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SethG

Jeff Smith, the Frugal Gourmet

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Now we're getting somewhere:

Beans said "Interesting reading views that learning from his cooking was shooting too low" and I'm wondering what this says about our awareness then and where we might be now?

What was the value and achievement of his actual cooking, his screen presence and his books--and is there lasting value today--legal issues aside? Here's one inescapable fact--he sold a ton of books. I'm speculating here, and just going on anecdotal evidence of my friends at the time, but during his popular run--one of his books was likely the first cookbook a novice purchased or the first cookbook received as a gift. My non-cooking and non-food-aware friends LOVED him and his show. They watched him like they watched Bob Vila--though would never remodel their old house or cook themselves.

I personally viewed him as more of an uncritical charlatan--more quick schtick than substance. I suspect there was a lot of resentment from the elite food establishment at the time--anyone remember the destructive Barbara Grizzuti Harrison essay on the Frug in Harpers (I believe from 1993 or so?) But I wonder if he wasn't actually ahead of his time--wouldn't his lightweight, infectious, entertaining, enthusiastic personality fit right in today's typical programming lineup? Like other entertaining food personalities he would have morphed into more of a babbling host, do less actual cooking and instruction (not his strengths anyway) and guide and cheerlead instead?

Was he more of a culinary harbinger than we might realize? Was he the first of a long line of outsized, chirpy, cartoonish or buffoonish but entertaining and ingratiating on-air culinary personalities? Had he already figured out that lightweight schtick sells--be it the schtick of an Emeril, Alton Brown, Flay or Ray?


Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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My non-cooking and non-food-aware friends LOVED him and his show. ...

I personally viewed him as more of an uncritical charlatan--more quick schtick than substance. ... But I wonder if he wasn't actually ahead of his time--wouldn't his lightweight, infectious, entertaining, enthusiastic personality fit right in today's typical programming lineup?

I've been thinking somewhere along these lines. I've been reading these posts and thinking about the comments made, for example, about Sandra Lee (is that her name?), or "cooking" from pre-packaged ingredients, etc. I've never seen any of these shows, never heard of the Frugal Gormet (I lived overseas for many years, so I missed a lot of American pop-culture), so I'm really wondering.

There is a difference between simplicity in cooking and having "more schtick than substance." Where do you draw the line? Why is Jeff Smith's simplicity viewed as schtick, but not Mark Bittman's, for example? (BTW, I have "How to Cook Everything" and I love it; my niece just moved into her own place and I bought her a copy, and she loves it too. I'm not dissing on anybody here.) There's a huge gap between "Julia, Jacques and James" and someone like Sandra Lee (and the Frugal Gormet?) I appreciate simplicity in cooking (in everything, actually). Granted most things fall into the grey area rather than the clear black or white, but what is it that you think makes the distinction between simple, good cooking and "charlatanism"?

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I don't remember watching him on the tube--my introduction to him came in high school, when a friend and I were charged with cooking a main dish for our french class's feast and we selected the chicken in wine from his book.

recipe was good, and I stole his mother's cookbook to read it cover to cover.

then started reading his other books--

I'm bad at following recipes, tending to clump four or five similar ones together and go from there, so I can't speak to the technicalities of his work. but the writing!

yeah, it reads like an overly-friendly children's minister's prose--but the context and history he puts before each dish, and each chapter, is fantastic--would love to see more of that in cookbooks. when I'm feeling too sick to read something requiring an attention span of more than a page, or so, I read Immigrant Ancestors, American dishes, and the foods from the old testament book--they're good.

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I suspect there was a lot of resentment from the elite food establishment at the time--anyone remember the destructive Barbara Grizzuti Harrison essay on the Frug in Harpers (I believe from 1993 or so?)

I would love to read this essay. Does anyone know where I could find it?


Aidan

"Ess! Ess! It's a mitzvah!"

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And heaven help young folks who grew up with him as a standard.If they aspire to his heights, they aspire too low by far.

I dunno. My son used to watch him religiously. As a 10 to 12 year old with an interest in cooking it seems that the show was at just the right level for him. I have one of his books that my son bought with his own money. Odd thing for a kid that age to do. He has turned into an excellent cook, BTW. What attracted him was the information behind the cooking.

yeah, it wasn't like he professed his man-boy love on the show...it was about cooking...as a young buck I watched him too, and when I heard what had gone on BEHIND the scenes I was taken back.


"Make me some mignardises, &*%$@!" -Mateo

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I am not talking about his morals. I AM TALKING about his cooking. He is mundane to say the least. Half his recipes are junk. And FRUGAL, my butt!! But that is my opinion, and he never made any money out of me. My comment about kids is that, if he awakened their interest in cooking, that hopefully they graduated to real and genuine food-from real and genuine experts.

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This is quite interesting. The impressions people have about Jeff Smith the TV Cook run from totally positive to totally negative. I guess that's why horse racing is the world's oldest sport.


Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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yeah, it wasn't like he professed his man-boy love on the show...it was about cooking...as a young buck I watched him too, and when I heard what had gone on BEHIND the scenes I was taken back.

That's funny- when my friends and I caught it we always thought there was something going on with him and his young buck assistant. There was always something kind of pervy about him to me.

I "came of age" in the kitchen with the Julia Child and Company era, followed by Pepin. By the time FG came on, I was very confused about his appeal. Both his apperance and personality were unattractive. He was incredibly patronizing and took a stance that seemed to say everything anglo-centric was bad and everything foreign was good. But it was a glossed-over supeficial look at the exotic and foreign. Still, I worked with a younger guy who said he and his girlfriend really liked him and they started getting excited about food from him.


