Blais Off

Official Science Channel promotional image!So apparently, the embarassingly-named but awesomely-concepted Blais Off produced two episodes as a sort of extended pilot. They've aired, and I've watched them, and I want them to make more.

As I mentioned earlier, the primary template for Blais Off is Throwdown. Blais picks a food, picks a landmark location that makes a classic rendition of that food (or, at least, that makes it in New York City - no travel budget for a pilot), and tries to one-up it with SCIENCE! The crowd judges.

The secondary template for Blais Off is every other food show on the air today. If you find the current sameness amongst food TV offerings these days to be a bit stultifying, Blais Off will not be a breath of fresh air. On the other hand, at least it's not trying to break the mold and failing miserably, like Bitchin' Kitchen.

So format and bland style aside, what's left is the personality and the food. Richard Blais will never win any charaaaaaasma competitions, but he's personably beige and inoffensive. The food is the real star here.

Like I said before, there's no show on TV right now that's really delving into the techniques, and the REASONS for those techniques, inherent in the gadgetry and gimmicks of molecular gastronomy. When Blais Off is at it's best, it's that show. Blais wants crispy fried basil for his pizza, but bemoans the dulling effect hot-oil frying has on herbs. His solution? "Fry" the basil, or, more accurately, freeze-dry the basil, in a small vat of liquid nitrogen, which, according to Blais and the diners, not only retains but actually intensifies the basil flavor.

At it's worst, he's taking mayonnaise, freezing it on dry ice (what, no antigriddle?), which allows for an awkward conversation with his, or a, dry ice vendor. And then the mayo is breaded and fried and put on top of a burger, where everyone is amazed that it's... just like mayo. Well, if it's just like mayo, then don't fucking freeze it and fry it. Just put mayo on it.

A lot of it is in a middle ground of being different for the sake of textures or wow factor, like the exploding mozzarella balls that spray a money shot all over the pizza slice whenever someone bites into one, or the gelatin sheet of ketchup on the burger. But there's a lot of nifty stuff even there, like how he poured the ketchup gel down an angled cookie sheet to get a thin, even layer that sets up almost instantly.

One tic Blais should probably edit if they make more of these is his habit of saying that he's never done X before. I don't believe that for an instant - even if he just researched it or tried it before the cameras started rolling, he's tried these techniques or ones like them before. I'd rather he seemed convincingly competent than artificially experimental.

If it were any other type of cooking, this would be the kind of food show you might stop on when you were bored, but never seek out. But since Wylie Dufresne doesn't seem interested in more than frequent guest shots on other people's shows, Blais gets to be the molecular vanguard on television, and that's worth the price of admission right there.

 

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MG gah

The one saving grace of that show is that he never actually uses the phrase "molecular gastronomy" because that's not what he does.

Molecular gastronomy is the genuine science behind new equipment, new techniques, and discovering previously unknown reactions between ingredients. It's what happens in a lab. What Blais does, regardless of the newness of the equipment or origins of some ingredients, is cooking. It's just cooking.

I really need to write a blog post about this.

What may be a huge drawback to his show is that he's manipulating foods in ways that most viewers can't relate to. They don't know what crispy freeze-dried basil would taste like, so there's a big perception hole there for the viewers.

MG Enh

I think the show being on the Science Channel will help expectations and filling the audience's gaping perception hole.

I'm also reasonably comfortable with MG being the shorthand for "cooking using techniques developed by MG", but I understand language rage.

MG RAWR

I lost it over the language rage when Alex Guarnaschelli misused the term so heinously on Chopped. One chef wanted gelatin, couldn't find it, and subbed in agar agar instead. Alex (who should know better) noticed the substitution and hailed the use of MG on the show. With exclamation points!

Seriously? Gelling action from gelatin is just cooking, but gelling action from agar agar is High Science?

With you there...

I saw that same episode, and had the same rage at the same time.

If using any white powder qualifies as MG, then bakers are CUTTING EDGE.

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