Review: ‘Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy,’ starring Diana Kennedy

June 19, 2020

by Carla Hay

Diana Kennedy in “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” (Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment)

“Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy”

Directed by Elizabeth Carroll

Culture Representation: Taking primarily place in Mexico and the United States, this documentary about celebrity chef/author Diana Kennedy (a white British woman whose specialty is Mexican cuisine) features interviews with white and Latino people representing the wealthy and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Kennedy became a leading expert in Mexican cuisine, but she’s always at some risk of being accused of cultural appropriation.

Culture Audience: “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” will appeal primarily to foodies and people who like biographies of celebrity chefs.

Diana Kennedy in “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” (Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment)

“Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” is a lot like the woman who is the subject of the documentary: matter-of-fact yet self-congratulatory and entrenched in tradition rather than experimentation. Born in 1923, British native Diana Kennedy (who participated in this film) is considered a leading expert in Mexican cuisine. This documentary that tells her life story follows the expected format of new interviews mixed with archival footage. If it weren’t for Kennedy’s sassy personality, the movie (which is the feature-film debut of director Elizabeth Carroll) would actually be pretty dull.

This is one of those laudatory celebrity documentaries where talking heads do nothing but praise the star of the movie. Celebrity chefs José Andrés, Rick Bayless, Gabriela Cámara, Pati Jinich, Alice Waters and Nick Zukin all gush about Kennedy in their separate soundbites featured the film. (Andrés and Zukin are two of the documentary’s executive producers.) The only real criticism of Kennedy actually comes from Kennedy herself, who describes herself as often being cranky, impatient and stubborn.

Cámara says about Kennedy: “I think she’s a legend. Many Mexicans are against admitting that she knows more than they do about their food.” Andrés comments, “You have to be Diana, to have the character she has, to achieve what she has achieved.”

Waters says of Kennedy’s influence on teaching Mexican cuisine: “She taught us the traditional ways and was not doing her own variation.” Bayless adds, “She’s the first person in the English-speaking world who first really mined the richness of regional Mexican cooking.”

Zukin gives this over-the-top compliment about Kennedy: “She’s a high prophet for Mexican food. Diana doesn’t care if people like her. She cares if Mexican food is evangelized … She’s going to tell you the truth.”

Jinich (the host of the PBS cooking show “Pati’s Mexican Table) has this to say: “I think Mexico as a country will be eternally indebted to her efforts.” Abigail Mendoza, a chef and native of Mexico who has been a close friend of Kennedy’s since the 1980s, “Thanks to Diana, Mexican cuisine is where it is … And she’s very Mexican in her soul and heart.”

You get the idea. Fortunately, the documentary keeps these effusive soundbites to a minimum. “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” (which is named after one of her cookbooks) is at its best when it just lets the camera roll to show Kennedy living her life. As she says in the film: “I’ve had a funny life. Let’s face it.”

Although Kennedy undoubtedly has immense talent to earn all of this praise and respect, her cookbook editor Frances McCollough asks a question that this documentary attempts to answer: “How can it be that a white British woman knows more about Mexican food than anyone else?”

It’s pretty clear from watching the film that Kennedy is certainly an expert in her field, but she also had the privilege and connections to be handed a massive platform through the media and book deals. Perhaps equally talented native Mexican chefs haven’t reached the same level of success because of racial barriers in the culinary industry. Kennedy tells her version of her life story, which is edited in between scenes of her in the present day.

Born as Diana Southwood in Loughton, England, she doesn’t really talk about her childhood in the film. Instead, the documentary skips right to her tales of joining the Women’s Timber Corps during World War II. While in the Women’s Timber Corps, she learned to plant trees and developed her lifelong passion for the environment.

After World War II, she was invited to go to Jamaica. Kennedy comments on her decision to live in the Caribbean: “I was propelled by a lot of hormones.” She says that while she was in Jamaica, she was nearly kidnapped.

And then she moved on to Haiti, where she had a fateful stay at Hotel Olafsson in 1957. She checked into the hotel on the same day as a handsome stranger named Paul P. Kennedy, an older man who was a correspondent for The New York Times in Mexico. Diana moved to Mexico to be with Paul, and she says she fell in love with him just as she fell in love with Mexico. She says in the documentary that Paul will always be the love of her life.

She eventually married Paul, whom she describes as someone who was the life of the party and a person who had a warm and humorous personality that naturally drew other people to him. In her early years of living in Mexico, Diana  developed a habit that she has continued throughout her life: She would go to village marketplaces to sample the local cuisine, find out how it was made, and ask the local merchants what kinds of food that they and their families were eating.

Diana says that most chefs who study other cultures’ cuisines don’t take the time to interview local people to find out what their families are eating. She gives herself a lot of praise in the film for taking that extra step, and she says that’s probably why she has more credibility in Mexican cuisine than other chefs of Mexican cuisine who aren’t natives of Mexico.

In her early years of living in Mexico, Diana says she didn’t have a car, so she would take a “third-class bus” (the type that lets chickens and other animals on board) to make these excursions to various marketplaces. She definitely has a car now. Some of the funniest scenes in the documentary are of Diana nimbly driving her Nissan SUV and showing mild signs of road rage, as she impatiently curses other drivers underneath her breath. Diana has a real fondness for the car, which she says has taken her through every imaginable terrain and weather.

Diana and Paul had a happy life in Mexico, and she says she was lucky that he accepted her for being “crazy.” She worked at the British Council, while he continued to work for The New York Times. Diana says, “I certainly wasn’t the traditional housewife. I never wanted children.” (Paul already had two daughters from a previous marriage. Diana’s stepdaughters are not seen or mentioned in the film.)

But then, tragedy struck when Paul was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1965. Diana and Paul moved to New York City so that he could get medical treatment. But by 1967, he was dead. The following years that Diana spent as a widow in new York City were some of the loneliest and saddest in her life, she says. Diana never remarried.

