As I mention occasionally, I don't watch much television, and very rarely do I get hooked on a tv show. I do love cooking- decorating- and design- competitions on Bravo, as they tend to center on real craftsmanship and knowledge of technique, as opposed to the typical network reality programming where producers seem only interested in arraying a pastiche of personality types to generate the most conflict.
That said, this season I did watch Hell's Kitchen (concluded Monday), as well as Top Chef, which has 8 or so episodes to go. HK's Gordon Ramsay seems to be a superb chef, and yet he is quite abrasive and seems unnecessarily cruel in his delivery of criticism. The winner of Hell's Kitchen would be appointed head chef of Ramsay's Las Vegas restaurant and a salary of $250,000. The HK's chefs seem very amateurish and unfamiliar with the more sophisticated ingredients a quarter-million buck chef would be expected to know and use. I quickly realized HK was yet another personality show and not about the cooking when on one episode, the punishment for a group of losers was that they were forced to eat offal - organ meats such as the heart, liver, the tongue, etc. The contestants were duly repulsed by the prospect of eating these less-than-popular meats, and this baffled me. I'm no gourmet, but I've always known that the mark of a master chef is that they can take these most humble ingredients and from them create some of the most delectable meals, and certainly this shouldn't be a foreign concept to the people on HK. Pig's trotters? Yeah, they sound revolting, but apparently, there's a place in England that whips up such a mean trotter that Top Chef's Tom Colicchio would have them as part of his last meal on earth.
What I found offensive about the HK offal thing was that rather than taking an opportunity to in some way educate the public about the very practical prospect of using every bit of the animal slaughtered for food, they took the Fear Factor approach by playing up the squeamishness aspect of icky, unfamiliar cuts of meat. The fact is that in a world where people are crapping their pants to appear conservative of resources, it's obscene to not make the most of the animals which we use purely as a food source. But again, that is part of it- sensation over substance, I suppose.
In contrast, BravoTV's Top Chef has featured offal episodes to present a particular challenge to the skills of the contestants. But Top Chef is about cooking.
A much better way to watch Gordon Ramsay in action and to learn his philosophy on feeding people is to watch Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America, in which GR goes into failing restaurants and spends a week with staff to reverse the trainwreck in process. Apparently, he's about to do a parallel program on American TV, but I somehow doubt it will be as entertaining or informative as the BBC original, dumbed-down as things always seem to be for the American audience, alas.
One of the best food shows ever is(was) Nigella Bites, by English kitchen goddess Nigella Lawson. Nigella seems to me a very domestic, slightly-more-exotic dark-haired version of Kate Winslet. She has a very earthy, homey approach to cooking and her recipes are generally simple and incredibly satisfying, yet very stylish. Her Rudolph Pie (a take on Shepherd's Pie) and pasta putanesca are particular standouts. Beautiful food, wonderfully presented.
Speaking of cooking, I have a favorite recipe I'm dying to cook again soon. Pan-roasted chicken with fig sauce, caramelized roasted figs and a side dish of wild assorted mushrooms and shallots in butter. Just a teeny bit of a (preferably stinky) blue cheese with the figs is a brilliant flavor pairing. Toe-curling. It's funny, because I really am not fond of figs, but this sauce is such an elegant little concoction that it made me a fan. This recipe taught me to enjoy the art of making a fine sauce. I like serving this with a very broad-flavored red wine like a Zinfandel, but I'm sure a Pinot Noir would be great with this too, with the savory notes of the chicken and the earthy goodness of the mushrooms. Did I say toe-curling already? Well, it bears repeating. OMG. I can taste it all now. Yeah, I'm definitely getting well. Sorry for the foodie ramble. I've been kinda cooped up.