'A Bitchin' Kitchen' reinvents Christmas food
Ready to say, "fugetaboutit" to traditional cooking shows?
Tie on you edgiest apron and get set for "A Bitchin' Kitchen Christmas." The hour-long special premieres Sunday at 7 p.m. on Food Network Canada.
A wild mash-up of cooking and comedy, the special and the series stars Nadia Giosia, better known to her fans as Nadia G.
The 31-year-old Montreal native isn't your mother's cooking show host. Not too many TV chefs dice a tomato in three-inch cherry stilettos, or take off three rings or a pair of brass knuckles in order to whip cream.
Nadia takes her Italian heritage and cranks it past the Jersey Shore. In her candy-coloured kitchen decked out in animal print and leather, she's the Lady Gaga of guacamole, a radical Rachael Ray in spandex and tattoos.
And, yes, she can cook.
The series has been embraced by fans looking for an extra kick in the kitchen, or as Giosia observes, "We have community members who have gotten 'Bitchin' Kitchen' tattoos, so you can't really say that for any other cooking show."
Giosia is part Pee-wee Herman, part Paul Prudhomme. Yet she comes by her culinary skills in a very traditional manner.
"The biggest influence was my family because the kitchen was just such a crazy space," she says. "It's where we had our biggest laughs, our best conversations and the food was just an awesome plus."
Giosia felt that sense of fun and family was missing from traditional TV cooking shows.
"They usually present cooking in a pretty sterile kitchen and everyone's so polite, and the fact is that is not how kitchens are. Not in restaurants and not in homes."
Giosia, an only child, learned from her mother and aunt and grandmother. Not that they ever wrote any of their recipes down.
"When I asked my mother how much salt goes in the pasta water, she'd just get irritated and be like, 'You watch, you feel, you taste!'"
Eventually, Giosia got the hang of it.
"Like the old Italian saying goes, 'It ain't rocket surgery.'"
While food was her family's obsession, comedy quickly became her own. By her 20s, she went looking for ways to combine the two, or as she says, "make fun of my cake and eat it too."
When her show was first pitched to Food Network in 2007, they passed. Giosia's reaction: "We'll wait for you guys to catch up."
Thanks to a mobile phone sponsorship, the show emerged in three minute bursts of "Nadvice" on the Internet, gaining a cult audience. Cookbooks and other paraphernalia — such as guitar-shaped spatulas and brass knuckle meat pounders — started selling online.
By 2009, Food Network finally decided to take a chance. As Giosia sees it, "North America was ready for something other than a vanilla cooking show and we were providing the double dark chocolate fudge."
Part of the fun is the show's outrageous food correspondents, including Panos, "da Fish 'n' Meat Guy," whose family actually has been in the fish business for years; the Spice Agent, who, according to Giosia, "truly is a neurotic Israeli;" and Hans, a beefy, scantily-clad foodie who tests sauces out — on his chest. Says Nadia, "we couldn't be happier with our little group of misfits."
Soon Americans wanted in on the fun. "Bitchin' Kitchen" is a hit on the U.S. cable Cooking Channel and "the Nadster" has been profiled in the New York Times, the CBS Morning Show and Access Hollywood.
They'll likely dig the "Bitchin' Christmas" music video at the end of the special, featuring guest raps from Guy Fieri, Andrew Zimmern, Duff Goldman and other well known foodies. The song is available on iTunes, with proceeds going to Meals on Wheels.
The Christmas special also features a non-traditional "Feast of the Seven Fishes" with recipes from all around the world, including Fresh Scallop Ceviche (Mexican), Spicy Tom Yum with Straw Mushrooms and Bamboo Shoots (Thai) and Mussels in Meyer Lemon White Wine Sauce (French). Giosia says they are dishes she's discovered travelling and a good way to shake herself out of her Italian comfort zone.
The meal may seem radical at Christmas but the "Seven Fishes" is right out of her Catholic meatless tradition. There are provisions for roast beef at midnight, however, a "sneak in the meat" loophole she's always happy to explore.
Not that she eats much meat away from the show.
"I eat mostly vegetarian," she says. "I love meat, but I think it should be enjoyed on occasion — like cheesecake or blackouts."
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.