We already knew that host of Food Network's abominable Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee can't cook. Let's put it this way: if you have a can opener, a microwave, and some old I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! you could do her job standing on your head. But I imagined that she thought of herself as a serious culinarian, however misguided that might be. One must at least keep up appearances while hosting a cooking show, no?

There was a time at which Food Network programming mostly featured chefs – that is, trained and experienced people who have successfully made their way through the culinary world based largely on talent. As old-school TV chefs like Julia Child or Martin Yan (from PBS's awesomely lo-fi Yan Can Cook) proved, however, being a great chef does not mean one has great "camera appeal." At some point the quest for ratings led Food Network to write as many of their Big Name Chefs as possible out of their programming to be replaced with chirpy, mall focus-grouped bobbleheads who smile pretty while throwing out marketable catchphrases but are not chefs. Thus we are subjected to amateurs and glorified home cooks like Paula Deen, Guy Fieri, Rachel Ray, and the horrific Ms. Lee. Anthony Bourdain described her as follows in a lengthy rant about the "Newer, Younger, More Male-Oriented, More Dumb-Ass Food Network":

Pure evil. This frightening Hell Spawn of Kathie Lee and Betty Crocker seems on a mission to kill her fans, one meal at a time. She Must Be Stopped. Her death-dealing can-opening ways will cut a swath of destruction through the world if not contained. I would likely be arrested if I suggested on television that any children watching should promptly go to a wooded area with a gun and harm themselves. What’s the difference between that and Sandra suggesting we fill our mouths with Ritz Crackers, jam a can of Cheez Wiz in after and press hard? None that I can see.

While I find her show unwatchable, I've wondered if Mr. Bourdain's comments were unnecessarily harsh. For example, he says much the same thing about Rachel Ray, who I find supremely irritating but has put out a number of excellent cookbooks which suggest that, yes, she knows enough to be useful. Lee's show, which consists mostly of opening cans and/or preparing boxed grocery store items ("Coming up next: how to make great instant mashed potatoes!"), might not be a complete synopsis of her talents and her take on cooking. She could, like Emeril, be a decent person who happens to have a horrendous TV show.

Then I saw this.

Sandra, you shameless hooker.*

First of all, describing her as a "Chef" disregards and disrespects the real meaning of the term. Second, what's the matter Sandra, you don't have enough fuckin' money? As the star of a show on the Food Network you need to look at America with a straight face and talk about how delicious KFC is for another paycheck? The TV show, the book deals, the magazine gigs…those don't make her rich enough. She needs to shill for fast food that tastes like cleaning a grease trap with one's tongue in order to make ends meet.

One of two things must be true here. Either Sandra Lee really thinks KFC is awesome, which would be a damning critique of her judgment, or she is an empty shell of a person who has no self-respect and literally will do anything for a dollar. I have not eaten at a KFC since I was about 10, and even then, when my diet consisted almost entirely of fried/salted snacks, candy, frozen entrees, and fast food, it tasted like Frank Perdue shitting on my tongue. I always thought their motto should be "KFC: We use the chickens that die of natural causes…and pass the savings on to you." The shriveled, emaciated, oily, flavorless wads of garbage they serve to life-weary or seriously misguided people around the world are the kind of food one would expect to eat in the aftermath of a nuclear war – when the survival crackers run out and we're reduced to gnawing the bones of the family pets who perished in the first strike. If it was possible to taste despair, it would taste like Original Recipe KFC.

I understand how one could become a spokesperson for the culinary equivalent of Chernobyl and still have enough balls to host a cooking show and use the title of "Chef" but until Sandra Lee came along I had a hard time believing that anyone could be so devoid of self-awareness as to do it.

*Please note that this is a reference to Ms. Lee's willingness to prostitute her "credentials" as a "chef" to hawk disgusting, processed junk food to a seriously overweight nation and not a reference to prostitution in the traditional sense. I have to point this out because, as you are all aware, I am a misogynist who hates women.

34 thoughts on “SANDRA LEE ASKS, "WHAT'S DIGNITY?"”

  • Ugh, she sounds like a FOX newscaster version of Delia Smith or something.

    It's so weird, growing up in the midwest I adored KFC. Years later as an adult I decided to try some of the Original Recipe, and I nearly gagged at the insane amount of salt in it. Sadly, not many of my childhood favorites have aged well, like Rice a Roni, for instance.

