Each week we take a quick, cautious look at what's going on with televised cooking. This week: The Culinary Adventures of Baron Ambrosia, a half-hour primer on mugging for the camera, Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. on the Cooking Channel. Or you can gape at it here.
If Baron Ambrosia seems like just another wacky food show, you're not paying attention. I wasn't paying attention until Melle Mel appeared two minutes in, took off his white jacket, and started doing pull ups on a traffic light. I wanted to call everybody. WHAT DOES THE COOKING CHANNEL HAVE ON MELLE MEL?
Then I realized he wasn't doing his pull ups for the usual squares (Chiarello, Brown, Zzzzz) but rather "the culinary ambassador of the Bronx," who had ballroom danced a bone of fried pork around the neighborhood in the show's opening. As a jacked Melle Mel continued to pound out reps, the Baron, in a flamboyant tux, drove a pimped-out purple roadster in search of Jersey Devil meat, because Jersey Devil meat would give him the superhuman strength to allow him to do more pull ups on the traffic light than Melle Mel, the swole rap legend. That's the premise of the show. COOKING CHANNEL BIATCH.
Along the way, Baron Ambrosia sometimes addressed food, when the host slammed on the breaks after he smelled something nice, stormed into kitchens, and charmed/baffled the attendants chefs, who played nicely with every last edit. It's all either terrible or amazing; I'm not entirely sure which; let's go with amazing.
The credit (or fault?) rests on Ambrosia, whose persona is composed of 2 handfuls Don Juan, 1 tbsp James Bond, 3 long pours of the Most Interesting Man in the World, a sprinkling of bullfighter, half a pimp, and a few key pages of a thesaurus, all baked in a hotbox.
The Baron is charming, no question. The choreographed way he kicked open the door of a Newark restaurant, danced in, and boomed, "Will someone please tell me the source of the delicate scent that fills this humble shop?" (curry goat bussup shot at Allya Fete, for the record) is leagues above Bobby Flay shuffling into a waffle shop and mumbling, "Boy, what smells good?"
In fact, Ambrosia's entrances are his strong point. But so are his exits: He finished his bit at Allya Fete with a dance party that should have outtakes. And there are no other food TV hosts you want to see anywhere near a dance party, save Alton Brown. Believe me, I just thought about this.
Some good quotes:
"Just a couple guys, a few espressos, nothing weird going on here."
"The juice of the clams; you're a naughty man."
This to a plate of pork: "If you're not doing anything later I'd like to meet somewhere private, get a little weird."
The show didn't appear fully formed, and a quick search revealed the obvious: Baron Ambrosia, aka Justin Fornal, has been freaking people out on New York public access TV for years with Bronx Flavor, and he got kicked up to the big leagues with this show (er, pilot, as there's no evidence of another episode).
It still has public-access weirdness written all over it, especially toward the end, which is such a mess it should only be watched at a bleary 3 a.m. after you get home and need to hold onto the floor for dear life. The Baron finds his Jersey Devil meat, and it's still attached to a Jersey Devil, which is just a shitty puppet. You make do. Melle Mel has the only possible last word: "I need a martini."