Hungry for TV

On Tuesday I suggested that the best way to get through this time of no baseball was to ignore the sport and find something else to do.

And, back in November, I mentioned that my usual alternative TV viewing options had been curtailed by the end of Cutthroat Kitchen.

I’ve been getting by, however. Even with Worst Cooks in America coming off a “Celebrity Edition” (blech!) and now in the between-season gap, I’ve still got Chopped and a DVR full of Chopped Junior episodes dating back to October.

The junior edition, by the way, is more entertaining than the original show. The kids are amazing chefs, and the producers generally avoid the temptation to dumb-down the baskets (I’ve seen several episodes in which the judges seemed to have even less of an idea of how to handle the basket ingredients than the cooks). But the kids are still kids, and the potential for a culinary disaster is much higher with them than with a kitchen of adult chefs who have decades of experience.

But I’ve also got two new shows to fill gaps in my viewing schedule.

They’re both Japanese imports, so you won’t find them on TV. Nor are they available on DVD or other physical media. Not yet, anyway. But they’re both legally available in the US via Crunchyroll, a major imported streaming media venue.

If you fondly remember Iron Chef and think the American remake wasn’t nearly as good as the original, Shokugeki no Soma, known as Food Wars! in the US, might just bring back that familiar glow.

The premise is one we’ve seen more than a few times: young student faces trial after trial as he masters his profession. But the glory here is in the details. Our hero, Yukihira Soma is already an accomplished chef, having been trained by his father since he was barely old enough to hold a knife. Without telling him, his father enrolls him in the world’s most prestigious cooking school (conveniently located in his home town), a school so dedicated to producing top chefs that only ten percent of the students will graduate.
Instruction focuses heavily on head-to-head cooking competitions between students, often with specified ingredients or particular environments–one sequence, for example, requires the students to create a dish suitable for a high-end hotel’s breakfast buffet, and then cook and serve two hundred servings in a short time.

Starting to feel the Iron Chef vibe? Add in the necessary allies and antagonists, some drawn from stock, some quite unique. Toss in an over-the-top approach to costumes, a liberal dose of fan service (surprisingly, not all aimed at a “fighting” show’s typically male audience), and Yukihira’s quest to perfect a recipe that combines peanut butter and squid, and you get a joyful turn-off-the-brain twenty-five minutes per show of entertainment.

The other show I’m watching is Wakako-zake. Like Shokugeki no Soma, the show is based on a manga*. Or, more precisely, the shows are based on a manga–Wakako-zake has been produced in both a live action and animation.

* For those of you with no knowledge of Japanese media, think “comic book”. I’ll save the refinements–and arguments over the details–for another time.

Both versions are available on Crunchyroll (live action, animation) and can be watched in any order. The animated episodes run approximately two minutes long, following Murasaki Wakako, a twenty-something office worker, as she drinks and eats her way to happiness. Each show features a different dish, usually with an appropriate beverage pairing, with tips on how best to eat it.

The live action show runs a more typical twenty-three minutes. Episodes are set in real restaurants–and there’s a post-story introduction to the restaurant and its staff–and there’s also a framing story focusing on her office life that sets the mood for the showcased dishes.

Either way, the show is high-grade food porn. Don’t sweat the plot, just kick back and eat with your eyes.