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May 17, 2005

David Lieberman: Another chef who ought to cook naked

With the exception of a very brief period in elementary school during which the only TV I would watch was the Food Network, I've pretty much steered clear of cooking shows. It didn't take long for me to decide that the hosts are generally annoying and that they are never making anything I'll cook anyway. But about a month ago, that all changed. I found out that someone I went to school with during those elementary days was getting his very own show on the Food Network. If for no other reason than Philly pride, I decided to tune in, and now, after four episodes, I'm hooked.

The show is called Good Deal, and the host is Dave Lieberman, a 24-year-old Yale alumnus. With the goal of creating inexpensive and relatively easy-to-make dishes that 20-somethings can cook when entertaining, each episode begins with a scenario from Dave's life. While I'm pretty convinced that the professional chef doesn't worry too much about dealing with an ever-growing dinner party, impressing a date, or feeding the parents when they come to visit, he's right to presume that I do, and you probably do, too.

Each of the three segments of every episode begins with Lieberman at the grocery store explaining a few of the key ingredients that he is buying. If cooking is not your main hobby, these bits are potentially the most useful ones in the show. When making a fruit tart, he tells us that it is much faster and cheaper to use cook-and-serve pudding than to go to all the trouble of making a custard filling. He also suggests, for the same reasons, buying pound cake rather than baking it when making parfait. On the other hand, when one recipe calls for roasted peppers, Lieberman explains that he can save money by roasting the pepper himself—a surprisingly easy process—instead of buying them. Tips about buying particularly tricky or unfamiliar foods, like arugula, are also helpful.

In the kitchen, Lieberman manages to make recipes that actually seem possible and useful to reproduce. He generally sticks with ingredients that are easy to find and easy to use, often including food items that one might have around the apartment. And even when a particular dish doesn't seem especially interesting, there is usually a tip or an individual item that is helpful. He explains the best way to boil a potato. He lets the viewer know what can be cooked ahead of time and what can be kept for later. And he tells us that simply adding water to raspberry preserves equals a raspberry sauce for dessert. Who knew?

Good Deal suggests that our homes should be a place to entertain, even if we only have limited time and limited funds. The thing that is shocking about the show is that it actually accomplishes its goal. Yeah, Lieberman does frequently use odd food anthropomorphism (do I really want to eat " perky" dill or "sexy" antipasti?), but I can forgive that when I see how excited he seems to be about cooking and entertaining. Yeah, he's continuously reminding us how cheap and easy the recipes are; but on this show, that's actually true. Yeah, the situations are contrived, but then I remember that they are situations that actually happen. Lieberman is not proposing that we are going to make gourmet meals for ourselves every night; he does reminds us that we can put together something really nice when the opportunity presents itself. And it's not just that his recipes are feasible for college students who don't have infinite time and money with which to entertain, but that he is constantly dispensing of shopping and cooking tips that actually will make cooking dinner each night just that much easier.

I know that spending a half an hour in front of the Food Network in the middle of the week isn't easy, but I suggest you start setting your VCR for 4:30 on Thursday like I do. It just might make Saturday night a little easier.