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Saturday, April 5

Food Network Addict Review: Cooking for Real

I've written about Sunny Anderson and her new Food Network show Cooking for Real several times (Interview Part I, Interview Part II), so I'll focus this review on the show itself and skip the usual background stuff.

That being said, it's really hard to write a review of a show after seeing just one episode. Combine that with the fact that said episode is the pilot and presumably the first episode taped, and you're not in the best place to write a very objective review.

But just as food bloggers tend to review restaurants after their first visit, I as a food TV blogger must act in a similar fashion. Thankfully, it's a lot easier (and economical) for the food TV blogger to continue and revisit certain shows, as opposed to spending the time and money going back to restaurants you may have hated the first time around.

Thus, I am guilty of watching and re-watching shows on Food Network that I don't particularly care for. Perhaps one day I'll change my tune and write a positive, born-again type review.

(Get to the review!)

With all this buildup you must think I'm gearing up to write a negative review, but I'm not.


Cooking for Real's opener shows Sunny against a red backdrop taking Polaroid photos that become animated and float around into a kind of virtual collage. As a child of the 80s, I mention this feeling somewhat misty, as the camera that once vividly and instantly captured life's "real" moments is ceasing production of this magical film.

There's a theme song of sorts playing during this opener that I'm not really loving. Am I the only one who cares about such things?* I'd like to think not. It just has this weird trying-to-be-R&B-or-hip-hop-but-not kind of vibe to it.

I know Food Network's probably still years away from using music by known artists, but for Sunny--a hip-hop radio DJ--I wish they had considered it. Thankfully, the music used throughout the show is better.

The premiere episode is dedicated to the food of New Orleans. While I'm sure there's a certain sect of viewers who would love for Sunny to dive right into a super-involved, hours-long gumbo, she takes the slightly easier (although not pre-packaged--everything is fresh) route of individual shrimp pot pies in edible bowls made out of puff pastry--something I've never seen before on the network.

Sunny speaks with enthusiasm and seems quite comfortable in front of the camera. Her years in radio, spent speaking out to a universe of listeners, have prepared her well.

The next dish is a jazzed-up french toast with carmelized pecans, strawberries, and cream. Pot pie, with all its buttery layers and creamy filling, is a pretty heavy dish. Combining this with another heavy dessert item doesn't quite make sense to me, but I guess you don't have to make them on the same night. And it's not always up to the host to decide which recipes will be featured in a given episode. And New Orleans is about partying, so perhaps after gorging on creamy pot pie (and downing a few too many cocktails) you eat up some decadent french toast! It's probably all coming back up, anyhow. :-)

Food Network hosts are encouraged to tell little personal stories about the food they're making as they're cooking it. Rachael Ray seems to be the expert at this, as any ingredient in the known universe can spark some sort of story or anecdote. Loved by some, hated by others.

Sunny is pretty good at this, although she does repeat that french toast was "always eaten on Sundays" growing up about three times during the episode (could they not edit that out?). Sorry Sunny! I know it's hard to think of something poignant to say about cream cheese. I couldn't do it. I'm sure she'll be better in future episodes.

While I wasn't really blown away by any of the dishes in this episode, I still really want to watch in the future--and that's important. I like Sunny and think people will want to watch her, which seems to be one of the biggest factors in determining if a show will stay on the air or not. You may know how to cook amazing food but if you can't connect with your audience the show will tank.

There's been a lot of chatter about whether or not Amy Finley's show The Gourmet Next Door will return with more episodes, and I think one of the biggest reasons it hasn't is because she wasn't fully embraced by the viewers.

Sunny has what it takes to get that embrace and I think you'll find her a welcome change to the Food Network. She's not a suburban mother, a celebrity restaurant owner, a crazed cookbook author, a stodgy test-kitchen administrator... she's just Sunny. And that's really refreshing.

Cooking for Real premieres tomorrow, April 6 at 10:30 a.m. e/p on Food Network. She's sandwiched in-between a Barefoot Contessa mini-marathon, so all my Ina-lovers better watch!

*I probably am the only one who cares, as not many people commented on my post about noticing the Ace of Cakes music in an episode of Oprah's Big Give. Oh well. It's like mentioning the lighting in a theater review; some people could care less, while others are overjoyed it was even noticed.

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At 4/06/2008 11:45 AM , Blogger Babeth said...

Thanks for the review I will check for myself this show!

