You think you're a fan of the cooking shows, but until you've fallen off your couch in laughter after watching an over-sexed Greek guy named Panos describe the smell of fresh fish as comparable to a sea breeze blowing through your chest hair or a mermaid whispering in your ear...? You haven't seen anything at all.
Panos is just one of the reasons the Cooking Channel's Bitchin Kitchen, written by and starring the leather-and-stiletto-clad Canadian comedian Nadia Giosia, is one of the best new TV shows — cooking or otherwise — out there today. Making its U.S. debut just a couple of years ago, Nadia G's Bitchin Kitchen began as a 3-minute show on the web and was picked up by Canadian TV before eventually coming to the states. (Want a hint at just how good the Canadians are at comedy? Check out the Trailer Park Boys.)
Now that she's all mainstream-like, I just know she's giving Rachael Ray some serious anxiety hives.
The show features Nadia G, Panos the meat and fish guy, the neurotic Israeli Spice Agent, and the over-oiled, super-pumped Hans, who kisses his muscles for the camera every time Nadia G suggests that her recipe will help "pummel your muffin tops, America."
"It's harder than you think," she said in an interview during SXSW, "to find a guy who's that ripped who can actually say words. It was a challenge."
The best way to describe Bitchin Kitchen is this: Every time I watch it, I expect her to cuss and then punch somebody. I get surprised when she doesn't.
I said this much to Nadia G when I met her at the Cooking Channel's beer garden at SXSW this year at the Easy Tiger, a great new bakery and venue on Waller Creek and one of the best VIP parties of this year's festival. I asked her where she gets her ideas — for the show, and for the recipes.
"I grew up with a lot of fierce ladies who knew how to cook and knew how to have a good time. I'm a very hungry person, in all senses of the word. I love food, I love to party, I love engaging in bar fights," she said, sending us both into gales of laughter. "All in all, it's a mix of different inspirations. At the root of that inspiration is hunger."
"It truly is something to contend with," she said. "I've eaten a lot in New York, I've eaten a lot in Los Angeles, and I'm from Montreal, which is a huge foodie city as well. Lots of immigrant cultures, so you get that food straight from the source," she said. "But Austin is truly some of the top meals I've had in my life. The nouveau, high-end Mexican food of La Condesa, and Uchiko, oh my god, those brussel sprouts with caramelized fish sauce, fried. . .They are beyond spectacular."
I also asked her about her opinion on the food truck trend in the U.S., a movement of which Austin is decidedly a leader. In Montreal, she said, the restaurant lobby has so far managed to stave off the trend she calls the democratization of restaurants.
"I'm a very hungry person, in all senses of the word. I love food, I love to party, I love engaging in bar fights." - Nadia G
"I think food trucks are spectacular," she said. "In Montreal, it's illegal. I guess the restaurants banded together and said it would cause too much competition. And it's banned completely. So when I come to the States and see all the food trucks, I'm like, 'Go, Capitalism! Go, Food on Wheels!' It democratizes the restaurant industry. You need to be able to afford 4,000 square feet — just get a truck and start serving up some good food."
Plenty of cooking stars came to Austin for SXSW this year — Anthony Bourdain, as well as Rachel Ray doing her annual party at Stubb's last weekend. But while I'd love to shake hands with Man vs. Food guy or any of the others, Nadia G was my ultimate celebrity sighting over the past 10 days. This from a girl who covered the red carpet for Deepak Chopra and Ziggy Marley and Matthew McConaughey. That's saying something.
I was a newcomer to the cooking shows a couple of years ago, when I decided to try my hand at not using my oven for storage. I became a bit of a junkie. My DVR is full of these shows, my Saturday and Sunday mornings occupied with smiling women and cool dudes making interesting things out of lemongrass and shallots and lots of basil and the occasional Spice I Don't Recognize.
But I was a metalhead in the 80s, an indie and punk snob in the 90s, and even today eschew the modern version of Woman With Apron who hosts dinner parties and makes five days' worth of meals every Sunday. So my relationship with the TV Foodies was a rollercoaster, to say the least. I did, however, find one reason to love each of them.
Giada — known around our house as "Cooking with Cleavage" — had recipes that were easy and fresh. Down Home with the Neelys featured a couple that was so hot for each other the dialogue could have been used on late-night Cinemax. ("He likes it spicy!" "Woman, you are my SPICE QUEEN!") Roger Mooking's recipes were always hard to make, but he rap-sings his own Calypso-style theme song, and who could resist that?
Mark Bittman dancing with turnips makes my day, Chuck's Day Off features cheerful and hunky tatted-up dude from Montreal who is as easy on the eyes as his recipes are on the palate (plus he's usually cooking for someone — the wine guy, the neighbors, homeless teenagers... how sweet!) Rachael Ray loves pit bulls, which is the only reason I watch her. (And even then, it's with the sound off. )
Hungry Girl should call herself "Dorm Cooking" because of all the recipes that featured microwaves and cheap substitutes, but she had the occasional brilliant idea — like punching up pasta with broccoli coleslaw. Paula Deen is fattening but funny as Hell, and Sandra Lee's gawd-awful "tablescapes" are reason enough to watch (even though she's the Very Model of a Modern Stepford Wife.)
And that doesn't even scratch the surface of my cooking-show rituals. Kelsey taught me how to properly use my knives. Padma wears ironic college music T-shirts. Emeril makes me giggle no matter what he's doing.
My ever-growing cast of Cooking Channel and Food Network buddies, however, became background noise when I first saw Nadia G punch her fist into the camera sporting what amounted to brass knuckles, while standing in a bright red kitchen wearing a dog collar and talking about hangover recipes.
Her show was fresh, her personality genuine and irreverent. Occasionally she gives us her Italian slang dictionary. Sometimes there's a music video. The idea of watching the horror pass over Sandra Lee's face when she got her first look at Nadia's fishnets? Priceless. And always, always there are random hilarious lines that I insist on repeating on my Facebook page.
Like this one, in which she teaches us to how make a Breakup Meal right before dumping someone:
"The meal that says, 'It's over, Stinkypants. Your band sucked anyway. ... Now why would I want to stuff 'em then chuck 'em? ... You want to leave them with a good taste in their mouth. I mean, come on. You once cared for them. But more improtantly, they know your secrets and probably got them on tape."
Or this one:
"How do you pronounce 'Acai'? Wait. I forgot. I DON'T CARE!"
Her accent on the shore is more like Jersey Italian than it is Canadian, and she does a lot of devil horns and head bangin' and insulting the male cast members. (All of which would make someone like Melissa D'Arabian so much more fun to watch.)
Because she was being so sweet to me during our interview — which she gave me right after finishing up a smoke break at the Easy Tiger — I had to ask her how much of her tough girl persona was an act. I knew the answer already, as I had seen her dancing and yelling and partying before the interview — and would run into her hours later doing the same thing, notched up a little louder and little more brash and even more fun.
But after congratulating her on her wild success, I wanted to know what made her tick.
"I'm a punk rocker," she said, as she stood before me in glittery eyeshadow and black leather pants that zipped up the back. "I grew up in a suburban Italian neighborhood, but I very quickly realized the white picket fence, two kids wasn't for me. So I rebelled against that a little bit, traveled a little, got into some trouble, got a lot of tattoos. Then I was able to consolidate my roots with my philosophy through comedy."