Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Problem with Next Food Network Star

Many of you are going to look at the title of this blog and think, ok, sour grapes. Quit whining. While there is some truth to that, I think I can back up my stance pretty easily. It's no secret that I've been yearning to have my own show on any tv network focusing on Mediterranean inspired cuisine. Many of you have supported me in this endeavor, seen my pilot, came to my fundraiser to help find an agent and sent in letters to the Food Network. Over and over again upon teaching cooking classes or after appearances on Paula Sands Live! you encourage me, telling me I should have my own cooking show or I'd be great on Chopped.

Well, here is the problem. I've tried. I have repeatedly sent in applications to show after show after show to no avail. Apparently I am having trouble getting their attention. It doesn't matter if I cook food that many people love or if I have natural ability to cook, teach and entertain at the same time as I often do in my cooking classes. The network execs simply don't know I exist and are having trouble finding this needle in an ever growing haystack of would be Julia Childs.

Why?? I have a theory. Have you noticed how arrogant and nasty some of the personalities on these shows can be?? Many present an over the top persona that not only looks over the top but appears to have over the top ego. The problem is I'm too much Tinkerbell and not enough Lady Gaga. I have lofty ideas that I might be recognized for being a good chef, one who presents the kind of food that is missing on the television scene and one who is just cute, nice and down to earth. Unfortunately, while this may be the kind of person who would ultimately produce a "star," it isn't the kind of person who would initially get ratings on a reality competition show that thrives on conflict.

So the question is, how does someone who refuses to play the bitch get the attention of the kind of formulaic media production that is the Food Network?? How do I convince them that nice and talented are enough for ratings and in the long run will create a star that has staying power, not just a one shot wonder??

I'm not sure of the answer but I'm certainly going to keep working at it. Until then, I'll keep doing what I do best, which is cooking with passion and passing along that passion to those who really love food, not sensationalism. Perhaps one day this passion is what will get me noticed. I may be a small fish in a big pond, but eventually even a tadpole grows up into a bullfrog and can hop onto the biggest lily pad in the pond. I'm hoping that this bullfrog will be hopping onto the Food Network lily pad sooner rather than later.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Sad Truth About Our Industrialized Food System

I find it incomprehensible how institutions like schoools, hospitals and nursing homes have become the lowest rung of importance in our industrialized food system. I don't know if any of you have had the occasion of late to experience any of the foods served at any of these institutions but the situation is atrocious.

Many of you know that I have spent some time working with children and doing cooking demos at schools trying to educate kids on the benefits of healthy eating. Part of that was inspired by the likes of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, part by the White House Let's Move initiative, but basically I was motivated to try to connect with kids and show them that healthy doesn't necessarily mean yucky. Believe it or not, kids are much more open minded than we think they are. If you give them the opportunity to try new things, they are quite receptive. That being said, when you see what they are actually being fed by school cafeterias, it is incredibly disheartening. All the education and encouragement in the world won't be worth a darn thing if they continue serving the slop they do in schools.

Many kids in this country only have 2 meals a day and they are the 2 that they get for free at school. When all they are being fed is fried, fatty, white starches and processed, pre-packaged frankenfoods it is no wonder that we are suffering from an epidemic of obesity amongst school aged children. It is absolutely disgusting.

However, if you think schools are bad, nursing homes are even worse. About a month and a half ago my grandmother had to be admitted to a nursing home and I frequently had occasion to visit her during meal times. A sampling of the "food" she has been fed that supposedly meets some kind of minimal nutritional requirement includes items like cheetos, white bread, mashed potatoes from a box, chocolate cookies, chocolate or strawberry milk, sloppy joes and mystery meat I have yet to identify as having come from any particular animal. While I understand there are huge costs associated with running a nursing facility, many older individuals suffer from numerous dietary restrictions associated with everything from diabetes to heart problems to diverticulitis to acid reflux. You can't tell me that these foods qualify as healthy for those individuals. Heck, I don't think they qualify as healthy for even a younger individual without any health problems.

And last week, when I was in the hospital after what I'd call moderately invasive surgery, the items offered to me for meals included hamburgers, pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, cake, cookies, flavored milk, veggies with ranch dressing and JELLO. When I asked the gentleman if they had yogurt, I was promptly told that never in the years that he has been working at that hospital has anyone ever asked for or been served yogurt. I was mortified.