But when one door closes, another one opens. After Paul died, Craig Claiborne, who was The New York Times food editor from 1957 to 1986, set Diana on a path to become a world-renowned chef whose specialty is Mexican cuisine. Diana had always loved cooking, but she didn’t see herself as becoming a professional chef until she got the motivation and help from Claiborne.

Diana says that she once offered to get a Mexican cookbook for Claiborne, and his response was that he didn’t want a Mexican cookbook unless she wrote it herself. At the time, Diana had been giving private cooking classes in her home to privileged society women in New York. Thanks to Claiborne, The New York Times gave Diana a prominent feature article about her cooking classes. This media coverage led to other opportunities, and the rest is history.

Diana eventually moved back to Mexico, where she still teaches small, private cooking classes in her home, which is a spacious villa called Quinta Diana, in Michoacán, Mexico. The documentary includes footage of her teaching a class of a diverse group of people, ranging from experienced chefs who have multiple restaurants to a relative novice who’s only been cooking for three years.

There’s also archival footage of Diana on her TLC series “The Art of Mexican Cooking With Diana Kennedy,” which was on the air in the early 1990s. And there’s a clip of Diana as a guest on “The Martha Stewart Show,” with Diana making traditional Mexican tamales with Martha Stewart.

The documentary also shows Diana at industry events, such as when she was inducted into the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame at the 2014 James Beard Awards, or when she was a panelist at The Los Angeles Times Food Bowl in 2018. During a Food Bowl studio photo session separately and together with fellow chef Cámara, the photographer comments to Diana about how feisty Diana is. At one point during the photo session, Diana jokes, “Thank God my black panties don’t show.”

The documentary takes such a reverential approach to Diana Kennedy that it doesn’t really have her reflect on all the opportunities that came her way because of her privileged situation. Yes, she’s undoubtedly talented, and she has many fans who are native Mexican chefs. But Diana came up at a time when white people were almost exclusively given the best opportunities for chefs to reach a worldwide audience through the media and book deals.

Diana says in the documentary that perhaps her biggest influence was Mexican cookbook author Josefina Velázquez de León. However, Velázquez de León would never have been given the same glamorous opportunities for fame and fortune that were given to Diana Kennedy. A lot more people know who Diana Kennedy is rather than the Mexican chef/author who was Diana Kennedy’s biggest influence.

Nowadays, culinary audiences are more attuned to giving cultural credit where credit is due. Cultural appropriation is not as acceptable as it was before the 21st century. Although the documentary hints that some very talented native Mexican chefs might have been overshadowed by Diana Kennedy, there is no further exploration of that subject, since the filmmakers only seem concerned with portraying Diana Kennedy as the best thing that ever happened to Mexican cuisine. It’s a “fan worship” mentality that’s a little off-putting to people who expect documentaries to have a more objective approach.

One thing that the documentary captures well is Diana’s tireless work ethic, since there are many scenes in the film that make it obvious that she has no intentions of retiring. Diana says, “One is never satisfied. There is so much more I’d like to do.” She also says, “You’ve got to realize that cooking is the biggest comeuppance.”

Diana is also very outspoken about her concerns about the environment and where the world is headed. She gives this rant in the documentary: “I think it’s shocking that the more we are connected electronically, the less we are united.”

She continues: “And then, in certain parts of the world, machos come along like [Vladimir] Putin and [Donald] Trump and all the rest of it and want to change it. They don’t see the beauty of this world. We’re destroying our planet. We’re destroying our environment, and it’s such a loss for young people today.”

Diana also shares her philosophy on life. “You can’t win them all.” She adds, “How horrible it is for people to go around wanting to be loved and liked. You just go on doing what you know what you want to do. And at some point, the tide will turn and you make your mark—or you may not.”

Although Diana is extremely confident about her abilities and accomplishments, she shows some humility when she says, “I’m very honored the way so many people look at my books and appreciate what I’ve done. That’s all you can do—and cook for them.”

The cooking scenes in the documentary are fairly good, but not outstanding. What’s actually more impressive is the documentary’s cinematography of Mexico’s gorgeous landscape. Some of the aerial shots are breathtaking. (Paul Mailman and Andrei Zakow are credited as the film’s cinematographers.)

“Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” is not a bad documentary. It’s just not a very insightful or revealing film. It’s the documentary equivalent of a Wikipedia page instead of an illuminating biography.

Greenwich Entertainment released “Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on May 22, 2020. The movie’s digital/VOD release date is June 19, 2020, and the DVD release date is June 23, 2020.

Food Network announces ‘All-Star Best Thing I Ever Ate’ series of specials

June 18, 2020

Bobby Flay and Sunny Anderson (Photo courtesy of Food Network)

The following is a press release from Food Network:

Food Network’s biggest stars offer the ultimate guide for the best dishes they have ever had while also giving viewers an up close and personal look at recipes to make at home in “All-Star Best Thing I Ever Ate,” premiering Monday, July 20th at 9pm ET/PT on Food Network. Whether it is the most sensational sandwiches, best burgers, or one of a kind dishes, Food Network icons showcase the best bites they have tasted through eight one-hour special episodes, with Sunny Anderson, Valerie Bertinelli, Alton Brown, Anne Burrell, Bobby Flay and Alex Guarnaschelli also sharing some of their own personal recipes that take on each episode’s culinary theme, perfect for viewers at home.

“We are excited to bring ‘All-Star Best Thing I Ever Ate’ to the schedule, as fans get more of what they crave with firsthand recommendations for the best dishes and personal recipes from Food Network’s biggest stars,” said Courtney White, President, Food Network.

