“Sweet Genius” Might Be My New Favorite Thing On TV

June 26, 2012 § 4 Comments

Not every highly-watchable show on television has to be scripted, or comedy, or drama, or on cable, or on network, or original, and especially doesn’t have to be “good.”  Such as the Food Network cooking contest show “Sweet Genius,” which is neither scripted, original, nor particularly good.  It’s just… hard to stop watching.

The other day there was absolutely nothing on TV to watch, my DVR’d programs seem old the instant that I record them, and sometimes it doesn’t feel like Netflix has added a new movie worth watching since the DVD was invented.  So I just flipped the channel to the first show that I saw on the guide that simply didn’t offend my sensibilities: Chopped.

For those that don’t know, Chopped is a show on the Food Network that pits four contestants against each other in a battle royale of three cooking challenges in which crazy secret ingredients force the chefs into precarious corners from which they must escape with a tasty dish or face elimination.  In other words: makey good food or get chopped.  It’s not original (Hi, Iron Chef!) but it’s just entertaining enough for me to watch.

Chopped is something I consider to be “throw-away television.”  This is how I categorize shows that are pleasant to watch but will give you almost nothing in return.  Breaking Bad gives me something each time I watch it.  The History Channel gives me something when I watch it.  Wheel of Fortune, however, gives me nothing.  Wheel is just a way to pleasantly kill 30 minutes of my time.  I enjoy it, but I could definitely prosper without it.  It’s the same with Chopped or Two and a Half Men or many shows on television.

So the other night I had watched Chopped and with nothing much else to do, I kept watching the next show on the Food Network and that show was Sweet Genius.  The format is almost exactly the same as Chopped: Four contestants, three rounds, one person eliminated each round until the winner is declared a “Sweet Genius” and given $10,000 for making liver ice cream or some other God-awful creation.


Sweet Genius turned out to be so much more than that and it’s all thanks to the judge of the show, Ron Ben-Israel.  Whereas Chopped is inconspicuously hosted by Ted Allen (yawn) and then three guest judges (yawn x3) the strength of Sweet Genius is that there is only one gay madman running the show.  (Oooh, do I mean gay as in happy frolicking or gay is in gay?  Intrigue!)

Well, I suppose I mean both.

Ben-Israel is an openly gay pastry chef and the show takes on those sensibilities with great pride, I’d say.  The show is flashy, glittery, and subtly uses innuendo (“hot behind! hot behind! hot behind!” once yelled out on the show) throughout.  I watched two episodes back-to-back and both episodes featured a contestant that was a homosexual male.  Not something that is necessarily “taboo” but also not something that you see on most shows so frequently.  Sure, being a male pastry chef will always pique curiosities, but not every male pastry chef is gay just like not every male hair stylist is gay.  It just so happens (or maybe not just so happens) that both of the episodes featured a gay male contestant.

But the show also makes me gay… with happiness!  What’s so watch-able about Sweet Genius?

First of all was the gay innuendos that are constant in the sixty minutes, prompting me to ask my roommate if this was real.  It felt like I was watching something created by Sasha Baron Cohen for Bruno but that also had a strong hint of Zoolander.  Every moment of the show felt like it was a scripted “reality” show and that the joke was on us, the viewers.  It literally feels like a long SNL skit, except still funny.

Secondly, the fact that these contestants are asked to make three different desserts (Frozen, Baked, and Chocolate) but scramble to figure out how to incorporate flavors like squid ink and roasted peking duck into a tasty treat.  One contestant actually became so flustered at the end that he simply plopped his whisk from the blender into an ice cream glass and figured, “Yeah, this looks good.”


By the time that the treat had gotten to Ben-Israel, the ice cream had melted and so he was left with a dish of melted ice cream that had a giant whisk sticking in the middle of it.  Like, “Hey, here is a kitchen utensil right in the middle of your dessert making it impossible to eat.  Enjoy!”

Thirdly, contestants are given “inspirations” that they must incorporate along with their flavors and desserts.  It might be a turtle (which Ben-Israel bears a striking resemblance to), or a toy carousel, or a high heel… who knows what the future holds?  Perhaps inspirations like lamp, Playstation 2, or the former Soviet Union.  The possibilities are literally endless because it seems that they have no bearing on what qualifies as an “inspiration.”

But lastly and most importantly is Ben-Israel.  Like I said before, he’s a gay madman.  It doesn’t really matter that he’s gay, but it certainly adds to the charm of all the innuendos and the descriptions he gives of the flavors as he tastes the desserts.  “Fresh” “Sexy” and “Playful” being among my favorites.  However, it’s the “madman” quality that really sets him apart into the next pantheon of memorable judges.

In real life, Ben-Israel is a world-renowned “cake artist” but as a host he seems like a kid in a candy store, getting to press the buttons, throw out the curveballs, and judge the contestants for their good and their bad.  (Especially entertaining when its their bad, like the “disaster” for having a whisk inside of a bowl of melted ice cream.  Though the taste of the ice cream was described as “Amazing.”)   Another favorite is that he’ll tell you some good things about your dessert but you know a “however” is coming.  Everything that comes after “however” could crush your soul.

Probably the top moment for me during those two episodes, and probably one of my television all-time highs, was when the secret ingredient for the chocolate round was roasted duck.  One of the contestants basically ended up making a savory meat pie, but this is “Sweet Genius.”  The point isn’t to make just anything with duck and chocolate, the point was to make a dessert and her chocolate duck pie was basically just duck pie.  Ben-Israel describes the action and flavors…

I get what Ben-Israel is trying to say, that the flavors were overwhelmed with “duck,” but damn.  I just about lost my mind when I heard him simply describe the duck pie as “ducky.”  Please Ron, teach me how to Ducky.  Despite the fact that the flavor was duck, the very last adjective I had expected to hear in describing the taste was “ducky” so therefore I experienced a laughter I haven’t felt on CBS, ABC, or most of NBC for years.  Ben-Israel: a far superior comedienne to Whitney Cummings.

It got me thinking as to how Ben-Israel would describe other things, by simply naming what they are…



I could go on like this for hours, just like I could watch this ridiculously entertaining show called Sweet Genius, but I won’t.  I’ll just give a few and then spend the rest of the week thinking of other things that Ben-Isreal could describe in perfect detail by telling you what it actually is.

In the meantime, I’ll be watching Sweet Genius at whatever time it airs on the Food Network not because it’s so good, but because it’s deliciously bad for all the right reasons and I’ll have a gay old time doing so.

Stay sexy.  Stay fresh.  Ducky.


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