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The Food Network: One Big Blue Plate Special

August 27, 1995|JAMES ENDRST | The Hartford Courant

This is a story with a very high pun content, so let's burn off some excess wordplay so we don't lard up the story.

OK ... There's always something cooking at the TV Food Network. It's TV that's hot and getting hotter. No matter how you slice or dice it, the TV Food Network is food for thought. Or, to quote overcooked star Robin Leach, "It's the greatest idea since sliced bread."

Actually, the Food Network's ubiquitous slogan claims it's "always delicious," but that's assuming everyone's viewing tastes gravitate toward recipes and restaurants.

With more than 13 million subscribers to date--twice the number it began with in November, 1993--it's clear I'm not alone.

Although its production values are decidedly low-tech, the Food Network has a full menu of choices.

There's "Food News & Views," a live, nightly newscast with Donna Hanover Giuliani (first lady of New York City) and food and wine critic David Rosengarten as anchors; "Getting Healthy," a call-in show with Gayle Gardner and Dr. Louis J. Aronne; "TV Diners," which looks at hot restaurants around the country; "The Essence of Emeril" with New Orleans master chef Emeril Lagasse serving up Cajun and Creole dishes; "Meals Without Meat," with cookbook author Curtis Aikens; "The Dessert Show" starring cookie queen Debbi Fields; the timely and practical "Feeding Your Family on $99 a Week" as well as the inspired if frothy "How to Boil Water," with stand-up comic Sean Donnellan. (Although most of the network's programming is original, it also runs such classic cooking shows as "Julia Child & Company.")

The network's stars, however, aren't exactly household names, with the possible exception of Leach, the man who captured the price-tag hedonism of the '80s as host and executive producer of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."

Leach, an extravagant personality, is the Food Network's spokesman--an unstoppable plugger with a five-day-a-week forum called "Robin Leach Talking Food." It's a tailor-made hour broadcast live featuring famous guests, their favorite dishes and a perky sidekick/chef in Kate Connelly, with whom Leach indulges in Regis and Kathie Lee-style banter.

"Obviously, I've been associated with food and wine during the whole run of 'Lifestyles,' and I'm sort of known as the expert when it comes to 'Where are the world's finest restaurants? The most expensive meals? The most expensive wines and the right things to eat and the things not to drink and the things to drink,"' Leach says. "So it's a perfect home."

Saxophonist Clarence Clemons, sideman to Bruce Springsteen, on this particular evening, is Leach's special guest.

Clemons, whose major-league frame betrays his love of food, confesses he doesn't watch much television, including Leach's program, but that his love of food (and, no doubt, a chance to talk about his latest solo album, "Peacemaker") makes this gig appetizing.

After music, "Cooking is my life," says Clemons. "I do a great Italian sauce. I do some Swedish dishes because I was married to a Swede... .It's the greatest outlet because [like music] I'm creating. When you get into that flow, man, it's just a matter of turning it from one way to the other. It's the same creative energy, the same juices."

Just stay out of his kitchen.

"I have knives in my house that nobody touches," he says. "There are certain pans nobody touches. You don't look at them. You don't even think about it."

A prima donna in the kitchen, he's always mellow when it's over.

"I thank my pots when I hang them up," he says. "I thank my pans for their cooperation and their participation in the preparation of the meal. It's a real spiritual thing."

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