The Great Food Truck Race Features Lame Truck Design, Tyler Florence's Neck Beard

Categories: Food on TV

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Tyler Florence's neck beard in its infancy. (It gets much worse, folks.)
Each week, we take a quick, cautious look at what's going on with food TV. This week, The Great Food Truck Race, a one-hour show that once saw a food truck drive past it, Sundays at 9 p.m. on the Food Network.

Part of the fun of eating at a food truck is hanging around the trucks themselves, with the oft-striking artwork lending a vaguely subversive fragrance to lunch, which lunch needs. The last thing you tend to think is, "So this is the kind of crap the art department of the Food Network comes up with?"

But that's the FIRST thing you think when watching The Great Food Truck Race, on the Food Network.

I decided to review the trucks instead of the show, because then I didn't have to review the show. But for those who do watch it, BE FORWARNED: Host Tyler Florence, whose usual hosting style is to lull people into a low-level erotic somnolence by very speaking slowly and calmly about herbs, has broken from his squeaky-clean image, I'd say about five days ago, with a grey-flecked, proto-Amish neck-beard. I know it's trite to say a beard can achieve sentience, but this thing once ate a waffle.

Mike's Pizza

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This truck looks like the laminated menu of a pizza restaurant in Fresno. The only place this truck belongs is inside Terminal 1 at SFO, parked next to Max's. Do you think "Cia Sul Via" means "Our Pizza is Shit"? I don't like this truck at all.

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Extreme Chef: So Extreme We Had to Write an Epic Poem

Categories: Food on TV

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Each week, we take a quick, cautious look at food TV. This week, Extreme Chef, a one-hour show about watching the world burn, Thursdays at 10 p.m. on the Food Network.

On the premiere Extreme Chef, seven chefs were dropped by helicopter to the "modern day hellhole" of the Salton Sea and asked to "enter life in the apocalypse." Their first challenge: raiding an "abandoned tent village down the road" to scavenge whatever they could find to make a (hugs television) "restaurant-quality entree."

Here's a selection of direct quotes from the premiere, presented as an epic poem without commentary.

I can't breathe
I'm a top-ranked windsurfer
The floodgates of hell have opened up and washed everything away for miles
I'm an extreme caterer
This is crazy
This place is a hellhole
I don't think anybody has lived here in a long time.

I'm in peak physical condition
It smells like nothing but dead stuff
I'm the private chef for NASCAR chef Jeff Gordon
I see houses that are destroyed
What can you cook here? And who's going to eat anything here?

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Time Machine Chefs Resurrects the Dark Arts

Categories: Food on TV

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We take a quick, cautious look at what's going on with food TV. This week, Time Machine Chefs, a one-hour pilot on the black death in medieval Europe, on ABC.

Time Machine Chefs went to a lot of trouble to do one thing very well: show three chefs in a room in Tudor England with nothing but fire and stacks of dead animals and knives, cooking heads.

You can ignore everything else about it. The special effects were stolen from my computer in 1995. The three judges were as memorable as hamburger buns. The host still had the price tag protruding from her head to make returning her easier.

But once the chef-competitors arrived in a replica of carcase-filled Tudor England, redolent of butchery and death -- oh. It matters not how they got there. The show started then, whatever this show was, whatever it was trying to about, when our very own Chef Chris Cosentino of Incanto, a man who rests his feet in a bucket of offal every night, and Chef Ilan Hall of the Gorbals, eager to follow Chris into Hell, were set loose into a room with animals stacked like cordwood next to a large fire with a 16th-century rotisserie powered by little dogs -- dogs, by my word. The show also set loose former Oprah chef Art Smith as foil and a jester, armed with a life worth of double entendres, mostly about the things his and other penises do.

"Merry Christmas," said the voice in Cosentino's head. "Go do something sick with a pig's head."

Their orders were to choose three of those animals each and make them into the abomination against God, against the crown, against nature herself, called a cockentrice. A cockentrice is something Henry VIII used to make his chefs cook because he was a dethlord. To make a cockentrice you take various parts three animals, arrange them into a succulent new unholy creature, roast it in blood, and cut off and eat your finger.

The competition was forgotten. The chefs eyes lit up. They lifted animals and dug through cavities and de-skinned and deboned and devolved and fat dripped and knives sang and bones cracked and Cosentino, shirtless and sweaty and bellowing at his bellows-boy (not really), raised up a pig's skull.

"I'm going to scoop out these brains to make a salsa," he said happily, as brains spilled out. Television!

