A renewed faith in Food Network

I was, up until recently, a Food Network junkie. My addiction started early, as in "Two Fat Ladies" early. And when my peers and roommates preferred the irony of "For-the-love-of"-whoever shows, I stuck close to Ina, Jamie, Nigella, Alton, Michael and Bobby. And I'll be the first to admit that watching someone cook is a little odd, not all that productive and a little geeky; but, it's totally relaxing.

Then, all these gimmicky shows made their way in. The programming became more bang-for-your-buck based, with too many shortcuts, half-stories of the production of "popular" foods, fondant overkill on competitive baking contests and "cocktail time." It totally took the joy out of cooking. Chefs and talented self-taught experts whom I admire were thrown into the mix with quick-tip personalities. In solidarity to my pig friends, I can't watch Paula anymore because of her endorsement by Smithfield. As a vegan, I can't eat anything she makes, but she's just so entertaining and her absence in my life pains me. I don't know if I've grown tired of waiting for new seasons to begin or just find the programming boring, but I sometimes forget to turn on the Food Network. ::GASP!!::

*SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU ARE ONE OF THE UNFORTUNATE CABLEVISION SUBSCRIBERS WHO NO LONGER HAS FOOD NETWORK AND COUDLDN'T WATCH THE SHOW or YOU JUST DIDN'T WATCH IT, DON'T READ ON. WELL, YOU CAN IF YOU WANT, BUT YOU HAD FAIR WARNING.*

BUT, last night, I saw the much anticipated two-hour Super Chef edition of "Iron Chef America." First, the always fashionable First Lady Michelle Obama opened the show and welcomed Chefs Batali, Flay, Lagasse and White House Chef Comerford, along with the dapper Alton Brown, to the First Garden. The Garden looked unbelievable; kudos to Mrs. Obama for making that a priority and such a successful venture. The chefs could use any ingredient from the garden, honey from the White House apiary and proteins and dairy sourced from within 100 miles of Kitchen Stadium.

Beyond Nigella Lawson, there were some odd judge choices: "Dr. Quinn" herself Jane Seymour and Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin. If you could look past the fact there were also two Brits on the panel, (though Nigella is a qualified judge because she has her own show on the network and is an accomplished cook) the comments made the three women were thoughtful.

The dishes, including some vegan, looked incredible, including a cream-less broccoli sauce with ginger and lemongrass poured beside a deconstructed clam chowder. In the end, Chefs Comerford and Flay were triumphant, although, from a viewers perspective, both teams did an incredible job of bringing the First Vegetables to the forefront.

Another reason why this episode was great? Food Network and the Iron Chef Chairman made a $25,000 donation to the winning team's charity of choice.

Sure, not all the food was light fare or in keeping with the overly obsessive health conscious mindset that comes with a new year. The resounding message of the show was to recognize that a food movement is well underway, one that emphasizes local, organic and a consciousness of the ever-present animal-land connection. And, more important, to recognize that food is a symbol of unity among those who grow, cook, eat and share the bounty.