Easy Cheesy Pizza Teasies

Lately, something that’s very high up on the list of Things I Utterly Despise is the newest Olive Garden commercial. You know the one. The husband and wife are telling their Olive Garden waitress (who, in real life, would not give two shits about why you’re there or even what you want to order) that they’re at Olive Garden tonight because they’re “treating” themselves.

Wait… what? Treating yourselves? At Olive Garden?

You could have sat at home and microwaved a can of Campbell’s minestrone soup and cooked a box of Hamburger Helper and accomplished the exact same thing, minus the tacky decor. Then again, if you’re “treating” yourselves by going to Olive Garden, then I imagine that the plastic ferns and faux Venetian plaster probably are your idea of haute interior design.

Or maybe you live in Waco, where I suffered for four years in the pursuit of higher education. In that case, Olive Garden and Red Lobster were — seriously, far and away — the nicest restaurants in town.  They were also ideally situated in the parking lot of the only mall in town.  And I believe they might have been the only restaurants in Waco to give you cloth napkins.  In that case, your choices for a pleasant night out involved either cheese biscuits at the Red Lobster or driving two hours to Austin.

And if that’s the case, then run this abomination of a commercial in places like Waco or Abilene or Lufkin.   That crap does not belong on the air in Houston, or any other major city.  Because we hate it, and hate you even more by association, Olive Garden.

I think MadTV summed it up best:

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George Jetson Would Approve

Update (sort of):  I stumbled across this article on Serious Eats where the magic of technology has made it possible to make your own milkshake at gas stations across the country.  Yum?  That remains to be seen…

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Good service is harder and harder to find these days, in restaurants and in any other industry that relies strongly upon human capital. With that in mind, how would you feel about eliminating waitstaff altogether in favor of a touch-screen ordering system built in to your table? The technology certainly isn’t new, but this application of it is:

Ever find yourself unable to get the attention of a waiter? It can be frustrating. But soon that may be a problem of the past thanks to new tableside touch screens.

“It’s cooler placing your own order on the computer than having a waitress come up and do it,” restaurant customer Amanda Rosengarten told CBS 2 HD.

That’s because the order goes directly from your fingertips to the kitchen or bar, eliminating the possibility of human error during the transaction process. The new technology is being used at uWink, the latest offering from the founder of Chuck E. Cheese. The company said the new system is providing faster service, fewer mistakes and fewer interruptions.

“Whenever you want … that extra glass of wine or a dessert … bingo, it happens right away,” said Nolan Bushnell of uWink.

“It seems a lot more immediate. If I happen to change my mind or need an additional dish, I can order it right away even if the server is busy doing something else,” patron Julie Lightner said.

I once went to a sushi joint in Seattle whose schtick was that the sushi, sashimi, tempura, etc. was circulated throughout the restaurant via giant conveyor belts. When something passed by you that caught your fancy, you simply snagged it off the belt. The cost was determined by the color of the plates, and your tab was settled by adding your colored plates together at the end of the meal.

It effectively eliminated the need for a waiter or waitress, except for drink orders and paying your tab. That said, however, I was definitely squicked out by the possibility that someone could have fingered the food, contemplatively, and then put it back on the conveyor belt for someone else to pick up. Also, it seemed that the tables sitting towards the beginning of the conveyor belt kept snatching up all the good stuff and the people towards the end were left with plate after plate of California rolls and tamago.

But back to the item at hand…

I don’t necessarily see in-table touch-screen ordering taking the place of traditional service any time soon. I see it as more of a novelty item. Just because it eliminates human error between your order and the kitchen, it doesn’t mean that human error in the kitchen or a computer error in the system won’t still cause your order to be incorrect. And I can’t see an entire working class of employees so easily eliminated, especially since it’s one of the few industries that someone with limited education and skills can enter and make a living (not a huge living, but a living nonetheless). Also, just a thought, but how dirty would those little screens get after only a four-tops’ worth of diners? I’d want those puppies bleached down thoroughly after every table is finished…

What do you think? Do you see its future as novelty item at McDonald’s across the nation? Or do you have bigger expectations for this technology?

