Archive for June, 2016

Book Review: From Scratch: Inside the Food Network

June 17th, 2016

Book review of From Scratch: The Uncensored History of the Food Network

By Joseph Temple

Since its inception in 1993, the Food Network has gone on to be a television juggernaut, available now in nearly 100,000,000 American homes and worth approximately $3 billion dollars. And by placing the culinary arts at the vanguard of pop culture, this cable channel has been successfully minting “celebrity chefs” for more than two decades, from Emeril Lagasse to Giada De Laurentiis. “We’re not trying to be the Gourmet magazine of the airwaves,” said one former network president. “Our shows are chock-full of recipes but reinterpreted in television terms for our audience, which is young, urban, and more interested in food as part of their lifestyle. It’s up to us to be bold.”

To document this meteoric rise is journalist and author Allen Salkin, whose 2013 book From Scratch: The Uncensored History of The Food Network gives us twenty years worth of juicy gossip about both the channel—and its larger-than-life personalities. Why did network executives decide to kick Emeril off the air after hosting their flagship program for over a decade? What was going on behind the scenes as Paula Deen’s career was imploding before our very eyes? Viewers of the network will simply devour all of this tabloid material. But more importantly, Salkin’s book provides us with some great insight on how the channel first got off the ground.

When TVFN premiered on November 23rd, 1993 as one of hundreds of new cable stations flooding the airwaves, very few in the industry gave it a chance. Back then, food and cooking shows were seen as something housewives watched on weekend mornings or during the daytime in between soap operas and picking up the kids from school. The idea that anyone would want to see a food-oriented program in prime time was simply ludicrous. Additionally, the fact that most of these shows like Julia Child’s The French Chef aired on PBS led many to believe that there was no money to be made through advertising. After reading the first two chapters of From Scratch, you start to realize just how big of a gamble this whole endeavor was.


An early commercial for TVFN from the 1990s

Strolling down memory lane, Salkin takes us through the early years when the Food Network featured hosts such as Robin Leach and aired classic shows like Ready.. Set… Cook! and the British import Two Fat Ladies. Running on a shoestring budget and desperately scrambling for content, the network even bought old episodes of classic cooking shows like The Galloping Gourmet in order to fill its schedule. What’s interesting to note is that the founding president originally envisioned it as “CNN with Stoves,” featuring more journalistic programs like Foods, News and Views which attempted to seriously analyze the politics and laws surrounding what people ate. But steering the ship in another direction was a New Orleans chef who would eventually put the network on the map.

After some fine-tuning, a flamboyant and extremely likable Emeril Lagasse quickly took off as the face of the Food Network during the 90s with catchphrases like “Bam!” and “Time to kick up a notch.” Cooking in front of a rowdy studio audience and featuring a live band, Emeril Live soared in popularity, helping the network move beyond its core demographic as the culinary arts met The Tonight Show. While today there are many detractors of the network who feel it is more about entertainment than food, Salkin reminds us that back then, even a distinguished chef like Emeril wasn’t immune from these sorts of attacks. Describing the atmosphere of the show as “a little bit of the wrestling ring or the roller derby,” New York Times dining reporter Amanda Hesser declared him to be “more jester than cook,” noting that “professional foodies are a bit dismayed at the tone of the program.”

Of course, as non-chefs like Sandra Lee, Guy Fieri and Rachael Ray started to dominate the lineup, criticism and the Food Network has gone hand in hand. Ironically, one of its biggest foes is CNN’s Anthony Bourdain, a former network star who has ridiculed numerous personalities for their lack of knowledge or for allegedly “selling out.” Dissecting these criticisms at length, the author also provides a number of counter-arguments, including one from Julia Child who compared some of these shows to her very own. “It’s entertainment programs that bring in the money … You have to make teaching an entertaining thing to watch … It has to be lively to and fascinating.”


Sandra Lee’s infamous “Kwanzaa Cake” provided tons of fodder for critics of the Food Network.

Unfortunately, despite being on the cutting edge with series like Japan’s Iron Chef and Good Eats, Salkin also reminds us how network executives completely missed the boat with slicker and edgier programs like Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen and the Bravo’s hit franchise Top Chef. Instead of copying the Food Network’s family friendly culture, its competitors did the exact opposite by featuring more reality-based chefs who don’t shy away from smoking cigarettes and using an unhealthy dose of profanity. However, as the author points out, personalities like the foul-mouthed Gordon Ramsey and chefs decked out in tattoo sleeves would have never fit in with a network that takes pride in a wholesome image.

