Food Network news: ‘This is war, cupcake!’

I stumbled upon the Food Network quite by accident. I was in Southern California watching my infant granddaughter when one day, while channel surfing, I found that the peppy music and stunning close-ups during Food Network’s cooking shows kept baby Gracie enraptured on even her fussiest days. I was hooked.

I mean, where else (since the demise of la Julia Child) can you observe a world class chef like edgy Anne Burrell proclaiming that you need to “burn the crap” out of your bell peppers so they’ll peel effortlessly. Oh, yeah, I’m a fan.

These days cooking is cool, and great chefs are rock stars. Celebrity chef Emeril “BAM” Lagasse even had his own band during his “Emeril Live” show. Sautéing away at his fancy stove, Emeril featured actual guest stars sitting at a private table a mere stone’s throw from his saucier pan. I don’t know about you, but there is something verging on creepiness about perching, say, Martina McBride at a little cocktail table where she watches Emeril have his way with the escargot. It’s sort of like stumbling upon your grandmother at a strip club.

But I digress.

If you haven’t yet tuned into the Food Network, give it a whirl. You don’t have to be a cook to catch the wave. They have “Iron Chef” competitions that will blow your socks off. This contest entails a couple of super chefs going head-to-head in an effort to please food judges in a horrendous challenge such as preparing sumptuous 17-course dinners in 60 minutes using secret ingredients beginning with the letter “P,” and yes, I sort of exaggerated. But still. Exciting stuff, people!

One of these Iron Chefs is Bobby Flay who owns a gazillion restaurants and is also rather easy on the eyes (yep, I’m old enough to be his mother, just saying). Bobby does a “Throwdown” program where he shows up as an uninvited guest to challenge a cook to prepare his or her food specialty while Bobby attempts to out-cook the surprised chef. The results are then taste-tested by food judges.

Now, I make a pretty mean fish taco, but it would scare the bejesus out of me if Bobby Flay showed up at my front door – I don’t care how cute he is. Besides, before I became a Food Network fan, I thought Bobby’s actual name was “Bobby Fillet” – a cute little take on his grilling prowess. So had I answered the door to Bobby for a fish taco Throwdown, I wouldn’t have known Bobby Flay from Bobby Vinton. As you can imagine, it would have made for some interesting television viewing:

Bobby: “Gale, are YOU ready for a fish taco Throwdown?”

Me: “Who ARE you? Get off my porch, you weirdo!”

So when the Food Network announced (smack in the middle of this country’s wacky cupcake craze) they were launching a series called “Cupcake Wars,” I was in. I mean, what’s better than watching professional bakers compete in cupcake competitions from hell. Baking with bizarre ingredients, contestants are eliminated until the final round, where (and I am so not making this up) two finalists go for the win by baking and decorating 1,000 cupcakes in just TWO hours! Holy cow. This was too much, people. I had to go lie down.

These days I prefer the quieter, chef-driven “how to” programs where extreme close-ups (a.k.a. “food porn”) of buttery biscuits, sexy shrimp boats or dripping pork fat lead me back to the kitchen. And if you don’t know the difference between extra-virgin olive oil and your grease trap, you could have fun learning a few new tricks.

Yes, I love Alton Brown’s nerdy science approach to food and the Barefoot Contessa’s quest for fresh, local ingredients and “GOOD” vanilla extract. I am in awe of Giada’s orgasmic tastes of anything chocolate and Paula Deen’s five sticks of butter to every vegetable. And Bobby Flay and I are totally getting married. End of story.

But for now, it’s back to the kitchen and my risotto about which Chef Burrell tells it best: “Brace yourself and really whip the hell out of the rice.” Got that right, sister!

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