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Emeril, Eat My Dust. BAM!

5 minute read
Eugenie Allen

I love TV cooking shows. For my money, Julia Child is on a par with the Pope. (Can’t you just see the two of them making pierogi together?) Martha Stewart scares me, but every once in a while I join her 2 million other weekday viewers, just to gauge my inadequacies. I’m also hoping to win the lottery someday. I refer, of course, to the lottery for tickets to Emeril Live!, the hottest offering on the Food Network. For every week of tapings, the network says, it receives 150,000 requests for just 1,500 seats.

I used to imagine my own life as a cooking show, with an army of invisible vegetable-chopping elves, a lifetime supply of those miniature glass bowls that hold no more than a dab of anchovy paste, and children who gladly eat dishes with French names and 23 ingredients. Then I realized that show would have to run on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Now I have a better idea. How about a cooking show for the rest of us? If your Cuisinart is gathering dust, if you account for some of foodtv.com’s 16 million monthly page views yet will never make Crab and Wild-Mushroom Cheesecake with a Green-Onion Coulis, if culinary debate in your house centers on whether to pick up Happy Meals at the drive-through or eat inside, then tune in to Reality Bites.

Set in a poorly organized, ill-lighted suburban kitchen (no Viking range or Sub-Zero fridge here), the show will be shot in grainy black and white. Think drug-bust footage. I’d love to do the show live, but since I rarely cook dinner at the same time two days in a row–and some days I don’t cook at all–I’m afraid I can’t commit to a time slot.

In a typical episode, I’ll fly into the kitchen at 6:02 p.m., proud to be among the 71% of Americans who don’t decide what’s for dinner until after 4. Minutes race by as I referee a fight between my daughters over who has the most Beanie Babies, run a spoon through the garbage disposal by mistake and field a string of phone calls–three from telemarketers who know they’ll find me home at this hour, one from a younger sibling who wants to borrow $300. My six-year-old needs a hug. My nine-year-old needs a ruler with centimeters on it. My toddler needs to slam two pot lids together.

Let’s say I settle on chicken and dumplings, since it’s one of just five foods that all three kids will eat. I’ll start by cutting up an onion, but first I have to clear the countertop. Mail, newspapers, coupons–hey, there’s the checkbook–it all goes on top of the dryer. The onion goes into a pot of instant broth along with a few limp carrots and some leftover chicken. The camera trails me as I crush some ice for the toddler, who’s teething, and throw a load of whites into the wash.

Back to the stove, where it’s time to make the dumplings, courtesy of Bisquick. Drop in a few frozen peas, and it’s a balanced meal. As the credits roll, you see me dumping tiny bits of chicken and mashed-up peas on the high-chair tray. Pan wide to the girls, who haven’t been served because they’re still fighting over who gets the lime-green Tupperware bowl. Bon appetit!

The show would never lack for topics. My holiday special would focus on how to keep well-meaning guests out of the kitchen: “More wine, Aunt Hattie?” In “Refrigerator Roulette,” I’d try to figure out which leftovers are still safe to eat. Smell along at home! I can picture a stream of cameos in which I bring celebrity chefs resoundingly down to earth. I’d make Emeril Lagasse do the dishes. (What happens to the ones he dirties so exuberantly in the studio? Does he throw them all away? BAM!) When chef Mario Batali visits–that’s “Molto Mario,” of Food Network fame–he’d better bring a mop. I tried his advice to let food fall on a plate “like windblown Zen mastery,” and it fell on the floor.

Reality Bites might stand a chance at getting a spot on the Food Network; look at the success of mtv’s The Real World. The problem, alas, would be in attracting viewers. My natural audience, women with children, wouldn’t make time to watch me cook for my family–they barely have time to cook for their own. And when they do tune in, after the kids are in bed and the dishwasher’s loaded, they’re not looking for a mirror, they’re looking for a window.

Heck, if I weren’t in it, I might not watch it either.

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