I learned something this week: It is painful to watch yourself eat on national television.
Who chews like that? Why does my jaw unhinge like a python? How many bites did they capture me taking?!
These thoughts flooded my mind as I watched this week’s episode of “Big Restaurant Bet” on Food Network. I first wrote about the show and my cute li’l guest-judge roll on it earlier this month when it debuted; about how excited I was to be on the channel I worshiped as a 20-some-year-old line cook way back when. And how fantastic it was to have an entire TV series shot in Fort Myers, putting our funky little city — my birthplace and hometown — in the spotlight.
I wrote about the show before I’d had a chance to watch the show. Now, four episodes and so many awkward bites of food later, most of what I wrote still holds true. I got a thrill every time I saw the Edison Bridge arched in the background, every time I glimpsed downtown Fort Myers and the streets I’ve walked since forever splashed across the screen.
And then the camera cut away and there was a flash of Tampa. Or was it St. Pete? Or was it Miami? And then it cut back to us, and then to generic shots of boats on water, and then to sand that’s maybe Floridian, maybe not.
The funny thing about “Big Restaurant Bet” is that it never tells the viewer where exactly it’s set. In the first episode, celebrity chef and host Geoffrey Zakarian said he’s in his “Florida home.” As if this is Delaware or Rhode Island and not a state that takes a full day to traverse by car.
This decision to not acknowledge Fort Myers, whether intentional or not, has made me wonder: When your city is named for a Confederate colonel, and your county is named for a Confederate general, does that make it less marketable?
Regardless one’s thoughts on the Robert E. Lee bust that was removed from downtown just more than a year ago, or the Robert E. Lee portrait that still hangs in the Old Lee County Courthouse, events like this force us to consider these Confederate ties from a publicity angle. At the very least.
I asked Seth Hyman, public relations manager for Food Network, if these ties may have influenced the show’s generically “Florida” setting.
Hyman did not respond in time for publication.
While it’s funny to see the petitions that want to change Robert E. Lee County to, say, Stan Lee County (after the comic-book legend who has no ties to this area), at some point it’s worth wondering if the petitioners are onto something. If holding onto this past is hurting more than helping.
The thing is: I love my city. I care deeply about the people with whom I share it. I want to see all of us in the spotlight.
Ideally, for the right reasons.
There’s so much more news worth eating. Let’s dig in.
Matchmaker, matchmaker — make me a reservation
Whether it’s a blind date, a first date, or you’re just looking to spark romance in a longtime relationship, local matchmaker Mimi Lee shared her favorite Southwest Florida restaurants for (hopefully) falling in love. Diana Biederman tells us more in Naples Daily News and The News-Press.
It’s far too easy to lose our connections to food. We aren’t a society of hunters and gatherers. Most of us aren’t growers, let alone farmers. We are shoppers and diners. We outsource. We import. We consume. It is the 21st century American way. For Earth Day, Diana and I wrote about local restaurants that are preserving these connections; the truly locavore places that care about source as well as flavor. Find our recommendations in The News-Press and Naples Daily News.
Cinco de yummo
“All I remember from seventh-grade Spanish class is: que comida es mas rica,” Diana writes. “Translation: the food is very rich/delicious. This praising phrase never got me far during repeat trips to Mexico and Madrid, yet it’s still befitting for someone who would become a food writer years later.” If you’re looking for something mas rica for Cinco de Mayo, she’s got you covered in The NP and NDN.
• A new water taxi is shipping diners to restaurants along the Caloosahatchee in Fort Myers. Charles Runnels lifts anchor on this story in The NP and NDN.
• From a buffet chain that’s shuttered in Cape Coral to two expanding Thai-sushi restaurants around Naples, catch up on what’s new, hot and not in NDN and The NP.
• Elsewhere in Naples, a new lobster-roll joint has opened, while Florida’s legislature has chosen a rather controversial state dessert. Details in NDN and The NP.
• And catch up on inspections, with the latest on the Collier McDonald’s shuttered due to rodent activity (NDN; The NP); another buffet chain that was only temporarily closed (The NP; NDN); and a trio of Collier restaurants fined a total of $720 (NDN; The NP).
Full? It happens to the best of us. Bookmark news-press.com/taste and naplesnews.com/entertainment/restaurants for the latest from the SWFL dining scene.
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(one of your friendly, local JLBs)
Why can’t we be friends? Follow our JLBs as @JeanLeBoeuf on Twitter and Instagram.
Jean Le Boeuf is the brand under which our restaurant critics have written for more than 40 years. This article came from staff writer Annabelle Tometich. Connect with this reporter: [email protected]; @atometich (Twitter); @abellewrites (Instagram)
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Hello from JLB: Fort Myers shines on Food Network (eh, sort of)