One Scoop Or Two?

And while we’re on the topic of beverages, the coffee snobs have come crawling out of the internet woodwork over at FARK today after someone made the mistake of innocuously asking, “How many scoops of coffee do you put in the filter basket? The directions on mine say to put a scoop per cup. That seems like a lot of freaking coffee.

They’re up to 272 replies in less than two hours. That’s roughly 2.6 replies per minute. I guess the good folks over at FARK take their coffee pretty seriously.

On the upside, there have been some very entertaining posts scattered among the trolls (“I have the servants force feed coffee beans to a Indonesian civet cat- who, in turn, relieves itself over the expresso machine.”) and coffee nuts (“I use 25g per 500ml of water in my French Press.” and “Seriously, if this is too difficult for you maybe teabags are the way to go.”), such as this expertly-drawn diagram:

caffeinegraph.jpg

And this classic Terry Tate: Office Linebacker commercial:

“You kill the joe, you make some mo’!”

How do you take your coffee? Me, I’ll take pretty much whatever you hand me as long as it’s not decaf, although I am partial to my French press over a drip machine any day…

Kicking It Down A Notch

Bam! Food Network pulling plug on Emeril Live

NEW YORK — Food Network is kicking Emeril Lagasse down a notch.

The celebrity chef’s Emeril Live, which has been on the air for 10 years, will cease production Dec. 11, Food Network publicist Carrie Welch told The Associated Press.

“However, Emeril is under contract with Food Network,” Welch said Tuesday. “We love him, we support him and look forward to a long partnership with him.”

Welch wouldn’t comment on Lagasse’s contract.

Asked why the show was canceled, she told the AP: “The only reason would be that it hit a ton of television milestones and, you know, all good things come to an end.”

The Food Network will continue producing Lagasse’s The Essence of Emeril, and he will take part in “specials and other development opportunities in the future,” Welch said.

The network also will air reruns of Emeril Live.

“I am deeply appreciative to all the unbelievable staff — many who have been with the show since the beginning — and all the loyal viewers, and the many talented guests who have appeared on the show through the years,” Lagasse, 48, said in a statement provided by Welch.

“I look forward to continuing my association with the Food Network with The Essence of Emeril, and I have lots of new ideas cooking,” he said.

Emeril’s show was the first show that I ever watched on the then-young Food Network.  I was immediately taken in by his warmth, his chuckling and shuffling around the kitchen, the way he interacted with his audience and the sheer joy he seemed to exhibit while cooking for people.  I grew up on The Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child’s The French Chef, but I’d never felt an immediate magnetism like Emeril’s before.  I like to think that most people felt that way the first time they watched him, too.  But in recent years, the show had grown stale and boring while a new crop of TV chefs grew up around it, decreasing its relevance with each passing day.

Emeril helped to launch the current wave of televised foodie-ism, from the grating annoyance that is Rachael Ray and half-assed fakery that is Sandra Lee, to the raw passion of Anthony Bourdain and manic energy of Alton Brown.  In a way, I’m sad to see him leave the airwaves for now.  But in another, more emphatic way, I’m glad to see him move on.

For as interesting and trailblazing as he once was, I believe Emeril’s river has more than run its course.  The man has become a parody of himself, with his endless catchphrases: “BAM!” and “Kick it up a notch!”  The low point came when he repeatedly and loudly applied the former catchphrase to cinnamon-flavored toothpaste in a commercial that ran — briefly, mercifully — earlier this year.  As far as I’m concerned, “BAM!” was the unfortunate precursor to the headache-inducing “EVOO” and its ilk, and both deserve to be put down once and for all.

So, good-bye Emeril.  I can’t say that I’ll miss your show or your catchphrases, but I’ll miss your anchoring presence.  I hope to see you again soon in another incarnation.

Anthony Bourdain will probably miss you, too.