At 4/06/2008 11:46 AM , Blogger tonedef said...

re: The puff pastry bowl

I've seen Giada do this twice, I think, and I hate to say it, but Sandra may have even done it. But with all these chefs making hundreds of recipes a year, I think finding something that hasn't been done on the network is a near-impossible feat. Want to steam Salmon in your dishwasher? Too late!

At 4/06/2008 12:48 PM , Anonymous Erika said...

I just watched Sunny's show and I liked it. She seems like someone I would want to cook and hang out with.

At 4/06/2008 1:08 PM , Blogger JordanBaker said...

I liked her; I think the show needs serious work. I'd rather see a cohesive New Orleans style meal than a pot pie, a breakfast dish, and a cocktail. I'm a total sucker for pain perdu, but you're not going to eat it with a pot pie and a cocktail. Under any circumstances. Ever.

Speaking of--a real Sazerac uses Peychaud's bitters and Herbsaint. I can accept the Ouzo as a substitute for the Herbsaint, but using Angostura bitters would give it an entirely different (and probably kind of gross) flavor.

At 4/06/2008 3:30 PM , Anonymous Alec Smart said...

The key thing and most importantly, she came across as enjoyable to watch, friendly, and without the serious overkill many first timers think is needed. Culinary skills are evident.

The show needs work, sure, but if any can remember Giada's first season, this was miles better. And note, no FN superstar was born in just 6 episodes.

I think this woman has the goods.

At 4/06/2008 7:18 PM , Blogger Chef Alex Lopez said...

Just caught the debut episode of Sunny's show, and hey it wasn't bad. Lately I have lost faith in the Food Network. The recent additions have been boring, with no REAL cooking ability or food know how. Sunny, is down to earth, she is not over the top, and she explains her dishes well. I wish her luck! The Food Diva is still hoping Food Network makes room for her.
Alex~ The Food Diva

At 4/07/2008 8:41 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the show. She seems very comfortable in front of the camera and came across like a pro. I acutally would like to try both receipes, when I drop a few pounds. I hope she will be around for a while.
Has anyone noticed that FN has changed their week day line up? Guy, Mr way to cool for me, is hogging it with his DDD and that other show. I had a feeling that would happen. I don't get it, but apparently other people mush like him. Yuck.

At 4/07/2008 10:03 AM , Blogger jacob said...

babeth: you're welcome. hope you checked it out.

tonedef: yeah, i had a feeling someone had probably done it. I just don't recall seeing it. i'm going to go try that salmon, now.

erika: that's the kind of reaction they're looking for.

jordan: yeah, i didn't really understand the pairing of dishes. a new orleans show is a pretty big undertaking for a pilot. thanks for the drink clarification, too. if aunt sandy were a girl scout leader, you'd get the cocktail patch!

alec: i agree. no overkill. just the right amount of enthusiasm.

chef alex: yeah, she's not boring. i think people are going to like watching. maybe we'll be watching you too someday.

anon: if i see that "who has the biggest mouth" commercial one more time i'm going to lose it.

At 4/07/2008 5:27 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bleah. Just what we need -- *another* Food Network show hosted by a non-chef "regular person."

If I want to see pleasant, non-chef people make ordinary food, I'll go hang out with my friends (who aren't chefs). I watch the Food Network in the increasingly vain hope that it will actually teach and/or inspire me to do something I cannot do with food.

Sometimes amateurs have neat cooking tips. But you know who's really good at having neat tips about how to cook things? PEOPLE WHO COOK FOR A LIVING!

Sorry. I'll go take my meds now. But still: grrr.

At 4/08/2008 10:37 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not bad recipes but a little too much fat for me. If she said Noshing in New Orleans one more time. Another annoying host. Hooray.

At 4/09/2008 9:39 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been reading some of these reviews. Some of you guys are some haters.

I thought she did a good job considering it was he first time.

Food network really needs more diversity. I have notice with the two only african american shows. You guys have hated on them a lot compared to the other shows on the network.

what gives?

At 4/10/2008 12:49 PM , Blogger Fi said...

I thought she did a good job, and just needs to tone down her catchphrases a little bit. By the end of the episode I didn't want to hear how she'd had the french toast for a sunday feast or how it was going to be a big problem. It was cute and friendly though and at first the phrases were fun and helped her be a real person and not a robot type like some other FN personalities. I'm excited to see what else she does.


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