Throughout the season culinary pros give their picks for the country’s most amazing eats. Guy Fieri takes viewers on a journey to the bright lights of Las Vegas to get his favorite meaty burrito guaranteed to satisfy cravings, while Molly Yeh divulges where to find the best fried pickles in Bismarck, North Dakota, and Rachael Ray has an unbeatable breakfast sandwich in Pittsburgh. And for those who want to make the best thing they ever ate, don’t miss recipes from Food Network’s stars, including Bobby Flay’s perfect rib eye, Alton Brown showing how to make pizza on the grill, and Valerie Bertinelli’s delectable homemade churros.

Head to FoodNetwork.com/BestThingIEverAte to see where your favorite chefs like to eat and to catch up on past episodes. Follow #BestThingIEverAte on Food Network’s social channels to weigh in on your ultimate restaurants and favorite meals.

Review: ‘The Delicacy,’ starring Jim Marshall, Andrew Zimmern, Harry Liquornik, Stephanie Mutz, Ward Motyer, Haiwen Lu and Ray Isle

May 7, 2020

by Carla Hay

Harry Liquornik and Stephanie Mutz in “The Delicacy” (Photo courtesy of SOMM TV)

“The Delicacy”

Directed by Jason Wise

Culture Representation: This documentary examines the business behind the delicacy of sea urchin, with the film featuring interviews with a predominantly white cast (and some Asian representation) of sea urchin divers, chefs and journalists.

Culture Clash: “The Delicacy” addresses the controversies over fishing for sea urchins, including the environmental impact and what sea urchin divers have in response to people who are offended by their line of work.

Culture Audience: “The Delicacy” will appeal mostly to non-vegan/non-vegetarian people who are passionate about fine dining and are curious about the specifics of how sea urchin goes from the ocean to human consumption.

Sea urchin and caviar prepared at Aubergine restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California in “The Delicacy” (Photo courtesy of SOMM TV)

“The Delicacy” takes a fascinating look at the business of making sea urchin a fine-dining item. Unlike other food TV shows that focus primarily on the end results of food preparation, “The Delicacy” takes a deep dive (literally) into the entire procedure of making sea urchin available to the public, including showing how sea urchin divers work, how sea urchin goes through processing plants, and how sea urchin is prepared for meals. The heart of this 70-minute movie is with the sea urchin divers, since the documentary shows a very human side to their line of risk-taking work.

Sea urchin is eaten for its center, which is called “uni” in Japanese, and is usually eaten raw. And sea urchin is considered among the top-tier of luxury seafood. Uni Diaries blogger Haiwen Lu, who’s interviewed in the documentary, comments on sea urchin: “A lot of other delicacies out there, like foie gras or caviar or oysters, I feel like they don’t have that buzz factor like uni has.”

Celebrity chef/restaurateur Andrew Zimmern says, “My relationship with sea urchin? Profound.” And he comments on preparing sea urchin: “It’s a simple process but a rare thing.” Yoon Ha, wine director of San Francisco restaurant Benu, adds: “There’s nothing like sea urchin. It’s eaten raw. It’s sweet. it’s briny. It’s incredibly luxurious in texture. It’s a perfect luxurious food item.”

Other restaurant chefs interviewed in the film are Justin Cogley, executive chef at Aubergine in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California; Kyle Connaughton, executive chef at Single Thread in Healdsburg, California; and Aaron Koseba, chef de cuisine at Single Thread.

It would have been very easy for “The Delicacy” filmmakers to keep the movie focused on glowing commentary about sea urchin and filling the documentary with glam shots of sea urchin being prepared. The film certainly shows those fine-dining aspects of sea urchin, but director Jason Wise also includes a history of why sea urchin became a delicacy and what kinds of people fish for sea urchin today.

The history of sea urchin being a delicacy is known to date as far back as the days of the Roman Empire. Archeologists have found evidence that after the upscale vacation city of Pompeii was destroyed by Mount Vesuvius erupting in the year 79 A.D., the upper-class people who lived in Pompeii used to frequently dine on sea urchin. Because sea urchins live in deep underwater environments, they were much harder to get in the days before deep-sea diving equipment was invented.

The documentary then veers off into a brief history of abalone and how it created a “gold rush” for abalone in California, beginning in the 1950s and peaking in the 1970s and 1980s. Unfortunately, abalone (which has a very slow reproductive rate) was being “picked almost to extinction,” says Food & Wine executive wine editor Ray Isle. And that scarcity led to a crackdown on fisheries that sold abalone and the rise of aquaculture businesses that work to grow aquatic life that’s harvested for food. Andrew Kim of Monterey Abalone in California is shown in the film giving a brief tour of his business.

Abalone is brought up as an example of what could happen to the sea urchin trade if there is too much fishing of sea urchin and not enough protection of the species. The documentary points out that illegal poaching of all endangered species will be a reality, but the goal is to not let valuable animals in the food chain reach the point of near-extinction.

Sea otters are mankind’s biggest competition in eating sea urchins. Lillian Carswell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s southern sea otter recovery coordinator, notes that sea otters were at the brink of extinction for decades, because they were hunted for their fur. But due to a fluke in nature, a part of the reef near Big Sur in California made it difficult for boats to dock there, so a small group of sea otter that lived there began to multiply and thrive. Generations of sea otter still live there today.

It’s in California, off the coast of Santa Barbara, that the documentary takes another turn, with an up-close look at some modern-day sea urchin divers. The movie focuses primarily on four of these rough-and-tumble group of adventurers: Jim Marshall, who is considered the respected elder; Harry Liquornik, an extrovert who considers Jim to be a like a mentor/father figure; Harry Liquornik, who is quiet and reserved; and Stephanie Mutz, who says she’s the only woman who’s a professional sea-urchin diver in California.

This quartet of sea urchin divers all know each other and have worked together at one time or another. Jim and Harry have a long history together, and they jokingly tease each other, with Jim saying that Harry is “cocky,” while Harry says that Jim is “grumpy.” Mutz considers Liquornik to be her mentor, and they work closely together.

