Getting a taste for a place where the drama is delicious

The Baltimore Sun

Let me begin by saying I'm not a foodie. I don't cook. The only thing I know about food is that I like stuffing my fat face with it. Yet somehow, I've gotten hooked on Food Network.

Who knows how these things happen? But they happen fast. One minute you're watching an ESPN SportsCenter update on Peyton Manning, the next minute you're clicking over to Paula Dean rubbing herbs into a pork loin.

Part of the reason I watch Food Network is that I've never seen people get so excited about food.

The other day, for instance, I watched Rachael Ray pound veal shoulders with a frying pan, a look of pure bliss on her face.

"It's really fun . . .!" she chirped at one point. I felt like going into the kitchen right then and there and pounding a veal shoulder myself. Except I didn't know what a veal shoulder was and whether we even had one.

Another thing I discovered is that people don't just cook food and talk about food on Food Network - they also have food competitions.

One took place on a show called Food Network Challenge for Pizza that featured four men billed as the "greatest pizza acrobats in the world." Who knew pizza acrobats even existed?

Yet there they were, competing to see, among other things, who could toss pizza dough the highest and who could roll the dough across his shoulders the fastest.

OK, it wasn't the Beijing Olympics. But it was kind of exciting to watch, in a weird way.

It seemed even more exciting the next day, when I clicked on The Essence of Emeril and watched celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse preparing fish stock.

Let me tell you, there's really not a whole lot of action to watching someone prepare fish stock.

"You really don't want to boil this because it'll get cloudy," Lagasse said at one point, listlessly stirring the pot. Which is when I thought: Where are the pizza acrobats when you need them?

There are lots of foodie rock stars on Food Network: Rachael Ray, Emeril Lagasse, Paula Deen, Bobby Flay, the British temptress Nigella Lawson.

But I'm curiously drawn to Guy Fieri, the spiky-haired, goateed, board-shorts-wearing star of Guy's Big Bite and Greatest Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

When he swaggers into an eatery with those linebacker shoulders straining against his Hawaiian shirt, you're never sure if he's there to try a dish or kick some butt.

When he tastes a dish, he's also prone to using expressions of pleasure that sound at once macho and corny, such as "See the sauce in that? Money!" and "That's out of bounds!"

To go from Fieri to the fey, theatrical Alton Brown, star of Good Eats, is to go from a Metallica concert to an accordion recital.

The other night's topic for Alton was: "Whipping up world-class sauces."

This was at 11 at night, and I imagined viewers all over the East Coast clicking off the remote and thinking: "Well, time for bed ..."

I also imagined Guy Fieri, watching at home, rolling his eyes, draining a beer and shouting: "Pour some tequila in that @#$%&* sauce, Alton!"

You might think there would be a lot of fat people as hosts of shows on the Food Network, or sitting in the audience, but that isn't the case.

This came to mind after watching a show called Roker on the Road, which stars former fatso Al Roker, the famous weatherman.

Roker, you may remember, had blown up to the size of a small dirigible and had gastric bypass surgery six years ago.

Now, in Roker on the Road, he crisscrosses the country for stories about different foods and the interesting characters who prepare them.

Roker still looks like he's keeping the weight off. But on a recent show, he visited an Italian bakery in Philadelphia, where he sampled sinfully rich cookies lacquered in pine nuts, then took us to a soul-food restaurant in Mount Pleasant, S.C., that specializes in fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, biscuits and cinnamon rolls, where he scarfed down something called "pot-licker soup."

To me, sending Roker to do this is like sending a reformed alcoholic to discover the best places to enjoy single-malt scotches. But it's still a great gig.

Another thing you notice about the Food Network is that no one ever tastes a dish and says: "Well, it's OK" or "Gee, this isn't too good" or "God, this is awful!"

Everything is always "delicious!" or "fabulous!" or "terrific!"

On a show called The Hungry Detective, husky cop and food critic Chris Cognac, who ferrets out buzz-worthy restaurants off the beaten path, sampled some nasty-looking fried green tomatoes smothered in Cajun mayo.

They looked better than Lagasse's fish stock, but not much.

For a moment, I thought: This is it. Cognac's going to spit this stuff across the room.

But even though his expression said otherwise, he dutifully nodded and said: "That's fantastic!"

They must teach that in Food Network 101.

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