And with this image, Food Network personalities have been able to cash in—big time! While earlier TV chefs like Child and James Beard dabbled in endorsements, they were being paid no more than a “C-level actor” for their efforts. But this all changed as superstars like Ray, Lagasse and the others were able to monetize their success to a whole new level. With only a few thousand dollars dedicated to the production of its earlier shows, hosts were able to promote their products as a way to compensate them for their lack of salary. Beginning with Emeril’s spices, a very lucrative market took shape from kitchen gadgets to the numerous cookbooks that fly off the shelves year after year. Given the multi-million dollar achievements of these undertakings, it makes you wonder if they should change their name to the Marketing Network?

Whether you’re interested in the history of cable television, the politics behind choosing the next primetime show or simply a fan of these big names, From Scratch has something for everybody. Meticulously researched and full of fascinating anecdotes, it is a book that will make you the center of attention the next time you’re at a dinner party as you tell your friends story after story about this game-changing channel and the people that made it into the powerhouse that it is today.

 


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Ask Sid: Should some Burgundy vineyards be elevated to Grand Cru?

June 15th, 2016
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Ask Sid: Should some Burgundy vineyards be elevated to Grand Cru?

Question: I hear some chatter that Pommard Rugiens and Epenots should become Grand Cru vineyards. What are your thoughts on this idea?

Answer: Yes I have heard that lobby as well. There presently are 27 Premier Cru vineyards in Pommard and no Grand Cru. Certainly Rugiens & Epenots are 2 of their best but both are not totally consistent having different terroirs even within those vineyards. I am sure the INAO are hearing about these and other representations for changes to their original 1936 appellation classification. IMHO there are other vineyards that warrant consideration for elevation to Grand Cru ahead of Pommard. 3 that would be at the very top of my promotion list based on their quality and present price levels would be Chambolle- Musigny Les Amoureuses, Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Saint-Jacques, and Meursault Perrieres!


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Best Italian Wines 2016 Rated By Gambero Rosso

June 13th, 2016

Best Italian Wines 2016 Rated By Gambero Rosso
Image courtesy: gamberorosso.it

Gambero Rosso (www.gamberorosso.it) are celebrating their “30 years of passion” (1986-2016) with a roadshow which on June 10, 2016 was promoting #trebicchieriVAN. Their new Red Guide (30 Euros) is out spotlighting 2400 producers, 22000 wines, 421 Tre Bicchieri. They conducted a special Master Class of 9 top winning Italian wines that showed amazing diversity of style. Here is a brief summary:

1. Sparkler of the Year: Franciacorta Dosage Zero Noir Vintage Collection Riserva 2006 Ca’del Bosco – 60% chardonnay with pinot bianco & pinot nero from 22 sites vines averaging 30 years shows acidity, structure, elegance and harmony. Fantastic bubbles!

2. Best Value For Money: Falanghina del Sannio Svelato 2014 Terre Stregate – Fruity tangerine character drinking well at super value from increasingly popular grape easy to grow in Campania.

3. White Wine of the Year: Collio Friulano 2014 Schiopetto – 100% friulano from Collio DOC aged in stainless on lees is balanced with almond, apricot & pear fresh aromas with full flavour that can age.

4. Award For Sustainable Viticulture: A.A.Terlano Sauvignon Tannenberg 2013 Manicor –  Alto Adige gives lovely refreshing style with minerality with sustainable methods used by Manicor.

5. Red Wine of the Year: Etna Rosso V. Barbagalli 2012 Pietradolce – First bottle corked but 2nd excellent! Single vineyard Barbagalli from the trendy Etna volcanic slopes is a light colour but delivers lovely delicate elegant earthy yet clean roses. Excellent purity and not tiring to drink.

6. Grower of the Year: Barbaresco Asili 2012 Ca’ del Baio – One of the brilliant sites delivers complex cherries already smooth and rich – a worthy winner for the wine as well as the grower.

7. Up-And-Coming Winery: Bolgheri Rosso Sup. Atis 2012 Guado al Melo – IGT Blend of older clones cab sauv, cab franc, & merlot from vines planted in 1999 with 24 months in barrique has lots of balsamic red fruits with impressive structure.

8. Winery of the Year: Amarone della Valpolicella Cl. 2011 Allegrini – The Allegrini family have been involved in Valpolicella since the 16th century with now the 6th generation in charge. Own about 100 hectares of vineyards and emphasis is on not having residual sugar or oxidation in their wines. Don’t want brown colour or a porty styled Amarone but fresh clean wine with acidity. A great success!

