In the days before the Food Network and all of its many imitators, there was food programming on public television. From the earliest days of PBS, food shows were an integral part of the network. And it was a Golden Age for the genre, with memorable personalities like Julia Child, Jeff Smith on The Frugal Gourmet, Martin Yan on Yan Can Cook, Justin Wilson on Louisiana Cookin’, and Graham Kerr on The Galloping Gourmet and Travelin’ Gourmet With Mike Kalina. All of these shows focused on the food but they also had a feel with just enough personality to be interesting without crossing into the Guy Fieri realm. How quirky were these chefs? Well, one example is this YouTube clip of Mike Kalina, who co-wrote and appeared on a novelty record called Steelers ’72.
As food audiences have migrated to cable TV, the food shows on public television seem to have had trouble finding their way. A show like Mind Of A Chef has won a James Beard award and is one of the best food shows on television. But many of the other offerings are…well…a little dry. I think part of the problem is that public television just had a problem defining what it wanted to be when it came to food programming. They wanted to be more “serious” than competitors such as the Food Network, and that is a great bit of counter-programming. But sometimes serious crossed the line over to dry and lifeless and in recent years I’ve missed that feeling of turning to public television first for my culinary fix.
If you’re longing for a food show that is both informative and lively, you’ll enjoy the new series Moveable Feast, which is sponsored by the magazine Fine Cooking. In each episode Australian celebrity chef Pete Evans travels to a American culinary center and challenges a couple of local chefs to work with him to create a memorable culinary experience for a small group of diners.
It’s a straight-forward premise and the result is a show that is fun and quirky, while still providing plenty of culinary information. In episode one, Evans travels to Seattle to work with well-known chefs Tom Douglas and Thierry Rautrureau and the day begins with a bit of crab fishing. The trio visit Seattle’s legendary Pike Place Market for returning to the kitchen to create a “pop-up feast” for 15 guests at a beach pavilion overlooking the water.
Future episodes include visits to San Francisco, Providence, R.I., Harlem and Sonoma, California. Because each episode features a different local and two new chefs, each half hour has its own chemistry and feel. But what they all have in common is they’re filled with equal amounts of laughter and cooking, which is really the perfect way to approach any meal.
If I have a criticism of the season one episodes, it’s that the locations tend to be pretty predictable. The upside is that each show features familiar faces that you’re already likely to enjoy. But it would have been nice to have seen a Harlem-based show that didn’t feature Chef Marcus Samuelsson or a New York City episode without Anita Lo.
But that’s a small complaint and the truth is that Moveable Feast is a return to the glory days of cooking on public television. Watching it is more of a joy than an obligation and even if you don’t see a recipe you’re tempted to tackle at home, you’ll see plenty of places to visit on vacation.
Moveable Feast With Fine Cooking airs on tpt2 Saturdays at 10:00 a.m. beginning Sept. 14. It also airs on tpt Life on Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. beginning on Sept. 17.