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UNAPPETIZING: Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain posted a cruel but accurate assessment of the talent featured on the Food Network last week on his pal, writer Michael Ruhlman’s, blog. Bourdain, a sometime Food Network star himself with shows like A Cook’s Tour, is famously hostile to latter-day network personalities like Sandra Lee of Semi-Homemade (he calls her “pure evil”) and especially the network’s star, Rachael Ray, who he has demonized publicly whenever he’s had the opportunity.
Bourdain is appalled by the treatment given to the veteran chefs that helped make the Food Network’s reputation, people like Iron Chefs Mario Batali and Bobby Flay. I have fond memories of watching Grillin’ And Chillin” with Flay and southern cuisine veteran Jack McDavid years ago, a shaggy, low-key barbeque face-off, full of an off-kilter, absurd humour and subtle aggression that suggested that the show’s stars were both very, very stoned. Bourdain is incensed at Flay’s latest show, Throwdown, which pits the veteran chef against all comers and their kitchen specialties.
“It’s a cruel exercise in humiliation,” he writes. “A variation on ‘Dunk Bozo’ or ‘Shoot The Geek,’ at the carnival. And whatever I might have thought of Flay’s previous TV efforts, I find the network’s misuse of one of their founding chefs to be nauseatingly cynical.” He’s even more incensed by the network’s treatment of Batali.
“Oh, Mario! Oh great one!” writes Bourdain. “They shut down Molto Mario - only the smartest and best of the stand-up cooking shows. Is there any more egregiously under-used, criminally mishandled, dismissively treated chef on television? Relegated to the circus of Iron Chef America, where - like a great, toothless lion, fouling his cage, he hangs on - and on - a major draw (and often the only reason to watch the show).”
His attack on Sandra Lee is priceless: “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. I would likely be arrested if I suggested on television that any children watching should promptly go to a wooded area with a gun and harm themselves. What’s the difference between that and Sandra suggesting we fill our mouths with Ritz Crackers, jam a can of Cheez Wiz in after and press hard?”
In spite of the scorn Bourdain and other TV chefs have expressed for her, Rachael Ray’s star has risen like a Trident missile, so it’s not surprising that his latest broadside at Ray seems resigned, even fatalistic: “Complain all you want,” he writes. “It’s like railing against the pounding surf. She only grows stronger and more powerful. Her ear-shattering tones louder and louder ... She’s a friendly, familiar face who appears regularly on our screens to tell us that ‘Even your dumb, lazy ass can cook this!’ Wallowing in your own crapulence on your Cheeto-littered couch you watch her and think, ‘Hell ... I could do that. I ain’t gonna ... but I could - if I wanted! Now where’s my damn jug a Diet Pepsi?’”