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|Written by Lauren Cheal|
|Friday, 17 February 2012 17:34|
Daytime television is not usually something I write about. It isn't that the programming there is value-less; there is something to be said for the high-volumes of scintillating drama cooked up by long-running soap operas. The talk show format has also produced quality television worthy of our time (I refer to mostly Oprah and her copiers). In the wake of The Great O leaving the airways for a network of her OWN (see what I did there?), a few up and coming shows are vying for our daytime attention. Of note are Anderson Cooper's daytime talk show, Anderson, and two new offerings from ABC, The Revolution and The Chew. I have only watched one episode of Anderson (the one with Dolly Parton), and I found him to be an off-putting interviewer. As for The Revolution, the show attempts to change people's lives by giving advice from different angles. There is a medical doctor, a personal trainer, a psychologist, a carpenter (no, really. Ty Pennington is one of these people, and his hair is messed up), and the glorious Tim Gunn. I have been sucked into several episodes because Tim Gunn is amazing, but on the whole, the show is dull and the other four personalities are not interesting.
ABC's other new daytime show is called The Chew and it has some real potential. There are things it could do better, but on the whole, I have enjoyed watching this show over the past few months. The show is one of the few daytime talk shows that focuses quite exclusively on food (I can only think of The Rachael Ray Show and Martha Stewart: Living as precursors). Like The Revolution, it also features 5 different personalities, each with some connection to food. These five are Clinton Kelly, Mario Batali, Daphne Oz, Michael Symon and Carla Hall. A breakdown of their contributions to the show follows.
The moderator of the show is Clinton Kelly, most well-known from his work on TLC's What Not to Wear. His contributions to the show are mostly style tips for the home, but also contributes recipes as well. His energy and sense of humour are really what makes the show fun to watch. He keeps things running, asks interesting questions of guests, is always up for trying something new and delicious, and seems to genuinely care about the people he is speaking to. Kelly is openly gay and often discusses the food traditions shared by him and his partner (I respect the show and Kelly for being open in this regard). One of my favourite moments on the show thus far was when Clinton's co-host, Daphne Oz surprised him with a Secret Santa gift of JoBeth Williams (first presented as an autographed photo, and then in the flesh). Kelly's life-long obsession with The Big Chill star (apparently, I had to look her up), caused him to nearly black out. His pure excitement and shock was so fun to watch, and his genuine personality shines through each day. Kelly also enjoys a cocktail, making him our kind of people. I enjoy him throughly and am glad to see him thriving in this role.
When this show started, I had absolutely no idea who this person was. She is by far the youngest of the group at 26 years old, and was presented as a health-foods advocate. Perhaps I am slow, but it took me a good three weeks of watching the show to put together that she was the daughter of Oprah's famous creation, Dr. Mehmet Oz. In 2006, Daphne Oz wrote a book called "The Dorm Room Diet" that dealt with eating healthy in college. On The Chew, Oz presents many vegetarian and vegan options, and offers advice on health benefits and properties of all of the food that is prepared on the show. I have a lot of respect for the way Oz carries herself on this show—she always comes off as wise beyond her years. She is also adorably naive sometimes, like when she had to be told what a 70s "key party" was. Her blushed and confused reaction after the definition was whispered in her ear was charmingly honest. Oz is often harassed for her views on healthy food by the pro-meat folks, but she takes it in stride and advocates for moderation regardless of the type of food.
If you had asked me my thoughts about Chef Mario Batali before I started watching this show, they would have been quite different than what I am about to say here. I had seen Batali on various Food Network programs like Iron Chef America, and found him to be sort of smug, a wearer of hideous orange Crocs, and unapologetically obsessed with fattening foods. The Mario Batali that I have come to know on The Chew is only two of those things. He is actually a charming, smart guy with a quick wit and a love of fattening foods. And who can fault him there? Pasta and parmigiano reggiano (the undisputed king of cheeses) is the best! I have gotten over the Crocs (Batali boldly, but not arrogantly stands by the choice even with style genius Clinton Kelly haranguing him), and find that I look forward to Batali's segments more than the other professional chefs listed below here. He is a great teacher, and someone who is interested in helping people try new things. His knowledge of Italian cuisine is encyclopaedic, and his gentle manner is welcoming.
Chef Michael Symon was also something of an unknown to me on this show—I had also seen him on Iron Chef America, but as he is a newer iron chef, I hadn't yet gotten a good sense of him. Symon is also a good teacher and demonstrator, which is essential to this show where so much of the content is sharing recipes and techniques. He is kind and helpful, and doesn't mind being made fun of either. If I have a critique of Symon, it is his meat-centric attitude. He is one of those "bacon is a food group" types who shows his prejudice against non-meat meals whenever Daphne Oz offers up an alternative. As a person who chooses to eat less meat, I am perhaps particularly sensitive to this kind of attitude. We get it. You like meat. You think we all should like meat. You think that the dish would be better if there was meat. We don't need the comments every time. To his credit, Symon does advocate for people to be smart about the meat they choose to buy (but also understands that financially this isn't always an option). His overall attitude towards meat (and specifically that a non-meat dish could never, ever compete with a meat dish) is out of date and often irritating to listen to. That being said, I do not mind Symon because he makes a real effort to teach people about the food he cooks, and seems good-natured.
This brings us to the last co-host of The Chew, and the one that I have the most problems with. Carla Hall is a two-time Top Chef alumnus—she finished as a runner-up in her season and then fourth on Top Chef: Allstars. In both instances, Hall performed well throughout the season, and came up short at the end (by the show's narrative, she failed to perform under pressure, despite being a favourite). Hall was an engaging personality on Top Chef, where her quirky personality and (by all accounts) amazing southern-inspired food let her shine. For whatever reason, that personality is not translating to the daily talk show stage, and Hall is bringing down The Chew.
I think the first problem is that she is not a natural teacher, like some of her co-hosts. Each of the hosts have a little sound bite to open the show and Hall's states, "When I cook my food, I want it to hug you". This is a great sentiment, but I think she would be better served on this show by approaching it as, "I want to help you cook food that hugs you". Watching someone cook something that is apparently delicious is pretty useless if they aren't, in some small way, able to teach you how to do it too. When demonstrating, Hall often skips steps and doesn't explain what the fancy French techniques and ingredients she uses are in a way that a home chef could understand or adapt. Another problem is that the quirkiness that is fun as a part of a once-a-week reality show (where it is not even showcased in each episode), easily becomes tiring when seen five days a week. Hall is reduced to her gimmicks and "goofy" physical comedy, and she comes off looking like she doesn't have more than that to offer. I believe she is capable of offering more, and hope that she is able to figure out how to share it.
I see a lot of potential in The Chew. The format is interesting, the food is generally very enticing, and the people are fun to hang out with. The show has inspired me to try a few new recipes, notably Daphne Oz's Coconut Pound Cake, Daphne's Mushroom Sliders (which I altered into full burgers, quite tasty), and a Coq au Vin (I used Julia Child's recipe, but was inspired by the show's). Fair warning, the recipes on The Chew's website are not always great. They often require some alterations to make work, or lack specific instructions that are seen during the demonstrations on the show, but they are a good place to start. The show is also off to a good start—and with some efforts on improving some rough edges, it could become a staple of my daytime viewing in the future.
Tags: abc, carla hall, clinton kelly, daphne oz, daytime tv, food based programming, health foods, i really didnt know i had this much to say, im unemployed, mario batali, meat snobs, michael symon, recipes, repression, the chew, the gimmicky shows could be better, the golden bundt, top chef, tv, vegetarianism, we miss oprah