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Review: French Food at Home

I finally got a little quality time with the Cooking Channel so I am attempting to review several of the shows I have not seen.  This time I’m watching French Food at Home.

French Food at Home is another import from Food Network: Canada starring Laura Calder.  At first the thought of a show about French cuisine that is shot in Halifax, Nova Scotia didn’t appeal to me until I remembered that the title isn’t French Food in Chamonix it’s French Food at Home.  Home is anywhere so I pushed that prejudice aside and clicked the start button.

Laura Calder on WannabeTVchef.comHost Laura Calder has a neat back story.  She gave up a nondescript office job in Toronto and moved West to study the culinary arts.  While working in California she was invited to move to Paris to help with a writing project about wine and food; the trip was scheduled to take nine months.  Seven years later Calder was a full on Francophile having remained in the City of Lights.  Her companion book to the show also entitled French Food at Home was first published by HarperCollins Canada in January 2003.  It was later followed by French Taste: Elegant Everyday Eating both are available at amazon.com.

Her accent is very distinct, it’s not exactly Canadian and not exactly French.  Does that make it French-Canadian?  There’s an almost British lilt to it.  She is definitely attractive with a pleasant face and a Giada-esque figure.  She also has mischievous eyes that suggest she knows something she isn’t telling you.  She has an unbridled love of food which makes her an excellent host.

The production quality is not quite as solid as what I have seen of the other FN:Canada productions like Everyday Exotic.  The lighting at times is a little dull or dank while the editing is way too jerky.  Sometimes visuals flip by so quickly that they should have a warning for epileptics during the opening credits.  It can be unnerving.  It’s more like a BBC show than a Food Network caliber program.

The style of the show strikes me as being very Cosmo – topical, sleek and just a tad grandiose.  But it is not stuffy at all.  The thing about a show on French cooking is less about recipes and more about philosophy.  French cuisine, like Italian, is built around finding the best possible local, seasonal ingredients and letting imagination do the rest.  Where French cuisine differs from Italian is in technique.  The French have mastered most of the world’s notable techniques while Italian food is more rustic.  French Food at Home does an adequate job of demonstrating this but would benefit from spending a little more time on it.

Here’s the network description from the web site:

French Food at Home invites you to share in a lifestyle that brings the magic of contemporary French food home. Witty and charming host Laura Calder makes cooking French easy, from bistro desserts to savory tarts to scrumptious sautes. Laura’s enthusiasm inspires viewers to make simple and irresistible dishes like herb-crusted leg of lamb, smooth and smoky squash soup and light-as-a-cloud chocolate orange mousse.

All and all it is not a bad show with ample potential.

Review: Everyday Exotic

I finally got a little quality time with the Cooking Channel so I am attempting to review several of the shows I have not seen.  This time around I’ll take a look at Everyday Exotic.

I really like the premise of this show, “Chef and musician Roger Mooking gets bored easily. Bored of the same old everyday meals we all end up making time and time again. His mission? To give everyday weekday meals a fantastic exotic twist with one new ingredient.”  Mooking calls the key element his “obedient ingredient.”

Everyday Exotic is another Food Network: Canada import just like David Rocco’s Dolce Vita.  It is exactly the kind of show that Food Network (the original) has forgotten how to do – the kind that teaches and inspires.  And Mooking is exactly the kind of host I enjoy watching.

Roger Mooking on WannabeTVchef.comRoger Mooking seems like the kind of guy I would like to hang out with, fun loving and energetic.  He is also quite knowledgeable and that I can respect.  Perhaps it is because we have a lot in common.  He’s a musician (check), a chef (check), professes to having a very loud laugh (check) and creating things for people to enjoy (check).  He is a true Renaissance man.  Mooking lives life rather than enduring it.

