Beat the heat with foodie TV this summer

Food TV has been my beat-the-heat plan so far this summer, and there's been plenty of it. I was impressed with the progress British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver was able to accomplish with the Los Angeles Unified School District on the just-wrapped second season of ABC's Food Revolution. Though the school district refused to allow their food service operation to be subjected to reality TV treatment, Oliver was able to get both a pilot culinary program and a school garden started in one low-income high school. On last week's season finale, the incoming superintendent made an on-air pledge to remove all flavored milks from the district's cafeterias during the coming school year, a major concession to Oliver's healthy food in the schools movement.

Over on PBS, KLRU is airing the first segments of Chef John Besh's New Orleans on Saturdays at 1pm, and I love them. I was also enthralled by the POV presentation of Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker's documentary Kings of Pastry, about the grueling annual competition to be named the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (best craftsman of pastry in France) – the revered MOF. The filmmakers followed 16 French pastry chefs, including Chicago French Pastry School dean Jacquy Pfeiffer, as they spent three days in Lyon, France, preparing elegant pastries and desserts and constructing elaborate showpieces of tempered chocolate and pulled, cast, and blown sugar. The creation of each man's competition buffet is a truly Olympic feat that requires competitors to have the best three working days of their career in order to be awarded the coveted MOF honor. Only five men reached the pinnacle during the film, and Jacquy Pfeiffer was not on the list.

I don't have a Texan to root for in this summer's Food Network Star, but there have been plenty of Texans participating in the Food Network's 24 Hour Restaurant Battle lately. On that show, high-profile NYC chef/restaurateur Scott Conant gives two pairs of would-be restaurateurs some cash and 24 hours to create their dream eatery. Recent Texas contenders have included two young women who claimed to have founded the Roller Derby movement in Austin who created a Derby-themed cafe called Bout, two former frat brothers with a franchise concept called the Texas Fajita Co., a Metroplex-area couple realizing their dream of a barbecue garage joint, and two brash young guys from Dallas with a Goth-style gluten-free restaurant. Conant's criticism of a relish tray of pickles, raw onions, and jalapeños on the Texas barbecue menu made me think he could use an authentic Central Texas barbecue tour to broaden his horizons.

My favorite show by far, however, is HBO's New Orleans-based Treme. While the slow-moving story pays the lion's share of its attention to New Orleans musicians and the city's legendary music scene, every episode is seasoned with very evocative food scenes. Characters are depicted doing personal or professional business in many of the Crescent City's historic restaurants, and comments on the survival of beloved local food businesses turn up in conversation. The show even has a female chef character (convincingly played by Kim Dickens) who loses her restaurant in the wake of Katrina and becomes an expat chef in NYC, cooking her own brand of New Orleans-inspired cuisine at one of David Chang's famous restaurants. Treme has featured cameos by celebrity chefs Chang, John Besh, Donald Link, Tom Colicchio, Eric Ripert, and the legendary New Orleans culinary queen Leah Chase, dishing out gumbo z'herbes in her restored Creole landmark, Dooky Chase. What a thrill to see her!

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food TV, foodie TV, television, Jamie Oliver, Los Angeles Unified School District, LAUSD, Food Revolution, Chef John Besh's New Orleans, John Besh, Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker, Kings of Pastry, MOF, Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, Jacquy Pfeiffer, French Pastry School, Food Network Star, The Next Food Network Star, 24 Hour Restaurant Battle, Scott Conant

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