Friday, January 15, 2010

Plastic Chef

I've been an avid fan of the Iron Chef series on Food Network, both the (campy but fun) original, and the new "American" version. Unlike most of the network's shows, I don't really come away having learned much that I can apply in my own kitchen (unfortunately, squid ink ice cream is a kosher no-no), but it's always fun to watch incredibly talented food-meisters perform feats of culinary derring-do.

I was especially pumped up about the much-touted Mega Challenge on January 3rd; Batali, Lagasse and Flay all in the same place at the same time?! Nirvana!

The "hook" was that the "secret ingredient" was, in fact, "ingredientS:" veggies from the White House garden. Very cool idea, whatever one's politics.

And so the three master chefs, joined by White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, rooted through the copious vegetation, selecting fresh produce by the basketful, destined for culinary legend.

Or so we were lead to believe. The truth is somewhat less appetizing:

"As first reported on AOL's Politics Daily blog, the fruits and vegetables used on the show weren't from the White House. They were stunt produce. Ringers."

No one really believes that any of the the show's "secret" ingredients is actually unknown to the chefs beforehand. It's a bit of suspension-of-disbelief that really harms no one.

But this...this is different:

The episode consistently referred to the vegetables as having come from the WH garden. Every chef participated in the fraud.

"Fraud," Henry? Please! It's a cooking show, for heaven's sake. It's not the Nightly News.

True enough, but the advertisers are now complicit in the perpetuation of this myth, as are all the chefs and sous-chefs who participated. Did the judges know? We can't be sure, but their objectivity is now tainted, as well.

Who was really hurt by this little stunt? No doubt most folks will view this as nothing more than that: a TV stunt. But the credibility of the First Lady is now in question, since she was obviously a willing participant in this obfuscation. As I mentioned before, there's always a subtle wink-wink when the "secret ingredient" is announced, but that doesn't really matter: who cares that the chefs know ahead of time and can prepare a menu? There's at least the challenge of working against the clock, and the other chef. There's an honesty to the battle.

Not anymore.

For once, I don't blame the White House: this is squarely on the Food Network's head. How they choose to deal with it may well determine how long they'll be on the air.

And as FoIB Brian D points out that, if they're willing to carry the charade this far, how do we know who really won?

Color me: disappointed.
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