Sorry about the gap in blogging. It isn’t that I haven’t had plenty of random thoughts; it’s just that I was still in the middle of sorting through the detritus of careers, not to mention a cross-country move. Now that things have started to settle a bit, it’s finally time to live up to my initial promise.

As I said in the first entry, the noble, great and overarching purpose of this blog is to have a place to put my random thoughts (and the occasional cute picture of my dog). Since I’m of a sarcastic and cynical turn of mind, and I’ve been obsessed with food since, oh, birth, there will be a heavy snark-and-food leitmotif, thus the blog name and motto.

In the spirit of bringing the two together, I have decided to establish an ongoing series of food-related snark, entitled Celebrity Chefs I Hate. This will serve the dual purpose of providing catharsis for me and offering the important public service of identifying which insufferable hacks to avoid like a bad case of botulism.

And now, without further delay, let’s meet our first contestant!

Which “celebrity chef”:

a) is actually not a trained chef;

b) has full-bore overblown When-Harry-Met-Sally orgasmic reactions to everything she eats; and

c) is so maniacally giggly and pathologically perky that you want to force-feed her a Ritalin/Valium cocktail and ship her off to Siberia until she calms the hell down?

That’s right, it’s Rachael Ray!

(You thought it was Nigella Lawson until you got to c, didn’t you?)

The Food Network has a profoundly annoying habit of relentlessly overexposing their latest “It” Chef (and I use the term ‘chef’ so liberally as to break the definition) until you’re so thoroughly sick of him or her that it wouldn’t matter if that ‘chef’ were the second coming of Escoffier, you’d still want to sic the health department’s angriest and most disgruntled employee on them. They’ve surpassed even their usual standards of inexplicable overexposure with the spastic Rachael Ray, however.

Even if she didn’t have an irritating-as-hell persona and pretty close to nothing of substantive value to offer, I’d have to hate Rachael Ray for getting not one, not two, but FOUR shows. We have: 30-Minute Meals, the only actual cooking show, wherein she attempts to cook time-constrained meals in her manic, giggly, untrained way; $40 a Day, wherein she gets paid to travel the globe on a laughably artificial budget and annoy the locals; Inside Dish, wherein she gets paid to play sycophantic homage to some celeb or has-been quasi-celeb over a restaurant meal and/or the celeb’s own (underused, I’m sure) kitchen; and the new one, Tasty Travels, which starts next month. In this final one, which may or may not be replacing $40 a Day, she appears to be getting paid to travel without the artificial budget but, one presumes, still annoy the locals.

What on earth could possibly have possessed the Food Network people to think that this speed-crazed cheerleader of a non-chef deserved that many shows? From what I can tell, Rachael Ray seems to appeal to three basic groups: men who want to do her, inexperienced and basic-beginner cooks who find her safe and unintimidating, and really pressed-for-time parents with young and/or unadventurous children. Since I’m in none of those categories, she annoyed the crap out of me even before the unprecedented-even-for-Food-Network overexposure.

She has neither training nor inherent talent, so she has nothing to offer me culinarily. I don’t absolutely require a trained chef in order to consider a cooking show worth watching. One can be a good cook and have a contribution to make without having attended the Cordon Bleu. Alternately, one could be a mediocre cook, but be entertaining enough to watch anyway. Rachael Ray is neither.It is, theoretically, possible that Rachael Ray could have a decent recipe up her sleeve. I don’t have any actual evidence of that, since every episode of 30-Minute Meals I’ve ever seen has been about half-assed ersatz versions of legitimate dishes that really can’t be made in thirty minutes or bizarre chain-restaurant-inspired creations aimed at the frat boy and fussy kindergartener demographic, but being a fair-minded snarky bitch, I hate to preclude the possibility entirely. But even if she weren’t utterly useless as a cook, there’s the inescapable matter of her personality. Any purely theoretical positive is completely obliterated by the incessant inane giggling, the laughable squinty-moaning orgasmathon whenever she puts anything in her mouth, and the mind-numbing repetition of her whole “Yum-O!”-“How great is THAT?”-EVOO-garbage bowl-chop&drop tagphrase schtick. It gets tiresome even before you’ve finished watching the first episode, and if you’ve seen one episode of 30-Minute Meals, you’ve pretty much seen ’em all.

