In June 2009, I wrote a column for the T-G complaining about how Food Network had de-emphasized cooking shows, especially smart cooking shows, in favor of competition shows and personality-driven shows featuring Guy Fieri shouting catch phrases.
I knew that Food Network, which was getting good ratings, was unlikely to change its approach. But I suggested that perhaps it could add a sister channel to show off its library of old cooking programs, much as Cartoon Network uses its Boomerang channel to showcase its old library.
Little did I know that, less than a year later, something even better than my suggestion would come to pass.
Scripps Networks, which owns Food Network, had another channel, Fine Living Network, which was struggling in the tight economy. (Apparently, "fine living" wasn't as much of a priority in 2009 as it had been a few years earlier.) FLN was already running a couple of Food Network reruns -- "Emeril Live" and the original Japanese "Iron Chef" -- and Scripps decided to just convert it into a second food-related channel, one which would get back to the emphasis on food and cooking which had launched Food Network.
Here are some of the things I enjoy about Cooking Channel:
* Food Jammers: This amusing show, a Canadian import, is somewhere between "Good Eats" and "Mythbusters." The three amiable hosts build pointless-but-fun contraptions like a taco vending machine, a living-room dispenser for homemade soda, or a roller grill for cooking the world's longest sausage. Unlike Alton Brown's occasional jerry-rigged cookers on "Good Eats," no one expects or encourages the viewer to duplicate these elaborate rigs; it's vicarious fun. But it is still fun.
But I think the content is good too.
* Bitchin' Kitchen: This was apparently a web series before Cooking Channel picked it up for TV. Chef and comedienne Nadia G. hosts the show in character, as a sort of Jersey Shore biker chick, and the episodes have themes such as meals to serve when you have to break up with your significant other or meals to impress the in-laws. It's a lot of fun -- but it's also got good food and good food information lurking beneath the comedy.
* Food Network past: I've watched Sara Moulton, Michael Chiarello, Mario Batali, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, "Emeril Live," "Iron Chef" and "Two Fat Ladies" on Cooking Channel, and enjoyed the shows just as much the second time around.
Tyler Florence's "Tyler's Ultimate" is another highlight -- especially the older episodes with the show's original format. Originally, the show had a travelogue element in which Florence would visit two or three chefs in various locations to get their takes on a classic dish; then he would prepare his own "ultimate" version of that dish, incorporating elements from each of the chefs he'd visited. Later, the show dropped the remote segments and became a standard in-studio cooking show, which was adequate but nothing special.
Cooking Channel has also rerun Alton Brown's wonderful miniseries, "Feasting On Asphalt" and "Feasting On Waves," in which he travels the country (or the Caribbean, in the case of "Waves") searching for various regional cuisines.
All in all, I've been delighted with Cooking Channel. I just hope Scripps keeps it on its current path and doesn't try to turn it into a clone of Food Network.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.