Musically he is quite gifted having won a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) and three Much Music Video Awards.  He also performs the theme song to the show, a nice little touch.  It’s the best cooking show theme since the hot guitar riff on Boy Meets Grill.  I can dig that he is always singing while he cooks.  I also love his spice rack – each container holds about a pound (not ounces) of dry spices.  I asked Roger where he got it and he replied, “It was custom built Stuart. One day its gonna be available. Everyone wants to cheap it out. I cant have that.”

The show as a package is a home run.  It teaches without coming across as a lecture, credit that to Mooking’s easy going style.  The cinematography is aces making for great food porn.  In fact, the production value is top notch in every regard.  It’s a shame that Scripps has relegated one of it’s best shows to it’s triple A networks.  Of course if the quality of the Cooking Channel’s programming maintains it may soon take over as the flagship property of the Scripps TV empire.  It is easily the best “stand and stir” food show on television right now.

Now dig the hip theme song.  It has replaced Katy Perry’s “Psycho Love” as the song I can’t get out of my head:

WTVC Exclusive: Cooking Channel Star David Rocco

On March 31, The Fine Living Network officially becomes the Cooking Channel (aka Food Network 2).  The new network will feature new shows from old favorites like Bobby Flay and Emeril Legasse.  It will also feature a whole new crew of TV Chefs to entertain and educate our insatiable palates.

Among the new guard is Canadian Italophile David Rocco who made his mark in the Great White North with his hit shows Avventura: Journey in Italian Cuisine and Don’t Forget Your Passport.  His most popular series, David Rocco’s Dolce Vita (DRDV), will be coming to American television sets via the Cooking Channel.  Rocco has also penned two companion cookbooks for his shows: Avventura: Journeys in Italian Cuisine (Bay Books & Tapes, 2000) and David Rocco’s Dolce Vita (Harper Collins, 2008).

Recently David was nice enough to grant me a few minutes of his time for an interview so let’s all learn a little more about America’s newest cheflebrity.

WannabeTVchef: So how are you enjoying the celebrity chef hoopla?

David Rocco: (Laughs) You know it’s crazy.  It’s been good.  It’s a fun ride.  You know we’re now in our fifth season and its been one of those steady growths.  Where when the Food Network first came out it was like, “Wow. There’s a 24 hour food station kind of.  Will it have an audience?” And now it seems to be that every network that doesn’t do food wants to do food.  It’s been fun.  I was in Singapore and Hong Kong touring cuz my show airs there.  It’s a great gig when you do what you love and you get kind of rewarded for it. (Laughs) I can’t complain.

WTVC: You’ve done five seasons of DRDV for Canadian TV?

DR: We’re actually in pre-production of our fifth season.  The show airs pretty much everywhere: on National Geographic, Discovery: Travel and Living, Food Network: Canada and we now decided that we need to go after the big market.  So Food Network’s new station, the Cooking Channel, seemed to be a great fit and we’re real excited about it.

WTVC: Will these be the episodes airing on the Cooking Channel or will you be filming new episodes?

DR: Yeah, no.  It’s going to be season one which has some great episodes and was a lot of fun so it’ll start at the beginning and work your way up.

WTVC: So what can American viewers look forward to when watching DRDV?

DR: Well I think it’s a unique series in that in North America there’s not a lot of series that shoot in one city.  I live part-time in Florence so we basically shoot the entire series on location.  The first couple of seasons we’re actually cooking in our flat in Florence so I think you really can get a sense of the Italian lifestyle, of the food, you know of the simplicity of the recipes and if you’re just looking to escape for a half hour in Florence and the joy of learning a dish or two as well I think it’s really fun.

WTVC: I’ve watched the highlight reel of the first season on your web site and the kitchen seemed awfully small, was that the one at your flat?

DR: Yeah.  Yeah the European flats are much smaller but you know the stuff that comes out of them is pretty damned good so you know it’s a different kind of lifestyle, the European lifestyle.  I mean what’s great is that you know a lot of the stuff comes from the markets, the open air markets and we do some traveling.  We’re on the Amalfi Coast, we’re in Sicily so you get to see a lot of great places as well.