No culinary skill to impart and a grating demeanor that makes you want to smack her silly, then. Did I also mention she gets paid to travel and eat? OK, there’s no small degree of petty resentment on my part, but Tony Bourdain also managed to sucker the Food Network and the National Geographic Channel into paying him to travel and eat, and I can’t hate him. He’s so delightfully acerbic and bitter that I can only admire him for the accomplishment, while following his adventures with interest and amusement. It also matters that he obviously makes an effort to understand, appreciate and communicate with the locals, unlike Rachael, who instead bombards them with her merciless and stereotypically American self-centered perkiness until they give her a recommendation just to make her go away. She gets away with it because she’s still young enough to be treated as cute, but she’s about six years away from the “Get away from me, crazy American lady” stage.

While just hearing her laugh is enough to send me into a screaming rant, since I am a fair-minded snarky bitch, I don’t expect you to just take my word it when I claim that she’s hateworthy. I feel I need to justify my hatred with some concrete examples, so let’s take a closer, critical look at her oeuvre. In the interest of documentation, I recorded one episode of each of her current shows, at random, based on which episode appeared first on the TiVo list. Here we go…

Show the First: 30-Minute Meals.

Featuring “Better Bar Food”, namely “Mashed Super Skins with Steak and Pepper Hash and Buffalo Popcorn Chicken Bites”.

We start the show with the trademark epileptic hand gestures and grand-mal-seizure facial expressions, as Rachael explains what food she’s going to violate and why you should stay tuned. Now, as I mentioned, I come from an Italian background, so expansive hand gestures are just a routine form of punctuation as far as I’m concerned, but good god, she can’t say a word without flailing about like a gasping trout on the bottom of a boat. It makes me want to duck and flinch, or at least make her lie down with a pencil between her teeth.

As for the food we’ll be violating today, this particular show is in the chain-restaurant-gimmicky food genre, so we’ll be witnessing her “take-off” of potato skins and Buffalo wings. As usual, “take-off” means “nothing remotely like”, so potato skins, which are traditionally fried or baked potato wedges with gobs of sour cream or cheddar cheese or bacon or the like, are being replaced by skin-on mashed potatoes and a hash of steak and peppers. Aside from the fact that potatoes are involved, the two dishes don’t have anything to do with each other. She might as well have called it Upside Down Shepherd’s Pie or something. The Buffalo bites at least have something to do with the original dish, being deep-fried battered chicken served with blue cheese dressing and celery sticks, which is not to say she won’t find a way to do something inexplicable to it.

So we’re off, and we start by boiling the potatoes for the not-potato-skins. She instantly demonstrates her complete lack of competence by leaving the pot in the sink to overflow while she’s yammering about all the ingredients she’s taking out of the cupboard in her also-trademark how-much-can-I-carry-in-one-trip routine. Why is that supposed to be cute? I keep hoping for a catastrophic spill, resulting in a gigantic mess of smashed glass and smeared ketchup and billowing flour, but no dice yet. I guess, miraculously, she hasn’t annoyed her producer enough for that take to make it to air.

Finally having gotten the potatoes going, she starts on the chicken. I notice she’s using half a dozen bowls, three pots and an endless assortment of utensils for two dishes. What’s the point of crunching your cooking into a half hour when you’re going to end up spending three times as long cleaning up the mess? This show ought to be called 30-Minute Meals, Followed by Ninety Minutes at the Sink.

As I predicted, she puts a bizarre and totally unnecessary spin on the dish by using water-added pancake mix to batter the chicken. Packaged tempura batter I could understand. Shake n’ Bake, I could understand. But pancake mix? She claims that the sugar in the mix will balance out the hot sauce she initially tossed the chicken bits with, but I think she purposely looked for the craziest convenience product she could think of, and that it’s going to taste like chicken bits wrapped in flapjacks.

After drowning the chicken bits in batter and dropping them in the oil, she commits the second act of kitchen incompetence: she rinses the chickeny batter off her hands but doesn’t use soap, and proceeds to handle the butter and other ingredients for the potatoes with her contaminated fingers. Mmmm! Nothing seasons a dish like a nice dose of salmonella!

Before we cut to commercial she’s freaking out because, midway through chopping the peppers and slicing the steak for the hash, she realizes there is still chicken in the oil. Sure, things are under control.