Visit beautiful Rancho Gordo!

Twitter @RanchoGordo

"How do you say 'Yum-o' in Swedish? Or is it Swiss? What do they speak in Switzerland?"- Rachel Ray

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HAHA That's great! I watched Pepin more than I watched Sesame Street as a kid... and about Smith's cooking...yeah, it was pretty mundane faire, but most television cooking shows are...I mean, when a guy can get a show for dutch oven cooking you know that the standards aren't too high....and yes, FRUGAL was a misnomer....he used some expensive ingredients on that show....and he was always travelling to Italy to find food...very few have the money to do that...


"Make me some mignardises, &*%$@!" -Mateo

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I could never get past his smarmy patronizing manner. I was creeped out by him long before the charges came to light. I still haven't seen anything posted here that changes my mind about him. He was no culinary genius but if people learned from him, fine.

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Anyone remember that Beastie Boys lyric: "'Cause I got more spice than the Frugal Gourmet!" I read a letter that his daughter wrote to the Beastie Boys (in Grand Royal magazine) once, years ago. She wrote that The Frugal was "pleased" with the mention and that he liked the Beastie Boys. So that makes him cool in my book. I'm easy.


Noise is music. All else is food.

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I am not talking about his morals. I AM TALKING about his cooking. He is mundane to say the least. Half his recipes are junk. And FRUGAL, my butt!! But that is my opinion, and he never made any money out of me. My comment about kids is that, if he awakened their interest in cooking, that hopefully they graduated to real and genuine food-from real and genuine experts.

Okay! Mabelline, we get that you hate the man. Geesz. I guess I'm cooking up CRAP when I use one of his tasty, but simple recipes. :hmmm: (I type this knowing my general hate for chicken wings and his recipe for slow cooking them is fucking great! And they sell out whenever they've been done at my parents' itty bitty restaurant.)

I kinda like we've made money out of him... out of "real genuine food."

Meh.

And somewhere else up thread -- really, Jeff Smith in the same sentence as Sandra Lee??? The instant open a can or package of pudding and call it tiramisu minx?????? :blink:

Holy cow.

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I used to like watching the show. I was in high school, so I was just begining to cook, I liked the way he gave a history lesson with the show. I never even saw a lemon remer or garlic press before I started watching his show, not that I use them now, but it opened culinary doors for me, I guess a stepping stone to where I am now, to be open to try/cook new things.

I met him at a book signing and was very dissappointed, it was about 10:00 am and he was drunk, stunk of vodka, I never watched the show after that.

BTW Craig was there and he was cute, I wonder what he is doing now?

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BTW Craig was there and he was cute, I wonder what he is doing now?

I answered that on The Jeff Smith Collaboration thread last December...

It is funny... a Google showed there is a Craig Wollam in Seattle as a Scenic Designer for a play: Far East.

There are several other references to Stage Designers, Set Designers, etc...

Maybe he gave up food for the Theatre.

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The "Frugal Gourmet" was one of the shows, that my preschool son, would sooner watch, than watching "Sesame Street". He would really watch it and ask if I could make "that" for dinner. I enjoyed his show because I lived in a very small community at the time, and could not get exotic ingredients. He would often comment that if you didn't have some of this, then just use some of that, or whatever. He was pretty basic with ingredients, and just gave me "fresh" ideas for cooking dinner. I suppose you could say he inspired me. I am now cooking for a living. :biggrin:

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II met him at a book signing and was very dissappointed, it was about 10:00 am and he was drunk, stunk of vodka,

Usually vodka doesn't smell on one's breath, but I had a friend at William Morrow who could probably confirm the "drunk" part. That he liked to drink was no secret. He once admitted he drank a bottle of wine a day and qualified that by saying "some people can handle it." Makes you wonder.....


Edited by Pickles (log)

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II met him at a book signing and was very dissappointed, it was about 10:00 am and he was drunk, stunk of vodka,

Usually vodka doesn't smell on one's breath,

Oh, yes you can smell vodka on someone's person!

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Yeah, I had to grab muffins out of the oven, but it gave me a moment to think about it. I guess I really wouldn't care if his was piss drunk as long as he wasn't falling over and making a spectacle of himself and as long as he signed my book. :biggrin:

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He once admitted he drank a bottle of wine a day . . .

Um, and the problem with that would be?

:biggrin:

Chad

:biggrin: Nothing if you can handle it. Back to what one can smell on the breath, perhaps it's the old Asparagus Pee thing. Maybe some people with noses like bloodhounds can detect the odorless and tastless vodka, but first thing I smell is the alcohol coming out from the mouth. Since vodka has no distinguishable aroma or taste, I'd have to get right up in their grill to be able to say "it must be vodka". Gin breath, bourban and scotch breath..yes...that's easy to detect.


Edited by Pickles (log)

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I think the show that cinched it for me (as far as my watching him was concerned back in the day) was the show he did on Filipino cuisine.

You have to understand that this is one of those cuisines that hadn't (at the time) been exposed much to mainstream audiences. The Frug had an entire show devoted to the food of my native country. I mean, wow. I don't recall how the recipes sounded, but it sure was interesting to say the least. :wink:

This was probably around 1985/86. I grew up out of FG-nostalgia soon after that -- I could never get around how he talked more than he cooked.

Soba

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FWIW, I watched a lot of his shows during that period, and whatever his weaknesses as a cook or a TV personality, he always seemed to respect and appreciate the cuisines and cultures he featured. He influenced my ideas about food, but not so much how I cook.

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Quick... compare and contrast... the long-term cultural effects of Graham Kerr and Jeff Smith....


Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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