Diving for sea urchin is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. There’s a constant threat of being injured in various ways, and being killed by a shark is also a very real possibility. (And true to his sense of humor, Liquornik jokes that as he gets older, it’s harder for him to fit into a wetsuit.) Sea urchin diver Billy Eggers is also interviewed, but the other four divers get most of the screen time in the segments that feature the divers.

Although the job can pay well (top divers have the potential to earn six-figure incomes), there are also huge risks involved in the work, such as the aforementioned on-the-job injuries and shark attacks, as well as bad weather and the unpredictability of when business might be slow. The divers also have to develop a keen knowledge of where to dive for sea urchin, because the quality of sea urchin depends on how much kelp that the sea urchins eat. The more kelp that a sea urchin can eat, the higher the quality of the sea urchin.

And for people who think that fishing for sea urchin will destroy the food chain, Marshall’s response is that letting sea urchin overpopulate the ocean would actually damage the food chain, since “too many sea urchins … would wipe out the kept forest.” Kelp is essential for ocean life, so the divers say that there needs to be a balance in not destroying a species but also not letting a species overpopulate the ocean.

One of the best aspects of “The Delicacy” is the cinematography from Jackson Myers and the underwater photography by director Wise. Regardless of how someone might feel about the ethics of eating animals, most people would agree with how life in the deep ocean can be stunning and awe-inspiring. Some of the underwater scenes in “The Delicacy” are absolutely gorgeous.

Full disclosure: “The Delicacy” director Wise (who is a producer, co-editor and co-writer of the film) is also the founder of SOMM TV, a subscription video-on-demand service for enthusiasts of food, wine and travel. “The Delicacy” can be viewed exclusively on SOMM TV, which was launched in 2019 by several of the filmmakers of the “Somm” documentary series. If “The Delicacy” is any indication of SOMM TV’s original documentaries, then SOMM TV is a good alternative to other food-centric networks that have programming appealing mostly to casual-dining audiences. “The Delicacy” is the kind of documentary that fine-dining foodies deserve.

The movie ends with sobering reminder of the human cost of diving for sea urchins. Throughout the movie’s segments on the sea urchin divers, there is archival footage of California diver Jim “Wiener” Robinson. He died of a shark attack in 1994, at the age of 42. Marshall, Liquornik and Motyer all give emotional testimonials about Robinson and how his death affected them.

Not everyone agrees with the idea that humans can kill animals for food. Mutz has this response to people who are opposed to her line of work: “I might go to urchin hell, but I’m okay with that. I don’t have any remorse.” Regardless of how people feel about animal rights or eating animal-based food, Marshall sums it up this way: “Fishing will always be around as long as people have to eat.”

SOMM TV premiered “The Delicacy” on May 7, 2020.

 

 

OpenTable waives fees and updates features to help restaurants prepare for re-openings after COVID-19

May 1, 2020

The following is a press release from OpenTable:

As restaurants look to reopen, the needs of each will change as government restrictions and safety recommendations evolve. Restaurants that have never taken reservations may find themselves looking for ways to adjust floor plans to allow more space between tables and manage capacity. To help restaurants reopen and adhere to these new norms, OpenTable is rolling out two new initiatives: an enhanced restaurant management platform and price cuts for 2020.

OpenTable’s technology has always enabled restaurants to connect with diners to manage reservations, prepare for shifts, and maximize table availability, but enhancements to the platform will provide added support for restaurants so they can adhere to social distancing guidelines while providing updated health and safety information to diners for when it is safe to eat out again.

These advanced features are now paired with discounted pricing to reduce the reopening costs of our customers and to encourage new restaurants to join OpenTable. Beginning in May, restaurants that sign up for our “Open Door” pricing program will enjoy: no OpenTable subscription fees through the end of 2020, no cover fees through September 30, 2020 and a 50% discount on cover fees through 2020. OpenTable’s standard subscription and cover pricing will resume only in January 2021.

“Restaurants need help to reopen quickly, safely, and successfully as local restrictions lift.  We’re doing our part to help them by waiving fees and updating features with the post-COVID-19 dining experience in mind,” said Andrea Johnston, COO, OpenTable.

Restaurants interested in the Open Door Program can receive follow-up information and first-access to participate here. Over the past few weeks, OpenTable has rolled out a number of efforts to support the restaurant industry from releasing data on the staggering decline in seated diners, to launching OpenTable for groceries to help manage overcrowding and long lines, to hosting weekly webinar series providing expert support for restaurants during this time. For a summary of all the efforts that OpenTable has done to support restaurants during this time, please visit https://restaurant.opentable.com/news/.

About OpenTable
OpenTable, part of Booking Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ: BKNG), is the world’s leading provider of online restaurant reservations, with nearly 60,000 restaurants globally using its software to seat over 134 million diners monthly. OpenTable helps diners discover and book the perfect table and helps restaurants deliver personalized hospitality to keep guests coming back.

Coronavirus pandemic devastates the restaurant industry

March 16, 2020

by Katy Kitsch

The coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) pandemic is having devastating effects on the restaurant industry worldwide, as more countries are now ordering that restaurants be shut down until further notice. France, Italy and China are among the countries that have had these widespread restaurant closures. And now, the United States will be affected by similar mandates which, for now, are being handled by individual cities.

New York City, the capital of the restaurant industry in North America, has ordered the closure of all restaurants and other dining establishments (such as bars, nightclubs and theaters) that do not have take-out or delivery services, as of March 17, 2020, until further notice. This mandate will hit luxury dining especially hard, since top-tier fine-dining restaurants do not do take-out or delivery for customers.