What has to occur in the history of an industrialized food system that places such little value on the most vulnerable members of the population? I understand the food lobby is huge and I get that food manufacturers are being paid government subsidies to provide these institutions with cheap food in abundance, but why do we stand for it?? Are we so desensitized to what good food is that we actually believe that this kind of food is healthy or even remotely nutritious??

It makes sense that kids are not standing up for something better because they don't know any better, but their parents should be angered by what they are being fed. And the adult children of those who are in nursing homes should be even more insensed by what their parents are being fed. What's more is that any patient who has ever been in a hospital should be outraged by the offerings they are being given when they are at their most fragile. I don't know about you but for me, it's not ok. Something has to be done. I don't believe that the system cannot be changed by a few people. If one person gets another person to speak up against this kind of atrocity, eventually we'll have an army of folks speaking out against what I think is the deliberate poisoning of a vast segment of our population. We have to realize at some point that what we put into our bodies in the form of food is as important if not more important than any kind of medication you might be prescribed. We have to get back to a society where food is real, not synthetic. Respected, not abused. It's time for us all to wake up and smell the coffee before it's too late.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dear Mr. Comedien

Dear Mr. Comedian

A couple of weeks ago we were watching comedian Bill Engvall do stand-up and he came to a section where he was ranting about his awful experience at a bed and breakfast. While obviously he was going for a laugh, he proceeded to outline a list of stereotypes about bed and breakfasts that we as innkeepers fight to debunk constantly. As a result, I felt compelled to write a letter to him. Here it is. Enjoy.

Dear Mr. Bill Engvall.

My husband and I are big fans. We happened to catch one of your stand-up routines recently where you were describing your terrible experience at a bed and breakfast your wife dragged you to. As innkeepers, we felt the need to share a few things with you about bnb’s that you may have not realized. Gone are the days of the home stays where you are surrounded by lace and “antiques” that are more what I’d call old stuff rather than something expensive and historical. Here to stay are properties that want to compete with the top luxury hotels in the world, pampering you in every possible way they can think of. High tech amenities like wi-fi, satellite tv, vast movie libraries and innkeepers who Tweet, Post on Facebook, Pin and make cool videos on Youtube are the new norm. But let me be more specific and address some of your unique qualms.

First, shared bathrooms. While shared bathrooms were common in bnb’s when they first hit the scene, most American bnb’s know that people do not enjoy sharing and most have en suite private baths. Not only that, many offer upgrades like Jacuzzi tubs, heated floors/towel racks, signature spa quality toiletries, fluffy robes, soft water and super fluffy towels. That way you don’t have to worry about who is going to “smell” after you and you won’t have to worry about running into anyone in the hall in the middle of the night in your skivvies.  

Second, hard mattresses and uncomfortable bedding. I can assure you that the bedding/mattress industry for bnb’s is big business. Not a conference goes by where numerous vendors don’t appear with the highest quality sheets and newest upgrades in pillows and mattresses. In fact, most bnb’s have upgraded pillow top mattresses that would rival any high end hotel. Sheets are so satiny it is like sleeping on an Indian sari and pillows have been designed to be snore resistant, sweat resistant, crick in the neck resistant, stain resistant, bug resistant and practically perfect in every way like Mary Poppins.

Third, frou frou breakfasts that you have to eat with a bunch of other people you don’t know. Now, as a bnb that specializes in gourmet food, I’m not going to feed you foams on a cloud of egg dust with essence of bacon. I’m going to feed you a hearty yet elegant breakfast that you will feel satiated by and will fuel you for a day of whatever it is you might want to do. And while you can opt to enjoy a meal with others at the bnb, if you make it known you are interested in dining privately, most inns will make it happen. We don’t require you to become best friends with the couple in the room next door as part of the inn’s rules.

Finally, area attractions that are less than attractive. Believe it or not, if you inquire about activities with the innkeepers of any bnb, they will give you a long list of many different kinds of activities geared toward almost any taste. Mancations are big business and if you are looking for fishing, beer, golf or something that doesn’t involve antiques and girly shopping, it’s out there no problem. You just have to ask.

So my point is give bnb’s a chance. I know that in the past things were a little different. But to quote the Professional Association of Innkeepers International bnb’s are the “Better Way to Stay.” Each is unique. Exploring them is exciting and an opportunity to experience intimately the best there is to see of any given area. So please Mr. Engvall, please come stay with us. Let us pamper you and change your mind for good about how great bnb’s can really be. And maybe if we succeed we could score a couple of tix to your next show? Wink wink.


Monika and Jeff Sudakov, Innkeepers

Chestnut Street Inn
Courtesy of the Bureau County Republican