Thoughts on Diary of a Foodie

Diary of a FoodieI caught the first episode ("One Billion Foodies") of Diary of a Foodie yesterday on PBS and found it to be both good and bad at the same time. I'm not sure how that's possible, but that was my reaction. The bad: The show tried way too hard to be hip and cool. The camera work was annoying. All the shots of faces were so tight either the face didn't fit in the frame, or off center, so you saw half a face. And they kept framing an object (a branch, a vegetable) and changing the focus from the foreground to the background, over and over. At the end of the program, Ruth Reichl introduced some common sauces in Chinese cooking and the saturation was out of control. And they must have used the word "foodie" a billion times. If the show had been longer than half an hour, my eyes and ears may have started to bleed.

On the plus side, the people they visited in China (a rural doctor outside of Beijing, a traditional dumpling maker, a Peking duck specialist in Beijing, and a "New Shanghainese" chef in Shanghai) were really interesting. I loved the shots of a woman cooking an entire meal in a wood-fired wok in the countryside, as people have done for eons in China. And it was great to watch the prep work that goes into making the Peking duck. During the scene about dumpling-making, there was a great, unforced banter between the visitors making their first dumplings (badly) and those that create hundreds of them a day. For me, the best parts of the show happened when they just let the camera roll on people making food in China.

I plan to watch the next few episodes, but I'm not convinced (yet) this is a must-watch program for me. Did you watch it? What did you think? Maybe I'm being too harsh…

13 thoughts on “Thoughts on Diary of a Foodie”

  1. i didn’t see it but know that the folks who filmed it are the same ones who do bourdain’s no reservations, zeropointzero. they’re excellent individuals, and to my mind enormously talented. i wonder if the stuff you object to is a result of their trying to bring a new dynamic to the stilted straighton shooting of most food programming.

  2. I think that’s probably true Michael. And maybe it’s a question of finding the right balance between glossy (by which I mean effects with no real purpose) and a more substantive, but innovative, filming approach.

  3. God I wish they wouldn’t have used the word “foodie” in the title. And now you tell me that they use it a ton in the show!
    I have the show Tivo’d and hopefully I can watch it tonight.

  4. Meg-I agree with your comments completely and have one more to add:
    I hope Ruth Reichl doesn’t take this the wrong way because I admire her greatly, but why not have a real chef cover the last part as well? It just didn’t make sense to me for Ruth to be presenting how to use chinese ingredients in a home kitchen. That part doesn’t reflect her background or her present role very well, I believe. Perhaps Ruth should have introduced the episode, giving some background to the project on behalf of the magazine.

  5. Your comments are very thoughtful. It’s always hard to determine the balance between form and function. And the show tries to do both. It should be noted that sometimes when you look at a face from a different perspective, you notice new and different things about it. The lines from age. The youthfulness in the eyes. We wanted this show to give the impression you were seeing something in a way few people get to see it… Looking through doorways, or over shoulders, or through branches. A plate of food becomes a landscape on which the camera pulls focus. That was our intent, at least.
    Rob Tate, producer China Episode.

  6. Rob, thanks for your comments, I appreciate them. It always helps to get some behind-the-scenes information. I like the the idea that “We wanted this show to give the impression you were seeing something in a way few people get to see it,” and definitely feel you succeeded with that in many ways with this episode. I felt exposed to a “real” China and it piqued my interest in visiting.

  7. I think WYCC in Chicago is airing it starting this Sunday (Oct 22) at 2:30pm (maybe 3:30pm). Check to be sure…
    -Rob

  8. Can you please tell me when the show airs in New York. I tried to look for it on the Public TV website but didn’t have any luck. I would love to like the show since I am so very turned off by the Food Network. I miss good cooking shows.

  9. I think it’s on Sunday afternoons at 4 PM. But I’m not sure, I’ve got my DVR recording it. I’ll try to remember to check when I get home for you.

  10. I missed China (damn) but Italy . . . well, the DOAF Italy seemed to get in the way of itself. Great subjects for segments that are then buried in the faux flash of the production. And I have a pretty limitless capacity to watch off-center photography and layered editing IF they are working towards something.
    I like that the show is trying tho . . .

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