Catering is a separate service, since it’s for groups of people. However, since most places in the United States and other countries have now banned until further notice any gatherings of more than 50 people per gathering (for gatherings taking place in March 2020), any catering services offered by restaurants have also been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Most restaurants are small businesses that can’t afford to pay employees during the shutdown. Many of these restaurants won’t be able to survive because of the shutdown. The impact is wide-reaching and will be felt for a long time to come.

Several cuisine-related events are expected to be cancelled or postponed this year, if they were scheduled taking place over the next several months. Major food events in the U.S. that will be affected in 2020 include the James Beard Awards, The Los Angeles Times Food Bowl and Vegas Uncork’d, which are each usually held every May.

In addition, Restaurant Weeks in several U.S. cities have now been cancelled or postponed. They include:

Arizona Restaurant Week, which was scheduled for May 15 to May 24, 2020.

Buffalo, New York/ Western New York  Local Restaurant Week, which was scheduled for March 30 to April 5, 2020.

Cincinnati Downtown Restaurant Week, which was scheduled for April 2 to April 26, 2020.

Exeter, New Hampshire Restaurant Week(Eat Local), which was scheduled for March 19 to March 29, 2020.

Hamptons East End Restaurant Week (in New York state), which was scheduled for March 29 to April 5, 2020.

Hudson Valley, New York Restaurant Week, which was scheduled for March 16 to March 29, 2020.

Ocean City, Maryland Restaurant Week, which was scheduled for April 29 to May 3, 2020.

Palm Springs,  California Restaurant Week, which was scheduled for May 29 to June 7, 2020.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire Restaurant Week, which was scheduled for April 16 to April 25, 2020.

This article will be updated with breaking news that affects the restaurant industry.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration coronavirus statement on food inspections

March 10, 2020

The following is a press release from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

This statement is attributed to: FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D.

Today, we are providing an update on the status of U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspections outside of the U.S. in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. After careful consideration, the FDA is postponing most foreign inspections through April, effective immediately. Inspections outside the U.S. deemed mission-critical will still be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The FDA based this decision on a number of factors, including State Department Level 4 travel advisories in which travel is prohibited for U.S. government employees, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention travel recommendations, access restrictions being imposed on foreign visitors by certain countries, guidance from the Office of Personnel Management and the importance of the health and safety of our employees. Another critical factor in taking this action is the confidence we have in our ability to maintain oversight over international manufacturers and imported products using alternative tools and methods.

We are aware of how this action may impact other FDA responsibilities, including product application reviews.  We will be vigilant and monitor the situation very closely and will try to mitigate potential impacts from this outbreak in lockstep with the whole of the federal government. We stand ready to resume foreign inspections as soon as feasible.

When we are temporarily not able to physically inspect foreign produced FDA-regulated products or manufacturers, as an interim measure we employ additional tools to ensure the safety of products imported to the U.S., which have proved effective in the past. These include denying entry of unsafe products into the U.S., physical examinations and/or product sampling at our borders, reviewing a firm’s previous compliance history, using information sharing from foreign governments as part of mutual recognition and confidentiality agreements and requesting records “in advance of or in lieu of” on-site drug inspections. For example, we began exercising this authority when we postponed on-the-ground inspections of manufacturers of FDA-regulated products in China earlier in the outbreak. This is all part of the FDA’s multi-pronged and risk-based approach to ensuring quality, as well as compliance, with applicable federal laws and regulations.

The FDA will continue working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to target products intended for importation into the U.S. that violate applicable legal requirements for FDA-regulated products, which may come from a variety of sources, such as first-time importers unfamiliar with regulatory requirements or repeat offenders trying to skirt the law. The FDA has the ability through our risk-based import screening tool (PREDICT) to focus our examinations and sample collections based on heightened concerns of specific products being entered into U.S. commerce. The PREDICT screening continues to adjust risk scores as necessary throughout the COVID-19 outbreak.  We are keeping a close eye out for indications of port shopping or cargo diversion and will continue our oversight of shipments through potentially higher-risk venues such as International Mail Facilities. We can refuse admission of products that fail sample testing or may violate other applicable legal requirements.

Americans can rest assured the FDA is diligently monitoring this outbreak and the impact to our operations. Our leadership team meets daily to talk about the myriad of urgent issues facing us as we actively facilitate efforts to diagnose, treat and prevent the disease; survey the medical product supply chain for potential shortages or disruptions and help to mitigate such impacts, as necessary; and leverage the full breadth of our public health tools, including enforcement tools to stop fraudulent COVID-19 activity.

As this remains a dynamic situation, we will continue to assess and calibrate our approach as needed to help advance federal response efforts in the fight against this outbreak.

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The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

Food Network debuts ‘Tournament of Champions,’ hosted by Guy Fieri

January 23, 2020

Guy Fieri (Photo courtesy of Food Network)

The following is a press release from Food Network:

It’s madness on Food Network this March as Guy Fieri hosts and executive produces an all new culinary competition where 16 of the nation’s most celebrated chefs face-off on “Tournament of Champions,” premiering on Wednesday, March 4, 2020, at 10pm with a supersized 90-minute episode stuffed with edge-of-your-seat action. During the five-part tournament, the chefs’ skills will be pushed to the limit, as they go head-to-head in a single elimination bracket-style competition, where a randomizer machine determines the protein, produce, equipment, cooking style, and time for each of the cook-offs. The pressure is on and emotions are high throughout this unpredictable tournament, as the elite chefs enter this blind competition not knowing who their opponents will be, or what cooking challenges they will face. The intensity increases in each sudden-death each round of the tournament as the coveted spots decrease from 16 to eight in the second round, then to four, until there are only two chefs in the final round.

