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Film

Food for Naught

Bill Gibron

In this initial look back at some of television's forgotten programming and people, Gibron 'elucidates the citizenry' as to the 'epicurean unusualness' of one of the medium's most 'egregiously erudite' cook show hosts: David Wade.

He was the Rembrandt of the kitchen. He was the Edison of the cookbook. According to his theme song, he had the praise of gourmets everywhere. He was David Wade, and he supposedly offered up recipes made with a flair. However, when he passed away a few years back, very few outside his home state of Texas knew the man once dubbed "the gastronome that gastronomes talk about". He was often referred to as the nation's leading and most popular food demonstrator. Wade had his own syndicated newspaper column, and even hosted a local cooking show, The Gourmet. Yet just like The Playboy Club, quadraphonic stereos, and eugenics, Wade slowly slipped off the pop culture carousel, no longer welcome in a world that preferred disco to demiglase.

Quite frankly, it's hard to imagine that he had ever grasped the brass ring in the first place. When one thinks about the classic TV chefs and their culinary cavalcades, Wade's name barely enters into the conversation. Instead, the drunken dreaminess of Graham Kerr's Galloping Gourmet, or the goofs and guffaws of Julie Child's French Chef are always high on the haute cuisine hit parade. Wade's half-assed aristocrat of hasenpfeffer is about 14 steps further down the rations rung, hovering somewhere between Carl Oshinsky ('The Pizza Gourmet') and those two doofuses of the dinner bell, the Clever Cleaver Brothers.

Perhaps it had something to do with his prickly persona. Dressed in an insignia jacket and ascot (how haughty!), Wade could come across as a sanctimonious swine at times — albeit one stuffed with a walnut and pear pilaf and mounted with a brown butter and chive sauce. His voice was all resonance and basso, a kind of guttural growl laced with the linguistic capacity of a couple dozen PhDs. Wade really loved the language, and hopelessly highfalutined his speech to make even the simplest side dish sound like an excerpt from Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Ladies needed a copy of Roget's Thesaurus to go along with their trusted Betty Crocker and Good Housekeeping, less they get lost in the man's inviolate vortex of verbiage.

Adding affront to affliction (or bullshit to boo-boo, take your pick), Wade was a smart ass, a knowledgeable know-it-all who loved to pontificate on anything and everything having to do with food. Whether it was arguing over the eight basic procedures at the center of all cooking, to his careful categorization of all dishes (from signature recipes to table habit foods), Wade came across as a pompous professor of pudding. As he smarmily smiled and clipped his diction, he would correct food fallacies and assess the classical characteristics of the dishes he was planning. Eventually, he would sap the vitality out of his victuals with his endless bon vivant bellyaching.

It's no wonder Wade and his various TV incarnations never rose to a Lagasse level of popularity. Mired in the mid- to lower levels of sustenance shilling, this gasbag of gastronome would have merely faded away into the fog of foodstuff had it not been for cable television and religious-oriented networks. Back when the coaxial was in it's gonzo growth spurt phase (somewhere around the late '70s/early-80s) programming was at a premium. You could tell stations and networks were hard-up for help when they would promote amateurish public access drivel to full blown primetime positioning just to eat up some air time. Nowhere was this truer than in the realm of Bible-based boob tube. Let's face it, you can only beg for money in Jesus' name for so long and in so many differing ways before you even irritate the evangelical. So sacred stations needed shows to divert the call to alms, and they needed them badly.

Thus Wade found himself back behind a stovetop and in front of a camera, flouring his cutlets as well as his sentences with The David Wade Show. Produced by the Radio and Television Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (always a sign of epicurean excellence), this hopelessly lo-tech treat (basic vector graphics were superimposed over Wade's coat of arms — a roast suckling pig atop a crossed cleaver and rolling pin) was an unintentionally hilarious half hour of arcane adjectives and vile vittles. Decked out in that trademarked coat and neckerchief, lips poised to provide their own overblown oral opalescence, Wade hoisted his tasting spoon baton and prepared to set the soufflé world on fire. All the audience could do was break out the dictionary and dig in.

There was nothing novel to his new show. Wade came on and cooked, that's all. No celebrity guests or trips outside the studio to discuss farmers or freshness. Impeccably dressed and intellectually defiant, Wade wanted to make sure you knew your place in the pantheon of pies. He was royalty, while you were relegated to the humble position of hack. You needed to be schooled. You had to be carefully taught. And Wade's College of Comestible Knowledge was open for overly articulate business. It was the only real reason to watch the show.

