On Cooking Television: Insights, Retrospection and the Now

A few weeks ago, I came across an article on Slate that chronicled how the Food Network had changed for the worse: all thanks to one platinum blonde beach boy by the name of Guy Fierri. I won’t lie, a number of those points very much resonated with how I felt about the changes that had emerged during my own hiatus from Bobby Flay and company.

But I’m not here to answer to that article. Instead, I’d like to share my own insights about the Food Network: from growing up with it to my personal sentiments about the changes that both the Food Network and cooking television are going through as a whole.

A Foodie Since Forever 

Before the latter years of my life led to a desire for a job in the world of journalism, I grew up wanting to be one thing and one thing alone: a chef. Having grown up right above a thriving food business, food was to me more than just a source of physical sustenance.

I remember growing up with fake tomatoes and plastic eggs and a stove wherein I would pretend to cook something I had seen on TV. I remember making cakes of out clay and putting them in holes I would call ‘microwaves’. Sometimes, I would pretend to cook and talk to some invisible camera, instructing it as though I were a professional.

These moments would never have been possible had it not been for the Food Network. Yes, I watched cartoons like any other kid, but my childhood had a special place for this channel. My favorites back then were shows like Hot off the Grill, and East meets West (whatever happened to Ming Tsai?). I remember watching Mario Battalli cook a divine plate of pasta in his angelic kitchen and Jacques Torres create some of the most beautiful chocolate I had ever seen. There was also Alton Brown, whose quirkiness used to be so amusing to me as a child.

Back then, the concept of the cooking competition was but an idea. Back then, the only chefs you did see on TV were those that actually cooked for a living. It was an idyllic period, but a period I feel extremely lucky to have seen.

The Hiatus 

The period I describe as a hiatus from the Food Network was, if I remember right, one that was a ‘cable issue’. For a number of years, I lived without this channel and life went on, normally.

A Changed Channel

When I finally got back to watching the Food Network almost ten years later, a lot had indeed changed. From shows that featured a number of oddball hosts, to an obvious lack of a number of my favorite craft shows (Carol Duvall, I miss you!), the Food Network had grown up.

‘Anyone Can Cook’: The Emergence of Cooking Competitions

One of the major changes involved the emergence of the ‘cooking competition’, wherein amateur chefs cooked and chopped their way to kitchen supremacy. Popular examples include Iron Chef, Masterchef and Top Chef (which actually do not air on the Food Network). Personally, I have nothing against these shows. After all, they do manage to do an incredible job of humanizing the art of cooking, bringing to life the proposition that ‘anyone can cook’.

The real problem lies in how shows like these have taken over the cooking television landscape, turning cooking  into just another aspect of reality television.

Relatable Hosts vs World Class Cooking 

I am all for seeing pseudo amateur cooks or culinary school graduates (Guy Fierri is one, btw) become hosts of their own show, but I deeply miss seeing longtime professionals bring world class cooking to homes everywhere.

A large part of me believes that both of these entities could have coexisted: humanizing cooking television and seeing cooking professionals on television. I guess not everyone agrees.

On Guy Fierri

The Slate article I read politely lambasts Fierri’s annoyingly ubiquitous presence on the Food Network’s schedule. That, I agree with immensely. Could they not have found someone else to host the seven or so shows Fierri helms, or is it because he’s the biggest seller when it comes to cookbooks? You tell me.

On the other hand, it seems rather unfair to solely blame Fierri for what the network has become. It also seems unfair to discredit Fierri’s capabilities, as it seems it is his personality that’s really in question here.

Perhaps Bobby Flay, Giada di Laurentis and Alton Brown should do a much better job of searching for a tolerable, yet talented Food Network star.

Changes Changes Changes 

Looking back on it now, I’ve come to realize that the Food Network changed for an obvious reason: the times. In the years that followed, cooking television wasn’t limited to the Food Network anymore… other channels followed with shows of their own. You would think that a name like ‘Food Network’ would give them sole reign of the cooking television market, but you would be wrong.

The emergence of modern technology has pretty much made the TV obsolete. The modern day viewer is not limited to watching a twenty minute show for a good recipe of marinara pasta anymore… instead, he/she can opt to find the recipe (and an even shorter video) online.

Let’s be honest: in a day and age where attention span is but a thing of the past, watching someone cook something in their kitchen is not enough. It’s bland. It’s boring. Thus, cooking competitions are at their height. The Food Network has cashed in on that as well with shows like Chopped, the Next Iron Chef, the Next Food Network Star and Cutthroat Kitchen. They had to find answers to make the kitchen an interesting place, and they did.

But for viewers like me, they lost something in exchange. And, if you’ve been reading the previous paragraphs, I think you’ll know what I mean.

Cinders, Gowns and Glass Slippers: A Review of “Cinderella”

Because Cinderella is a story as iconic and ubiquitous as “Romeo and Juliet” (read: it’s spawned a number of onscreen reincarnations both good and bad), I have decided to frame this review beyond the context of the film itself, and instead delve deeper into the movie’s contribution to what some would call, the Cinderella ‘lore’.

Tolerant, Kind, or just plain Pushover: A Question of Quality

The traditional Disney depiction of our favorite cinder girl was meant to teach wannabe ‘princesses’ the lessons of kindness and tolerance (I don’t remember bravery coming up– do you?). Growing up, we saw a good girl– one whose ‘kindness’ led her into pretty much becoming slave to her abusive stepmother and stepsisters. The animated classic leads us to believe that if we’re good and kind enough, we might just get out of whatever it is we’re going through (read: endless abuse) and in the process, find the nameless ‘man of our dreams’.

