Can't wait to review Food Network's new Family Style later this week when we eat, meet and greet the series first episode at Tommy V's Urban Kitchen
Last week I saw a "sneak peak" of a new reality show, Family Style, on The Food Network. This show flew in so far under the radar, you wouldn't know it was on unless you landed on it by accident. That's how I got there - I surfed (as one could expect in San Diego). The show looked fun - a reality TV show about an Italian family of restaurateurs (the Maggiores), with the brother and sister (Joey and Melissa), competing to open the "best" and most successful new restaurant in San Diego. Thing is - some of these restaurants are right down the block from where I live and where I shop. I've eaten lunch or dinner in many a Maggiore restaurant, including Tuscany, Papa Maggiore's home-base. I know these restaurants so well, I am almost an Extra. In reality, this is a show about my neighborhood.
Not only did I recognize the restaurants (including Melissa's new Tommy V's ,still under construction), but I was a frequent visitor to the defunct,original Tommy V's, a grand, upscale local eaterie). Not only was the food great there, but the atmosphere was very much 1960s Las Vegas (with Aldo Luongo's paintings on the wall), white linen tablecloths and a piano player running through old Sinatra tunes. I am guessing that this original Tommy V's was owned by Papa Maggiore, as well as another nice, local restaurant (now also closed), Zabibbo, the family was said to own. The original Tommy V's has morphed into a breakfast place, which is doing a rather brisk business, but I long for the old Vegas-style, fine dining. Zabbibo is now some other non-descript Italian restaurant.
Another thing going for Family Style, in addition to the sibling rivalry, is that the large Italian family has an undercurrent of dysfunction, which adds some spice and zest to the reality show. Melissa and her best friend, Joey's wife, had a full-out feud over seating placement at a family birthday party. The blow-up spilled over to Joey's new restaurant grand-opening. He wasn't available to mediate, because he was in Phoenix, helping out Papa Maggiore with a crisis at his restaurant there. But thanks to the family members' ability to work together, Joey's flagship barbecue restaurant opened on time in downtown San Diego. (One of his other restaurants is in the same general location as Tuscany.)
If this show makes it onto the regular line-up (it's not yet listed on the Food Network), it may rest on the shoulders of the Sopranos-reminiscent large Italian family and their relationships and personalities. (Joey cooks in full bling. Melissa is very pretty, and outspoken). I see the recent "sneak peak" as a sort of soft-opening (as new restaurants do) to see how the show played in Peoria.
As reality shows go, and as shows go on The Food Network, I've seen better and I've worse. Some of The Food Network hosts/hostesses are so irritating, like cheese, they end up simply grating. But because I am a Foodie, I have a few favorite shows in this Channel's line-up. The best is Chopped, where 3 cooks compete to make the best meals using surprise ingredients found in a basket. This is an interesting idea, made more interesting when the ingredients include such disparate items as venison and marshmallows. Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks this makes for interesting TV. I recently saw a surprise ingredients-basket on one of Bravo's food shows. (Hey, Bravo - give credit where credit is due).
My least favorite Food Network shows (I never watch) feature personality chefs (we won't go into names, here). I am sure they have many a follower, but not me. Once in a while, if I am desperate to escape my problems via TV (and House is still in re-runs), I watch Unwrapped - a medium-interesting series about how food products are made (like beer nuts, milk duds, goat cheese). It was on Unwrapped that I learned that Harry & David's cheesecakes are individually hand-decorated before they are sent out from the H&D cheese cake factory. Now, I'm even more a fan of H&D and their middle-aged, fully-employed cake decorators. Also, watching the laborious process that goes into making matzoh ball soup or dill pickles; for instance, shows just how much we take for granted when it comes to the preparation of food products we see every day on the grocery store shelves.
I hope Family Style ends up on The Food Network Channel in 2010, not only because I live just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Maggiores and their restaurants. But also, because this show is the closest I am likely to ever come to (almost) participating in a reality TV show. And that's not even that close.
Here's an update from May 2010. The new restaurant opened last week and they've been filming there for days. Looks like we'll get to tune in in the Fall, after all.
Update #2, August, 2010. After a chat with Melissa and her new chef, several weeks ago, we decided to take in the premier showing of Family Style with champagne and a pizza on Aug. 26. Can't wait to review the show from inside out!