Flaws of Attraction

Food Trip gets mileage from its imperfect star.

Forty-four years ago, Julia Child launched a television career born of awkward charm: Toweringly tall and come-what-may clumsy, she was known to drop a chicken on the floor, dust it off, and keep on rolling. These days, when food TV is all smoke and slick production, WGBH’s authenticity lives on. In Food Trip with Todd English, debuting this month (check listings), the chef delves into culinary traditions here and abroad, then brings what he’s learned to Olives in Charlestown. Though English has the stature, the cheekbones, and something of the Hollywood cachet (he’s opening a restaurant in L.A. with Eva Longoria later this year, and has palled around with “Jess” Simpson), on-camera he’s ill at ease—and a mumbler. At a recent taping in Boston, English repeatedly flubbed his “lines,” leaving guest (and mom) Patty to look like the pro.

If Food Trip sounds like a knockoff of Anthony Bourdain’s Food Network show, A Cook’s Tour, in which the New York chef searches the world for weird things to eat, it is. But English’s clueless self-consciousness makes him far more likable. In one episode he travels to Nantucket, where he’s charmingly inept at fishing, and squeamish when a preppy fisherman hacks off a piece of just-caught bluefish and insists the chef eat it. But English learns fast. Later, confronting a fresh scallop, English proudly produces a bottle of hot sauce from his back pocket. Part education, part train wreck, Food Trip is nothing less than great TV.