In times like these where women are slowly becoming more independent and aware of concepts like equality and feminism, Cinderella is not an ideal role model. She hardly stands up for herself and only seems to react emotionally whenever faced with conflict. Her tolerance of what we now know as ‘abuse’ and ‘slavery’ would make modern women of today cringe in disgust.

Although other reincarnations of Cinderella have done well to erase what we could call her ‘pushover’ quality, Disney’s live action depiction doesn’t exactly have the option of taking that out entirely. They were, after all, the ones who made her that way in the first place. What they offer in place of this in context: they show us that Cinderella isn’t as shallow as we think. Her kindness has a cause, and she chooses to be this way for the sake of her late parents. We’re also given a bit of a background into her early life, something that the animated version almost completely glosses over. (P.S. Watch for a nod to the Grimm version of Cinderella !).

Instead of painting this iconic character in a negative light, we’re meant to feel a bit of pity for Cinderella, and as the story goes along, we slowly come to root for her.

Tremaine, Trevaine: A B*tch by No Other Name 

Again, another character lacking in reasonable context. Growing up, I only remember Lady Tremaine as ‘the woman with two daughters’ who messed Cinderella’s life up big time. American cinema has turned her into everyone from a silicone infused LA girl in Jennifer Coolidge to a washed up pop star in Jane Lynch.

Thankfully, this depiction brings Lady Tremaine back to her roots, portraying her as a woman whose bitterness possibly stems from losing two husbands in two successive marriages. Oscar winner Cate Blanchett brings it in this role, possibly taking some cues from her days as Queen Elizabeth and Jasmine Francis in order to bring out both the best (and the worst) of Tremaine as needed. This is what makes her a much more multidimensional character, and not just a greedy, abusive widow to two very oddball children.

Where’s the Music? 

I am both thankful and pissed at Disney for completely taking out the musical aspect of Cinderella. But I was expecting at least a small nod to some of the animated classic’s better tunes, particularly “A Dream is a Wish..”.

Squeaks? Weak!

Another aspect that leaves me ambivalent is the absence of speaking mice! Remember how in the original film Gus Gus and Jacq Jacq actually provided most of the comic relief? This was not exactly absent in the film, but appropriately tamed down because it is ‘live action’ after all.

Perhaps they could find no way to make it seem ‘un-corny’ if the mice were actually talking. Never fear, Cinderella ‘live’ has its small bits of comedy sprinkled about the movie.

Hello, Handsome: On the Prince to Rival Princes!

I apologize in advance if some bias may trickle out during the construction of these paragraphs. I would love to say it’s highly preventable, but I won’t lie that it won’t be impossible, either. 

If there’s one character who lacks in context more than any others in the Cinderella anthology, it’s good old Prince Charming (who apparently has a name! I was getting tired of all those plays on the word ‘charming’).

The live action film bestows our nameless monarch-to-be with an actual first name: Kit! (Like Kit Harington! Talk about ironic considering that Kit is played by Harington’s former co-star Richard Madden).

If Cinderella gets some screen time with her mom, Kit gets time with his dad, and it is here that the film makes way for a theme that gives us reason to believe both Kit and Cindy are actually quite perfect for each other. It also provides even more back story (let’s be honest, the back stories were most likely put in to lengthen the film, more on them later) as to why Kit’s dad wants him to marry royalty. He does give in at the end, though (remember, this is gonna have a happy ending, people! Read: HAPPY. ENDING.).

Baby come Back Back Baaaack

As mentioned quite suddenly in the previous paragraph, I personally believe that the back stories were put in in order to lengthen the movie’s screen time. Had the live action film simply been a 4D depiction of the animated classic, we wouldn’t be having so much to say about the good and bad points of Cindy Live.

The real debate now lies in whether those back stories and purposely lengthened flashbacks were a.) realistic or b.) did the Cinderella anthology any good. Here’s a quick rundown of those additions:

1. Pre-Tremaine Days + Happy Childhood + Pre-Attic Life

Adequate and appropriate, especially with the addition of Cindy’s mom.

Meant to make the viewer sad, as the obvious contrasts become visible as Cindy’s life gets worse.

Watch for a reference to the Grimm version of Cinderella!

2. Kit + Daddy Angle, Pre-Ball Scenes in the Palace

Mirrors Cinderella’s parental relationships quite nicely.

Also a little too abrupt to seem realistic.

Adds a sad angle to a seemingly happy story (you’ll know why when you watch).

Does a good job of humanizing the Prince.

Watch for another Game of Thrones reference! (clue: familiar actor plays a role here).

3. Bad Grand Duke??

I’d like to know where this came from… SERIOUSLY.

Wasn’t played up quite enough for it to be something new.

The Grand Duke just became another character who ended up lacking in even more context! Too bad.

OVERALL:   I was looking for humanity in these characters, and I got it. Also contexts were questionable at times, they provided enough of a background in order to create some level of believability to the Cindy tale. Cate Blanchett didn’t steal the show as well as she could have, but she shone just like Lily James. Richard Madden breathed some much-needed life into the Disney repertoire’s most shallow prince, and for that alone, he should be proud.

You’re doing good in the director’s seat, Gilderoy Lockhart! Keep to it! 😉