On return from the break, she smashes the “potato skins” into a blobby, chunky mass with sour cream, milk, and the garlic-and-salmonella-infused melted butter, dumps it onto a plate, and covers it with the “hash”, which would be better described as an overcooked stir-fry of beef and peppers. She then plates up the chicken she rescued from the oil, pontificating about the acceptability of using premade items such as the jarred blue cheese dressing, provided you add your own “personal touch” to “make it your own”. The personal touch in question? Flinging sliced green onions on top of the jarred dressing. We toss on a few pre-julienned celery sticks, have the obligatory screaming climax over a bite of each of the dishes, and close the show with the claim that she is “taking bar food to a whole new level”. Yeah, if by “whole new level” you’re referring to the spectacular-heights-of-mediocrity level.

Ubiquitous Rachael Ray-isms appearing in this episode: “Yum-O”, “How good does THAT look?” (twice), and pornographic overreactions to what must taste like overcooked dorm food. Her mania for catchphrases and abbreviation is in full effect, as the garbage bowl, the only idea of hers I’ve ever thought is reasonably useful, is now the “GB”, and the “super skins” rapidly devolved into “smashers”.

Missing from this episode: a story about her Italian-American mom, who grew up in a household with a gazillion siblings and a father who grew twenty-nine different crops and took seventy-two hours to make one of his famous dishes; her Cajun dad, who likes everything spicy; her charmingly quirky baby brother; or her “sweetie” (god help him). Also, no mention of “EVOO” (Extra Virgin Olive Oil, made into an irritating acronym that she still insists on spelling out immediately after using it, which negates the whole point of using an acronym.) or her total inability to bake. I guarantee you’ll get all of those by watching one or, at most, two more episodes of this show, since she rehashes the same themes more reliably than Andrew Lloyd Webber.

I’ve suffered enough, though, so let’s move on to the next show…

Show the Second: $40 a Day, in Florence.

First of all, this was filmed in 2002, when the Euro was still lower than the dollar, making the budget 45 Euros. Good luck getting by on $40 now.

She starts off her day by skipping breakfast in favor of having coffee and a pastry at a cafe. Her advice: Ask for the complimentary breakfast to be taken off your hotel bill, stand at the bar because table service is more expensive (“There’s a good tip for ya”, wink), and tax/tip is already included in your bill so feel free to stiff the staff (first insane giggle of the show).

Following a montage of Florentine statues and architecture (second insane giggle over the fact that the David statue she’s photographing is not the original), she tries to get a lunch recommendation by dimpling at a dozen young Italians sitting on the steps of the Duomo. Getting nothing, she blows them off and resorts to “something I read about”, a trattoria owned by the waiters and cooks, which “keeps the prices down!” She somehow gains admittance into the kitchen, where the cook carves and grills beef for her steak lunch (third insane giggle of the show, over “I want that one!”, followed by maniacal grins and arm-pumping while waiting for it to be cooked). We then get the first orgasm of the show: one bite of steak, followed by “THAT is the BEST STEAK I have had, EVER”. (Fourth insane giggle.)

On to the requisite shopping interlude, during which she asks a salesperson for a “pizza joint” recommendation and pronounces that “pizza is to Italy what apple pie is to America”. Whatever. She uses an appallingly bad mixture of English and butchered Italian to order two items, which she eats in front of a fountain (second orgasm of the show and fifth insane giggle). More shopping on the Ponte Vecchio follows, followed by harassing a jewelry merchant whose goods she has no intention of buying for directions to a trattoria she’s read about, whose owner keeps the long queues happy with free cheese and wine (“That’s all I need to know!”, sixth insane giggle.) She orders the house special (a three-soup platter), flirts with the waiter, engages in the third orgasm of the show, then pronounces: “Ask the locals and look for the lines! You can get seated at an empty restaurant, but it’s empty for a reason, know what I mean?” (Seventh insane giggle.)

With $4 left, she wants dessert. She heads to another restaurant she “read about on the Internet”, she takes a carriage ride that makes her “feel like a fine lady!” (Eighth insane giggle.) Pointing to the dessert sampler on the menu, she speaks to the waiter in English, who lists the items in Italian, which she clearly doesn’t understand, nodding anyway. “Holy cat!” she exclaims, when her order arrives. (Holy cat? Who the hell says that?) Fourth and final orgasm, accompanied by the ninth round of insane giggles. She comes in fifteen cents under budget (probably thanks to stiffing on the tip at breakfast) and ends the show with a tenth installment of insane giggles after wishing you “Sogni d’ora” (not, in fact, “sweet dreams”, but “golden dreams”, proving she knows as much about Italian as she does about cooking).

