For those of you who would rather sit on the couch and watch someone else cook on TV than venture into the kitchen, this post is for you. After many hours of intense sedentary research, I’ve compiled a list of the best and worst of the food TV world. I’ve done all the work, so now you don’t have to waste precious DVR space with crappy culinary programs. Only the best for the KB and her readers!
Most Fabulously Entertaining Award: Brian Boitano in What Would Brian Boitano Make? Gay or straight, no one’s knows, but this flamboyant former Olympic ice skater has an incredibly entertaining and dorky food show—and the theme music is pulled straight from the South Park episode making fun of him. At least the man can laugh at himself, right? In fact, that’s pretty much what he does the whole time. It’s a great show for unique and fun recipes for a crowd.
Love to Hate/Hate to Love Award: Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee. Sandra Lee is crazy, but at least she knows it. She embraces her love for all things kitschy and homemade by taking that extra step and creating lovingly tacky “tablescapes” for each of her shows. She even re-decorates the kitchen based on the day’s theme. Now that’s dedication. While her recipes are usually nothing to write home about, she does have a knack for time-saving shortcuts and dessert decorating. Her other show, Sandra’s Money-Saving Meals, shows viewers a much more relaxed—and a lot less ridiculous—side of Sandra Lee.
Most Obnoxious Host Award: Rachael Ray. No one’s surprised here, I’m sure. Just because she’s annoying, doesn’t mean her recipes aren’t any good. There’s just nothing too complex going on here, but how could there be when it all has to be made in 30 minutes or less?
The Almost as Annoying as Rachel Ray Award: Kris Capra in Easyway Gourmet. She uses ridiculous phrases like “groovy maximus” and “super de doper easy.”
Worst Hair Award: Anne Burrell, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef. My roommate and I frequently wonder, what in the world is her hair stylist thinking? The big blond spiky mess truly baffles the mind.
Least Personality Award: The chefs on Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food. Martha has made all these chefs take their personalities and throw them out the window. Not an ounce of character can be found here. The recipes, however, are good basic recipes for those wanting to conquer the fundamentals: brownies, roasted chicken, tuna Nicoise, Bolognese sauce and the like.
The KB’s Biggest Girl Crush: Alex Guarnaschelli from Alex’s Day Off. I could listen to Alex talk and cook all day—it’s like she’s doing the play by play for a food porno. She’s down to earth, classy and has a lot of great recipes for making chef-y dishes at home.
Moto, the restaurant behind Future Food
Craziest Kitchen Stunts Award: Future Food. I sit in awe every time I watch this show and, no, it didn’t just get chosen because it features Chicago celebrity chefs. Future Food gives viewers a look into the science lab cum professional kitchen of molecular gastronomy pioneers Chefs Omar Cantu and Ben Roche. These guys do things with food like you’ve never seen before. Their shtick is to take wasted food or food products and make it into something delicious to sell in their high-end restaurant, Moto. For example, I’ve seen them create environmentally friendly edible packing peanuts and then turn them into a five-course prix fixe, make snack food out of a health bar and a sports drink, and serve a peanut butter and jelly made with leftover peanut shells and the squashed skins of the grapes left over from winemaking. It’s a must-see foodie program.
Most Educational Program: Good Eats. This local access show turned late-night Food Network program is part-science, part-cooking, part-educational fun. Alton Brown is nerdy for sure, but he makes the science behind food fun. If you want to make a classic recipe right from start to finish (e.g., coq au vin, corn tortillas, calamari), or try some serious foodie undertakings (e.g., smoking your own bacon, making our own pomegranate molasses, or deep-frying a turkey), Brown is who you should turn to.
Best New Show: Mexican Made Easy with Marcela Valladolid. She’s young, hip and making everyday Mexican food accessible. It’s about time, Food Network. I just wonder why she’s not on more often.
Best Foreign Food TV Host: Nigella Lawson of Nigella Express. I know this show is old, but this buxom English chef won my heart from the moment she opened her mouth to tell me about her Triple Chocolate Brownies.
Best Asian Show: Simply Ming. Chef Ming Tsai creates one East-West master sauce each week and then showcases a variety of dishes you can make with it. He also invites one well-known chef or foodie to create a unique dish with the master sauce and taste his offerings. Combinations like Sriracha-greek yogurt, cranberry-lemongrasss sauce, and Ponzu-soy vinaigrette keep viewers guessing.
Most Ethnically Authentic Program: Mexico: One Plate at a Time. Yes, Rick Bayless and his daughter overact the shit out of this show, which shoots in both Mexico and Chicago, but it’s incredibly informative. I love Mexican food and this show shines a spotlight on both the modern and ancient aspects of the cuisine. I print out a copy of almost every recipe Bayless makes. Some of them take time, but they seem so worth it for that straight-out-of-Oaxaca taste.
Best Gourmet American Program: Barefoot Contessa. While it does seem like Ina Garten has nothing better to do than cook for her husband Jeffrey and their friends in the Hamptons, at least she makes some great updated classic American dishes in the process. If you’re just venturing into gourmet cooking and want to try making fancier versions of everyday American dishes, this a great place to start.
Best Italian Program: Giada DeLaurentis in Giada at Home and Everyday Italian. I love Giada. She makes incorporating Italian ingredients and techniques into your cooking repertoire a real joy. I think she’s one of the more inventive and imaginative chefs on Food Network. Her food is modern, sophisticated and perfectly plated.
Best Show for Local Restaurants: Diners, Drive-in & Dives. Guy Fieri might be annoying in Guy’s Big Bite, but he does well eating his face off at regional joints across the country. You’re bound to find a cheap, delicious and fun spot in your area with this show.
Best for finding Chicagoland Hot Spots: Check Please! Three Chicagoans visit and review each other’s favorite spots. Only problem is that great secret spots often become not so secret. Good for the restaurant, but longer lines aren’t great for patrons.