When I watch TV these days, I am confronted with a slew of urgent, sobering questions: ‘When will the economy pick up?’, ‘Why so many natural disasters?’, ‘Can climate change be stopped?’.
But perhaps the most disturbing of all, ‘Why the heck is Bobby Chinn hosting a TV show?’
Every time I see his trailer on Discovery Channel, I ask myself: What have we, the TV viewers in Asia, done to deserve such a narcissistic, uncharismatic, and thoroughly insufferable brat thrust upon our consciousness?
Nigella Lawson shows you how you can eat a horse and still be drop-dead gorgeous. Jamie Oliver makes you want to cook. Ian Wright makes you laugh. Anthony Bourdain shows you how to travel the world with a deadpan swagger.
But Bobby Chinn? The only qualification he brings to the lifestyle TV landscape is that he has a pulse and a full head of hair. (I can’t even bear to put his face on my blog, therefore the above picture).
First of all, as a clear case of ill judgment by Discovery Channel, it has decided to put its name behind a show that has zero culinary or entertainment value. In Chinn’s first series, World Cafe Asia, he goes around Asia in search of street food. But do we really want to watch yet another angmoh demonstrate to us the wonders of food that we ourselves had grown up on? You could excuse Kylie Kwong (who cooks just about everything with gin-jah and Shaoxing wine “for depth of flay-vah and charac-tar“) for doing the same, because her faux-Chinese recipes are aimed at Western audiences who don’t know any better. But I was flabbergasted to learn that Chinn’s shows aren’t even aired in the West – they were made for Asia. To me, it’s the equivalent of going to Bologna and showing the people there how to cook spaghetti bolognaise.
Then, there are his recipes. I’ve never been to his modern Vietnamese restaurant in Hanoi, but from watching one episode of his latest series, Bobby Chinn Cooks Asia, I’m not expecting to hear angels sing if I eat his food. His recipes are neither inventive, enticing nor authentic. Methinks that he is only using the ‘fusion cuisine’ card to get away with slapping together incongruous ingredients and calling it ‘new’.
Still, it is not all grave that his show has poor content and that he is a terrible cook. What’s really unpardonable is that Chinn just seems so obnoxious as a person. In an old episode shot in a Thai wet market, he points to an old plastic container used at a fish stall then says to the fish-seller (who obviously didn’t understand English and was defenceless): “You know we use that for toilets in the States?” In a more recent episode shot in India, he is standing by a chef who was cooking a popular dish. As she poured some oil into the wok, he asks a question that could spark an international incident: “Why do you guys use so much oil?”
Somebody burn his effigy in front of a US embassy already!
In my previous incarnation as a newspaper writer, I interviewed some of the best food/travel hosts on Discovery and found that they all had one thing in common: They have a solid, unwavering respect for people from different cultures and walks of life.
I once made the mistake of asking Ian Wright if bushwomen in Africa had ever proposed to him. “Bushwomen?” he gasped, sounding quite alarmed, and continued to answer my question using a more respectable term for women from primitive cultures. Even Anthony Bourdain, with his famous bad-boy gruffness reeking from his intimidating 1.9m frame, was remarkably polite and thoughtful in person. In one episode of his show shot in Vietnam, he was so formal and genuine in his thanks to his Vietnamese hosts that he risked looking totally uncool.
So the bottom line is, if you want to be a good lifestyle TV host, you gotta love people.
Bobby Chinn doesn’t appear to love people. Instead, he stamps his condescending, unfunny frat-boy witticisms all over them as he scratches his way to celebrity chefdom.
He just wants to be famous. And I just want to punch his face in.