Baron Ambrosia Is So Full of Awesome WTF That We'll Even Watch The Cooking Channel
Each week, we take a quick, cautious look at what's going on with food TV. This week, The Culinary Adventures of Baron Ambrosia, a half-hour show about Aladdin Sane, Fridays at 7 p.m. on the Cooking Channel.
In this space, usually I end up steering you away from cooking shows, not because I want to, but because I review cooking shows. That's what happens when you review cooking shows.
Today I want to try something new. I want to tell you to watch The Culinary Adventures of Baron Ambrosia (which is finally airing six months after the pilot) not because it's a perfect show -- it's still a cooking show -- but because Baron Ambrosia, powered by a white-hot nugget of unbreachable WTF, is the coolest cooking host alive.
Allow me to unpack that statement. A long time ago in a land right down the street -- SOMA, when it still had the balls to scare the crap out of you -- I saw El Vez at the Paradise Lounge. El Vez was and still may be the Mexican Elvis (I don't want to Google him, lest my nostalgia be ruined). Like Ambrosia, he inhabited his persona completely and brilliantly; you never questioned that he wasn't the Mexican Elvis because he so clearly was the Mexican Elvis. And he was so good at being the Mexican Elvis because at the core of his being, firing away beneath his breastbone, was a white-hot nugget of unbreachable WTF. I mean, the Mexican Elvis?
When he ended the show with an appropriately screamy version of Bowie's "Nine Years," his nugget of unbreachable WTF was giving off such a charge it was like a radioactive isotope, attracting everything and everything its way.
Baron Ambrosia has that same coolness born of that same nugget, and he's attracted me to a place where those things just do not exist -- I mean they are simply not talked about, not even by disillusioned interns across bathroom stalls -- called the Cooking Channel. The Cooking Channel might be the lamest place on cable, right next to about fifty other cable channels, right next to Hot Pockets filled with pasta, right next to pleats in men's pants, right next to Bed, Bath, & Beyond, right next to single-serve coffee makers.
Baron's WTF stems from his bravura persona as an devilish, heel-spinning, arm-waving, lady-killing, pimp-clothes-wearing incorrigible culinary adventurer -- all he's missing is a sword and a bag of mushrooms -- who reworks a simple, familiar concept for a food show -- visiting a couple ethnic restaurants per episode -- into adventure mini-films that cast restauranteurs, by force, into bit players. It's really weird. He makes Alton Brown look like a 10-year-old with his camera-in-the-refrigerator gimmick.
It's almost an affront that Baron actually pulls the whole thing off. Concept food-shows this strange shouldn't even be attempted. And he nails it because he is, at root level, a cool man. Not cooking-show cool -- that's Anthony Bourdain with his embarrassed Ramones shirt -- but, oh, I don't know, street-art cool?
It could be said that I don't know what is cool anymore if I think street art is still a barometer of cool. Skrillex?
In any case: Baron's nugget of unbreachable WTF is aflame in the series. In the first episode, he goes to Bridgeport, Connecticut -- part of his deal with the Cooking Channel is that he has to get the fuck out of New York -- and enters the restaurants he's profiling by bursting through their refrigerators, because he's tunneling around looking for P.T. Barnum's "tasty treasure" after he found a treasure map in a haunted carousel in the show's opening. What? Exactly. Don't worry about it.
The point is: He enters restaurants by busting through their appliances, rolls on the ground, gets up and improvs his way into everyone's heart. And then he mugs for camera, spins, gestures, shudders, muses, exclaims, proclaims, dances, crouches, karate chops -- ultimately tastes the food -- and generally freaks everyone out.
He also showcases little-known ethnic foods, which is good. What he is doing with the food is good. He visits these little traditional places and treats everyone like champions.
Here's the description of tonight's show: "In order to woo the lovely Tsarina, Maiden of the Sea, Baron must gather all of the greatest fragrances that Brighton Beach, Brooklyn has to offer." And he's going to do that in a way that will be even weirder than that description, you can be sure of it.
Note: I understand that Baron Ambrosia has been a star on New York cable access for years, but we shouldn't care about his origin story all that much. He is national now. Just as New York wouldn't care all that much about the origin story of, say, Peaches Christ, if she suddenly got a national tranny dance-party show on CBS after Survivor, we shouldn't care all that much about Baron's Eastern seaboard proto-fame, other than to mention: New York Emmy, 2012.
Previously, Michael Leaverton watched:
Invention Hunters, which generated much amusing comment-thread anger
Bama Glama, the show all Alabama loves to fight over in comment threads