The Food Network's spinoff channel launched last week, and people who favor cooking over competition and smart more than slick will find a lot to like.
The Cooking Channel, which took the place of Fine Living Network on cable and satellite systems on May 31, aims to be edgy and youthful with a side of retro. It is certainly more global in accent and location. The emphasis is on people who are passionate about food, especially in a grass roots sort of way. More cleavers than cleavage, if you will.
There is also more diversity among show hosts than you'll find on the Food Network, and for viewers who want bona fide cooking instruction at night, rather than cake bakeoffs and reality shows, Cooking Channel delivers. Laura Calder's French Cooking at Home recently won a James Beard award for best TV cooking show. She beat out Ina Garten and Alton Brown.
To be clear, though, there isn't much brand-spanking new on Cooking Channel, though there is talk of a deal to bring on Internet food star Lisa Lillien. Lillien's Hungry Girl e-mail newsletter has about a million subscribers and she has written three cookbooks on low-calorie eating.
Programs that seem new to Americans will be familiar to watchers of TV cooking shows in Canada and England. And the lineup is loaded with old (and current) Food Network favorites, including Sara Moulton in the early morning, Two Fat Ladies on Saturday nights and Emeril Lagasse back in prime-time. They've even got Julia Child shows and Graham Kerr's The Galloping Gourmet back-to-back in the afternoons. She holds up pretty well, but Kerr's boozey Benny Hill shtick seems quite dated. Be warned though, Child's PBS show is chopped here and there to fit in the commercials that didn't exist originally. You might miss a step or two.
The Food Network faces that didn't make the initial leap include Bobby Flay, Paula Deen, Brown, the Neelys and Garten, among others.
The Food Network was a pioneer in TV cooking, launching the cable channel in 1993, but in recent years other channels have muscled their way into the kitchen. Most of those offerings, chiefly the Top Chef franchise, are less about straight-up cooking and more cooking-as-sport. The Cooking Channel seeks to reestablish Food Network as TV's go-to cooking instructor, though you can find episodes of Iron Chef Japan in the wee hours.
One thing about Cooking Channel that's very much like its big sister is the infuriating multitude of repeats. Foodography, an hourlong bio-style report on a single topic hosted by TV personality Mo Rocca, repeated the same ice cream episode so many times the first week I felt like I was trapped in the movie Groundhog Day. You'd think on launch week they would have rolled out more shows.
That said, I liked the offerings a lot, especially David Rocco's cool-guy-cooking-in-Italy show, and Anjum Anand making Indian food seem easy.
I spent a few days watching the new offerings. Episodes are repeated many times during the week, so you'll be able to catch the ones I saw. For complete schedules, go to cookingchanneltv.com.
'DAVID ROCCO'S DOLCE VITA'
12:30 p.m. Saturdays
Is that a Vespa I hear in the background? And the ding-dong of church bells? Canadian-born David Rocco cooks in Tuscany and the sounds of the village are all around him. He's not in a bucolic winery setting, but in a tiny apartment kitchen. Sometimes his mates come by to watch soccer and he speaks Italian with them. He's charming, the food looks good and we get a little travel with our instructions.
You'll like this show if you like: Jamie Oliver, especially when he's cooking for chums on The Naked Chef.
'INDIAN FOOD MADE EASY'
1 p.m. Sundays
Food writer and chef Anjum Anand will inspire you to tackle Indian food at home with her encouraging nature. Her passion is contagious. Anand is a genius at explaining the spices integral to the cuisine that are often intimidating to home cooks. The show is filmed in England and one of the episodes I watched took place largely at a country fair where Anand and a friend sold Indian kebab wraps for charity. I wished I'd been in the long queue waiting for food. This may be my favorite of the new shows.
You'll like this show if you like: Nigella Lawson, and not just because she and Anand share the British accent. Anand's lusty love of food and her very natural way about preparation will bring comparison to the Domestic Goddess.
'FRENCH FOOD AT HOME'
11:30 a.m. Saturdays
Host Laura Calder brings some big chops to her show on French cooking. On her resume is an impressive list of journalism accolades and training at Ecole de Cuisine LaVarenne in France, plus a recent James Beard award for best TV cooking show. She's Canadian, but lived in France for about a decade. I love the food she cooks and how she takes us along on her shopping excursions. She's instructive for sure, if a little low-key.
You'll like this show if you like: Martha Stewart and the chef-hosts on PBS's Everyday Food. Calder, who looks a lot like actor Laura Linney, has some of Stewart & Co.'s precise nature, but is more flat line.
1:30 p.m. Saturdays
Roger Mooking is a little bit musician, a little bit chef. He sings the opening to his show then settles in to school us on global cuisine, something he perfected as the chef of one of Toronto's top restaurants. He's a hip guy who can expertly explain the ins and outs of saffron halibut pancakes and chicken with papaya barbecue sauce. You'll want to try something new after watching an episode or two.
You'll like this show if you like: Guy Fieri, without the spiky hair and sunglass affectation. Mooking has a similar cooking-is-awesome vibe.
'CHUCK'S DAY OFF'
2 p.m. Saturdays
Chuck Hughes' aesthetic reflects "the food, the season, the time," and the arms full of tattoos reflect another passion. He's a Montreal chef who cooks for his friends on his day off. This is the show the cool kids will watch, and I like it too. He's got mad skills and he respects the food. I'd like to be his friend, or maybe his aunt who gets invited every now and then.
You'll like this show if you like: Tyler Florence. Hughes is like Florence's little brother, the one who got the big personality and was in big trouble as a kid.
10:30 p.m. Sundays
Darryl Robinson hosts a half-hour happy hour with some of the most interesting mixologists in the business. The show taps into cocktail trends while unleashing some mouthwatering libations. Give me a hit of that jalapeno-infused tequila, please. Spirits find their way into food, too, via meat glazes, marinades and more. It's a pretty sexy show, with lots of style. Sort of like happy hour before you've gone too far.
You'll like this show if you like: Wine expert Andrea Immer, but with way cooler glasses.
9:30 p.m. Tuesdays
Micah Donovan, Christopher Martin and Nobu Adilman bring their science guy geek-chic to a variety of topics. They're contraption wizards who delight in taking things apart and trying to figure out a better way to put them back together. A recent episode had them making soda pop and then building a homemade dispensing system for which they drilled holes in the fridge door. Kids, don't try this at home. The show has a college home-video feel, which is a good thing.
You'll like this show if you like: Alton Brown and his wacky deconstructions of how food works.
10 p.m. Mondays
You'll recognize host Aida Mollenkamp from Ask Aida on Food Network, which is also on Cooking Channel. She's a good host for FoodCrafters because she knows and cares about food, two important characteristics to the artisanal food producers featured on the show. If you ever had a hankering to start your own gourmet ice cream sandwich business or chuck it all to raise goats, this is your show. One of the only new-to-us programs filmed in the United States.
You'll like this show if you like: The behind-the-scenes nature of Unwrapped, but without the big factory flavor.