annoys the crap out of me whenever and wherever I see it used.

To paraphrase an old Dean Martin hit, everybody hates somebody sometime. I've had my share. A commenter on this blog once called me a delusional idiot for a stance I took, throwing in “demented” and “long-winded” for good measure. I was leaving one of my radio shows for an acting gig once and my listeners were being effusive with praise on my last broadcast. Except for one caller who ripped me a new one on the air and hung up with a sarcastic “goodbye and good riddance.” All I could say after he hung up was, “Why in the hell did he ever listen in the first place?”

And that's my advice to haters of any stripe. We live in the land of the free, after all, and if you don't like Giada or Bobby or Guy or Sandra or Paula or Rachael or Food Network in general, you're free to not watch. You notice I didn't say anything about personally “hating” anybody on my list. I just don't watch the ones I don't like. Similarly, I don't watch anything with “Housewives” or “Kardashian” in the title and that decision just fills my life with sunshine and happiness. I don't “hate” because I don't care.

William Shatner once got a lot of hate for his SNL “get a life!” diatribe. But you know what? It's pretty good advice.

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