Ever the lover of excess, Wade's food gourmet was, as mentioned before, also a word gourmand. He was a hog when it came to language, and pigged out regularly on volumes worth of snooty and glib phraseology. There were no 'ingredients' in a Wade recipe, only "trappings". The minute he turned on his burners, he marveled at the amount of "conflagration" and "calefaction" they created. Recipes "hinted" at their "quintessence" of taste as individual "proclivities" were "assuaged" via "mercantile" cuts of meat "laced" with an "avalanche" of other products, all working "in concert with the overall harmony" of the dish to provide a true "staccato of flavor". For Wade, his preparation methods were "forceful, cogent and dominant", food falling under the "authority" of his "investment" as he attacked it "pell-mell".

This is the way Wade would speak for the entire running time of the show. The simple sautéing of ground beef would become an exercise in "the decanting of extraneous or superfluous fat" while his idiosyncratic way with ingredients lead to crazy catchphrases (he often referred to a certain root vegetable as "the tympani of the kitchen — the noble onion"). Even when he was done 'mounting' and 'breathing' and 'profusing', and his less than appetizing dish lay ready to be plated and then pitied, Wade still had a final act of diner defiance up his carefully tailored sleeves. As a "presenter" Wade believed in embellishing a meal before it hit the table. Of course, he never 'garnished' anything. Instead, he added "sundry comestibles", a pleasing display of "passementerie" to whatever came crawling out of his crockpot.

The results were an affront to anyone who actually enjoyed eating. For example, he would add mandarin orange slices (in heavy syrup), maraschino cherries and other pieces of candied fruit to a heaping plate of beef and potato hash. He called it texture and taste contrasting. Others called it nausea. A compote might finds radish rosettes and a perplexing selection of pickled items while a cake could easily contain a side skirting of parsley or candied baby corn as a way of enhancing its ornamental appeal. The sweet to sour and visa versa violations continued, often resulting in the most heinous of home cooking happenstance. Liver loaded with alcohol-soaked apricots would sit alongside veggies violated by thick dollop of whipped cream.

Through it all, Wade waxed nostalgic, recalling his days when he was a name among the known and called upon to class up cuisine. During one memorable episode, he even offered up his recipe for cooking "a mess of elephant's feet", though it seems it was intended more as a means of referencing the individuals he supposedly told the story to than as an example of his prowess with antithetical grocery items. While describing the procedure for pachyderm portions (involving such lip smacking concepts as 'digging a hole the size of a grave' and 'burying the feet under a mound of dirt') Wade cited Dick Van Dyke, a radio show out of New York entitled Flair, and such celebrated luminaries as Boris Karloff, Jonathan Winters, and Arlene Francis as his faithful foodie companions. He purposefully positioned himself right alongside these much better known individuals in hopes it would lend him a degree of gravitas and repute that his cooking was completely incapable of achieving.

Unfortunately, it didn't work. As cable grew and subscribers filled company coffers with profits, the program possibilities grew exponentially. Suddenly, the broadcast bench warming of someone like David Wade was no longer necessary. Where once his loquacious brand of lunch launching was welcome among the appeals for prayers and deity derived donations, now he was just an overdressed joke. Unlike other chefs who announced their television exits to fanfare and hoopla, Wade quietly disappeared into the chronicles of cuisine, a footnote found only when looking up oddball recipes or out of print cookbooks. Today, no one associates him with the other so-called stars of small screen food fudging. He's been folded, fricasseed and forgotten, tossed aside like a spoiled haunch of venison.

Still, if one could lock on to his lost signal for just a moment, if they could see a single episode of The David Wade Show, they would suddenly understand the man's motives. Perhaps it was he that set the stage for our current passion for provisions. Maybe his mannered and dated delivery was just an intellectualized way of explaining food's fantastic, mouthgasm-like properties. It could be that Wade wanted us to be knowledgeable in the kitchen if only to help us understand and appreciate that which we loved so much. It's possible that his was a rebellion against the store bought and the prepackaged, a strange and rather standoffish statement against bland broths or substandard stews. Whatever the case may be, he's gone now, steaming and simmering in that big kitchen in the sky. He's probably cooking up a heavenly ham right now. And you know it's accented with a dozen or so slices of cling peach. Wade wouldn't have it any other way.

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