Sandra Lee: Homemade pies or homemade lies?
To the list of things that must, for the sake of mankind, be stopped cold (global climate change, a nuclear North Korea, pre-emptive militarism, the persistent perversion of American English by the same citizens who demonize non-English-speaking immigrants, etc.), I humbly (but urgently) add: Sandra Lee.
Ms. Lee hosts Semi-Homemade, a show on the Food Network that teaches viewers how to buy prepared food at the supermarket, arrange it prettily, and claim the work as their own.
Supposedly she studied at Le Cordon Bleu in France — but then, our president attended Yale.
In a recent Halloween episode, she actually instructed viewers to buy a pumpkin pie from the store, scoop out the filling for use on cookies, then discard the crust. Another of her recipes calls for a hapless cheesecake to be similarly disemboweled.
Aside from the fact that the show is predicated on lying to your friends and loved ones, the entire premise is antithetical to the traditional ethos of a cooking show. Cooking shows are meant to teach and inspire, leave the viewer saying “Hey! With a pinch of know-how and a dash of moxie, I too can prepare a dish heretofore out of my culinary league!” But Ms. Lee’s show does the exact opposite: Her ditzy fakery devalues the time, energy, and — yes — the love that go into cooking. The tag line of her program might as well be “Why learn something when you can buy something? And then LIE ABOUT IT TO YOUR FRIENDS AND LOVED ONES?”
At the heart of Ms. Lee’s con is the tension between appearance and truth. She might produce dishes that appear to have been slaved over, and she may advocate lies of omission by allowing guests to believe the dishes are homemade, but all she’s really doing is eroding the bond between host and company, spitting in the face of the idea that it’s the thought and the effort that count.
Imagine her pernicious mendacity in other situations: Would you ever give someone a Gap sweater with the tag cut out and claim to have knitted it? Would you tell your fiancee that you personally mined her diamond out of the earth?
How long do you think The New Yankee Workshop would stay on PBS if its soft-spoken, flannel-clad craftsman of a host spent his half-hour time slot driving to Ikea and buying a credenza?
(By the way, real TV chefs accept assistance from the grocery store all the time. But they keep it to a minimum and always own up to it.)
Of course, those other TV chefs aren’t perfect, either. For all her exquisite recipes, Ina Garten’s favorite ingredient is condescension, as she reminds viewers to “buy really good vanilla,” and “never cook with a wine you wouldn’t want to drink!” All that is true, but perhaps she could try delivering that advice with a little less unveiled disgust.
Then there’s Alton Brown, human culinary almanac, whose awesomely informative but zanily contrived show can sometimes verge on irritating; Giada De Laurentiis, who owes her screen presence to the Freudian appeal of her tendency to wear low-cut shirts and cook with lots of heavy cream; and Emeril Lagasse, whose top-notch recipes barely outweigh his lurching, Special Olympian delivery.
And then of course there’s the juggernaut. The inimitable, the unstoppable Rachael Ray. Eat a couple of her dishes in a row and you’ll pee chicken stock and poop cumin.
So nobody’s perfect — but until Sandra Lee came along, at least everyone was trying.