This past October, Guy issued a call to action on social media for fans to nominate their favorite chefs they thought deserved to earn a coveted challenger spot for an East Coast vs. West Coast tournament, and the fans responded. The final chefs representing the East Coast are: Maneet Chauhan, Rocco DiSpirito, Alex Guarnaschelli, Elizabeth Falkner, Darnell Ferguson, Amanda Freitag, Marc Murphy and Christian Petroni. The chefs showing off their chops from the West Coast are: Richard Blais, Eric Greenspan, Antonia Lofaso, Beau Macmillan, Jet Tila, Marcel Vigneron, Michael Voltaggio, and Brooke Williamson. Today, the seeds and first-round brackets of the tournament will be unveiled on Food Network’s Twitter page. Beginning on February 14th, for the first time ever, viewers will be able to build their own bracket for a chance to track their scores as the competition unfolds, unlock exclusive content, and win prizes throughout the season.

“‘Tournament of Champions’ showcases cooking as a sport with difficult sudden-death challenges and unexpected match ups as each round is determined by the course of the competition,” said Courtney White, President, Food Network. “Our cameras rolled on all the action, from the competition floor to back stage and behind the scenes, capturing the tension, deliberation, elation and frustration as bracket victors moved on while others faced elimination.”

“The NFL has the Super Bowl, MLB has the World Series, NBA has The Finals. And now Food Network has ‘Tournament of Champions’ – the ultimate culinary championship to establish once and for all, who rules America’s kitchen,” said Guy Fieri.

It’s a high stakes competition unlike any before. Simon Majumdar and Justin Warner deliver real time play-by-play as all the action unfolds in front of a live audience and continues backstage while the competitors mull over their work while listening in on the judges’ deliberation. Deciding who advances in each round is a rotating panel of expert judges including, Michelle Bernstein, Traci Des Jardin, Marcus Samuelsson, Nancy Silverton, Curtis Stone, Ming Tsai, and Jonathan Waxman. Unexpected challenges, major upsets and surprises fill this tournament, which concludes with an extended 90-minute episode on Wednesday, April 1st at 10pm. Only one chef will emerge as the champion!

Fans can head to www.FoodNetwork.com/TournamentOfChampions for videos with Guy, taste test challenges with the judges and food games with competitors, as well as exclusive Q&As. From February 14 – March 1, viewers can head to Food Network’s Twitter to complete their own bracket for the chance to win unique prizes, and use #TournamentOfChampions to track the action week-to-week.

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FOOD NETWORK (www.foodnetwork.com) is a unique lifestyle network, website and magazine that connects viewers to the power and joy of food. The network strives to be viewers’ best friend in food and is committed to leading by teaching, inspiring, empowering and entertaining through its talent and expertise. Food Network is distributed to nearly 100 million U.S. households and draws over 46 million unique web users monthly. Since launching in 2009, Food Network Magazine’s rate base has grown 13 times and is the No. 2 best-selling monthly magazine on the newsstand, with 13.5 million readers. Food Network is owned by Discovery, Inc., a global leader in real life entertainment spanning 220 countries and territories; the portfolio also includes Discovery Channel, HGTV, TLC, Investigation Discovery, and OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.

Food Network reboots ‘Food Network Challenge’ with host Ian Ziering

November 18, 2019

Ian Ziering (Photo courtesy of Food Network)

The following is a press release from Food Network:

Fan-favorite competition series “Food Network Challenge” is back and better than ever with new host Ian Ziering and a fresh roster of the country’s top cake makers, bakers and sugar artists going head-to-head in pop culture-themed battles to create mind-blowing works of delicious art.  The six-episode season kicks off on Monday, December 23 at 10pm ET/PT with a celebration of the beloved holiday classic “A Christmas Story,” complete with over-the-top edible recreations of the iconic film’s most memorable moments. Upcoming episode themes include “Back to the Future,” “Pokémon,” “Monopoly” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

“Every ‘Food Network Challenge’ contestant has risen to the top of the competitive baking world by winning multiple awards, so these expert bakers are extremely competitive,“ said Courtney White, President, Food Network. ”The culinary action combined with pop culture nostalgia and host Ian Ziering’s charm make for a fun and compelling show for the whole family.”

In the season premiere, four top-notch cake artists compete in a celebration of one of the most beloved holiday films of all time: “A Christmas Story.”  From edible pink bunny suits and leg lamps to a visit from Scott Schwartz, who played Flick, there are tons of “oh fudge” moments in this wild ride.  Judges Matt Allard, Keegan Gerhard and Claudia Sandoval determine who wins $10,000 for their Christmas stocking, along with the title “Food Network Challenge” champion.

Viewers can learn more about Ian Ziering, meet the contestants and follow the competition at FoodNetwork.com/FNChallenge. Plus, follow on social channels using # FNChallenge for an exclusive Q&A with Ian and to see top moments from the competition.

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Food Network (www.foodnetwork.com) is a unique lifestyle network, website and magazine that connects viewers to the power and joy of food. The network strives to be viewers’ best friend in food and is committed to leading by teaching, inspiring, empowering and entertaining through its talent and expertise. Food Network is distributed to nearly 100 million U.S. households and draws over 46 million unique web users monthly. Since launching in 2009, Food Network Magazine’s rate base has grown 13 times and is the No. 2 best-selling monthly magazine on the newsstand, with 13.5 million readers. Food Network is owned by Discovery, Inc., a global leader in real life entertainment spanning 220 countries and territories; the portfolio also includes Discovery Channel, HGTV, TLC, Investigation Discovery, and OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.

2019 DOC NYC movie review: ‘Vas-y Coupe!’

November 18, 2019

by Carla Hay

Jacques Selosse employees in "Vas-y Coupe!"
Jacques Selosse employees in “Vas-y Coupe!” (Photo courtesy of By the By Productions)

“Vas-y Coupe!”

Directed by Laura Naylor

French with subtitles

World premiere at DOC NYC in New York City on November 9, 2019.

