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Culinarily Curious: Americans need a healthy dose of reality from their favorite chefs

Posted by Alex Pearlman  January 23, 2012 06:26 PM

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paula deen.jpgBy Anthony Howard

Last week, America's favorite southern celebrity chef, Paula Deen, confirmed rumors that she has Type 2 Diabetes. If you've watched just one of her cooking shows, her announcement shouldn't have come as a surprise; you can't put a stick of butter in everything and not suffer the consequences.

But Deen's diagnosis speaks to a bigger problem: Our society (this writer included) has become obsessed with food porn, and because cooking shows and foodie bloggers are everywhere, it's hard to break the cycle. We see T.V. chefs noshing on delights like crispy pork belly and potatoes fried in duck fat, enticing us with their "Mmmmm!"s, yet we're rarely told that eating these foods as regularly as we watch these chefs eat them is wildly unhealthy and a completely unsustainable diet.

For example, let's take a look at one of Deen's famous recipes: "Gussie's Fried Chicken with Pecan-Honey Glaze." This recipe calls for frying chicken in vegetable shortening, and the glaze contains two sticks of butter (hardly healthy). But if you think that's bad, you ain't seen nothin' yet: In his Sunday column this week, New York Times food critic Frank Bruni mentions Deen's famous hamburger recipe that uses glazed doughnuts in place of a regular burger bun. Anyone should know that a burger sandwiched between two doughnuts or a glaze that uses that much butter is totally unhealthy, but it gets harder and harder to realize the consequences of that type of eating when you listen every day to T.V. personalities, bloggers -- even friends -- preaching that fat is flavor.

I'm guilty of it, too, as any one of my Facebook friends could testify. I'm constantly bombarding their news feeds with my own brand of food porn -- chocolate cupcakes with hazelnut buttercream frosting, butter cookies filled with black raspberry jam, or scallops fried in pancetta fat. They're not the healthiest options, but I like to share pictures of my food with friends to show different techniques and a demonstrated knack for cooking, and salads usually don't make the cut for either of those requirements.

What I don't share, however, is the simple cooking I do regularly -- and actually enjoy. My dinner often consists of baked chicken, roasted vegetables, and maybe some mashed potatoes. That's about it. So how do Bobby Flay, Giada de Laurentiis, and Padma Lakshmi stay so fit? Bruni says it best: "You show me a truly skinny food editor or writer...and I'll show you someone expert at a brand of knife work that yields infinitesimal bites and an illusion of gluttony where mere grazing occurred."

True story: That bite of deliciously caloric edible bliss was just for T.V. Much like I display my fat-laden culinary creations on Facebook but often eat far more simply (and healthier), America's favorite food stars are probably snacking on granola and dried fruit after the director yells, "Cut!"

Those who work in the food industry constantly feel pressured to take things to the next level. Chefs and foodies alike are always on the hunt for the latest gastronomic trends, and they're usually not healthy ones. It's about time for the food media to wake up and recognize what their audiences actually need -- a healthy dose of reality (emphasis on healthy).

Would Paula Deen still be Paula Deen if she stopped using so much butter and instead turned to olive oil? Yes, of course she would! Her lovable southern charm doesn't melt away with the butter. And that's why she'll always be my favorite lady from Dixie.

'Culinarily Curious' is TNGG Boston's column on all things food, written by Anthony Howard.

Photo by Bristol Motor Speedway & Dragway (Flickr)

About Anthony -- I'm a 22-year-old Massachusetts native -- grew up in the 'burbs and now spend my young adult life in the city. I am passionate about cooking and currently assistant manage a restaurant kitchen in Kendall Square. Let's just say that when I invite friends over for dinner parties, no one ever turns me down.

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This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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