Cooking Channel Pleases "Food People" with Food 911, Molto Mario, Julia Child reruns

John Linn
Darryl Robinson, host of Cooking Channel's new show Drink Up.
By now, everyone's heard of the Cooking Channel. The new cable station launched two weeks ago with a focus on food programming for "food people" (so named because foodies don't like to be called foodies).

It comes courtesy of the Food Network, which basically means there are two almost identical stations serving food on the dial. I say almost identical because Cooking Channel differs from its older brother mostly in the way its marketed. Its promos and commercials are rootsy and green and feature all types of "food people" waxing gluttonous over everything from cooking whole hogs in their backyard to launching a goat's milk ice cream brand. The distinction we're supposed to draw, I gather, is that Food Network is skewing more toward casual, everyday eaters while Cooking Channel is solely reserved for the hardcore. Which is sort of true. Over the years, Food Network has become increasingly fixated with reality television and competition programming -- basically everything but an in-depth look at food. If Cooking Channel really is the recipe to remedy that, then I say good deal.

I've watched Cooking Channel over the past two weeks (in between the World Cup and the return of True Blood, of course), and there are some things I like and things I don't. To start with, a few from column B: The constantly looping house ads are obnoxious. Also, about 50 percent of the programming leaves a lot to be desired. During the day, it features mainly reruns of cooking shows we've all seen before and that are already playing on the Food Network, stuff like Ask Aida, Nigella Lawson, and Everyday Italian. Those shows are more geared toward the stay-at-home-mom crowd than people who have true passion for food. The upside, however, is they also play Food 911, Molto Mario, and some ancient-but-interesting reruns of Julia Child and The Galloping Gourmet. I happen to love the last one in particular -- Graham Kerr's classic talk/cooking show is absolutely hillarious in that "is he gay or just British?" way.

As for what I like about Cooking Channel, the original programing has been fairly good so far, and some of the repeated shows are rare gems never shown on the Food Network. Plus, a lot of them do in fact deliver on their promise of delving deeper into food culture and do so without seeming phony or elitist. Here are a few of my favorites so far:

FoodCrafters (new episodes Monday at 10 p.m.): Aida Mollenkamp of Ask Aida fame goes one-on-one with the purveyors of indie foods in this new program. Basically, if cool ingredients and the stories behind them are your bag, then you'll like this show.

Everyday Exotic (new episodes Saturdays at 1:30 p.m.): Toronto-based chef Roger Mooking offers his take on kicked-up soul food in this cooking show. Roger's recipes are pretty easy to follow and, despite the name, feature ingredients that are pretty easy to find. Check out recipes for Indian-spice lamb burgers, grilled chicken with papaya-Scotch bonnet barbecue sauce, and Chinese-style roast pork.  

Drink Up (new episodes Sundays at 10:30 p.m.): The booze scene has grown dramatically over the past few years, so it's good that Cooking Channel is recognizing that with a show all about libations. From craft beer to artisenal liquors and custom cocktails, host Darryl Robinson covers it all. The newest episode -- titled "Beer" -- features a nifty look at beer pairing bars, homebrew, beer cocktails, and more.

Indian Food Made Easy (new episodes Sundays at 1 p.m.): Indian food is something of a conundrum for the Western home cook, but British host Anjum Anand brings it down to basics. She makes easy work of Indian techniques (which vary quite a bit from French-inspired cookery) and offers authentic recipes that you can very quickly pick up for home use.

How to watch Cooking Channel? If you have DirecTV like I do, tune into station 232 -- just one up from Food Network.

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