Question Celebrity

With Hank Stuever
Sunday, October 8, 2006

A couple of months ago, Details magazine ran a photo feature of semi-famous women and men on television screens with their faces frozen in eye-rolling, lip-smacking, open-mouthed ecstasy, and asked the reader to answer the question: Food Network or Spice Channel? The photos were either from cooking shows or porn movies, but the faces all wore the same expression: Oh, my God. It's so, so good.

You don't have to watch the Food Network or porn for very long to know that much of the pleasure is faked. Rachael Ray surely can't love every French dip sandwich or local diner omelet she "discovers" on her budget-travel show. (And watch as the restaurant in turn fakes at playing it cool when she and her camera crew just happen upon the establishment.) And Ray certainly gives herself a lot of happiness in the kitchen on her quick-meal cooking show. But does she really have that much love of her own whipped-together pasta and spinach dishes? Every time?

Faking it doesn't stop fans of either porn or cooking from pretending it's all real anyhow. If you've been on the set of a cooking show, you know that the star chef has one or two bites, and once the director has a good take of the reaction shot, the audience or crew can have at the rest, or some assistant has to throw it out. I also enjoy shows in which the celebrity chef has "friends" over to the wine-country house for a midafternoon meal. Of course, some fake good times are better than others, and no one really looks all that happy to be hanging out with Ina Garten, a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa. (Couldn't both of those be porn screen names?) She also loves everything she puts in her mouth: There are a few perfected moves on each show -- usually the overt pause after the bite is taken, the closed eyes, the guttural mmmmph. Cut! Thanks, everyone. That's a wrap. Who wants the rest of these muffins?

One other thing stars of the adult-film industry and the growing foodie industry have in common is the celebrity-minded impulse to further the brand. Paula Deen -- a Savannah restaurateur whose belle-like flirtiness from her Georgia kitchen empire oddly makes her the Jenna Jameson of foodland -- has a magazine and another show on the way. Plus her "boys," her grown sons, Jamie and Bobby Deen, now have their own show, in which they travel the states and dip their fingers into all sorts of mixing bowls. Like Momma, the Deen boys seem to literally grow as the business does. And like Momma, there is nothing that goes in their mouths that doesn't elicit a good ol' groan of rapture.

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