  • Wow! "Yan Can Cook"! I haven't thought about that show in years. My brother and I started watching Martin Yan do his thing when I was in junior high, and it continued for years. He was on right after we got home from school. Our parents would leave us terrible recipes for awful, bland dinners, which we would cook while watching Yan; eventually, one of us (I think it was my brother) had a brainstorm and suggested trying one of Yan's recipes. We had to buy things like ginger, which was unheard-of in our parents' house.

    The thing is, Yan actually *can* cook. His recipes are no joke, and he is (I've since learned) actually very skilled. His show was definitely lo-fi, but only in terms of the production values, not the cuisine.

    Thanks for bringing that back to the top of my brain!

  • I used to watch the hell out of PBS cooking shows and Yan the Man and The Frugal Gourmet dudes were two of my favorites. I've been a fan of the Food Network for a long time, but now the only show worth watching is Good Eats. It seems like they're grasping for straws with every other show they throwing on the air and the people they're choosing as hosts are starting to stink of the desperation that appears to be leaking from beneath the network executives' doors. When Alton Brown finally wraps up his show, I doubt I'll bother watching the network at all.

  • I loved watching Yan Can Cook. Sadly, I never was able to duplicate much other than egg drop soup!

    And sure, there was the frugal molester, who seemed eminently likeable, and whose cooking show was educational.

    Emeril can't gook.

    But the bet on-air cook—Ming Tsai. Man, I learned some stuff from that guy.
    I learned and have been entetrained, as well, by Alton Brown (who'd be the first to admit he's an entertainer, and not a Chef).

    But I'd never heard of this woman. Don't know whether she's just a shill or likes the stuff, but people I know who've tried the KFC grilled chicken have come away impressed and surprised.
    Of course, I do like canned cheese, once in a while…

  • That's Mr Bozo to You says:

    Excellent post, except for this:

    "I have to point this out because, as you are all aware, I am a misogynist who hates women."

    Gee, you sound bitter.

    Like one of those nice guys left in the mud because all the women go for bad boys.

    Everybody (men) is going to be tagged with this from time to time, right or wrong. Mistakenly on the part of the woman, or because the man is expressing a privileged stance and can't see it.

    Suck it up. No one is waiting out here to applaud you because you're the most enlightened man on the planet — even if you in fact are.

    If I stopped to throw darts every time I heard a remark about women in general that doesn't apply to me personally (like 'all women want to be mothers'), I'd never get anywhere.

  • Pmayo has allready pointed out one of KFCs more hideous menu disasters- my favorite is the xtra krispy chicken. This is the only piece of fried chicken in the world in which the deep fried oil soaked batter outweighs the piece of bird. Seriously, that shit is like an inch think.
    But yeah, that friggin' doggie bowl idea takes the cake. Reminds me of that old Fawlty Towers line where Basil sez: " Every other night we'll fill up a trough with baked beans and garnish it with a dead dog."

  • I did pause at Ms. Lee's show once and wondered if it was a parody. (I laughed, anyway.) Her advice: don't buy pre-made honey barbecue sauce. Instead, buy regular barbecue sauce and add your own honey! Your friends will think you're the best cook evarrr!

    This made me think the show would follow in the footsteps of Peg Bracken's "I Hate To Cook Book", but Sandra Lee actually meant it. Another cruise director on Charon's ferry.

    But thanks for reminding me of Martin Yan, my first exposure to solid techniques outside the realm of French cookery.

  • "A pile of failure in a bowl of sadness…" too funny, thanks for the link pmayo. Is Jamie Oliver still on the Food Network? I know it is a BBC show but I thought they used to show it there. I love his recipes and he has started an excellent campaign to overhaul school lunch programs. He is essentially the antithesis of Sandra Lee when it comes to cooking.

  • Typical Sandra Lee segment:

    This next project is something the kids can help with. You'll need about 10 toothpicks and an apple. It could be a Macoun or an Empire, but because of the firmness and because they are relatively inexpensive, I like to use Red Delicious. Now have the kids gather around. Pass the apple to each person and when it is that person's turn, they can put a toothpick into the apple. It doesn't matter where; it's up to that person. When all ten toothpicks are used up, you're done! and that's how you make a Toothpick Apple.

    You can also do this with marshmallows, or be creative and use a pear or whatever fruit is in season.

