Food on Film

Reviews of food TV and food oriented movies.

Review: $24 in 24 with Jeff Mauro

Jeff Mauro Food Network StarWhen Rachael Ray’s $40 Dollars a Day went off the air it wasn’t because they had exhausted the vehicle.  It was because RaRay had launched her day time talk show and magazine.  She simply didn’t have the time to do the show anymore.  I, like many, have lamented the loss of what was one of the most educational food/travel shows ever done.

Well, Captain Hoagie himself Jeff Mauro has brought the concept back only this time the budget has been trimmed to just $24.  Clearly a reflection of the horrible economic conditions of the past three years.  But still the premise is largely the same.  On $24 in 24 the Sandwich King has to find three squares in one day with only $24 to spend.

Here’s the Network’s official description:

Jeff Mauro is taking his passion for food to the streets, searching for the best budget-friendly eats across America. With just $24 he’ll hunt down breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes in only 24 hours.

The show lacked Rachael’s eternal cuteness but otherwise was pretty much the same.  In place of Ray’s perkiness was Jeff’s unique charm and comedic flare.  The pilot episode was shot in his hometown of Chicago which meant Jeff’s research was actually done by him.

I’m sure there will be people who naysay the show simply because it is a reboot of $40 but they are likely just looking for something to whine about.  The reality is that the original show was far from played out, the host just ran out of time.  I for one am glad this format has returned and that my buddy Jeff is at the helm of it.

Here’s a taste:

Review: Around the World in 80 Plates

Though I do greatly enjoy Top Chef Masters I don’t care for its predecessor Top Chef.  It is not a show about food or cooking; it’s a show about yelling and backstabbing.  Granted yelling and backstabbing between some very talented chefs but yelling and backstabbing just the same.  It’s the same reason I don’t watch Hell’s Kitchen.

Around the World in 80 PlatesRecently I made sure to record a few episodes of Bravo’s new reality cooking competition Around the World in 80 Plates.  The show is hosted by veteran TV chefs Curtis Stone and Cat Cora.  Here’s the official Bravo description:

Around the World in 80 Plates takes culinary competition to the next level as 12 chefs travel across the globe testing their skills and determination. In each episode, the contestants will travel to a different international city where they will learn the local customs, cultures, and cuisines as they participate in a gauntlet of culinary challenges. Ultimately, they will face-off in a kitchen takeover where they will not only recreate, but reinvent the menus for world-renowned restaurants and their demanding owners.

After watching a few episodes I can’t say it’s appointment TV for me.  Cat and Curtis, as expected, are great and the exotic locations are terrific.  But basically it’s Top Chef on vacation.  It’s not a cooking show it’s just another yelling and backstabbing show.  If you enjoy Hell’s Kitchen or Top Chef or Big Bother or Survivor then you’ll probably dig it.  I’d rather watch paint dry.

Review: Restaurant Stakeout

Last month I wrote about a new series coming to the Food Network that wasn’t really that new.  Restaurant Stakeout was a retooling (or so it would seem) of a pilot the Network ran last fall called Mystery Diners.  Tonight there was a sneak peek of the finished product.

Food Network’s description:

Willie Degel Restaurant StakeoutFollow tough-love restaurateur Willie Degel as he busts the bad habits of struggling restaurants on Food Network’s new show, Restaurant Stakeout. See what really happens when waiters, bartenders and kitchen and service staff think no one is watching. Armed with hidden-camera footage and covert surveillance from restaurants across the country, Willie doesn’t hold anything back. He tackles kitchen hazards and impossible customers alike, but is it enough to make a difference?

My thoughts:

I could live without the Jersey Shore seediness but I guess “asshole” is de rigueur on reality TV these days.  On the whole I prefer Mystery Diners because it combined the key elements of feel-good shows like Restaurant: Impossible with gotcha shows like To Catch a Predator while Restaurant Stakeout is more about Degel’s Tony Soprano-esque personality than anything.  Mystery Diners had more substance; Restaurant Stakeout is more gimmick.

