Five reasons to watch 'From Spain with Love'

SpainCooking Channel (tv network)Anthony BourdainGwyneth PaltrowMario Batali PBS (tv network)Michelin Group

The Cooking Channel celebrated its first birthday with the launch of three new shows: "The Originals with Emeril," a trip through some of the longest lasting restaurants in the country; "Hook, Line and Dinner," another travel-based show which examines seafood; and "From Spain with Love," the best of the three.

Here are five reasons why you should tune into (or set your DVR for) "From Spain with Love" (Saturdays, 8:30 p.m.):

It's Spain. There's a reason why travel and food shows have been camped in Spain for the last decade. Sure, sure, there's El Bulli’s Ferran Adria and the modernists pointing cuisine forward in the boldest of directions. And, yes, the ingredients that the country produces are second to none. But the contrast in food subcultures -- from Basque to Andalusian and everything in between -- provides a near obscene resource for a show like this.

It’s subtitled when necessary. There’s a wonderful moment in the premiere when host Annie Sibonney, a Canadian, talks her way into a male-only gastronomic society in San Sebastian. As she stands at the door and negotiates with a friend, you see the conversation as it happens on screen and realize the taboo her friend must break just to let her inside. He KNOWS the other men are going to give him grief for this. And yet, there’s no voiceover. No translator. No aside to tell you what is really being said. Even the best travel shows sometimes feel awkward because little moments have to be explained in English. Later, as Sibonney helps famed chef Andoni Luis Aduriz prepare a dish, he chides her in Spanish and she responds, "I know how to cut a potato!" in English. It’s genuine. Having a host who can speak the language is invaluable.

It’s a fresh face. "I never really started out to do television," Sibonney told The Stew, but you wouldn’t guess it by her performance. If she doesn’t yet have that great "look at me" presence that someone like Anthony Bourdain does, she more than compensates for it with enthusiasm and knowledge accumulated from five years of running tours in Spain. 

It’s not a recipe show. One of the things the network has gotten right in its first year is to play to viewers’ love of food culture. There’s a time and place to tell us how many cups of milk went into a dish, but the kitchen of a Michelin-starred restaurant producing amazing Basque cuisine is not one of them. Sibonney takes viewers to the "coast of death" in Galicia, for example, to go scavenging for barnacles and later goes hunting for clams with an all-female association of diggers. It makes you want to go there. It makes you hungry. Is there any utility? Who cares? Food television has graduated beyond being purely "how-to."

It’s better than other food-based shows about Spain. There was a lot of hype about the Mario Batali-Gwyneth Paltrow PBS show "Spain ... On the Road Again" a few years ago. As much as it was beautifully shot and the hosts appeared to be having a grand time, they never seemed to transmit the passion that Sibonney does. On "No Reservations," Bourdain gets just what a great food culture Spain has, but he’s devoted three episodes in seven seasons to it. And as good as Jose Andres’ "Made in Spain" is, it is ultimately a recipe show.  For fans of Spanish food and culture, or just lovers of food-based travel porn, "From Spain with Love" is one of the best shows out there right now.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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