Saturday, April 5
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.