I'm going to kick this off with an obvious statement - this is a very subjective list, and I would love to hear everyone else's opinions. I'll also limit it to my top and bottom four.
Also, I'm not even going to include Rachel Ray or Sandra Lee in my list - these two are in class by themselves IMO, and not in a good way.
My categories are largely based on two factors: 1) Education - how much I actually learn and can replicate from the show. 2) Personality - how entertaining, fun, and captivating is the host, without distracting from the food.
America's Test Kitchen - Scores very high on the education factor - lots of practical, real-world information on food and tools, with recipes I can replicate. Kimball can be annoying at times, but banter with the rest of the cast is entertaining.
Good Eats - Great on the education factor, and pretty fun to watch as well. Kind of like a tv version of "On Food and Cooking." The science sometimes gets distracting, but lots of practical advice. Plus, the Mcguyver setups rock. My sister-in-law, however, finds him unwatchable, personality-wise.
Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello - High on the personality factor, and I love how Mike's goal is to show you how much you can prep in advance so you're not bogged down the day of your gathering. Great for when you're planning a party. His little "chef's tricks" are great.
Tyler's Ultimate - High on personality - Tyler's very casual and comfortable to watch. Plus high on education - it's great on how he focuses on 'core' recipes, but makes them the 'best' he can. Fried chicken, rib roast, pot roast - all staples that belong in every home chef's repertoire.
Emeril Live - I'm not a big Emeril fan, but even so, I don't think I've learned anything from his "Live" show as opposed to "Essence of Emeril". Perfect case of the personality distracting from the food.
Licensed to Grill - I find Rainford very unwatchable and cringe-worthy. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but his personality completely turns me off to his cooking.
Barbecue University - For such a well respected barbecue chef as Raichlen, his TV personality is a complete bore. He scores well on the Education factor, but there's just no excitement in this show. The "Grill Cam" is completely useless.
East Meets West - I know lots of people love Ming, and I'll admit to watching his show on a regular basis. I like the concept of his Master recipe, but as far as replicable recipes are concerned, he scores very low. More often than not, I've seen him use ingredients that are just too exotic for the regular home chef. Almost every show, I find myself saying "Where am I going to get THAT?" And I live in New York, where I can pretty much find everything at some local farmers market or store - I can't imagine what it would be like for people who live in areas without as wide a variety of produce.
What are your best/worst?
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