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Like “Chopped”? How about “Cropped”? January 29, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I love interacting with cooking competitions like “Chopped” and “Iron Chef America” on the rare occasions when our friend Ben and I are on the road and able to stay in a hotel. (We don’t get any of the cable channels at home.) I say “interacting” because I carry on a vivid commentary throughout the shows, critiquing the judges’ bad calls and the competitors’ bad choices, cheering them on when they get something right. As someone who loves cooking, it’s a great interactive experience for me, and I totally understand why these cooking shows are so popular.

But as a passionate gardener, I also lament the absence of comparable gardening shows. There was a time when programmers assumed gardening shows would be as popular as cooking shows, but they were wrong. Why? For the same reason how-to cooking shows, in the mode of Julia Child’s iconic “The French Chef,” have disappeared: The internet made sure that there were tons of other ways to find out how to cook things. Shows like Emeril Lagasse’s, immortalized in the movie “Last Holiday,” gave way to competitions.

Cooking shows adapted, but gardening shows didn’t, and so gardening shows died while cooking shows flourished. If, like me, you love gardening, imagine how a gardening competition would go:

First, you have a panel of snooty judges who want to hate everything in the worst way. Then, you get
landscapers and garden designers who are eager to win. But how do you reduce the size of the playing field to that of the display kitchens on “Chopped” or “Iron Chef America”? Yes, they’re big studios, but hardly acres of ground.

Easy: Just take a look at a flower show like the Philadelphia Flower Show. There, competitors build “garden” displays in small, room-sized areas. They add plants, from lawn to flower beds to trees, water features, paths, seating areas, sculpture and other lawn ornaments, lighting, and the like. From sustainable organic vegetable gardens to native bog gardens to wildly imaginative gardens dominated by bizarre sculptures, you can see it all.

So imagine this: A “Chopped”-style competition where the chosen contestants were given the equivalent of the basket of horrific ingredients that the poor “Chopped” chefs must deal with (grotesque combinations such as live sea urchins, cotton candy, peanut butter, and wheat grass), then given an hour to create a stunning garden in, say, a 6-by-12-foot plot. All have the same horrific combination of plants and accessories to work with; all have an assortment of good garden tools and willing assistants; and all have just an hour.

Your landscapers and designers rush around, trying their best to impress the judges by how they put their area together. Some can manage to put the clashing plants and other landscape features together more imaginatively than others. When the hour is up, the judges light into every attempt, then decide on whose effort beat the others. The worst among them would be roundly ridiculed and sent home; the others would face more weeks of challenges.

If you were a passionate gardener, would you watch this show? I think I would, simply because of the way I react to the cooking competitions on the very rare occasions when I can see them. The judges’ verdicts and contestants’ choices draw me in, making me comment, making the show a truly interactive experience. I’d love to enjoy that in a gardening competition as well. You?

‘Til next time,



Iron Chef: Oh No! December 22, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Oh, dear. Silence Dogood here. As longtime readers know, one thing I always look forward to when staying out of town is watching the Food Network. We don’t get it at home here at Hawk’s Haven, so it’s a special perk when staying in hotels. Poor our friend Ben is resigned to my screaming, shrieking advice to the judges and contestants on the various cooking shows. (In fact, he swears it’s so entertaining watching me react to the cooking shows that he doesn’t even miss watching sports programs, since clearly I view cooking as the greatest sport of all.)

My favorite cooking shows are “Chopped” and “Iron Chef America,” and I’m always ecstatic if the nights we happen to be staying in hotels also happen to be the nights those shows are on. But I’ll confess that the “Iron Chef” shows always confused me.

The shows feature “The Chairman,” a mysterious Japanese figure who directs the action of each Iron Chef competition, encouraging the competitors, revealing the secret ingredient they must use in their courses, throwing his famous curveball at them partway through the show. This is all great theater, and The Chairman is priceless. But he’s rarely on-screen; instead, the action is largely narrated by wimpy host Alton Brown and his completely forgettable on-floor cohort. The competing chefs and the judges have personality to spare, but why waste time and money on Alton Brown and that other nonentity? And why doesn’t The Chairman participate in the judging? He sits with the judges, he eats with them, but nary a word passes his lips on the content or quality of each course. Why?!!

Well, it belatedly dawned on me to Google “Iron Chef America,” at which point I discovered that The Chairman is simply an actor hired to spice up the show. Alton Brown, by contrast, is a chef. No wonder he’s directing the action, and no wonder his comments about what the chefs are doing are almost always on target, even though he’s observing from a distance. (Sometimes the chefs’ behavior is so esoteric, especially in the case of grand chef Masaharu Morimoto, whose presentation is not just beautiful but the most breathtaking I have ever seen or could conceive of, that even Mr. Brown can’t tell what’s really going on.)

As you can imagine, I was crushed by this discovery. But at least now the show makes perfect sense. I just wish Alton Brown brought more of The Chairman’s verve, or at least the judges’ opinionated remarks, to the program. Perhaps he simply views his role as being directed toward the viewers rather than the chefs. Or perhaps he’s a gentleman and doesn’t want to blast the contestants. In any case, I’ll watch with more appreciation next road trip!

‘Til next time,