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What’s cooking?

Despite his love affair with the roadside produce stands of South Jersey, Uncle Nunzi is not a man of gourmet tastes. He is a man who believes that a good breakfast begins with an ear of corn — the tougher, the better. Uncle would prefer to eat canned peas, preferably unheated, than dine at Le-Bec Fin.

So when he joined me last week to watch Emeril’s show on the Food Network, I knew it was only because his pinochle game had been snowed out.

I enjoy watching Emeril in action. He’s entertaining. I cheer when he kicks it up another notch. At the mere mention of pork fat, I break into spontaneous applause. I come alive, with the rest of his audience, when he tosses a big chunk of butter in the pan and acts as if he’s just landed on the beaches of Normandy. Uncle watched me go through the gamut of emotions with a quizzical look on his face.

Try explaining to someone like my Uncle Nunzio why you are downright excited that Emeril has thrown four whole cloves of garlic into whatever he is cooking. He was ready to have me declared legally insane.

I would never admit it to Uncle, but I too am beginning to have my doubts about Emeril’s authenticity. For example, during a show with a Super Bowl theme, Emeril was showing us how to get ready to throw a football bash. He began by making his own ginger ale. Now, I ask you, with all of the preparation that is involved with hosting any party, why would anyone want to make his own ginger ale?

Furthermore, think about some of the fans you had over to watch the Super Bowl and tell me if any of them would appreciate that you spent part of your day brewing homemade ginger ale. See what I mean?

There’s another thing about Emeril. Does this guy not to have to watch his cholesterol like the rest of us? I’m not the only one applauding when he uses 3 pounds of butter to make old-fashioned biscuits; so is every cardiologist from here to Pomona. Is Emeril’s love affair with pork fat causing his arteries to collapse, or has he found a secret the rest of us haven’t yet discovered?

And I hate to get graphic, but how does this guy digest all that cayenne pepper without needing a fire extinguisher for his rear end when he uses the john?

Let’s be fair. It’s not just Emeril who is creating unrealistic expectations on his show, it’s all of these cooking shows. A female chef on one of those public-television cooking shows made her own marshmallows for hot cocoa. This lady actually spent the time after making marshmallows from scratch to cut them into cute little football shapes. You know anybody who would actually do that?

In this scenario, her kids were supposedly playing outdoors and she was just whiling away her time making little footballs out of the homemade marshmallows. You think your kids would even take the time to notice the marshmallows were homemade or cut to look like little footballs?

Another thing about these cooking shows: Every kitchen comes equipped with at least 755 different spices. A recipe calls for a hint of saffron, you just reach into the cupboard and there it is. You have any saffron lying around the house? How about marjoram? If I had asked my mom if she had any marjoram in the house, she would have reached for the Parkay. Other than Simon and Garfunkel, how many people you think have parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme in their kitchen? (My wife has two kinds of thyme — eastern standard and daylight-saving.)

The cookware is another thing. All of these TV chefs have the latest cookware. You know what Aunt Millie’s secret was for good cooking? She had an old black frying pan that weighed 110 pounds. You needed to train with weights before you could lift that frying pan. Aunt Millie could bench-press 300 pounds after using this frying pan for 35 years. And she left the oil from the fried peppers in the pan when she made the French toast. She didn’t believe in this business of thoroughly scrubbing the pan because, she said, you’d lose the flavor.

Aunt Millie had a couple of spices — rosemary, fresh basil and salt. You threw a few hot peppers into the mix when you wanted to kick it up a notch. She never wasted her time making homemade ginger ale or marshmallows, let alone cutting them into footballs. She never asked for applause when she dumped some lard in the pan. And, other than her trusty frying pan and a roasting pot she used to make great chicken or roast beef, her kitchen was not equipped with a lot of fancy cookware.

Maybe Uncle is right about Emeril being a bit of a fraud. Think of it the next time you catch yourself applauding because he just kicked it up yet another notch.

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