History’s Top Historian On Tastes of ‘Liberty’

Libby O’Connell, chief historian at History, has a nifty new book out, The American Plate (Sourcebooks, November 2014), which breaks down many of our culinary traditions, from before Columbus to today, into two- or three-page, highly-readable narratives or “bites.”

The Wire wondered what she might recommend viewers serve at a viewing party for History’s upcoming Sons of Liberty, about the Boston radicals who lit the spark for the American Revolution (see review).

O’Connell suggested a couple of ways to go, one of which involved starting with a lot of plates on the table at once: raw oysters, a salad with kale and pickles, a meat pie. Followed by more plates, including oxtail soup and smoked meats. And on and on.

The Wire preferred her simpler option: Chowder with bread and cheese.

The chowder would be a fish chowder: “Boston is a very active seaport, and fish is one of its big commercial items.” Include potatoes (popular then via the Irish), carrots, onions and some bacon. “It would be a tasty stew, and it would be the type of thing that people would eat in the wintertime.”

Sourdough bread, or cornbread, on the side. Some sharp cheddar cheese, too. And butter. “They ate a lot of butter.”

Hot apple pie served with heavy cream for dessert. “You’re not worried about calories because you’re working hard every day. Getting your 10,000 steps in was never something people had to worry about.”

Wash it down with a mug of hard cider (available today at most grocery stores) or some local beer. Rum also was popular then.

“And before we are shocked by the quantity of alcohol these folks drank, remember they did not have prescription pain relievers,” O’Connell reassured The Wire. Instead of an Advil for a sore knee, a doctor might recommend a shot of alcohol, administered orally.

The author said her own viewing party, including some French neighbors (appropriately, our emerging nation’s first friends), will feature “a big fat chicken, roasted with Madeira.”

Sons of Liberty, a three-night event, kicks off on Sunday, Jan. 25, at 9 p.m.

A fine New England fish chowder recipe is in The American Plate and on our website at multichannel.com/Jan19.

— Kent Gibbons

Satire, American Style: ‘The Onion’ Takes Aim At FCC, Golden Globes

The Onion took satirical aim at the Federal Communications Commission in a mock article about an agency sniper preventing another Golden Globes indecency incident.

An F-bomb dropped by Bono on a Jan. 19, 2003, Golden Globes telecast helped spur the FCC’s indecency crackdown of a decade ago.

Under chairman Tom Wheeler, the agency has shown no inclination to repeat the aforementioned crackdown — which occurred under a Republican chairman.

That, of course, did not stop The Onion, in an article tied to this year’s Golden Globes telecast on Jan. 11. The story claimed an FCC sniper inside the Beverly Hilton Hotel prevented Matthew McConaughey from uttering a profanity, with a single, well-placed shot. It might have made more sense if it were a Bradley Cooper reference — but it’s also an uncomfortable topic given the shootings that proliferate off the screen in real life with real horror.

The piece purported to quote Wheeler as saying: “All of our FCC marksmen are highly trained and authorized to neutralize any threat to public propriety, and in this instance, the real and imminent risk that an offensive word might be uttered on live airwaves necessitated the use of deadly force against film actor Matthew McConaughey.”

There was no comment from the chairman’s office on the piece, which was one of those boundary-pushers in the taste department that recent world events — think Paris — make The Wire want to both wince at and protect.

— John Eggerton

‘Best New Restaurant’ Gets Into the Weeds Of the Culinary Life

There are a lot of cooking shows on TV, and a lot of restaurant shows. So what will draw viewers to Bravo’s new competition show Best New Restaurant, The Wire asked host, judge and executive producer Tom Colicchio, the accomplished restaurateur and Top Chef star.

“I don’t think there’s been a show that’s really given the viewer a good idea of what happens in a restaurant,” famed for Gramercy Tavern, Craft and other fine dining spots, said before a promotional event at his Riverpark in New York.

Top Chef showed viewers how a chef creates, he said. Top Chef ’s “Restaurant Wars” episodes are “sort of a compressed version of opening night.” Rocco DiSpirito’s The Restaurant was more of a reality show.

“This is really nuts and bolts,” Colicchio said. “You bring 30 people into a restaurant and turn the camera on, you’ll see some stuff that I think people are going to really be interested in.”

Teams from 16 restaurants from across the country vie against each other two at a time. The last one standing gets an editorial feature in Bon Appetit, $100,000 and other goodies. It’s modeled on the U.K’s Ramsay’s Best Restaurant, and Gordon Ramsay also executive produces.

Many people fantasize about owning a restaurant, and think the real work in being a chef is creating the dish, Colicchio said. “You can go and buy The French Laundry Cookbook and you can stay home and perfect those dishes. Good luck putting that into a restaurant kitchen and expediting that food every single night for 200 people a night, or whatever it is, and doing it consistently.”

Viewers see the turmoil in the kitchen and the front of house, and how real diners respond. How does marketing a new show compare with marketing a new restaurant? “They have a bigger budget than a restaurant does!” was Colicchio’s first thought. Good point.

Best New Restaurant premieres Wednesday, Jan. 21, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.

— Kent Gibbons

Kent Gibbons

Kent has been a journalist, writer and editor at Multichannel News since 1994 and with Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He is a good point of contact for anything editorial at the publications and for Nexttv.com. Before joining Multichannel News he had been a newspaper reporter with publications including The Washington Times, The Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal and North County News.