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Television: Bourdain Throwdown:

There are people who watch the Food Network, people who don’t watch the Food Network and people who loathe the Food Network. That last group is very likely the smallest one of the three. Most people wouldn’t take the time or energy to hate the folks on the Food Network, but if you’re a “real chef” you might very well feel it’s worth your time and effort to complain.

Such was the case last month when writer/chef Anthony Bourdain guest blogged on another writer/chef’s site, Ruhlman.com (Michael Ruhlman). So funny and inflammatory were Bourdain’s comments, that the posting burned across the Internet, causing Ruhlman.com’s traffic to spike. It then became the topic of discussion in the Food-TV/food blogging Internet world.

Okay, so maybe you’re thinking, who cares? It’s the Internet. But you might care, mildly so, if you read Bourdain’s rant. His main objection to the Food Network is how silly it has become; how it caters to the lazy viewers at home who don’t really care about real cooking, just so long as what they make tastes good.

Bourdain leaves only Emeril and Mario unscathed. The rest of them get the full treatment. Bourdain begins with a bang: “I actually WATCH Food Network now and again,” he writes, “more often than not drawn in by the progressive horrors on screen. I find myself riveted by its awfulness, like watching a multi-car accident in slow motion. Mesmerized at the ascent of the Ready-Made bobblehead personalities, and the not-so-subtle shunting aside of the Old School chefs, I find myself de-constructing the not-terrible shows, imagining behind-the-scenes struggles and frustrations and obsessing unhealthily on the Truly Awful ones.” Somehow, Bourdain’s comments seem to hit the nail on the head, even if they do seem cruel.

While he mostly criticizes the show for ruining otherwise good chefs, like Mario for instance (“Is there any more egregiously under-used, criminally mishandled, dismissively treated chef on television?”), he saves his true venom for Rachel Ray and none other than the cocktail queen herself, Sandra Lee, who hosts “Semi-Homemade.” Bourdain says he screams out loud at Lee “in disbelief as she massacres another dish, then sits grinning, her face stretched into a terrifying rictus of faux cheer for the final triumphant presentation.”

Rachael Ray apparently has the mark of the beast: “So…what is she selling us? Really? She’s selling us satisfaction, the smug reassurance that mediocrity is quite enough. 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?’”

He even must complain about Paula Deen, whose “recent Hawaii show was indistinguishable from an early John Waters film. And the food on a par with the last scene of Pink Flamingos.”

Though he calls Lee “pure evil” and a “Hell Spawn of Kathie Lee and Betty Crocker,” hosting a show that could be used as “psychological warfare strategy “against the resurgent Taliban – or dangerous insurgent groups. A large-racked blonde repeatedly urging Afghans and angry Iraqis to stuff themselves with fatty, processed American foods might be just the weapon we need to win the war on terror.”

Bourdain was just having fun with what he wrote, and it is one of the funniest things ever written about the Food Network, but it is perhaps asking too much for a mainstream audience show to strive for something it could never achieve; the people who do well on there only have to have personality and a little bit of cooking talent. It may be the Food Network, but it’s still television. And ratings still count. Bourdain isn’t going to have them tuning in to his show on the Travel Channel, though if he keeps writing stuff like this he’ll be a star.

To read Bourdain’s full rant, please visit http://blog.ruhlman.com/2007/02/guest_blogging_.html

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