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Bobby Flay, if You Must Subject Us to 3 Days to Open, at Least Have the Decency to Scream and Rage

Categories: Food on TV

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Come on Bobby, you're better than this.
Each week, we take a quick, cautious look at what's going on with food TV. This week, 3 Days to Open, a one-hour show about empires crumbling to dust, Fridays at 10 p.m. on the Food Network.

In the past few years the Food Network's programming moved from the time-honored strategy of having people cook and eat food to whatever the fuck.

"We're doing show about ice sculpting," some FN executive once said, staring out the window as he signed off on Ice Brigade, to a room full of interns. "I don't even know anymore. I'll be in the bathroom the rest of the day."

But recently a tributary in that river of whatever the fuck developed, and now it is unstoppable: The new thing is fixing bad restaurants. Everybody has some goddamn bad restaurant to fix. It seemed for a while like Gordon Ramsay could handle all the bad restaurants that needed fixing, but the tide overtook him swiftly, and he has insisted, despite the suitcases of money, on hosting no more than 15 shows at a time.

They've called in Bobby Flay. The indomitable Bobby Flay. Impregnable, unassailable, sort-of-boring Bobby Flay. True, the bad restaurants he's fixing in 3 Days to Open aren't even open yet, but they're bad. And he's agreed to fix them. It's sort of sad. It's not as sad as if Mario Batali were doing it, but it's pretty close.


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Master Chef: An Exhaustive Breakdown of the Masters' Exquisite Forkplay

Categories: Food on TV

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The Master Chefs.
Each week, we take a quick, cautious look at what's going on with food TV. This week, Master Chef, a one-hour show chronicling one home cook's descent into delusion and madness (Tali), Mondays at 9 p.m. on Fox.

When I review food TV shows I usually watch them once, because of Mystery Diners, Trisha Country Kitchen, Sweet Genius, and Have Cake, Will Travel.

But I have been watching the ever-loving shit out of Master Chef. And after watching the judges taste an endless number of dishes during the vicious and cruel judging segments, I've come to understand one thing above all else: Professional chefs really know how to use a knife and fork. Watching Lord Gordon Ramsay, Chef Graham Elliot, and Restauranteur Joe Bastianich use their utensils is the best part of the show -- BAR NONE.

Lord Ramsay

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Ramsey's utensil-work is fidgety, fussy, twitchy. He grabs the utensils nosily. His hands are jittery, fluttery, wriggly -- unquiet? troubled? uneasy? -- as he shuffles around someone's soul plated in sauce, skittering around the dish for anything halfway edible, especially if Tali made the food.

But, my God, I have never seen a table knife brought onto the battlefield with such dexterity as Ramsey's table knife. Sugarbear, he calls it. Sugarbear ferrets out raisins and catapults them off-plate, it corrals and averts and buffers and attacks. The fork often sits motionless, ashamed, as Sugarbear neatly hauls food upon it. Last up is often a lick of sauce, which Lord Ramsay lays smartly on the assembled troops awaiting transport to the mouth.

Transport to the mouth is smooth and untroubled, always.

The utensils are then forgotten, flung onto the table with hardly a glance. They are useless now.

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The Food Network's Health Inspectors Is Awfully Gross, Kind of Great

Categories: Food on TV

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Open late ... and almost compliant!
Each week, we take a quick, cautious look at what's going on with food TV. This week, Health Inspectors, a half-hour show about real food cooked simply and honestly by the best chefs in the world.

To paraphrase Anthony Bourdain, I like the nasty bits, the sick parts of Kitchen Nightmares when Chef Ramsey revels in the rank glory of a disgusting kitchen -- when he pulls out a furry cut of purplish meat from a bucket someone left under the sink since Easter and holds it aloft like a maggot golem celebrating a kill. "What is thaaaaaat?" he cries, brandishing the Disease at the owner.

That's great television. Nice work, everyone.

Now comes this: Health Inspectors, a whole show not about making disgusting restaurants decent, like Kitchen Nightmares, but about making disgusting restaurants compliant. You know, for when the health inspector comes.

Fuck. Me.

First, let me thank the Food Network for airing a show that is not about the glory of food and the heroes of its preparation but about rot and disease and maggots and cockroaches. You're all going to hell, you beautiful bastards.

And let me thank Big Momma's Chicken & Waffles & All That Is Unclean, where neither you nor I will ever eat because of Health Inspectors. Remember, by the end of the show Big Momma's Chicken & Waffles & Rivers of Blood is merely compliant. The owner, bless him, says it looks like the day he opened. You can be sure it doesn't look like that anymore.