WTVC: How do you see your life changing with your expansion into the US market?

DR: I think we’ve built the foundation for some good stuff and Canada has been a good test market, the cultures are so similar.  We’re kind of like cousins.  I think with the show having done so well here that our cookbook, which is the companion to the TV series, became a best seller here.  It won the Gourmand award (Gourmand World Cookbook Award) so it’s stuff when it goes into the US will just be well accepted and hopefully I get super busy and hopefully enjoy it all.  (Laughs) I’m not sure what to expect, you know.  It’s going to be different so we’ll just kind of ride with it.

WTVC: Do you own a restaurant or can we expect to see you opening one soon?

DR: I love the restaurant business.  It’s always been, obviously, a passion of mine.  But I’m the executive producer of the production company that does the show so we come from a different background.  Obviously a food background as well but our core business is media productions and we have a couple of other shows in development.  There’s always the interest in doing a restaurant clearly, but the time I’d want to spend in the restaurant in terms of proper attention and love would definitely take me away form my core business which is the production company.  It’s a struggle but maybe one day I’d be able to do something and have a happy medium.

WTVC: The new network debuts May 31st. When is the premiere of DRDV?

DR: I believe it’s on that day.  I think, the schedule hasn’t been released.  Actually I’m going to be in New York next week with meetings.

WTVC: Emeril has his pork fat, Rachael Ray her EVOO and Paula Deen loves her some butter.  What’s your favorite lipid?

DR: I’d have to side with Rachael; extra virgin olive oil is where it’s at for me.  Paula Deen would probably be a sad women if she came to my house.  Very little butter is used and very little butter’s in our fridge.

For a taste of David Rocco’s Dolce Vita check out this video:

Avventura: Journeys in Italian Cuisine

David Rocco’s Dolce Vita premieres Monday May 31st at 3ET/2CT.

ICA: Flay vs Smith

The new Iron Chef: America scheduled for January 31 could be called Battle: TV chefs as one of Canada’s most celebrated chefs takes on Iron Chef Bobby Flay. While Flay is no stranger to American viewing audiences, Michael Smith is.

Only the fourth chef from north of the border to venture into Kitchen Stadium, Smith, however, is not on foreign soil. A native New Yorker he is a ’91 graduate of the famed Culinary Institute of America. Chef Smith had cooked all over the world before landing at the legendary Inn at Bay Fortune on Prince Edward Island in 1992. Soon the Inn was listed as one of Canada’s top 10 restaurants and Smith’s devotion to local, organic ingredients was the main factor.

Six years later TV came calling. The Inn Chef premiered on Canada’s the Life Network.  But Chef Smith did not give up the daily restaurant grind.  In 1999 he opened his own place, Maple, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  By 2001 the Inn Chef had moved over to Food Network (Canada) where it won best Variety/Music/Cooking Show in TV GUIDE Canada ’s Reader Poll.  Other programs soon followed like Chef Abroad, Chef at Home and Chef at Large .  The Inn Chef is still a prime time favorite.

These days Smith spends little time squeezing his 6 foot 7 inch frame into tiny commercial kitchens opting instead to concentrate on life as a cheflebrity.  One of Smith’s more recent endeavors is the show Chef Abroad where he entertains “by taking viewers around the world and behind the scenes with an all-access back stage pass into the fast-paced hidden world of chefs, cooks and cuisine that most of us only get to dream about.”

But on one episode the adventure became all to real.  On November 26, 2008 the People’s Alliance for Democracy seized Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok just as Smith and his film crew were returning from a filming in Northern Thailand.  The act resulted in the vicious murder of a 60-year-old man and the toppling of the freely elected government.  Smith and crew escaped unharmed.

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UPDATE: Final score from ICA: Flay vs Smith was 54-40 in favor of Iron Chef Flay.

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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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