In 1996 I was living in Chicago—how did I miss the radio broadcast of This American Life’s “A Night at the Wiener Circle”? (It played on local air only, though a televised version aired on Showtime in 2007.) Host Ira Glass spent a dark night of the soul in this North Side hot dog stand. By day it’s a place where you can get a pretty awesome Chicago dog and cheese fries covered with a tangy clot of orange sauce. But on weekend nights after the bars close, the Wiener’s Circle looks an awful lot like you'd imagine the 10th circle of hell to look, a place where drunk-ass white boys gleefully abuse the African-American counter staff, and the staff responds by gleefully calling them drunk-ass white-boy motherfuckers in return. It’s pure shtick. READ MORE
A new TV pilot broadcasting on PBS this month takes a fresh point of view on America’s urban farming movement.
If you ever watched a grimacing Bear Grylls eat a huge roach in the Amazon rainforest and declare, “It tastes like putrid cheeeese,” then you know the voyeuristic thrill of foraging in the wild. A show debuting on BBC America this week, No Kitchen Required, gives that concept balls.
The series is a mix of Survivor, Top Chef, and The Amazing Race, with a stiff dose of the old BBC reality adventure show Last Man Standing thrown in. The premise: Three chefs drop into exotic locations around the globe, get a taste of the local food, and then set out to forage and cook out in the open. Local dignitaries judge their efforts, and host Shini Somara—a sort of brooding Padma—declares the winner. READ MORE
Ree Drummond has a face that looks as pale and soft as biscuit dough, dimpled and a little jowly. It’s a face that never once loses its grin through entire episodes of The Pioneer Woman, Drummond’s cooking show on the Food Network. Brashly copper-haired, with eyebrows sketched into quizzical arches, the Pioneer Woman wears her smile like a shrug, one that seems to say, “To hell with being perfect.” At the same time, she’s showing you how to make perfect crème brûlée.
That’s the manufactured tension at the heart of Drummond’s show—how to make perfect food in the midst of an imperfect life. “If something doesn’t turn out just right,” the Pioneer Woman says in a promo, “I say, ‘Look, it’s rustic,’ and then I feel better.” The thing is, on her TV show, the food always manages to turn out just right. READ MORE
You look at Ron Ben-Israel and think: Seriously? The host of the Food Network's pastry competition show Sweet Genius is like a composite of Mike Myers and Dana Carvey. He's part Dr. Evil superciliousness, part Church Lady simper: head shaved, eyebrows plucked into a perennial "Oh, reeaally?" He perches on a stool above the set’s centerpiece tasting counter with the twee poise of Pee-wee Herman on his bike. He samples contestants’ soufflé cakes and marshmallow fluff through thin, moist lips, like a hummingbird sipping nectar. And at the end of each challenge, he delivers his signature send-home line to the failed contestant in an accent that sounds made up.
And then it hits you: Ben-Israel and his show, which launched its second season last night on the Food Network, are seriously brilliant. READ MORE