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It's the fun, not the food

New Food Network shows are geared to provide more entertainment than education.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 22, 2000

Serious cooks who are disappointed by the Food Network straying farther and farther from the Julia Child style of TV culinary how-to aren't going to be any happier with the cable channel's new shows.

Look at it this way: It's not called the Cooking Network, it's called the Food Network. Food is a word so broad that anything can fit under it, and the Food Network, for better or worse, is taking advantage of that.

Home gourmets can still tune in to PBS for straight-ahead cooking shows. Meanwhile, the Food Network is making food TV entertaining.

The new shows join the prime-time non-cooking offerings such as Door Knock Dinners and Calling All Cooks already on the air. On these shows, it's not as important how food is prepared as who's doing the cooking, where she grew up and what her dog's name is.

Food Fantasy, which premieres at 9 p.m. Monday, aims to fulfill people's food-related wishes. Some fantasies, like a mom wanting to make a special dinner, are easy to grant.

Host Robin Dorian, a graduate of Largo High School and former VH1 personality, tags along as a New Jersey mom makes a surprise visit to her son, a beer brewer in Colorado, so she can whip up a home-cooked meal using his own beer.

Not only does Dorian pick the woman up at the airport, she also gets in the act by grilling the beer-marinated chicken while mom and son chat inside.

The first episode of Food Fantasy also features a New York couple, self-described foodies, preparing a meal for a world-famous chef. They don't know who the chef is until after they've cooked the food.

The camera trails the couple through the grocery store and then follows them to the small kitchen in their apartment. We witness it all: their mistakes and marital squabbling.

"Hopefully whoever is coming is not a pastry chef," the woman says after burning the bottom of her chocolate torte.

Hope didn't help her. The chef who's coming to dinner is Jacque Torres, executive pastry chef at Le Cirque 2000 in New York City.

Upon greeting Torres at the door, the woman looks at her husband and gasps, "Oh my God, my cake!"

Except for something burning in the microwave that makes the couple's smoke alarm go off, the dinner goes along okay, and Torres seems not to be repelled by the woman's cooking.

* * *

Nobody loves Bobby Flay as much as Bobby Flay loves Bobby Flay.

With that said, the Food Network is taking advantage of the chef's personable style and growing fan base by giving him yet another show, Food Nation. It premieres at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

In this show, Flay takes his New York accent and attitude on the road. The chef and restaurant owner will focus on a different city in each episode and highlight its food culture.

The first show finds Flay in Kentucky, where he visits, among other places, a distillery and learns how bourbon is made.

Flay was especially strong in last year's Ball Park Cafe special, and that probably led to this show. When he's not battling the Iron Chef, Grillin' & Chillin', which returns to the network at 10 p.m. June 29, or working Hot Off the Grill, Flay will be traveling the country tasting local cuisine.

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