12.06.2010

How Many Stars Does Your Heart Attack Have?

I'll admit I watch more than my fair share of reality cooking shows. Why cooking, you ask? The more you cook at home, the better you eat and the healthier you are. The more you watch reality show cooking shows, the more you're motivated to cook at home.

It's true. It's called inspiration, and after that, it's called plagiarism (or theft) when you recreate the Barefoot Contessa's gratin recipe with no intention of ever buying her cookbooks. The more you cook at home, the more you save money on your food bill - that's not rocket surgery. Last time we went out, and it wasn't anywhere special, for two people it cost the same as two weeks' worth of CSA boxes.

Either I watch for motivation, or I watch because they aren't as loaded with crazies. You have to have some skill to get on and remain on a cooking show. And is it just me or are cooking shows less loaded with those narcissistic contestants who, when their self-indulgent behavior is called out, say, "I'm not here to make friends?"The more contestants say that, the more you're probably watching something on MTV.

The high-end professional chefs on these shows make a big deal out of using farm-sourced, fresh, organic, local ingredients. These are the contestants who work at fancy restaurants and have some mighty, superior attitude, particularly against other contestants who work in diners, cafes, or corporate law cafeterias. The pretensions fly down their noses, as if their food not only tastes better but is better in every other way, too.

I've got news for them. It's obvious news, so if you're smarter than me and figured this out already, good for you. Fine dining is no better for you than fast food. In fact, it might even be worse. Foie gras anyone? Ever watch those poncy chefs spoon the fat in their saucepan back onto the meat, over and over? It's as if they want their customers to get fat and die. They all seem to do it, the fancy ones. That and frying steak in inches of butter, to keep it moist, they say, and you know what moist means. It's as if they want the maximum possible density of artery-clogging death per serving. Meat prep is just the beginning.

Watch as the Iron Chefs drop big knobs of butter into their pans. Before Alton Brown even has a clue what they're preparing, there goes the big blob of butter. It's as if the more fat, the more their chances of winning.

Stare as Top Chef contestants shake cupfuls of oil around in their pans. The more oil, the more flavor, the fatter the judges get.

Cry as Hell's Kitchen contestants screw up another greasy pan full of scallops. "Too dry!" Gordon Ramsay will say if the little circles of death aren't oozing grease. It's worse than burgers at McDonald's, I suspect, but how would I know? Only McDonald's has labels.

Chefs don't care about you. You go out to eat because you want to eat something flavorful and pretty, and you aren't going to pay five times the price of a quarter-pounder if it doesn't taste five times as fancy.

Rich sauces make you salivate. Fat and salt tastes delicious. The more fat, the more you'll pay. I've known people who, when going out, purposefully close their mind to the fatty cooking methods. They know they're getting a plateful of indigestion and a heartful of grease, but discussing extra greasy calories isn't socially acceptable conversation topic when it costs so much. So they eat their 800 calorie, 62 fat grams' worth of Caesar salad and keep quiet, knowing they'd be better off at McDonald's.

Or home, which is where they would be, their spouses warned, if they brought up this (click for more proof) topic one more time.