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Friday, September 23, 2011

"Easy Chinese: San Francisco" Uses Our Town Like a Blank Screen

Posted By on Fri, Sep 23, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Ching-He Huang in the studio kitchen - COOKING CHANNEL
  • Cooking Channel
  • Ching-He Huang in the studio kitchen

The Cooking Channel's "Easy Chinese: San Francisco" was an exciting concept to me: an entire 14-episode series, premiering tomorrow, based on the great Chinese food we have here.

Wouldn't you like to know how to make Golden Gate Bakery's custard tart at home, or San Tung's dry-fried chicken wings?

I only got one 30-minute episode in advance (a "screener"): the series pilot, "Fast Food and Street Food." Because of how extensively SFoodie covers street food, I was pretty psyched to see it.

If this is an indication on how the rest of the series is going to go, there's not much San Francisco in there other than the title and a few location shoots.

I know that they really shot the entire series here; the show's kitchen manager, Marla Simon, is one of our writers, and produced an excellent behind-the-scenes account of what it's like to try to film in public. (I particularly love her story of trying to shoo passersby away from delicious-smelling lobsters.)

Ching He-Huang walks the streets of San Francisco. But it could be Vancouver. - COOKING CHANNEL
  • Cooking Channel
  • Ching He-Huang walks the streets of San Francisco. But it could be Vancouver.

But this episode at least could have been shot in Miami or Vancouver with no real difference save the occasional background.

The host, Ching-He Huang, a Taiwanese native who now lives in London, makes her recipes in a studio setting; there's nothing local about them.

Then she goes to Chairman Bao, a corporate-created food truck (albeit with a local franchisee, Curtis Lam). Chairman Bao's food is pretty popular and we'd like to see how it's made. But we don't; instead we get Ching showing us a food she makes to put inside of Lam's buns.

For the final scene, Ching invites some of her "friends" to a picnic in Crissy Field on a sunny but chilly day and serves them a recipe she invented: Golden Gate Chili Ribs. They may be tasty -- Ching is sure that they are, she says "they're spicy and delicious" -- but that's Taiwanese-British food. I can't turn shrimp louie into Baltimore food by renaming it "Oriole Park Shrimp Louie."

About Ching's confidence: I found her annoying, not on the phone when I interviewed her, but on screen. Her British accent is off-putting, and I spent the entire show questioning myself as to why, as I have English friends (hi Sandy) and am not a member of the Tea Party. Ultimately I decided it's not so much the accent, but her overall manner. She's bossy and self-satisfied. She tells her friends, "Pass the food around. Put it on your plates." She also tells them of her jasmine iced tea, "This iced tea is really refreshing and delicious." There's no room in the show for anyone else's judgment.

My wife, a huge Food Network fan who watched eagerly with me hoping for cooking tips, was so angry at Ching's refusal to go into detail on the food she served Lam in Chairman Bao's truck that she yelled at the screen: "I wanted the recipe. That's what I want. What are the key points? If you don't tell me the key technique, I don't have to see this show."

When she calmed down, she said afterward: "I'm watching these shows because I want to learn the technique. I didn't learn anything."

Sorry, Cooking Channel, but this isn't the show that's going to make me pay Comcast another $25 a month. Nice try, but the next time you go local, really go local.

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W. Blake Gray


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