This is a typical example of the show, all of which follow the same formula: breakfast, sightseeing, annoying the locals for a lunch idea, lunch, shopping, annoying the locals/surfing the net for a dinner idea, dinner, and dessert or a cocktail, all punctuated by insane giggles and multiple orgasms. The annoyance factor is a little higher than usual, because I have been to Florence, would love to go again, and now feel that I have to find every Florentine she encountered and personally apologize the next time I’m there.

The only positive thing to be said about $40 a Day is that it offers much better cooking ideas than 30-Minute Meals. Why? Because she’s not doing the cooking. It’s local chefs cooking authentic local food, which is why I’ve actually gotten one or two decent ideas from this show. Not enough decent ideas to outweigh the effect of all her ticks being in full force and aimed toward poor unsuspecting locals, but it’s still more than I can say for her first show.

Let’s move on to the next show, the one I can’t, for the life of me, find a point to, let alone understand how she conned the Food Network into giving it to her…

Show the Third: Inside Dish with Rachael Ray.

Bonus! The so-called celebrity she will be pathetically fawning over in this episode is Adam Corolla, who I also despise!

Two-for-the-price-of-one hatred!

She invokes the first wave of nausea by calling Adam Corolla, a leading purveyor of the males-as-unrepentant-jackasses school of humor, a “Renaissance man”. Right. Being a comic, handyman and restauranteur (he co-owns an Italian restaurant, Amalfi, in L.A., where the episode takes place) makes you Leonardo Da Vinci. Apparently, Rachael and Baby Brother are huge fans of his seminal works, “The Man Show” and “Crank Yankers”. My practically non-existent respect for her reaches a new nadir.

They chat at the bar over glasses of wine. She agrees when he claims he’s “refined” and goes nuts laughing over a lame joke about how he mispronounced “Amalfi” for the first six months. While giving her a tour of the restaurant, he drinks her wine while carrying both glasses, and she doesn’t even blink. Instead, she teases him about having a gas-powered fireplace even though the restaurant has a wood-burning oven.

They sit down to lunch. She explosively agrees when he insists that you have to order the fizzy mineral water in restaurants in order to be sure that it’s worth the $6 a bottle, instead of tap water in a fancy vessel. The waiter then serves them still water. (Coincidence? I don’t think so.) She pitches a talk-to-the-hand hissy fit and demands that the peon bring Pellegrino.

Over dessert (punctuated by the obligatory foodgasm), Adam Corolla launches into a dissertation about how diners should not have to pay a tip on top of the exorbitant price of a restaurant meal. Instead, owners should pay a decent wage. Inconceivable! Adam Corolla and I actually agree that service people should get paid a working wage! But wait, does the Renaissance Man restauranteur actually pay his Pellegrino-slinging waitstaff a living wage? Does Rachael Ray actually think to ask? Of course not! From her perspective as a “former waitress”, she puts up a feeble and easily-quashed fight over the need to tip as a recognition of a job well done, then instantly caves and agrees with his point of view. I’m pretty sure he could have launched into a Pat Buchanan-style rant on how the invasion of the brown people is ruining American culture and she would have swallowed it right up.

Amazingly, I actually hated Adam Corolla a little less by the end of this show, since he managed to remain remarkably subdued (is he on Xanax?) while Rachael was slobbering over him like a hyperactive Mastiff puppy. Since she fawns over everyone and everything and wouldn’t ask a real question if you held a gun to her head (the closest she gets to actual “journalism” is briefly pouting over his reluctance to talk about the woman who would actually marry him), the only reason this show is on the air is so that she can give actors ego-fellatio over expensive meals. The Food Network is actually paying her to do this. Some idiot with an MBA genuinely thought this was a good way to spend the network’s money. It boggles the mind.

All right, to sum up: culinary ineptitude, Rain Man-meets-Valley-Girl mannerisms and verbal ticks, pointless sycophantism, and more overexposure than Courtney Love’s crotch. I think that’s enough to justify Rachael Ray’s inclusion in Celebrity Chefs I Hate! I hope my hatred was not just amusing, but educational as well.

That’s it for this installment. Stay tuned to find out who’s next on my hit list!