  • If you love to hate Sandra Lee, you should check out – tons of laughs and they poke fun at her all the time.

  • I'm relatively certain that Emeril, no matter how irritating he is, actually can cook, a point that Bourdain has made on several occasions. Yes, he's a jackass who inexplicably got his own sitcom (facepalm!), but his restaurants aren't churning out cheezewhiz on Ritz.

    The Food Network does keep some real cooks around, on places like Iron Chef. Bobby Flay is also highly regarded (although also a total jackass). Mario Batali's Molto Mario is rerun from time to time…but yes, overall, the network has gotten away from good shows and replaced them with shows for people who don't care enough in the first place to eat something tasty.

  • Anthony Boudrain has one of the best shows on TV right now. In fact, his No Reservations is the only show I have my DVR set to record.

    Which leads me to this – I love food. I love to cook. I love to travel. I can smoke and like to drink.

    How the hell did I *not*

  • Emeril was actually great to watch before he got a studio audience. With no crowd to play to, and no production BS (no shilling products, no Doc and the Band), it was all about the food, and not slopping wine by the bottle or fists full of garlic. He seemed like a sweet thug who had learned cooking as a prison trade.

  • Emeril is exactly that – a goombah with great skills, a very good string of restaurants, and a painfully irritating TV show. Off camera he's a chef; on camera it's more like he is a clown.

    Also, I'm not bitter! I just choose, like everything else, to make fun of this.

  • I watch Food Network embarrasingly often, and I'm in complete agreement with Ed on every single thing he said about every single Food Network personality. But sometimes, just for the "train wreck" factor, I like to turn on Semi-Homemade and marvel at how Sandra Lee matches the ick factor of her "meals" with her curtains, fake flowers, and her outfits (the "Camp Food" episode was particularly horrid)! Her "tablescapes" are so wonderfully awful. It's the culinary equivalent of reading The National Enquirer.

  • I used to cook professionally and I still cook for myself (I'm a "foodie" I guess), but I can not bring myself to watch FN at all. Before the String. Of Bimbos, thete were indeed real chefs but I considered the channel to be less about cooking and more like porn — people watching professionals doing things they themselves would never do.

  • Never heard of Sandra Lee. Is she Sarah's sister?

    I think Guy's Drive Ins and Dives show is a hoot.

    The KFC pot pie is actually edible.

    Unlike you, Ed, I am a misogynist who loves women.

    Food porn is in the mouth of the beholder.

  • your paragraph calling her a shill reminds me of a bit from Bill Hicks's "Rant in E Minor" where he blasts jay leno for doing doritos commercials. and blast everyone (with an exception for willie nelson due to a $16 million dollar tax bill…) who is somewhat famous and well-off if they shill. are you familiar with the bit?

  • A lot of love in the comment stream about Emeril.

    Weird…he does not appear to be able to make even a basic marinara on his show. He makes an overseasoned brown muck, and then pulls a deliciously made one out of a hidden storage, somewhere, and claims it would turn out that way.

    And I speak as someone who cooks from frozen and canned foods, nearly every night.

  • Along with KFC, I will not touch food from McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut 99.9% of the time. The stuff from these places isn't food. It is like eating a bucket of lard or a stick of butter. I've probably added years to my life by avoiding these "food" places. I will agree with jazzbumpa that KFC's pot pie is not horrible and surprisingly alright (this is where the .1 percent come's in).

    I feel like I could probably make a cooking show as good as Sandra Lee's, and I can't cook for shit: "Okay, this is how you put a pizza in the oven" or "You don't actually make pie, somebody at the supermarket does and then you go buy it".

  • Semi-Homemade Cooking is straight up horseshit/torture. I'm sure it gets decent ratings though, because it has a good time block. If something with Alton Brown is on, I'll watch it. Iron Chef America is sooo my guilty pleasure.

  • What about the bald guy in the commercial? Who is he? Does he have a show too or is he some KFC spokesperson?

  • arjuna –

    Is Ed familiar with that Bill Hicks bit? You should see the shrine he's built! Or ask him about his tattoo sometime. His entire back is covered with an ornately detailed illustration of himself performing fellatio on the departed comic.

    Or something like that. I forget.

  • @matthew –
    yeah, the whole shilling part of the post seemed too close to not be a nod to hicks.

    also, i think i have the same tattoo…

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