One look at me, and it’s obvious that food is a big - perhaps TOO big - part of my enjoyment of life. That includes my time on the move, traveling, which I’m preparing to do later this month. Looking at our itinerary, I’m already looking forward to making a couple of stops at places I’ve seen on the Travel Channel.
TC has three shows on their prime time lineup devoted largely to food at various locations around the country and around the world. Two of them - Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” and Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods” - are really, really good, and encourage me to set my feet and my palate along the paths they have followed. Then there’s then there’s Adam Richman’s “Man vs. Food” … oh, well - two outta three ain’t bad.
In some ways, all three are alike .. each has a camera-friendly host inviting the audience to join them on their personal journey of culinary discovery. None of them forget us here, on the other end of the camera lens, and there are more than a few asides to us - winks and nods, arched eyebrows and sotto voce comments.
But there are other, significant ways that Bourdain’s and Zimmern’s shows differ from Richman’s. And that’s where I part company with fans of “Man vs. Food.” Bourdain and Zimmern, for all their personality and all their camera time, manage to keep the focus on the food, while Richman manages to keep the focus on himself. For Bourdain and Zimmern, food - and what they can learn from its preparation and service - is the real star of their show, while for Richman, the real star is him and how much food he can cram down. For Bourdain and Zimmern, food is celebration, while for Richman it is a competitive event. For Bourdain and Zimmern, food is a practice in discovery and hospitality, while for Zimmern it is a practice in gluttony.
I enjoy the cutaways on Bourdain’s and Zimmern’s shows, with quick shots of some interested locals watching the proceedings. I find the pre-arranged crowds on Richman’s show with their forced (cued?) yee-HAW’ing and woo-HOO’ing less than appetizing.
When all is said and done, I find myself wanting to visit the locations Bourdain and Zimmern visited … so far, I have found their recommendation and observations to have been spot-on. Not so with Richman … at least not yet. During one episode of his show, he visited a place that had been a campus hangout of mine during my college years, where I had spent many, MANY hours drinking coffee, eating one of their famous sweet rolls, catching up on reading assignments and cramming for exams - I hardly recognized the place from its portrayal on television as a Mecca for enthusiasts of huge, belly-busting entrees.
But you know what the neat thing is? Television viewing is a matter of personal choice. I an turn it off, I can turn it on, I can change the channel, I can read a book, and I can get the heck off the couch and get out of the house. For now, at least, I still look forward to my next serving of “No Reservations” and “Bizarre Foods.” “Man vs. Food?” I’ll pass, thanks.