Monday, July 16, 2007

The Next Food Network Star: Season Three

For more reasons than I care to name, I have no desire to usurp the role of Ann Althouse on the world's stage, but I do want to blog briefly about a "reality" TV show. Usually, my attitude toward that genre is identical to Homer Simpson's ("Reality TV? If I wanted reality I wouldn't be watching TV!") , but I hereby confess I have been following this one, and I want to put in a word or two before the Season Finale this coming Sunday (July 22).

Some not-quite-random observations.

I was not surprized when the three semi-finalists ended up being JAG (Joshua Adam Garcia), Amy, and Rory -- the only three I ever took seriously in the first place.

I was surprised, no, stunned when, of these three, the judges chose to eliminate Amy instead of JAG. I was actually less surprised when they brought Amy back and accepted JAG's resignation, because he had lied to them about two things that (I think) had never been mentioned on the show: that he had been deployed to Afghanistan while in the Marines, and that he had graduated from culinary school.

Why wasn't I so surprised? Because there was a character issue about JAG from the git-go, which the judges knew all about and mentioned frequently. In the military base episode, he threw a fit when his stove didn't work properly (it belongs to the government and doesn't work? what a shock!). Later, when some (non-chili) peppers were missing from his shopping bag, he flew into a rage and blamed others, even though a) the omission was clearly his fault and proven to be so, and b) the ingredient was obviously completely unnecessary. The fact that he turns out to be not merely an intemperate hothead but a liar as well is of course something I could not have predicted. But it isn't a big surprise either. He needs to take a hard look at himself and get his act together. (Will he? His exit interview strikes exactly the right note, so there is reason to be hopeful.)

Don't get me wrong. I would much, much rather take cooking lessons from JAG than from the other two. Also, I liked him. He reminds me of some of my friends. But the particular friends I am thinking of have trouble holding down a job or staying married to the same person for a while. Friend and Person with Large Organizational Responsibilities have different job descriptions. The prize in this competition is that the winner gets her/his own show on the Food Network. If you are going to give someone that sort of responsibility, they had better have a solid character, or you are going to have trouble. What were these judges thinking in not eliminating JAG in the first place? (Added later: They deserve part of the blame for the damage he did -- see below.)

Asked by a Congressional committee "Is not commercial credit based primarily upon money or property?” J. P. Morgan famously replied:

No, sir, the first thing is character. ... Before money or anything else. Money cannot buy it. … Because a man I do not trust could not get money from me on all the bonds in Christendom.

I admit that Morgan was specifically talking about banking, where character is even more important than in other walks of life. (Exercise for the reader: You are leaving your life savings with me for safe keeping. Which will you care more about: 1) whether I am scrupulously honest, 2) whether I am brilliantly smart, 3) whether I am of the same race/religion/political party as you.?Time's up!) But suitably modified I think it applies everywhere. If you ain't got character you ain't got sheeit.

If you don't have character, the people who trust you are fools. Do you want to deal exclusively with fools?

So now it's between Rory ("one thing that makes fat taste better is more fat") and Amy (who has trouble talking about an egg without calling it an œuf). I don't have a dog in this fight, but I figure the winner pretty much has to be Rory. (Note: Because I was camping in South Dakota, I missed the Iron Chef episode, the one episode where Amy really stood out.) Amy probably knows more about food, but Rory, who looks like a Playboy Playmate (see picture above left) and has a louder personality, comes across better on TV. Also, I made Rory's Bon Apetit cover recipe, and it was very good. The ribs were a little too falling-off-the-bone for my taste, but otherwise the whole meal was excellent. In fact, I'll probably make it again, with various modifications. So if Rory wins, which is likely, I can live with that. (For a somewhat different view of Amy v. Rory, go here.)

Added later: Well shut my mouth! Amy won! When I wrote the above, I did not know that the viewers would be deciding the winner by an on-line vote. Also, as I said, I had not seen the one episode that Amy did best: The Iron Chef one. Now that I have seen it, I can understand giving it to her. BTW, though I voted for Rory, after seeing their biographies on the last episode, I started to regret it, because I realized that Amy needed a win a lot more than Rory did. Rory has this huge restaurant in Vega, Texas, where eveyrone loves her, and Amy, who studied cuisine in Paris, is cooking for -- her family! Maybe God is a bit of an egalitarian after all. (Ordinarily, you sure wouldn't think so! For he that hath, to him shall be given.)

Added even later: What follows is based on information gleaned from the blogosphere, which I have not been able to check. I guess I have to take back what I said about Amy probably knowing more about food than Rory. It turns out that Rory graduated from the distinguished Culinary Institute of America, while Amy took some classes at a school in France, one that, apparently, is quite obscure. Like a lot of other viewers, but unlike the FN judges, I fell for that "I studied in Paris" crap. Rory, who unlike Amy has owned two restaurants and is a credentialed expert, was penalized for her lack of pretentiousness. (We Americans are such chumps about the French! When, oh when, will we get over it? Never, I guess. Sigh.) Amy's win was probably, like many another outcome of democratic elections, an injustice. The Network's odd decision to choose the winner by means of an election, and the disappointing and lackluster final episode of the season three series, were in effect parting gifts from JAG. Originally, the Network had filmed the final episode in February, in which finalists JAG and Rory were flown to Florida and had to cook dinner for all the Food Network stars. Apparently, the other stars were to choose their new colleague, like a university department doing a personnel search. Pretty cool! Much better, at any rate, than having the viewers decide. (Since when are the viewers supposed to be experts on who will be able to make a TV series that they, the viewers, will like? They aren't.) But then JAG's character problem boiled over, and they had to junk all that footage and, whether it was because they lacked the time or the money, they did the crummy, cheapo final episode that we saw. Thanks alot JAG! (You putz.)


Craig D said...


Lester Hunt said...

My, aren't we delphic today!

Anonymous said...

Problem with Rory is that she didn't transmit that knowledge. And I do wonder if CIA is unhappy with her kitchen skills reflceting badly on them. Her kitchens are a disaster when she cooks in them, her food, while tasty I'm sure, is a heart attack waiting to happen, and the only vegetable she seems able to make is asparagus covered in sugar. Amy didn't impress me because she went to school in France, but rather because of her quiet competance and ability to transmit it.

Lester Hunt said...

Animal fat, and easy on the vegetables. That's the sort of cuisine that Rory represents. It's Texas, pardner! Okay, I admit it's not my favorite sort of thing either, but neither is Amy's cuisine. In the whole series, Amy never made anything that I would especially want to either make or eat. Also, when I do a memory-rerun of their presentations, it doesn't seem to me that there was any more knowledge communicated in what Amy said and did than in what Rory said and did (other than what things are called in French, which doesn't count). Except that Amy made it sound more educational. But I'm not so sure that's really a good thing. The real art here, I think, is to make education sound like something else (the Alton Brown move!).

Anonymous said...

It looked like Rory didn't handle the loss very well when Emeril announced that Amy won. Sheesh, what a drag way to end the season - JAG's lies being exposed, then Rory not being able to face the camera at the end. I thought Amy was the most solid, consistent cook throughout the show. And she didn't rely on low-cut blouses.