THE LEAGUE of
RESCUERS TV’s food and beverage lifesavers bring a lot to the table. Story | BRUCE FARR
ifty years ago, the only food-related television programs available were on PBS, usually on Saturday mornings. If you were lucky enough to catch one, you might have spent an hour with such pioneers of the genre as Julia Child, who took you through the whimsical paces in her seminal show, “The French Chef,” or a couple of years later, hitch a ride with “The Galloping Gourmet,” Graham Kerr, as he practiced his comical brand of culinary wizardry while forever nipping away at a glass of wine. Through the succeeding years, as cooking shows’ popularity surged, the era of the celebrity chef was inaugurated and everything began to change. Everything, that is, except the shows’ format: all of them were designed around what is known in the industry as stand-and-stir production. They were taped with the host planted resolutely behind a work counter, speaking instructions to the camera while he or she took viewers through the preparation—the “method,” in culinary parlance—of recipe after recipe. Nowadays, TV is littered with food programming of all stripes and strains. You can hardly click the remote without finding one show or another with food and beverage themes so off-the-beaten-path it would boggle even James Beard’s agile mind. In such a sea of gustatory
entertainment, one relatively recent concept has resonated with American viewers, adding waves of new fans to the already popular genre. We might call it food and beverage “rescue” programming. The basic idea is for an experienced chef, restaurateur or other such expert to find a bar, eatery or other food-related business struggling to stay afloat and then, acting in the role of advisor to help restore it to prosperity. The programs embracing this concept—and they are growing in number—have evolved into mini passion plays. Within the short space of 45 or so minutes, drama builds and emotions surge, hopes are dashed and lifted, hands are wrung, kitchens and dining rooms torn asunder and rebuilt—and certain failure turned into ultimate triumph. Needless to say, tears flow on both sides of the TV screen. But what compels these food and beverage Samaritans to put themselves through what must be an arduous struggle to get these businesses back on their feet, and on top of all that, go through the pains of condensing everything down to a program-length 45 minutes? To learn the answer, we sat down with three notable food and beverage angels of the TV airwaves, to explore their backgrounds and try and figure out how, for heaven’s sake, they arrived at their current occupations.
JULY/AUGUST • 2014