If you’ve ever wondered about some of the people behind the making of French champagne, you’ll get a look in “Vas-y Coupe!,” a candid but slow-paced peek into the crucial harvesting process. “Vas-y Coupe!” translates to “Go ahead, cut!” in English. This movie focuses on Jacques Selosse, a family-run vineyard in France’s Champagne region and what happens during harvest season. The documentary was inspired by director Laura Naylor’s real-life experiences harvesting grapes at the vineyard in 2016, about a year after she first discovered the vineyard through a sommelier friend.

Founded in the 1950s, Jacques Selosse is located in the small village of Avize, and much of the culture in the movie feels like a 1950s time warp. The roles of the men and women are, for the most part, sharply segregated by gender. Although there are a few harvesters who are female (and they’re briefly spotted on camera), the male harvesters and their male supervisors get most of the focus in this documentary. The women in the film are primarily shown in the kitchen and fulfilling the roles of cooks, food servers and maids. The women are preoccupied with preparing meals and trying on beauty products, while the men do the dirty work of picking and distilling the grapes. Even with the Selosse family that owns the vineyard, the men in the family are the ones who get to taste and evaluate the company’s product made from the harvested grapes.

In addition to the gender lines that are clearly defined, there are also class lines that are almost never crossed. The laborers know their place as servants, and there’s sometimes tension with the vineyard owners/supervisors over wage issues. The rough-and-tumble nature of this working-class crew sometimes leads to them clashing with each other, as minor squabbles are captured on camera. But if you’re looking for shocking, dramatic moments, you won’t find them here in this mostly quiet film. To its credit, what’s shown in this movie doesn’t look staged, like a reality show.

But to its detriment, the movie suffers from editing that shows too much repetition of mundane tasks. It’s not necessary for viewers to keep seeing similar scenes of the women in the kitchen discussing the meals they’re preparing, followed by scenes of the women serving the meals to the laborers gathered in the dining room area. In order for a documentary like this to stand out, there has to be at least one big, riveting personality to keep viewers interested, but the people in this movie are just too average to make this a compelling story. And unfortunately, the movie gets bogged down in so much “slice of life” footage that the end result is a documentary that is duller than it should be.

Thanksgiving 2019: Food Network and Cooking Channel programs

September 30, 2019

Food Network stars Sunny Anderson, Alex Guarnaschelli, Bobby Flay, Michael Symon and Katie Lee (Photo courtesy of Food Network)

The following is a press release from Food Network and Cooking Channel:

Food Network and Cooking Channel are preparing for food’s biggest holiday with a full slate of Thanksgiving-themed programming, including a live on-air event and first-ever, interactive Thanksgiving streaming event on the NEW Food Network Kitchen app, marking a 40% increase in Thanksgiving content compared to 2018. The November primetime lineup on Food Network includes: “Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge,” a four-episode competition hosted by Giada De Laurentiis premiering Sunday, November 3rd at 9pm ET/PT; “Worst Cooks in America: Thanksgiving Redemption” with Anne Burrell and Scott Conant on Sunday, November 10th at 10pm ET/PT; brand-new special “Thanksgiving Pie Fight” hosted by Sunny Anderson on Thursday, November 14th at 9pm ET/PT; a turkey-focused “Good Eats” one-hour special with Alton Brown on Sunday, November 17th at 8pm ET/PT and “Macy’s Thanksgiving Cake Spectacular” with Maureen McCormick on Sunday, November 17th at 10pm ET/PT.

On Friday, November 22nd at 9pm ET/6pm PT, Guy Fieri will host the first-ever, fully interactive LIVE Thanksgiving streaming event, “Guy’s Thanksgiving Hotline,” on the Food Network Kitchen app, sharing recipes, tips and guidance for the biggest holiday of the year, and giving fans the chance to have their questions answered in real-time. In daytime, Food Network goes live on air on Saturday, November 23rd at 11am ET with special two-hour interactive event “The Kitchen: Thanksgiving Live” with “The Kitchen” co-hosts Sunny Anderson, Alex Guarnaschelli, Katie Lee, Jeff Mauro and Geoffrey Zakarian, joined by Alton Brown. Immediately following “The Kitchen: Thanksgiving Live,” fans can join the hosts on the Food Network Kitchen app as they each go live sharing more great ideas on how to make this year’s Thanksgiving the best it can be. On Cooking Channel, host Carla Hall discovers outrageous Turkey Day treats in primetime special “Thanksgiving Grubdown” on Monday, November 11th at 9pm ET/6pm PT.

“Food Network and Cooking Channel have Thanksgiving covered from every angle and this year we have packed the schedule, adding dynamic live and interactive content to really give viewers the experience, access and information they crave,” said Courtney White, President, Food Network and Cooking Channel. “From expert Thanksgiving feast recipes and family entertaining tips to edge-of-your-seat holiday themed competitions, spectacles, and live stunts, our programming and platforms are the ultimate destination leading up to the big day.”

The season kicks off on Sunday, November 3rd at 9pm ET/PT on Food Network with “Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge,” where six chefs face off to create the ultimate Thanksgiving dishes. Host Giada De Laurentiis puts the creative competitors to the test, challenging them to prepare the most delicious and innovative turkeys, side dishes and desserts to ever hit a dining table. Judges Alex Guarnaschelli, Carla Hall and Christian Petroni choose the $25,000 winner in the finale on Sunday, November 24th at 9pm ET/PT. Join the conversation on social using #UltimateThanksgivingChallenge.

On Sunday, November 10th at 10pm ET/PT, four beloved former “Worst Cooks” recruits return to boot camp in Worst Cooks in America: Thanksgiving Redemption. Chefs Anne Burrell and Scott Conant teach the much-improved recruits how to make a Thanksgiving meal to impress judges Jonathan Waxman, Esther Choi and Cliff Crooks – and only the winning team wins kitchen appliances worth $10,000. Follow #WorstCooks on social media for more of the very best of the worst.

