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channeling the cooking channel
a new network of old favorites
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)

When I heard that Food Network was spinning off a new sister network called the Cooking Channel, I was pretty thrilled. Cooking! Isn’t that the missing ingredient, if you will, in the Food Network’s recipe these days? Once jam-packed with how-to instruction, the network now gives over its prime time hours mostly to competition shows, ranging from the reasonably entertaining (Iron Chef) to the absurdly specific (who can make the best cake featuring a Disney princess playing water polo and/or cribbage?) I’d set my DVR to pick up Anne Burrell and Nigella and Alton, but more often than not, the average program I happened upon didn't hold my interest. So it sounded like a channel with more cooking on it was just the ticket.

And then I heard the Cooking Channel was going to be “young and cutting-edge,” and I balked.

You have to understand, even when I was young, I wasn’t all that young. When VH-1 was announced as a sister network to MTV, I was elated. Less young! More stodgy! None of them hiphopperers and get off my lawn! Et cetera. (I was 12.) So if the Cooking Channel was coming in as a younger-skewed Food Network, I was pretty sure that would be a problem for me.

Now that I’ve had just over a month to get acquainted with the Cooking Channel’s programming, I can happily say, no problem. Love it. Whatever way it skews, whatever its aim, that channel’s got my attention.

Caveat: Probably for the opposite reason they want, and who knows how long it’ll last.

Why? Why is this “young and cutting-edge” network giving me all the instructional stodge I’m looking for? Well, because it’s kind of exactly like the Food Network was back in the good old days.

(Stodge! Whippersnappers! Lawn!)

Julia Child. The Galloping Gourmet. Molto Mario. A random sample of Cooking Channel shows from all times of day would have you convinced all good things come from the past. Or, on occasion, Canada. You can see some of today’s stars yesterday, like a baby-faced Aaron Sanchez or a less-comfortable-on-camera Padma Lakshmi. I’m catching Jamie Oliver and Nigella shows that were on Food Network a couple years ago, and it’s a warm comforting feeling (Hey, there’s that green fatoush salad I make every couple of months! Oh, there’s Jamie talking about fenn-oh!) while it lasts.

My concern, though, is that as the network matures, they’ll start ordering up more original programming, and we’ll see less of the classic Juuuuu-lia puff pastry extravaganzas, and more shows like Food Jammers, wherein Canadian hipsters “reinvent” food by making it needlessly complicated. On their pizza show they not only made baking sheets shaped like stairways and geodesic domes, they also built an oven in the window of their apartment. And failed to vent it. Dudes. Even I knew that wouldn’t end well.

And I’m sure Roger Mooking is a wonderful person, and his exploration of interesting ingredients like papaya and tamarind seem well-done, but the theme song of his show “Everyday Exotic” makes me want to take out my eardrums with an icepick. (“Awwww… let’s do it! Something something perfect day for us… ” DO NOT WANT.) Naturally, it seems to play almost constantly throughout the show. It’s a shallow thing to dislike, and yet, I do not see myself getting over it anytime soon. Sorry, Roger!

So, for now, I’m watching a lot of the Cooking Channel. As long as they have my old favorites, I’ll be there. It’ll be interesting to see how the channel evolves over time and finds its own identity.

(It’ll also be interesting to see if I still find Two Fat Ladies to be strange and wonderful and utterly compelling, like I did the last time around. Bring on the streaky bacon, old friends.)


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

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alex b
7.9.10 @ 3:17a

I'm in total love with the Cooking Channel. Liking Unique Eats and regular doses of Nigella, and getting a total kick out of seeing the original Japanese Iron Chef programs.

I hope to GOD they don't add more stupid hipster Food Jammer-type programming. I really don't care if a clique of skinny ubernerds manage to build a pizza oven in a loft. I'd rather see pizza come together old-school Italian style.

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