Food TV Watch: Too Many Cooks on 'The Chew'?

Today, ABC premiered its new food-centric daytime talk show The Chew. Starring Clinton Kelly of What Not to Wear, Daphne Oz (daughter of Dr. Oz) and chefs Mario Batali, Michael Symon and Carla Hall, the hour-long show is a fast-paced mix of recipes and cooking tips with a bit of nutrition and entertaining advice sprinkled in. And what seemed like a lot of commercials.

I wanted to like The Chew but came away feeling confused. Is this show for foodies? If so, they probably don’t need Michael Symon to tell them what a microplane is. Is it for the health- or weight-conscious? Daphne Oz whipped up a fruit smoothie with a confusing array of vitamin supplements that supposedly helped her lose 30 pounds. But she didn’t explain how exactly it helped her lose all that weight – did she stop eating McMuffins for breakfast or switch to an all-smoothie diet? Clinton Kelly, the style guru, made appetizer versions of main course dishes (BLTs, pork chops with applesauce) but the food was presented clumsily on boring white dishes. (Note to the producers: hire a better food stylist.)

For me, Carla Hall was the highlight of the show. She dipped apple slices in pancake batter, making “hot fruit,” a clever take on pancakes that seemed easy, fun and seasonal. (Although, when searching for the recipe on The Chew's website, it didn't seem to be listed – or at least not in an obvious place.) Hall seemed most comfortable in front of the camera, goofing around with the other hosts and asking questions when appropriate.

Strangest of all, Mario Batali, the biggest name on the show, wasn’t actually present in the studio. He was bizarrely patched in via satellite from a New Jersey golf course where he made a basic-looking margherita pizza. The pizzas were then magically transported to the studio audience on little paper plates.

Pardon the pun, but The Chew suffers from too many cooks in the kitchen. (Even if one is via satellite.) As each host presented his or her segment, the rest stood around making comments or asking questions. This was probably designed to create a lively, casual feel, like friends hanging out in a kitchen together, but the cast didn’t have the chemistry to pull it off. And the constant loud applause from the audience added to the awkward, infomercial-like feel.

With time, hopefully The Chew will find its footing and figure out its audience. My advice? Smarter tips and more interesting and seasonal recipes. And get Batali into that studio.

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