Five Shows, One Week, Zero Chance

"Take Home Chef" host Curtis Stone helps Valerie Petredis cook dinner for her boyfriend. (Stephanie Diani - Stephanie Diani)
By John Maynard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Call it a sudden hunger to learn something new, or maybe just call it a stunt: Could I, a kitchen neophyte, learn anything about cooking in a week spent in the warm, comforting glow of my television? Short answer: not really. But read on.

· Monday 8 p.m. -- "Emeril Live" on Food Network

I kick off my weeklong adventure by tuning in to a familiar name: Emeril Lagasse. The popular New Orleans chef is no stranger to television (and all is forgiven for his short-lived, unwatchable NBC sitcom). I'm in luck on this particular night as Emeril is cooking for a studio full of schoolchildren. Just my speed. My first impressions are that he's a little loud and stands way too close to the camera at times, but I like what I'm hearing and what he's cooking. He starts with barbecued shrimp and explains that a shrimp has its own built-in thermometer (when it's pink, it's ready). He moves on to spaghetti and meatballs; I learn that a pinch of sugar make the sauce less bitter. Count me in for another lesson next week, although I will miss the kiddies.

· Tuesday 10:30 p.m. -- "Throwdown With Bobby Flay" on Food Network (regular time slot is Thursdays at 10 p.m.)

I've got a bad feeling from the start. Things are moving way too fast, with lots of herky-jerky camera work. Besides, Flay has way too much personality. Will I learn anything? Not much, it turns out, as Flay talks a mile a minute. But the premise of the show is intriguing: Flay challenges cooks from around the country to a "throwdown," trying to outcook them at what they cook best. In this episode, he takes on Austin cook Angela Shelf Medearis (aka the "Kitchen Diva"), who can make one mean Jamaican jerk chicken. "Okay, Kitchen Diva," he tells her. "Get your jerk on." Watching is entertaining, but if you want to pick up any tips, you're going to have to tape the show and play it back v-e-r-y slowly.

· Thursday 9 a.m. -- "Epicurious" on the Travel Channel

I stumbled on this one before heading off to work. This episode, "Dinner With Wine," didn't quite go with my skim latte. But chef Michael Lomonaco's chicken scarpiello and turkey marsala soon had me longing for lunch. The show's production values were basic, but Lomonaco's slow, deliberate pace allowed me to follow along, even during a thorough tutorial on how to cut up a chicken and slice cutlets out of a turkey breast.

· Thursday 5 p.m. -- "Take Home Chef" on TLC (regular time slot is Fridays at 8 p.m.)

First off, "THC" takes home the prize for cutest opening credits. The premise: Handsome Aussie chef Curtis Stone surprises an unsuspecting shopper in the grocery store and tells him or her that he's buying their groceries and cooking them up a gorgeous meal. In this episode, he selects Deanna, an attractive California brunette who is suspiciously not surprised by Stone's appearance. He winds up buying her a leg of lamb and some exotic ingredients and, on the way home, swipes some rosemary from her neighbor's front yard. Cheeky fellow. Like Flay, Stone moves a little quickly, and his Aussie accent is sometimes indecipherable, but I learned that rubbing honey on the lamb makes the rosemary stick to it during grilling.

· Saturday 5 p.m. -- "America's Test Kitchen" on PBS

I end my weeklong journey on a rainy Saturday afternoon tuned into PBS, expecting a button-down, conservative cooking show. I am not disappointed. Christopher Kimball, the nerdy, bow-tied host and founder of Cook's Illustrated magazine, shows us how to make the perfect fettuccine Alfredo. Tips include adding nutmeg and sprinkling just a bit of hot water into the sauce if it's too goopy. Leave it to PBS to present a "science desk" segment that illustrates the difference between braising and roasting a pot roast.

So I sat, I watched, I got hungry. I learned a little . . . very little. And now, with the new TV season starting, Emeril, Bobby and that nerdy guy from PBS will have to compete with McDreamy (from "Grey's Anatomy") and the Medium. My cooking education may have to wait for reruns to begin again.

John Maynard writes about television for the Style section.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company