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Sweating it out: Hubert Keller DJs with Frenchy Le Freak

I've been thinking a lot about cooking shows and their hosts lately (in particular, for our upcoming August food issue—stay tuned and you’ll see why).

What makes someone so popular? What makes a show click?

You’d think it would be cooking skills mixed with personality and panache. Hubert Keller, the chef and owner of Fleur de Lys as well as Burger Bar in Las Vegas, is the latest chef to do the cooking show thing. He has all of these qualities in spades: there’s his thick Alsatian accent (I’ve played back voicemail messages from Keller to the whole 7x7 edit staff because it’s so charming), his crazy-professor, long white hair and wide, blue eyes. In person, he’s warm, enthusiastic—plus, he DJs house music, for god’s sake. How much cooler can you get?

But I find cooking shows often tend to suck the life out cooking. They miss out on the pleasure of the flour rising in the air, the butter smeared on the cookbook, the smells, the slug of wine (that would be the for the cook). The mishaps, the successes. I can see why Jamie Oliver’s shows, with their wonky camera angles, and by-the-seat-of-his-British-skinny-jeans take on things (however contrived), were so popular. They gave the appearance of being real. Even Rachael Ray seems real because she says embarrassing things like “Yum-o.” Nigella Lawson has her kids on set and does a lot of naughty stuff with her fingers.

Keller’s new PBS show, Secrets of a Chef might be working on a great premise, but the episode I watched on making things with bell peppers started out promising (he’s in the very real kitchen of Fleur De Lys), but it heads from there into a ridiculously huge kitchen in the wine country, where while he cooks, little bits of jazz flute float by.

It’s all so sterile. I want to see the Keller who I’ve seen jumping up and down with headphones on—the one who runs one of the most popular restaurants in San Francisco. A cooking show host needs to give me more than good recipes—I can get them anywhere. Roughen it up a little bit. Give me some personality. I want to see him sweat.