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Apr. 26 2009 - 1:16 am | 195 views | 1 recommendation | 11 comments

Sandra Lee and KFC — Too Many Cooks…

Cover of "Semi-Homemade Cooking"

KFC's newest huckster: processed food mix-master Sandra Lee.

TV cook Sandra Lee, she of the stomach-churning “Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee” on the Food Network, has done the unthinkable: found a new way to ruin an already non-existent reputation. And it did not involve Cool-Whip, Kool-Aid or any of the other myriad of disgusting processed foods she espouses in her “cooking show.”

Instead, Lee — along with TV cook G. Garvin — has shown up in new television commercials for KFC, shilling for the fast food chain’s new grilled chicken meals. You can see the ads — and outtakes, because, of course, outtakes from the commercial shoot of a food-challenged TV cook mixer must be hilarious — here.

I have two issues with this, one perhaps more obvious than the other.

First — Lee purports to be a cook, maybe even a chef, whose career has been based on teaching people how to cook for themselves. About the joys and nutrition of eating home-cooked meals. About the frugal benefits inherent in preparing your own meals. And then she goes and tells America it’s fine to eat at KFC.

I get that KFC is trying to change its image: less artery-clogging fried chicken and biscuits, more health-conscious grilled foodstuffs — perhaps even tacitly acknowledging the epidemic of obesity that’s plaguing our nation. It’s been testing this grilled chicken recipe for over a year (see this AP article from March of last year). I could even begrudgingly give KFC a pat on the back for trying to offer fast food that won’t instantly kill you — though I’m sure there’s enough salt in the marinade — and fat in the biscuits — to kill you slowly, after you’ve left the store.

But how in Alice Water’s green earth did it become OK for TV chefs to encourage Americans to eat at fast food restaurants?

It says a lot about the Food Network that Sandra Lee is willing to do this. Before her, Tyler Florence had a sponsorship deal with Applebee’s and Guy Fieri currently does ads for TGI Friday’s. (Yes, I know they’re not technically “fast food” restaurants — but, frankly, because they serve the food on a plate rather than a cardboard box doesn’t make it any better.) That’s three Food Network hosts — people whose day job is to teach Americans the joys and benefits of making your own meals — shilling for companies whose food is the very antithesis of what the network stands for — or used to stand for.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. Over the last two years or so, the Food Network has changed. Where once it promoted stars like Mario Batali, Ina Garten, Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis — pan jockeys who don’t pander while creating authentic, sometimes even complicated, food, it’s now angling to become the home of mammoth barbecue competitions and food-centric reality shows. Maybe that answers my question. Since the actual act of cooking good food often seems an afterthought on much of the Food Network’s programming these days… I guess Sandra Lee hawking sodium-laced fast food isn’t that much of a stretch.

My second issue isn’t so much about what Sandra Lee’s moonlighting implies about her or her network — it has more to do with Sandra Lee herself.

Is she really the best KFC could find? Because as a cook, Sandra Lee is awful. She fails the most basic test of a cooking show: I can’t imagine I’d actually eat what she makes.

The conceit of her show, “Semi-Homemade Cooking,” is that you don’t need to create everything from scratch to make great meals for family and friends. By cutting corners with store-bought elements that you mix together to make into a dish, Sandra would have us believe we can fool our families into believing we’re creating restaurant-quality entrees, when, in fact, we’re just stirring together packages of mixes and boxes of chemicals into food-like creations. She’s not so much cooking as she is assembling.

It’s the Ikea approach to food: cheap, processed elements hastily crammed together to make the approximation of a book case, or in Sandra Lee’s case, beef bourguignon.

Not only is it faux, it’s sometimes disgusting. I watched her make a buche noel for a Christmas episode that consisted of taking a store-bought jelly roll, covering it with Cool-Whip that was carved with a fork so it looked like bark, and than lovingly dolloped with white chocolate chips and marshmallows that had been affixed together to look like mushrooms.

I know Sandra has her acolytes somewhere, but I just can’t get behind a TV cook who thinks a “Baked Potato Ice Cream” dessert is worth my time:

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At first I was disappointed with Sandra Lee and Food Network, but in the end, I think it’s KFC that’s got some explaining to do.


5 T/S Member Comments Called Out, 11 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    Give me a minute – will read your article as soon as I finish watching Sandra Lee create her new “Big Mac Beef Wellington” – very clever. Makes me proud to be an American.
    Ok – reading now…

  2. collapse expand

    Oh my, I have a sweet tooth, and even I find that ice cream baked potato frightening! I’m in agreement with respect to the direction the Food Network has taken – now just tune in to the Barefoot Contessa. Used to watch Rachael’s 30-minute meals in that odd, I’m-not-quite-sure-why-I’m watching-her-talk-about-EVOO-and-sammies-for-the-umpteenth-time way, but I began to feel seriously behind the times once she got her fancy new network show.

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    Please don’t compare Sandra Lee to Ikea. It’s an insult to Ikea. I got a very nice Malm shelf this weekend. And I’ve always been happy with my Gorm.

  4. collapse expand

    Sounds like Matt has grown up surrounded by real cooks who respect food.

  5. collapse expand

    You are in good company in your Sandra Lee bashing. Anthony Bourdain has weighed in before:

    “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. This is simply irresponsible programming. Its only possible use might be as a psychological warfare strategy against the resurgent Taliban–or dangerous insurgent groups. A large-racked blonde repeatedly urging Afghans and angry Iraqis to stuff themselves with fatty, processed American foods might be just the weapon we need to win the war on terror.”

  6. collapse expand

    Kinda glad we don’t see her on Food Network Canada.
    I do deplore what the food network is becoming: all competition reality shows. They used to have some stellar things, like Cook Like a Chef. Gone, gone gone. Going the same way HGTV has gone: don’t try finding a gardening show there, unless you watch TV from 6:30-7:30am! Food network’s going to go that way, too. No real cooking at any time of day that they’re trying to attract hordes of eyeballs. Just dumb challenges, roadshows, and competitions.

  7. collapse expand
    Healthy Diet Lets Woman Lose Thirty Pounds in Thirty Days

    Hi, good post. I have been pondering this issue,so thanks for posting. I will certainly be subscribing to your posts.

  8. collapse expand
    Tiny Banquet

    I don’t have a teevee so I only see Food Network once in a while, but it’s given me a perspective on how much it has changed. The last few times I have seen it I’ve been shocked at how many pointless competition shows they have. “The best” this, “the best that,” everything is a “throw down.” It’s as if they don’t want people to think about food at all without neurotically ranking it on a mental list. They used to have Sarah Moulton cooking entire meals on a live call-in show with a viewer cooking along at home. If she were to return I suppose she would have to be competing against them, with a panel of guest judges to cut away to for reaction shots . . .

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