I watch a lot of reruns of The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” in which chef Guy Fieri travels around the country, showcasing hometown restaurants the locals love most.
The network’s more recent shows are just food fights and not worth my time. They don’t show you how to make a particular dish the way Pioneer Woman does on Saturday mornings or the proper way to cook a tri-tip like Bobby Flay used to do on “Boy Meets Grill.”
A meal should be something to enjoy, not a competition. A food show should be educational and entertaining. Food fights are neither. I admit I watch The Travel Channel’s Adam Richmond on “Man vs. Food”— at least up to the part when he starts his challenge. And I learn a lot by watching the champs on “BBQ Pitmasters.”
It’s not likely I’ll sign up for next year’s Blues & BBQ festival or FPCA’s chili cook-off, but I take note of any little secret TV chefs and pitmasters are willing to share.
Food shows featuring cutthroat kitchen competitions are wasted airtime. They teach me nothing. Besides, it seems like they’re always vying to make something like bat wings or worm dirt look and taste good.
Show me a restaurant that prepares great food, and then let me mark it on my mental map as a place to visit. Show me how to prepare a perfect beef roast with doubled-baked mashed taters. If I don’t succeed in getting it right, I head for the restaurant that specializes in it.
My wife and I have visited several restaurants featured on Fieri’s show, two of which are on St. Simons Island. Blackwater Grill and Southern Soul BBQ are everything Fieri said they are. If I could influence him to try a local restaurant, I’d send him to Izola’s in Hinesville, both B & J’s Steak and Seafood Restaurant and Skipper’s Fish Camp in Darien and Hillbilly’s Grill and BBQ in Jesup.
About five years ago, I was stuck at home for a couple weeks after shoulder surgery. I was too racked up to cook anything, but I watched some interesting daytime food shows. I watched a lady prepare what she called “man food,” more commonly called meat. I still make one of those dishes. Of course, I had to improve on it (hint: Bacon and smoke make everything better).
There were food shows on TV decades before The Food Network. My favorite featured Justin Wilson’s “Cookin’ Cajun.” He prepared some mouth-watering dishes and kept you amused with his country charm, sharp wit and funny stories. Wilson didn’t mind venturing off the four food groups — beef, pork, chicken and seafood.
His recipes included copious amounts of Cajun spices or Creole seasonings. I couldn’t smell or taste it by watching, but my imagination could. Hearing the sound of fatback sizzling in the pan or seeing the steam rise off a stew pot of gumbo awakened all my senses.
Mama allowed me to cook my squirrels, rabbits and quail when I was 14, but her spice rack was lacking. When I caught a little more than a dozen crawfish in a nearby creek and attempted Wilson’s boiled-crawfish dish, it didn’t go so well. It was bland, despite adding chunks of smoked country sausage left over from breakfast, a few small taters, onions and corn. Salt, pepper and Daddy’s hot sauce were not enough to excite the taste buds.
Mama wasn’t keen on buying Cajun or Creole seasoning and didn’t appreciate my “wasting” food in order to experiment with a TV-show recipe. Then one night, she made shrimp Creole. Mama had been watching Wilson’s show! It tasted just like I imagined it would taste. Wilson’s food show had added spice to our family meals!
They just don’t make food shows like the “Cookin’ Cajun’s” anymore. I “gawr-on-tee” it!
Email Murray at firstname.lastname@example.org.