Firefly TapasEnough contrasting, the production value of Restaurant Stakeout was top notch.  The music was pretty good, the cinematography was spot on as well.  The cut-aways to Degel sitting behind a desk like Donald Trump while pontificating about service were pretty cheeky.  That being said, he was absolutely on target in his evaluation of the service team at Las Vegas’ Firefly Tapas Bar.  Sadly enough, it is a common site at most American restaurants.

There were certain scenes that just seemed acted rather than the result of hidden cameras.  In particular one argument between an experienced server and a newbie about snaking a table.  Those kind of arguments go on everyday and they get quite heated.  I’ve seen hundreds of them.  That’s why I think this one seemed staged.  The emotions seemed right but there was just something about the body language that felt off.  In fact, one of the servers in the dispute, Diane, was constantly showing up on camera doing outrageous things.  She just came off as as fake.  But most things seemed on the up and up, just not the scenes with Diane.

However both variations on this concept (Mystery Diners and Restaurant Stakeout) help demonstrate why 50% of new restaurants fail within two years – the pure, unbridled selfishness of the employees.  And that’s a very good thing.  Just knowing that you might be exposed as a thief on national television would surely put a dent in the rampant pilferage of today’s restaurant employees and their “Occupy Wall Street” sense of entitlement.  Wanting something is not the same thing as earning something.

Tune in for the series premiere Wednesday, March 14 at 10 pm EST to catch the drama.

Review: Not My Mama’s Meals

Follow Productions is the brainchild of host/producer Gordon Elliot and under his leadership has produced some of the most successful food programming in history.  Elliot hosted one of my favorite shoes, Follow That Food as well as Door Knock Dinners.  He also made celebrities out of everyday people like master sommelier Andrea Immer Robinson, BBQ enthusiasts Pat and Gina Neely and of course restauranteur Paula Deen.

Follow Productions is the force behind hit shows like Paula’s Best Dishes, Road Tasted and the Chew.  With a history of producing shows who’s menus tip towards extravagant ingredients and colossal calorie counts the time has come for a show with a more health conscious treatment.  Enter Not My Mama’s Meals.

Not My Mama's MealsMama’s stars my favorite member of the Deen clan, Bobby Deen.  Where his brother Jamie inherited their mother’s bigger-than-life personality the youngest Deen has always seemed like a down to earth guy that you’d like to hang out with.  Although his schtick isn’t as large as the rest of his family, Bobby still has the same on-camera charm.

In this series, Bobby takes his mother’s recipes and transforms her Southern comfort food into lighter, lean, yet still delicious dishes. Each week, the camera follows Bobby as he tries to recreate one of his Mama’s famous meals with healthy substitutes that cut down on calories and fat, but still deliver on taste.

The timing of the show is perfect as recently Paula Deen revealed that she suffers from Diabetes.  If I had to guess I’d say she and Bobby have been working on her diet for a while now and the result of their efforts fuels the recipes for the new show.  But that is just my own speculation.

In the most recent episode I viewed, Bobby was joined in his NYC loft by friend and fellow healthy eating guru Daphne Oz (co-host of the Chew and daughter of Dr. Oz).  The stunning blond helped out as Deen streamlined his mother’s shrimp and grits into shrimp and polenta then cut 600 plus calories from her fried apple pies.  Each episode ends with Mama trying her son’s reboots of her recipes and casting her critique upon them.

I have to say that Not My Mama’s Meals is one of the best shows to come from one of the top production companies of food programming.  Deen’s recipes are packed with flavor despite the reduction in fat and calories of those that inspire them.  This show is a winner.

For two decades now Food Network, Cooking Channel and other networks have heard cries from viewers that they want a show about healthy eating.  The problem is that whenever one hits the airwaves those same people who whined about healthy food shows never watch them.  Ever since the old Graham Kerr show of the early 90’s cable networks have struggled to find another healthy food show that people will actually watch.  Not My Mama’s Meals may just be that show.

Not My Mama’s Meals airs Sundays at 12:30pm ET on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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