December 14, 2006


I'm a Rachael Ray fan. There, I said it. I think I even might have had a crush on her up until a few years ago when I was still in grad school and Rachael was as pleasant a way to nurse a hangover as any. Now that I'm gainfully employed, Rachael and I meet less frequently - scheduling problems, don't you know.

For those who came in late, Rachael Ray is the immensely popular host of such tv shows as '30 Minute Meals' and '$40 A Day' on the Food Network channel. She is known for her wide smile, her almost preternatural perkiness at all times and her gift of the terms 'garbage-bowl'and 'EVOO'to the English lexicon. And, although she is no Mario Batali or Bobby Flay, she is a pretty competent cook. I've made some of her recipes so I can assert, from experience, that they work (A recipe for Venetian Shrimp and Scallops even managed to convert a friend to an appreciation of seafood).

The astute latecomer will surely ask at this point, "so what's not to like?"

Exactly my point.

Imagine then my surprise, and shock, to find that Rachael Ray is one of the most reviled anchors on Food Network! There are websites, entire online 'communities' dedicated to vicious criticism of Rachael Ray. Recently, even the New York Times Magazine found itself compelled to comment on this phenomenon in a lengthy article in its November 26,2006 issue (subscribers to the New York Times can access the article here).

Of the many criticisms leveled at Ms. Ray, the most frequent is that she uses too much of pre-packaged foods (bagged salads, canned and bottled sauces and the like), that she drowns everything in chicken broth and - get this! - her recipes are too easy to make.

This, in a country where a traditional Thanksgiving casserole calls for canned beans (one of the worst abominations in the world), condensed cream of mushroom soup and canned fried onions.

Of course, in a flip-flop worthy of John Kerry, the critics also point out that Rachael Ray's recipes are impossible to make within 30-minutes with or without the pre-packed food. Especially without.

To which I say, yes, it probably is impossible to replicate Rachael Ray's recipes in 30 minutes. But then, so is replicating (and I'm not using the term loosely) any cooking show recipe. They don't call it Food Porn for nothing. Just try making one of Emeril Lagasse's extravaganzas at home! Or get perfect cross-hatched char marks on a steak without a 15,000 BTU grill like the one Bobby Flay has in his backyard. If that isn't Food Porn, I don't know what is.

The other criticism heard most often is the use of her signature phrases, 'yum-O', 'delish', the aforementioned 'garbage-bowl' and her infamous 'EVOO', which she usually says right before (helpfully) expanding it to Extra Virgin Olive Oil. According to a article from July, 2005, "Ray's ditzy demeanor also makes her easy to dismiss. She giggles off-cue and constantly praises her own cooking. " She often asks, rhetorically, "how cool is that?!", 'eyeballs' the measurements of her ingredients and uses a 'spoonola' - a cross between a ladle and a spoon.

Personally, I think EVOO is kinda cool, the garbage-bowl is a damned good idea, see nothing wrong with delish and as for yum-o, have you seen this pictures (here, here and here!) from the October 2003 issue FHM Magazine?! Yum-O indeed! Rachael Ray can lick the chocolate off my spoon anytime!

I think a lot of the hatred for Rachael Ray is in fact because her recipes are easy to make and that anyone of us could do them, if not in 30 minutes, then an hour. The founder of the anti-Rachael Ray on-line group profiled in the New York Times magazine article is quoted as saying that Rachael Ray 'trafficked in "common knowledge."' Another person vented that she had been using a garbage bowl for years and that she even lined hers with plastic bags so as not to have to wash them later.

Cooking shows with trained professional chefs like Mario Batali or Emeril Lagasse or Bobby Flay have an awe factor that Rachael Ray doesn't. We are bedazzled by their knife skills, the use of exotic ingredients, their vast knowledge about the cuisine in which they specialize and the fact that they are all (immensely) successful restaurateurs. And so when one of their recipes, tried at home, looks like it came out of a can, there are ready made excuses: he is a trained chef, he used oyster mushrooms but I only had the cheap supermarket button variety - we put it down to the difference between professionals and amateurs. But with Rachael Ray, we think, "what's so special about her? I could do that too, except I don't have a cooking show, the bitch!". And when a recipe that Rachael made seemingly out nothing but canned tomatoes and chicken broth still doesn't turn out well at home, that's when the yum-os and the delishes really begin to grate and the rage and the resentment and the jealousy boil over.

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October 10, 2006

Review: Barbeque Nation

The Wife and I wafted into the place and instantly liked it. We sat outside (the grill in on your table, the people who chose the ac section were all smoked out in minutes). The menu is fixed, and so is the charge (Rs 400/pax). You get a choice of five vegetarian and five non-vegetarian starters in unlimited quantities. And this is the meat of the meal. Really. Drinks are extra, of course, and the main course, a fairly limited buffet is just crap. Just a way to saw money by offering a basic spread.

But. There is a big but involved. The starters range from delicious to okay, are unlimited and there's no one pushing you to finish early. There also happens to be good Rajasthani folk/trance remixed music that sounds good.

So. This is the perfect place to go with your friends and chill out. Just remember to eat the starters as the main course and you'll be fine. To have a really great time, ask for Deric. He's a fantastic waiter.

Update: Deric quat. And I have the rajasthani remix mp3 (mor bole re) file now, email me...

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July 28, 2006

Goa: Off-season food hunt

The wife and I also went to Baga beach to taste the life at the famous Britto's, but it closes for the rains, as do many other places in Goa. So, if you're intent on a specific restaurant/hotel/shack, try to dig out a number and call ahead. Also, we heard that most seafood, prawns apart, is frozen in the off-season with a fishing ban enforced during this part of the year, so ask before you order. A lobster caught in May and frozen is not going to taste as good as a fresh one.

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Goa: Martins cower

The place, in Betalbatim, came highly recommended. However, it has neither the food, nor the ambience, nor the experience. It plain sucks. Surviving purely on reputation, in fact. I'm sure it's lively in the night, what with three thousand tables or so, but the food is passable, prices aren't the most reasonable, staff is snobbish to the point of being surly and there is no sea view. You look into their parking lot and watch the cab drivers, content with their daily fleece, chewing the cud. In two words, don't bother.

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Goa: Mum's the word

This is an expensive place and looks it. But the food, in a word, is beg-for-it good. The Beef de Goa (tastes like home made beef curry, and is superb), Sausage Pulao (Chorizo flavoured pilaf (!) with chorizo chunks) and Prawn Hooman are highly recommended. The place comes on your left as you drive along Panjim's 'Marine Drive' towards Miramar, just after Edu's Kitchen. Be prepared to loosen your wallet, though. Desert must be bebinka with ice cream.

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Goa: Bem Venite

Okay, that's a really bad one. I admit it. But, Hotel Venite, in Panjim isn't. In fact, it served up some of the best Goan grub I've ever had. It's on 31 January Road and you have to have a meal there. Staff is friendly, ambience is laid back-great, food is tasty and reasonably tagged and you'll be happy to return to it for a second round of gastronomy. The Beef-Sausage fry combination is brilliant. Ask for King's beer. It's going out of fashion, I hear, but what a beer! Desert must be bebinka with ice cream.

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Goa: Beer goggles

Get to Goa, and forget Kingfisher. Really. Try Arlem. A nice, Goan beer, with a nice bite, good taste and the ability to survive on the table. It tastes decent even after it warms up a bit. Find King's beer. Another great (sadly) local beer. Distinctive bottle and taste. And did I mention it's dirt cheap? Okay, who said Fosters?

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