Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Food pr0n

So of late I started watching some food oriented shows. I don't watch shows to learn how to actually cook stuff and so I am more interested in programs where the host takes culinary excursions and discovers different cuisines or eating locations. The Keith Floyd shows on BBC used to be a huge favorite of mine. Floyd had the lovable asshole part down pat, so even if you thought some of his own attempts at cooking were just random stir-fry stuff with liberal (really liberal) lashings of alcohol, his enthusiasm at roaming markets and food stalls and mooching on other people's food made for fun viewing.

Getting back I sat through an entire 18-episode run of this Travel Channel show called Man v. Food. MvF can very literally be described as food porn. The food here is of the greasy variety (I like cheese in general, but the ubiquity of said item here is staggering). The aesthetics of presentation are variable - more often than not dishes are created in slap-one-thing-over-another mode. The focus is hugely on quantity - most of the places featured on this show pile enough onto a plate to fill  at least two normal-sized servings. We do know that thanks to this culture of excess the US produces an alarming number of obese people (a third of its population or more) and trashes enough food to feed probably several African nations. If you're a vegetarian, avoid this one at all counts because I doubt if apart from the dessert oriented stuff, there was a single item that did not involve the death of mammal / bird / sea creature. Several of them featured kilos of flesh food.

So why? Well, I do happen to like my meat and there were many moments of drool at seeing various fleshy grills and sandwiches and pies (although you'll never convince me that fried hotdogs covered in melted cheese and snuggled into raspberry jam coated rolls are have anything other than gross-out value). Secondly, MvF has a great host in Adam Richman. The format of the show is that in each episode, Richman visits a different city/town, checks out the recommended local pig-out places and lastly takes on a local food challenge, which is typically to consume X humongous amount of food or some insanely spicy dish (chicken wings seem a favorite in this category, since I recall at least 2 episodes where he downs batches of super-hot wings). Surprisingly Richman's not some obscenely fat mouth-breather - if you check up on trivia for the show, he seems to maintain a pretty healthy lifestyle outside of the show and exercises religiously during program shoot schedules. He is boisterous and fun-seeking, but also exudes a humbleness and genuine liking for new people and places that keeps his act from crossing over into prick-like behavior. After a while, there's little novelty left in the food and the challenges get mononous, and it's really his enthusiasm and sense of humor that keeps one moving over to the next 20 min (without ad breaks) episode. Should I bother to check out Season 2? Apparently he meets Alice Cooper in one of the episodes. Hmmm....

I also watched one episode of No Reservations, which like MvF is another Travel Channel program. Host Anthony Bourdain is more in the Keith Floyd vein, traveling to different countries to see and taste their cultures. I saw an episode where he visits Kerala. This was fun. Bourdain meets up with Indians happy to host the camera-crew escorted gora-saab interested in "Indeeyan Culture", and has a good time, be it pigging out at roadside food stalls in Kochi, attending a traditional "saddhi" feast or giving himself to inertia and gluttony along the backwaters. He even wrangles entry into a Mammooty film set and gets invited to share the superstar's lunch. Bourdain makes the typical firang remarks about the complexity of Indian culture and the continued existence of the caste system, but he's pretty alright as a host - curious but traveled enough to not be gullible or cloyingly polite. He's also more cautious than Floyd about getting drunk and doing something stupidly embarrassing (which was part of Floyd's charm, to be frank). I'll definitely be checking out a few more episodes of this stuff.

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