Without further to-do, here's some of the nasty bits that host Ben Vaughn uncovered during his visit, divided into sections. (The Internet trail of tears on host Ben Vaughn is rather thin -- he appears to be a former Memphis chef and restauranteur who was hot a couple years ago, but since then there is little to be found. I'm a little worried about Ben. Anyway:)

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Baron Ambrosia Is So Full of Awesome WTF That We'll Even Watch The Cooking Channel

Categories: Food on TV

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The Baron.
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.

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You Can Watch the Food Network a Full Day and Only See Five Shows

Categories: Food on TV

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The kind of thing you see again and again if you watch Food Network
Each week, we take a quick, cautious look at what's on going with food TV. This week we review Monday, airing Monday on the Food Network.

Most cable channels can't withstand scrutiny. They're good to catch a quick show like Tommy Lee Goes to College but stay too long and the bottom drops out and you're staring horrified into the gummy maw of lobotimal programming. We wondered if the Food Network was the same and figured it was. Still, we decided to sit through and review Monday.

6:30 a.m. Bobby Flay's Barbecue Addiction
Monday starts promising with Bobby Flay, the perfect person to gently nudge you off your coma if you've stayed up all night on accident. He's going to tell you all about barbecue, gas, and charcoal. He's going to direct your gaze to the coals. He's going to flash that Irish smile that makes women of a certain age flatline and ineffectual men damn his prowess at the grill. With his calm, sure hand on the tiller of the boat driving through the stormy seas of what looks to be your incredibly hungover day, he's going to see you through. Are you feeling better? TURN OFF THE TV NOW.

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The Food Network's Invention Hunters Is Predicated on a Bigger Lie Than Most Food Shows

Categories: Food on TV

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Each week, we take a quick, cautious look at food TV. This week, Invention Hunters, a half-hour show about hunger in America, Mondays at 9 p.m.

With Invention Hunters, the Food Network returns to a genre it's had much success with in the past, the Tumbledown Effort Outside Our Core Competency That Wastes Everyone's Time But We're All Going To Die Anyway So What the Hell Let's Do This Thing (See Mystery Diners).

It purports to be a search for the "next great kitchen gadget," and this is an honorable goal, for who doesn't need another kitchen gadget? Just the other day I was looking around the kitchen for a device to put char marks on a fig and thought, Why don't I have a pan solely for empanadas? Why don't I have a special knife for cutting papayas? Why am I still using water in my ice cubes and not a special gel? Why doesn't my salad spinner have a digital clock? When is my iPad going to be able to pop up my neighbor's toast? WHO'S GOING TO MAKE IT SO I CAN COOK A CHICKEN ON THE FLOOR WITH NOTHING BUT A POWER VAC?

Fortunately, we now have Invention Hunters. Each episode, the hosts travel around the country (ha), find three wonderful new kitchen gadgets, whittle those viciously down to the one candidate with the most promise, and carry that on a gilded ark to the executives at Lifetime Brands, who decide if they want to give it a licensing deal and a new suit.

In the premiere episode, hosts Patrick Raymond and A Guy Who Looks Like Stanley Tucci (hereafter Stanley Tucci) get in a compact car and drive around looking for new inventions.

The first one they find is called Sippin' Snacker. This is a terrible plastic thing and the less said about it the better. We're done here.

The next one is called Drinkin' Duck, a plastic thing you put over the opening in a soda can. HAHAHAHAHAHA. Rubes.

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Cupcake Wars: The Problem With a Cupcake Show Is That It's a Cupcake Show

Categories: Food on TV

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Each week, we take a quick, cautious look at what's going on with food TV. This week, Cupcake Wars, an hour-long show about one thing, over and over, until death comes, Sundays at 8 p.m. on the Food Network.

Cupcake Wars has been on the air just two years, but they're already finishing up their fifth season and 60th show, and I've assiduously avoided every episode, every promo, and every ad, not because the cupcake trend was over before the show even started or because it's a show about competitive baking -- all valid reasons -- but because I think cupcakes are sort of lame.

I think cupcakes are sort of lame.

A cupcake is basically a piece of cake you eat with your hands. You might only get one good bite before it all goes to hell. You're not supposed to use a fork. Everybody feels entitled to a bite. You have to act all excited about your particular cupcake and say things like, "I win!" You eat them hunched over, like you're eating bruschetta while wearing a suit. And for what, four bucks? You can get half a sheet cake at Safeway for two bucks. Cake or brownie > cupcake, in almost all situations, which is a pretty bold proof. You might not agree with me, but it's not important, because we're talking about cupcakes.

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