Thursday, December 02, 2010

guy smiley

There are a lot of things to say about the Guy Fieri Fenomenon, but the thing I'm here to get off my chest is this: I've never seen any cooking show as heterosexual as Guy's Big Bite. The bachelor rec room feel represents a big change in the traditional pitch of cooking show atmosphere.

There are other manly cooking shows: Steven Raichlen, host of "Primal Grill," with his grindingly personality-free delivery, is very butch; super-butch, in fact, in his fire-focused cooking and constant use of Tongs. Former Idaho game warden Cee-Dub (I love Cee-Dub), king of outdoor Dutch oven cookery and practical, portable ingredients, even more so. But those shows are set outdoors, which has been the main provence of the manly male cooking show cook to date. Fieri's show is filmed indoors. It aggressively designs a world where the regular guy hangs with his bros but still worries about the freshness of his buffalo mozz.

"Guy's Big Bite" is actually a better show than the live audience and competition shows Fieri hosts (I cannot stand to watch those, honestly), or even Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, which features great restaurants but is hobbled by, well, Fieri: his constant fidgeting for the next (co-opted, outdated) catch phrase combined with lack of food vocabulary makes for a hard slog watching it, and the fact that the show is usually edited around him, rather than the cooks he's interviewing, is a mistake.

Regardless, the main interest "Guy's Big Bite" has to me is as a monument to heterosexual male signifiers. The set for the first season of his show was much plainer (downright cheap-looking, really, with its sponged purple walls), but as he became more famous, the kitchen grew too. In Fieri's current TV kitchen, there is: a pool table (see top photo); racing stripes on the refrigerator:

a band rig in the corner:

hub caps on the walls and motoX on the TV:
and a pinball machine:

The logo that opens the show is blocky and bold; the heavy, granite-like letters crash to the ground (yabba dabba doo):

It's all an outgrowth of Fieri's "kulinary gangsta" (™) schtick, which he works insanely hard: the guido bling, the wrist bands, the surf shirts, the Bermuda shorts, the hair, the bro patois, the sunglasses, the Sammy Hagar vibe (including the slightly mediocre, not-David Lee feel), the stadium tours, the TGIFriday's endorsement. Even Fieri's (personal) logo has an Ed Hardy flavor, as you can see here in this ad for his "Knuckle Sandwich" brand of knives, which is itself a NASCAR sponsor (I'm not sure there's ever existed a more white heterosexual male sentence in the context of cooking than that):

Although people spend a lot of time gnashing their teeth about Fieri and his blizzard of hype (I thought Anthony Bourdain's comment comparing him to Poochie the Rockin Dog was apt), "Guy's Big Bite" is actually quite conventional. Granted, sometimes the packaging obscures the content, but that's all the grown-up man toys are: packaging. The structure of his show is the same as any other. (The content really isn't that bad--if you squint through the Fieri-blah and the usual TV chef-blah, there is occasionally new information in there and some good recipes.) He gives many dishes dumb names, like "No Can Beato This Taquito" (that one might be offensive as well as dumb) or "Beef--The Bomb--Bourguignon," and makes a cocktail every episode (those always have dumb names), but his cooking style isn't notably different from anybody else's, other than in his devotion to butch squirt bottles, which never seem as carefree to use as he might like, since even with labels it can be hard to tell what's in them. His food tastes are probably too conventional and middle-class for some people; you have to wonder what Bourdain would think about this recent anti-offal quote from Fieri: "I do not appreciate the parts of the animal that had a job. Parts that are licked, make sound, push, filter, walk and so on are not for me.” But I don't think he's a bad cook.

Fieri got his start on TV as the winner of the second season of "The Next Food Network Star." The winners of the first season were Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, a real-life couple who were more or less the opposite of the bomb-diggity het male cook, with their cozy help-me-here-a-sec-honey banter. Their show didn't take off, for what reason I don't know. I think Food Network promoted the heck out of it, but they promote Fieri harder (obviously), with a seeming glee at discovering a hitherto untapped market or at least way to pitch to it.

I do wonder what it means for cooking shows that the bar has been raised so extremely high in terms of branding--not necessarily super straight or cozy queer--but because it's so personality-driven. Bourdain complains a lot about Food Network cheese, but his network, The Travel Channel, has the same problem with its marketing, sometimes worse. Their big hitter line-up--Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, the Man V. Food guy, whose show is all--only--personality, since it consists basically of him sitting and eating and making faces about it--all white dudes--is promoted as yeah rebellious! Their bad-ass selves! Yeah! Woo! These guys! The whole thing isn't quite as superficial as Fieri-land, but it's still heavily leveraged and all that's left over for those of us who find it artificial is Samantha Brown and the 9000th showing of thinly-vieled service pieces like "Hot Dog Paradise."

Call me crazy, but I don't think cooking is an activity organically suited to performance. The occasional burst of flame or masterful toss of contents in a skillet is immediately followed minutes of covered braising. Or washing a pan. Or peeling pounds of potatoes. Fieri occupies the silliest end of trying to make cooking Exciting! every step of the way, but honestly I find even the less pushy versions of that kind of cooking show uninteresting, the more so the more they try. One reason that I still worship Jacques Pepin's TV cooking, where he lets La Technique speak for itself.

Guy Fieri Road Show

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