Ranking Television Food Dudes on the Ball Scale

On Sunday night, Eddie Huang, the owner of New York’s BaoHaus and a professional shit-stirrer, was the host of Cheap Bites, an hour-long special on the Cooking Channel. The show followed the road-trip format pioneered by Anthony Bourdain, with Huang traveling from Memphis to New York to "show us where the best cheap bites are found."

A clip from the episode showed Huang as he went fishing in the Hamptons with his mom along for the ride. Wearing oversized sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt, Huang reeled in a sea bass and then went to a Chinese restaurant where he informed viewers about flash-frying techniques as the kicky, we’re-having-fun soundtrack federally mandated to accompany these kinds of shows played in the background. And then he ate.

Huang is just the latest dude with a big mouth to exploit the belief of television executives that swaggering males make for good food and travel shows. That said, not all cooking travel show dudes are created equal. How do all of these chest-thumpers stack up to one another? Using a highly scientific ball-ranking system, with 1 ball designating the least amount of bravado and 10 balls the most, we decided to break it down, dude by dude.

Anthony Bourdain. The granddaddy of them all—without his book Kitchen Confidential, which begat the book and television show A Cook’s Tour which begat No Reservations, it’s arguable that none of the big-mouth food dude shows would even exist. The best thing about Bourdain is that he doesn’t try too hard—whether he’s shooting guns with Ted Nugent or getting a mud bath in a health spa. The smoking and cussing and boozing never feel like a put-on, and the best part is you always sense Bourdain is in on the joke due to his constant self-deprecation. For that, and for being the O.G., we award him: 10 balls.

Guy Fieri. Fieri, he of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (and Guy’s Big Bite and Tailgate Warriors) always comes across not so much as a TV host but that guy at the end of the bar who won’t go home after last call, the obnoxious one who’s got just enough vulnerability that you feel kind of sorry for him. Fieri’s style can be summed up as All Bro, All the Time, which makes him more of a tool than a testosterone-spraying alpha male. But because he tries so hard to convince viewers otherwise, he gets: 4 balls.

Andrew Zimmern. Bald and roly-poly, Zimmern exhibits a dearth of swagger and a surfeit of good will on his show Bizarre Foods: He appears to be eating eel heads and sheep brains more out of genuine curiosity than a need to prove anything. Physically, he’s like the Fieri brother who grew up, learned how to talk to women, and enjoys his dignity. 6.5 balls.

Mario Batali and Mark Bittman. Between Batali’s orange Crocs and Bittman exulting over the “nice soft nose” on a glass of wine on Spain: On the Road Again, these two aren’t exactly dragging women back to their man caves. Batali comes across as a hybrid of Jeff Spicoli and the Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons, and Bittman as, well, a New York Times writer. They actually have less swagger than their female co-stars, whom Batali characterizes as having the appetites of “long-haul truck drivers.” 2 balls each.

Aarón Sánchez and Chris Cosentino. Watching this gruesome twosome on Chefs vs. City is like watching a couple of frat brothers on spring break, whether they’re stomping grapes, scarfing burgers, or merrily wasting inexcusable amounts of food. Both seem to take their tasks and themselves inordinately seriously, which may be because they’re trying to justify their decision to sacrifice their professional dignity. “We’re Food Network chefs, we’re not going to allow ourselves to be taken down by local foodies,” Sánchez says at one point, and for that alone he and Cosentino get a total of 1.5 balls each.

Ludo Lefebvre. Lefebvre’s televised temper tantrums on Ludo Bites America earned him a place on our Most Obnoxious Chefs of 2011 list, but they seemed less bad boy than just boy in need of naptime. Still, the testosterone levels ran pretty high, and Lefebvre’s anger-management issues were impressive. He’s a dick, but where there’s a dick, there are balls. 8 of them.

Eddie Huang. For all his swagger, you get the feeling that Huang’s mom could beat the shit out of him, or at least make him lose the hip-hop patois he likes to adopt for public appearances. All in all, he comes across as respectful of his elders and surprisingly eager to please—nothing, in other words, like his trash-talking blogosphere persona. 5.4 balls.

Because the Dude on the Road format is one that keeps on giving, there’s always room for more. And so we have three nominees for future chest-pounding programming:

David Chang. Between his Twitter wars, world travels, and reputation as one of the most prickly chefs alive, he has so much in the balls department he’s probably turned down multiple cooking show offers.

Daniel Patterson. The Bay Area chef and restaurateur is photogenic, talented, and apparently difficult to work with, as evidenced by the many departures from his restaurant group last year. But he's a bit quiet and too intellectual for your typical Dude on the Road—maybe he could be a glowering one.

Chris Goossen. Previously employed as Mark Wahlberg’s personal chef, Goossen is now making tacos in New York, where he’s wasted no words in trashing the city’s Mexican food and proclaiming that his jalapeño teriyaki chicken tacos aren’t fusion but “mini appetizers” that are the product of his “20 years of experience.” Go get 'em, tiger.

Rebecca Flint Marx eats and writes in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter. Follow CHOW, too, and become a fan on Facebook.