grab a mimosa 'cause we're getting into it
Hey Broiler Heads! Michelle here with an honest review of a new cooking show I watched while we all hid from the rain here in LA. Have a food show or cookbook you want us to discuss? Let us know in the comments or send us an email : email@example.com.
Tomorrow, recipe club subscribers are getting a brand new recipe for Leek and Potato Chowder that’s sure to warm up even the coldest of hearts. Not on the list? Don’t worry, we saved you a seat.
My food education started with television. When I was off from school as a kid I was required to pop in a VHS and hit record at 10:30 am sharp so that my mother could watch Martha Stewart Living when she got off work. This was back in the day when the show had to be on as you recorded it, so I quickly became devoted to Martha and all of her “good things” as I watched it alone and once again when my mom came home. Soon I was devouring her Sunset Magazines and watching Yan Can Cook with the endlessly charming Martin Yan, which aired over and over on my local PBS station. By the time I was in high school, Rachel Ray and her giant block of programming in the early days of The Food Network was far and away my favorite. She made everything seem so fun and achievable. I still watch food programming- both on social media and TV- so I can stay up to date with what’s going on, who’s who, and all of that but it’s been a long time since I felt that same love I did in those early years. That all changed when I watched The Big Brunch on HBOMax. This is not an ad but if HBO has cash to spare, we’re ready to talk.
The Big Brunch is, you guessed it, a brunch cooking competition where 10 chefs compete for a prize of $300,000 over 8 episodes. Each week a contestant is eliminated, and one is crowned “Best In Brunch”. There is nothing revolutionary in the well-trod formula, but I promise there’s magic in there. The show is the brainchild of Dan Levy and he’s managed to imbue it with all the kindness and wit that made his first self-generated series, Schitt’s Creek, famous. He serves as a judge alongside, of Bon Appetit Test Kitchen fame and writer of here on , and husband of Christina Tosi, the restaurateur behind Eleven Madison Park and NoMad, Will Guidara. Their chemistry as a panel is evident from the very first episode but it’s their ease with one another as they joke around while the contestants cook that makes them so fun to watch. The delicious stream of cocktails they’re being served by the effortlessly cool bartender Xia Rashid and the occasional well-placed swear word doesn’t seem to hurt either.
Cooking competitions often rely on made-for-TV drama, outsized personalities, and ridiculous challenges that set cooks up for failure to create a program that can hold our rapidly dwindling attention spans. That's why I can’t watch most of them. I don’t want to see people fail and get berated while I’m trying to relax. And this what really sets The Big Brunch apart: it treats the contestants and the audience with respect. Instead of expecting the baker or vegan chef on the show to turn out dishes outside of their wheelhouse, the judges encourage them to “lean into their superpower” and “show themselves in their food”, a refreshing take in an industry that encourages you to constantly be everything to everyone. Even when dishes fall short of expectations, the feedback offered to contestants- particularly by Sohla and her enviable palate and breadth of cooking expertise- is always constructive. It’s obvious to viewers that not only are the critiques fair but will serve to make the contestants better cooks both on and off the program. No one is a loser, not even the person sent home each week. There are no villains. No cheap shots. Contestants help each other with everything from carrying completed dishes to grabbing ingredients just out of reach while the judges cheer them on. Everyone gets a chance to tell their story and hone their brand whether it’s one episode or the entire eight-episode arc. By the last episode I found myself routing for everyone to do their best. Dan Levy had caused a quiet revolution inside of me and I hadn’t even noticed.
I missed the media blitz surrounding the show when the first episodes dropped last November and I wasn’t that interested when it appeared in my “Recommended for You” list. I had to be talked into watching it, that’s the truth. But I’m so glad that I was so here I am doing the same for you. Go watch The Big Brunch and have just a little of your faith restored in people, the power of food, and the joy of doing what you love for people who love it too.
Michelle (and Matt)