Four top pie bakers compete to create the most outrageously visual and edible pies in the brand-new special “Thanksgiving Pie Fight,” premiering Thursday, November 14th at 9pm ET/PT. Hosted by Sunny Anderson, the bakers must utilize height-defying techniques, intricate designs, dyed doughs and more to blow away judges Nacho Aguirre, Jessica Clark-Bojin and Scott Conant. With a $10,000 prize at stake, the self-taught and professional bakers will stop at nothing to make the most elaborate pies. Follow the fight on social media using #ThanksgivingPieFight.

Alton Brown talks turkey in “Good Eats: Thanksgiving Special,” a one-hour show dedicated to the bird on Sunday, November 17th at 8pm ET/PT. Turkey may be the most versatile of the “New World” critters, but for some crazy reason we only roast it for the holidays, so Alton puts an end to that with three turkey recipes that should be made year-round. Follow #GoodEatsTheReturn to get Alton’s turkey tips and more.

In “Macy’s Thanksgiving Cake Spectacular,” hosted by Maureen McCormick, four of the country’s best bakers come together to design sweet masterpieces that pay tribute to the beloved Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons and floats. Airing on Sunday, November 17th at 10pm ET/PT, only the most successful cake artist will take home the grand prize of $10,000 and have their work featured in Macy’s flagship New York City store, plus receive tickets to the parade. Judges are Buddy Valastro, Susan Tercero and last season’s winner Timbo Sullivan. Join the conversation anytime using #ThanksgivingCakeSpectacular.

On Friday, November 22nd at 9pm ET/6pm PT, Guy Fieri will host the first-ever, fully interactive live Thanksgiving streaming event, “Guy’s Thanksgiving Hotline,” on the Food Network Kitchen app, sharing recipes, tips and guidance for the biggest holiday of the year, and giving fans the chance to have their questions answered in real-time.

In daytime on Saturday, November 23rd at 11am ET, the special event “The Kitchen: Thanksgiving Live” helps viewers successfully pull off the biggest culinary holiday of the year with interactive tips and recipes from Food Network stars themselves. In the two-hour live show, The Kitchen co-hosts Sunny Anderson, Alex Guarnaschelli, Katie Lee, Jeff Mauro and Geoffrey Zakarian are joined by Alton Brown to offer their own takes on classic Thanksgiving dishes to make an amazing holiday feast. Immediately following “The Kitchen: Thanksgiving Live,” the hosts will each go live on the Food Network Kitchen app giving viewers even more Thanksgiving 911 to help make their holidays the best they can be. Follow #TheKitchen #ThanksgivingLive for all the culinary action.

Thanksgiving-themed premiere episodes of fan-favorite series, including “Barefoot Contessa: Cook Like a Pro,” “Beat Bobby Flay,” “Chopped,” “Chopped Junior,” “Girl Meets Farm,” “Guy’s Grocery Games,” “Guy’s Ranch Kitchen,” “The Pioneer Woman,” “Trisha’s Southern Kitchen,” “Triple D Nation” and “Valerie’s Home Cooking,” will also air in November.

On Cooking Channel, host Carla Hall discovers outrageous Turkey Day treats in the primetime special “Thanksgiving Grubdown” on Monday, November 11th at 9pm ET/6pm PT. She gobbles ’til she wobbles on pumpkin pancakes piled high with a slice of cheesecake, reimagines Thanksgiving dinner as a giant sandwich and devours a 23-pound cake made with layers of holiday pies. Follow along on social using #ThanksgivingGrubdown.

For even more inspiration, fans will be able to use the Food Network Kitchen app to access 25 LIVE cooking classes each week, over 800 on-demand cooking classes, 3,000 instructional videos, 80,000 recipes, and more. Plus, beginning November 9th viewers can stream all-new episodes of “30 Minute Meals with Rachael Ray” on Food Network Kitchen.

On digital and social, Food Network’s “Countdown to Thanksgiving” begins November 1st with brand-new content every day across platforms. Fans will get the best-of-the-best recipes and tips, expert demos, product recommendations, interactive Q&As throughout the month, plus the chance to win BIG with social giveaways. Fans will also have an exciting opportunity to have a direct line to experts in Food Network Kitchen to solve their biggest Turkey Day conundrums to make sure their feast is a success. Join the countdown on social media using #CountdowntoThanksgiving.

Visit Cooking Channel’s one-stop guide to Thanksgiving online, featuring everything needed to host the perfect holiday feast. From easy entertaining timesavers and a cornucopia of side dishes to the all-important turkey and something sweet for dessert, Cooking Channel has recipes, how-to videos and step-by-step tutorials to set users up for delicious success.
FOOD NETWORK (www.foodnetwork.com) is a unique lifestyle network, website and magazine that connects viewers to the power and joy of food. The network strives to be viewers’ best friend in food and is committed to leading by teaching, inspiring, empowering and entertaining through its talent and expertise. Food Network is distributed to nearly 100 million U.S. households and draws over 46 million unique web users monthly. Since launching in 2009, Food Network Magazine’s rate base has grown 13 times and is the No. 2 best-selling monthly magazine on the newsstand, with 13.5 million readers. Food Network is owned by Discovery, Inc., a global leader in real life entertainment spanning 220 countries and territories; the portfolio also includes Discovery Channel, HGTV, TLC, Investigation Discovery, and OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.

COOKING CHANNEL (www.cookingchanneltv.com) is an entertainment brand dedicated to today’s passionate food lover. For food people, by food people, Cooking Channel is the answer to a growing hunger for more content devoted to food and cooking in every dimension from global cuisines to international travel, history and unconventional how-to’s. Cooking Channel is owned by Discovery, Inc., a global leader in real life entertainment spanning 220 countries and territories; the portfolio also includes Discovery Channel, HGTV, TLC, Investigation Discovery, and OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.