Just Desserts

Has Reality Hit Reality Food TV?

If the universe has taught us anything it’s that life is cyclical.  Greece becomes the world’s first global empire but in just a few hundred years it is replaced by Rome.  Rome lasts a few hundred years giving way to the Ottomans who then yield to Great Britain.  See what I mean?

The same is true with television programming.  Remember when westerns ruled the tube?  Of course not, if you are old enough to remember that chances are you don’t know what a blog is.  You’ve heard the names though: The Rifleman, Big Valley, Rawhide, Bonanza, Have Gun Will Travel, et al.  Every channel (all three) had several westerns.  That was followed by family sit coms, cop-buddy shows and the night-time soap opera.

The same is true for food television.  Remember when food shows featured talented chefs who taught you how to cook and actually made learning entertaining?  Then came the food contests like the original Iron Chef which was followed by Iron Chef America, Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, etc.

Chamed City CakesWhen Ace of Cakes hit the air back in 2006 it was a revelation of food programming.  Food Network had simply taken a camera crew to chronicle the everyday lives of the anything-but-everyday cake decorators at Baltimore’s Charm City Cakes.  It was an instant hit.  The Network tried to duplicate the magic a year later with Two Dudes Catering but the forced dialog and contrived tension between the owners did not resonate with viewers.  Though that copycat failed dozens have flourished like TLC’s Cake Boss, Planet Green’s Future Food, Private Chefs of Beverly Hills and the feel good mini-series The Chef Jeff Project.

A scant five years later and it appears this trend is petering out.  Just a few months ago Ace of Cakes wrapped it’s final show.  On March 3rd Food Network attempted to regain the glory of Ace with a new series about ice sculpting called Ice Brigade which features the same eye-popping creativity and a gaggle of cool characters headed by Chef Randy Finch.

Just before the premiere I spoke with Finch and asked him if Ice Brigade can do for ice sculpting what Ace of Cakes did for cake decorating?  He replied, “I tell you I really hope that it does.”  The ratings thus far have been fine but Ice does not appear to be creating the same buzz that Duff and the gang at Charmed City Cakes did when they first hit the airwaves.  This despite the fact that it is easily as entertaining in every way.

Also saying goodbye earlier this year was the Private Chefs of Beverly Hills, gone after just two seasons. PCOBH burst onto the scenes with a cast of chefs straight out of the pages of a fashion magazine (literally in the case of former model Manouschka Guerrier).  The blogosphere exploded with debates over whether the uber-demanding clients were real (they were) and proclamations as to who was everyone’s favorite chef.  They were the hottest caters in the nation by far.  Now PCOBH has gone its way like roman candles fizzing out.

The latest sign that the reality food show is waning is the recent premiere of SyFy’s new show Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen starring Chef Marcel Vigneron.  It would seem that a show about the hottest trend in food right now, molecular gastronomy, hosted by a Top Chef alum would be a cinch hit for a network that caters to the comic-con crowd.  After a tremendous media blitz the first episode failed to draw even one million viewers.  A paltry 600,000 according to TVbyTheNumbers.com.

Sasha Perl-RaverI asked PCOBH alum Sasha Perl-Raver her thoughts on the matter and she opined, “I think, if anything, reality cooking shows will only grow. The market is just starting to boom and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Next Great Restaurant might not be a hit, but Top Chef has spawned three spin offs, Masters, All-Stars and Just Desserts, Food Network gave birth to Cooking Channel.”

Sasha should know.  Not only did she star in a hit food reality show but she has also used her considerable connections in Hollywood to become a genuine TV trend spotter doing work as an entertainment reporter at NBC Universal and for SheKnows, LLC .  Sasha also maintains the very popular blog, Hollywood Bites.   So what’s her expert opinion?  “If anything, I think this is just the beginning.”

Sasha certainly knows her stuff.  While the numbers on behind-the-scenes reality food shows may be on the decline, reality food competitions are only becoming more popular.  Next Food Network Star is currently putting together its seventh season while Iron Chef America and Top Chef continue to capture ratings and both have generated popular spin-offs.  Chopped has gone from cult favorite to bona fide hit with this month’s special series, Chopped All-Stars which pits some of the network’s most popular chefs head-to-head for a $50,000 payday for the charity of their choice.  The numbers from the first two weeks were staggering as host Ted Allen recently revealed on his Facebook page, “Chopped All-Stars was the number one show on cable last Sunday: 6.3 million viewers!”

 

For more on Chopped All-Stars click HERE.

Chopped All-Stars was the number one show on cable last Sunday: 6.3 million viewers!

Top Chef Addiction? We Got Your Fix

Bravo’s Top Chef is one of the most popular food-based television programs in history and devotees to the popular reality show are often left Jonesing for more.

Top Chef PodcastTop Chef PodcastWell I have a solution:  Jeff Houck (Food Writer for the Tampa Tribune) and Katie Machol (Food & Drink Editor for the Daily Loaf) not only lead a lively and sometimes bawdy live Tweet during each new Top Chef episode but they also have the best Top Chef recap in the known universe.

The Top Chef Podcast on CL Radio is like a methadone clinic for Top Chef junkies.  Did you miss an episode and now you’re wondering who won, who packed their knives or how much cleavage Gail Simmons was showing?  You can always catch the Top Chef Podcast here:

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7 Questions with Natalie Slater

7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know better.

