We are guilty of watching far too much t.v. (NCIS, why do you continue to woo me despite your sliding plot lines?) but I rarely, rarely watch the Food Network. This seems kind of crazy to even me. I love food. I love Master Chef (and Master Chef Junior! Which is too cute for words!). I enjoy many of the recipes that originate on the Food Network, but besides a Thanksgiving marathon while I get the house and feast together, it’s just not something I like to watch.
Behind the scenes, though, it’s absolutely fascinating.
In his new book, ‘From Scratch,’ Alan Salkin delves into the realities of the Food Network and how it went from piddling, middling maybe-watched network into the media baron of the food industry. Did you know that in the beginning, Mario Batali was actually cooking without an oven? And when he pretended to be putting a dish in the oven to cook, he was actually stomping his foot on the floor to mimic the sounds a real oven would make?
Somehow, there’s a strange honesty in that to me. Like it says so openly, yeah, this is all performance, and we get it. That’s something I just can’t find there today.
All the gloss, adorable cake pops no human with a regular oven and a staff of one: self could ever make, shiningly polished pots and pans… they all make me wonder where the kitchen is. The real kitchen. I, for one, am always missing at least one ingredient from every recipe I make. My kitchen is pock-marked by birthday cards, mail we need to sort, stacks of unread magazines, and a small library of board books on every surface we can reach. It’s a maze of small-child toys and seating options that make you wonder if we’re opening an offshoot of Babies R Us.
My kitchen is, in all its regular, real life mess, an ode to every day food, and that’s exactly what I love best about it. I think about my favorite food writers, and I imagine they would feel at home here.
Take Laurie Colwin. Colwin (whom I fondly think of as Laurie, as if we’re old friends) is an American author who also happened to love to eat. And cook. And feed her small daughter. Home Cooking, and its follow-up, More Home Cooking, is in equal parts ode to cooking and eating. She’s one of those people who confesses to an obsession with beets and admits that she’s gorged herself on eggplant-as-meal more times than she can count in the fabulously titled tale, “Alone in the Kitchen with Eggplant.” How can you not love that?
Colwin cooked because she had a child to feed, and she ate because you have to. She graces us with a real-life approach to food that makes eaters of everybody… and even caused me to give beets a second try. (I am still firmly in the anti-beet camp. Please, share your conversion recipes in the comments. Beet lovers are very pro-beet, and I do want to like them.) Her roast chicken is just right, and she has a recipe for “damp gingerbread” that should come out of everyone’s kitchen in the next few months.
Laurie is real. She’s the kind of cook you meet in print and refer to by her first name. She’s the person you wish you could have in your kitchen just to chat while you slice up some onions and laugh as you start to tear up. She’s the kind of person you find yourself writing about one week because the most important thing you can ever think to talk about that’s food related is always Laurie Colwin, and you might as well give up ever being able to do her justice because she’s Laurie, and like any old friend, there’s just nothing you can say that will ever express your love, affection, and admiration quite enough.
Laurie died unexpectedly in 1992 at 48, long before we became friends. I like to imagine what she would be like on the Food Network today. How she’d stack up to the Stars. I can’t see her branding her own line of spatulas for sale at your nearest big-box store or festooning a plate with anything other than a fork. Instead, I imagine she’d run some well-written and decently-photographed blog, where, without much fanfare, we’d find lots of recipes for eggplant, beets, and friendship.
To me, that legacy is priceless. Laurie was a mother who successfully fed her child and filled her world with love and food, which are, in so many families, often the same thing, and wrote about it so we could all have it to keep as her own. As a new mother myself, I finally understand how hard that can be, and how great a calling. Although she’ll never make another meal, Laurie will continue to feed us for generations.
I wonder if the same is true for the food T.V. stars?
Tell me: Do you have a favorite food personality? You all know I love Nigella. But nobody, nobody nobody, will ever steal my heart from Laurie. After all, she’s the only person who has ever successfully convinced me to give beets a second chance.