New ideas about food sprout every day in the Bay Area, so it’s only logical that a fresh-concept cooking show would originate here. But it’s a little reductive to describe Tom Weidlinger’s forthcoming television series, Kiss the Cook & the Farmer Too, as a cooking show.
“We live in a world where we’re sort of bombarded with horror stories every day,” Weidlinger says, “and certainly there’s a lot of horror stories to be told about food and where it comes from. They kind of put you off your supper if you took them to heart. We’re at the opposite end of the spectrum. We’re about pleasure and enjoyment, and learning something useful about your health and the health of the environment at the same time.”
A veteran producer with no less than 21 documentaries and series broadcast on public television—including A Dream in Hanoi (2002) and Heart of the Congo (2005)—Weidlinger has completed the self-funded, half-hour pilot (Organic Roots) for Kiss the Cook & the Farmer Too. With a commitment in hand from the National Educational Television Association (NETA) to offer the program to PBS stations, he’s pointing toward a fall 2012 premiere. He’s now gearing up to pitch major funders to bankroll the 13-part series.
“Every show has a meal that’s being prepared, and the ingredients become jumping-off points for stories within the film,” Wedilinger explains. “[In the pilot], we go to five farms in the Bay Area and talk to the farmers and find out how that particular ingredient is raised.”
Those visits are intended to provide the viewer with a good deal more than just local color. Consider a grower who provides the leaf lettuce for the meal in the pilot.
“Dennis Dierks [of Paradise Valley Producers in Bolinas] believes the way lettuce tastes has to do with the quality of the soil it’s grown in,” Weidlinger says. “He’s working with beneficial and indigenous microbes to feed the soil with natural nutrients. There’s a mini little science lesson there that lasts for 90 seconds. A lot of people have said it’s cool to have that hard science embedded in the middle of a cooking show.”
In developing the series, Weidlinger drew on the expert input of a board of advisors comprised of the likes of author Francis Moore Lappé (Diet for a Small Planet) and author and dairy consultant Gianaclis Caldwell. Rest assured, though, that preaching to the small-but-growing congregation of slow-food enthusiasts is not the aim of Kiss the Cook & the Farmer Too.
“Yes, we live in a kind of foodie eco bubble in the Bay Area, and there’s one in New York,” Weidlinger allows. “But actually, things are happening all over the country. And that’s something I discovered as I was developing this project.”
The series will shoot around the United States, implicitly and consistently demolishing the perception that only the elite can afford good, healthy food. Weidlinger’s goal, he frankly admits, is to reach a wider audience than most social-issue documentaries on the subject
“There’s a lot of really good films about food out there, and if you could make a large population of the U.S. sit down and watch these documentaries, we could have a very interesting and positive conversation about food and sustainability that could change national policy. But I’ve been making ‘one-of’ documentaries for 35 years, and it’s very hard for a ‘one-of’ to find a large audience unless you’re a showman like Michael Moore. So the idea here is to reach people through cooking shows, and the love of food and the pleasure of eating good food.”
Weidlinger adds with a laugh, “It’s a little bit like the trope of a cooking show but it’s subverted.”
African American actress, director and songwriter Velina Brown, whom longtime audiences of the San Francisco Mime Troupe know as a gifted comedienne, is the program’s host and narrator.
“I first saw her playing Condoleezza Rice in the Mime Troupe,” Weidlinger recalls. “Typically [in cooking shows], the chef is the central personality, and the more outrageous the personality the better. I really did not want to make a chef-centric program, because I wanted to focus on the issues and the food. But I realize that viewers of a series need a person they can relate to from episode to episode. She’s going to be a friendly companion rather than an in-your-face diva.”
The tone of Kiss the Cook & the Farmer Too is light-hearted and sensual, with the meals themselves prepared in everyday kitchens rather than gleaming studios.
“[The show] is not like anything people have seen before,” Weidlinger asserts. “It goes to getting away from earnestness but being substantive at the same time—not offering up the empty calories that most cooking shows provide.”
I almost never list local fundraisers in this space, a willful act of self-preservation to prevent getting flooded with announcements. That said, a benefit for Kiss the Cook & The Farmer Too, with food and music and a sneak preview of the pilot episode, takes places this Saturday, June 4, at Hillside Garden in Mill Valley. Tickets and details are at cookandfarmer.com/paypal.html. For more information about the series, go to cookandfarmer.com.
Notes from the Underground
The composers of the Missouri Ozarks-inspired Winter’s Bone soundtrack perform the score Monday, June 6 at the Great American Music Hall.… Fandor has enlisted erudite South Bay writer-director Alejandro Adams (Babnik) to write a regular column called Noisemakers about issues in contemporary filmmaking.… Max Good’s Vigilante Vigilante opens August 12 at the Roxie. … Treasures 5: The West 1898-1938, the latest box set of restored rarities from the San Francisco-based National Film Preservation Foundation, will be released September 27. Get the lowdown on the NFPF’s vital mission at filmpreservation.org.
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