Each week we take a quick, cautious look at what is going on with televised cooking. This week: The Best Thing I Ever Made, a half-hour show about the end of the world, Sundays at 11:30 a.m. on the Food Network.
The premise of Best Thing is simple: Each episode, a handful of chefs cook their very best dishes, which would be fine if the one we watched didn't kick off with Guy Fieri presenting his take on chicken fettuccini Alfredo.
Nobody's BTIEM should be chicken fettuccine Alfredo. Chicken fettuccine Alfredo is what your Dad orders when he doesn't have the balls to order gnocchi. Fieri says he "invented" his version -- Cajun chicken fettuccini Alfredo -- when he was in cooking school, where it "rocked the house." Then he put it on the menu at his fast-casual Tilt-a-Whirl Johnny Garlic's, where it has "rocked forever." Now it's on this show, where it plops on the floor and squirts to the bathroom.
Don't misunderstand: I like Guy Fieri. I like how you miss the first half of anything he cooks because you're too busy trying to get a handle whatever the fuck he is wearing. On this show, he goes with chunky rings, flip flops, and a red-and-yellow kimono with leather pirate cuffs, adorned with flames and a carp. I like how he wears those blue sunglasses on the back of head like he has a little bit of brain damage. I like not knowing if he's going to cook something or jump in a rocket car and race across the Bonneville Salt Flats. I don't really like these things.
Quote of the Broadcast: "Crustifying those spices on the outside of that chicken is really critical."
Close second: "It's like a battle royale in your mouth between the creamy and the spicy and the protein and the pasta and the chew and the UNCTUOUSNESS."
The scenes alternate between the kitchen and an interview chair, where the chefs add to the narrative around their dishes and Fieri adds to the narrative around boiling pasta. "Gotta salt the water, gotta cook the pasta al dente, it's gotta have the TOOTH, it's gotta have the BITE." Later in the show, when Susan Feniger blows everyone out the door with her amazing kaya toast, I'll think of Fieri leaning forward in his chair, explaining al dente like he's my Dad in 1986.
His segment ends with eight pounds of the stuff on a plate, looking apologetic. I find I very much want to try this food, but diner Crystal H. from Lincoln, CA, is nonplussed. "I thought since I order Cajun Chicken Fett it would have a little kick to it," she writes on Yelp (Johnny Garlic's, Roseville). "Nothing very bland. They were also a little pricey. My husband and I will never go back." Crystal also visits a nearby Carl's Jr.: "Everytime we go through drive thru our food is old. The only thing that seems fresh is the spicy chicken sandwich." Which is dead right. Crystal has a good head on her shoulders.
After the carnival that is Fieri cooking, The Best Thing I Ever Made becomes sort of dull. Although Susan Feniger wows us with kaya toast -- we've never heard of this Singapore staple, and need it now -- Aarti Sequeira lulls us with lamb kebabs, and Scott Conant sends us into food TV somnolence with polenta and a high-level fricassee of truffled mushrooms.
It's not that they aren't good TV chefs expertly enunciating their way through good dishes, it's just that the whole package didn't live up to the "Best Thing Ever" premise. I would like to see others -- respected chefs, savvy diners, or, in the case of Fieri, the president of the Food Network -- stand up and vouch for these meals. But all we get are the chefs, cheering their dishes on, which is little different than any other cooking show.