9. Sweet of the Year: Valle d’Aosta Chambave Moscato Passito Prieure 2013 La Crotta di Vegneron – Has slightly higher alcohol but certainly sweet with acidity too in a true passito styling from Aosta Valley.


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La Cité du Vin: the Disneyland of wine!

June 10th, 2016

La Cité du Vin bordeaux wine tourism
Image: laciteduvin.com

By Joseph Temple

Get ready to expand your definition of the term “wine tourism”!

Earlier this month, the city of Bordeaux unveiled a brand new and jaw dropping attraction—La Cité du Vin —a gigantic wine-themed museum that’s guaranteed to lure in oenophiles from across the world. Described as a Disneyland for wine lovers, this ten-story building, which some say looks like a giant decanter, opened its doors to the public after seven long years of construction costing approximately 81 million euros. According to its website, La Cité du Vin “is a unique venue for culture and recreation where wine comes to life through an immersive, sensorial approach, all set within an evocative architectural design.”

With an individual ticket price of €20 (which includes a glass of wine), visitors can expect to be blown away by a number of diverse attractions. For starters, you can head up to the eighth floor to the observation deck known as the Belvedere. Giving locals and tourists a stunning 360° view of the Gironde city, one can enjoy a wine tasting from an updated selection of twenty bottles while soaking in all this gorgeous scenery, from the Place de la Bourse to the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux. Additionally, the Le 7 restaurant, operated by chef Nicolas Lascombes offers diners another spectacular panoramic view of the city.

Next is the permanent tour, which is described as an “immersive, sensory adventure to discover the cultures and civilizations of wine.” Consisting of twenty different themed areas that explore “the many and varied facets of wine across time and space,” the entire experience is enhanced by cutting-edge technology in the form a travel companion, allowing the visitor to create a virtual travel log in eight different languages.

Then there’s Latitude20, the museum’s wine bar. Housing a collection of 14,000 bottles from 70 different countries, visitors can sample vintages from around the world, from the traditional wine growing regions to the more exotic locations like Bali and Tahiti. Yes, apparently Tahiti makes wine! And once again, technology takes it to the next level with iPad installations that allow you to learn more about the wine you’re about to drink by the world’s top sommeliers.

Of course, America’s footprint can be seen at this theme park whenever you enter the Thomas Jefferson Auditorium. Funded by American Friends of the Cité du Vin (which raised over $300,000 for this project), this theater named in honor of America’s third president (and former ambassador to France) will serve as the venue for movie screenings, debates, presentations and concerts.

According to a story published in USA Today, museum staff has said that you can expect to spend at least 2.5 hours at La Cité du Vin. But don’t think that this attraction is going to take away visitors from the local wineries: While inside you can learn about all about Bordeaux vineyards and even book an excursion. Aiming to draw over 400,000 visitors annually, “the Guggenheim of Wine” according to Bordeaux’s mayor hopes to be one of the twenty most visited museums and parks in all of France. “Wine is part of our cultural and gastronomic heritage but also our landscape,” said French president Francois Hollande at the grand opening. “It symbolizes how France is seen by the outside world; a country of freedom and culture and an emblem of the enviable lifestyle of which we are so proud.”

 


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Ask Sid: Burgess Enveiere 1998

June 8th, 2016
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Burgess vineyards Napa California

Question: I was given a bottle of 1998 Burgess Enveiere – is it still drinkable?

Answer: I have visited the historic original Souverain winery on the western slopes of Howell Mountain in the Napa Valley which was taken over by Tom Burgess in 1972. Burgess made some impressive “boutique” wines in the seventies and eighties but as their production increased the winery got more commercial. However, the first Bordeaux styled Enveiere (“to send a message”) was special from 1997 (a great vintage) to celebrate their 25th anniversary in a tall bottle with attractive black & gold labelling. Tasting it shortly after release showed a full rich textured cabernet sauvignon blend with power & lots of spicy new oak. I haven’t tried their 1998 but the year was much cooler resulting in a later harvest with less consistent ripe fruit. Notice your question comes from that beautiful spot of Kona Hawaii. Unless you are only vacationing there warmer storage conditions could also be an issue in favour of earlier drinking. Your 1998 could be drying out now but should nonetheless be lovely drinking showing that hillside cab statement in a more elegant lighter styling. Enjoy it with food!


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