The world of food is filled with many colorful characters, most of whom sport personalities that are bigger than life.  There are ostentatious French chefs, food critics who wear disguises and even the odd food writer turned TV host.  All owe a certain amount of their fame to their inherent quirkiness.  Then there are the bloggers.

There are the Julie Powell’s who blog simply to bring the chaos of the modern world into focus and in so doing attain fame and fortune with a book followed by a movie.  Her name is now a verb.  EX: I’m going to start a blog about Popsicles and then I’m going to Julie Powell that sucker.  There are the Kamran Siddiqui’s who’s keen eye for food photography, gentle spirit and taste for exotic flavors have earned him a great deal of international notoriety; not bad for a high school student.  Who knows what the futures holds for this brilliant young man?

Natalie Slater on WannabeTVchef.comThen there is Natalie Slater of Chicago, a marketer by day and blogger by night.  Slater is unique, boisterous and infused with rock & roll intensity.  She owns no bakery, doesn’t work at a restaurant, has no fancy grand deplome from a stuffy French culinary academy.  What she does have, in addition to her sexcentric haircut and sleeves of ink, is an unapologetic sweet tooth.

Slater’s blog, Bake and Destroy, is an extension of her personality.  It is a hot pink and black leopard print of heavy metal cupcakery.  Just as Slater kicks in the door of the starched white world of baking with stiletto heels and fishnet stockings, B&D takes the light and delicate idea of dessert and straps it into the passenger seat of a ’67 Pontiac GTO, forces it to shotgun a Natty Light while outrunning the fuzz as Immortal blasts at an unhealthy volume.  Slater makes cake cool.

B&D is filled with recipes for Goth-themed pies and cupcakes brimming with sexual innuendo.  There is a call to arms to fight diseases, “Do you love cake, but hate cancer?”  And there are plenty of pictures of Slater modeling sexy and sassy aprons for her pals at Cupcake Provocateur.  It’s a horror picture with sprinkles and a chocolate pudding center.

Now that you have learned a little bit about the petit four pocket hottie now it’s time for her to answer 7 Questions:

1. How old were you when your self-proclaimed cake obsession started?

Natalie Slater on WannabeTVchef.comMy grandma bought me an EZ Bake Oven for my birthday one year – I’m guessing I was about four. My birthday is two weeks before Christmas and here was this little kid making everyone stop what they were doing to taste a cake she baked with a light-bulb. My gram suggested I bake one for baby Jesus’ birthday, and when it was done we left it out for him – it disappeared. I really believed he floated down and gobbled up the cake I made him. I guess I impressed myself at that point – Jesus likes my baking! From that point on my mom couldn’t bake so much as a blueberry muffin without me insisting on breaking the eggs or measuring the flour.

2. When did you start your blog, Bake and Destroy?

I started Bake and Destroy over four years ago when my son was newborn and I was working as a nanny. I was home all the time and baked to keep my sanity. The blog was a way for me to keep in touch with my friends – none of which had kids yet. I never imagined anyone besides those few people would read it.

3. You were a judge in the pilot episode of Cupcake Wars.  Can we expect to see you in future episodes?

I really doubt it. Originally they wanted me to compete and I told them they were nuts. 1000 cupcakes? No way dude! Then one night I had my son in the tub and one of the producers called me. She was like, “Natalie, this is boring, we need you.” I flew out the next morning. Unfortunately they felt the need to cover up all my tattoos for the show – no one knows why! One of the contestants had tons of tattoos! Anyway I just felt sweaty and uncomfortable, it was a bummer. I’d do it again if they asked on the condition that I can wear short sleeves. I’m from Chicago – it’s hot in LA!

4. I’m a savory guy so I am a little perplexed by the sheer volume of cake decorating shows on television.  To what do you attribute their phenomenal success?

Natalie Slater on Wannabe TV ChefI think, like tattoo shows, it’s a peek into a world that has existed forever but not many people were involved in. In the same vein, you get to watch people do things that you yourself may never be able to do. I do think they can move on now, though. I’m looking forward to Just Desserts- the pastry competition on Bravo. I’m ready for flavor to matter again.

5. Other than Cupcake Wars what cake shows do you enjoy?

I love Cake Boss. I think Sunshine is an unsung hero on that show, she’s so talented. And I’m Italian, so I can relate to all the yelling and hand waving.
It’s not a cake show, but one of my favorite pastry chefs Ben Roche has a show on Planet Green called Future Food. The stuff they do at Moto blows my mind.

6. So which would you rather have a cake decorated like a tattoo or a tattoo of a cake?

A cake tattoo! I’ve noticed that tattoo artists can render a great looking cake tattoo but cake artists aren’t so hot at tattoo cakes.

7. Your look, your personality and even your blog scream personality; what inspires you?

Well thank you. I have been told I burst from the womb shouting “Hey everyone! Look at me!” I draw from so many places – my beautiful city, my fearless son, all the classy TV shows I grew up on like pro wrestling, Married with Children and Headbangers Ball. My friends and family are a huge inspiration, I’m always looking to make them laugh or to embarrass them. So it’s easy- endless inspiration.

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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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