Well, I really don't know where to begin about "Spain — On the Road Again." Being a fan of NYT food writer Mark Bittman, I figured I'd give it a watch when it was on WTTW last night. I liked Bittman's "The Best Recipes in the World" show. In it, he would travel to exotic locales to, say, watch someone's grandma make gniocchi. And though it wasn't a straight how-to cooking show — Bittman did flash back to his kitchen to make something once in awhile — the food was always at the forefront.
"On the Road" seems to be more about the journey: an aimless, bloated, wine-sodden journey. Bittman tools around Spain in a Mercedes convertible with superchef Mario Batali, big-time starlet Gywneth Paltrow and Spanish actress Claudia Bassols, stopping at little towns to eat local delicacies and, most importantly, sample local wine.
We're never shown how to make any of the food. I could live with that (I'm not much of a cook) if I didn't have to endure Batali's obnoxious, know-it-all posturing, Paltrow's vapidity or the general decadence of the whole thing.
American foodies like Batali and Bittman are obsessed with getting back to the source of European cuisine, the gastronomic terroire — soaking in the sun, sniffing the soil, licking the rocks, etc. But this show just makes it all look like what it really is: an update of the Ugly American tourist. Only now he's got even more money, and he's pretending to be an expert on your culture. (I wouldn't feel too bad for Spain, though — one of the Top 5 Oppressor Nations in history.)
I also was a bit creeped out by the middle-aged-dudes-hitting-on-hot-young-chicks subplot. I apologized to Erika that there wasn't sufficient young man meat to feast her eyes upon. Straight women must make due with the hoggish Batali and the husk-like Bittman.
I'm sure Batali would call me a prude, more content with "America's Test Kitchen" and NA beer, but it's just really hard to watch millionaires and their buddies get drunk and eat blood sausage for an hour. For Bittman's sake, I'll check out one more episode. There's always the chance one (or all) of them will end up in a Spanish jail.