Bob Blumer on humiliation, faking it and falling asleep watching Barefoot Contessa
Bob Blumer has come a long way from the cheesy printed shirts, the tornado hairdo and the Mrs. Dash commercials. Reclining in a plush chair at the Spoke Club six hours before he leaves for his next adventure in Buenos Aires, the Montreal-born Blumer—wearing a muted sweater, his hair neatly coiffed (“Even Michael Bolton cut his hair”)—is doing interviews about the final season of his gastronomical schadenfreude show Glutton for Punishment.
“We decided to quit while we’re ahead,” he says of the show’s imminent end. “It was getting harder to come up with strong ideas, so we decided to end it instead of water the show down. Sometimes we would come up with an idea, and I’d think, ‘No, I don’t want to do that,’ and then we’d get to the end of the season and we’d have no ideas so we’d have to do it.”
Cases in point: in the second season, he travelled to Osaka, where he had five days to learn how to prepare and eat his own fugu—it takes chefs three years to learn the technique that removes the fish’s poison—and in season three he almost drowned diving for sea urchins in Vancouver. Among the other culinary misadventures captured on camera: surviving on nothing but Guinness for five days in Dublin, barrelling down a giant hill in Gloucester for the sake of cheese and setting a world record for flipping 559 pancakes in an hour at the Calgary Stampede last year.
“The job of hosting this show requires a combination of vanity and the ability to be humiliated and not be bothered by it. I always wanted to do well, but I know I’ll be humiliated.”
It’s obvious Blumer is more of a showman than a classically trained chef (as evidenced by his famous Toastermobile, which is parked in Sonoma), but his “if I can do it, so can you” approach is part of the reason why he’s a Food Network staple. “I epitomize the expression ‘fake it till you make it,’” he tells us. “Seventeen years ago, I had this wacky idea to write a cookbook, which was really like a pet project. I didn’t have any illusions of grandeur. It was just a combination of things I did, like cooking tips and some of my artwork. I took it to a publisher, and then it became my accidental career. Then I learned how to cook.”
With so many chefs coming out with their own shows every year, from reality show winners to celebrated chefs, are there too many personalities already on TV?
“It’s up to the audience to determine if there are too many TV chefs out there,” says Blumer. “For me, I want to be engaged and connect with the host. I don’t connect to Ina Garten from Barefoot Contessa. I had an executive from the Food Network in the States chastising me for not being a good host, and he told me to watch Ina Garten. I fell asleep within two minutes. She just puts me into a trance. She is obviously good at what she does and has a following, but I just don’t connect with her. I love Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver. They’re passionate, and they use common ingredients but put them together in a clever way.”
And as with all TV chefs, Blumer says it’s important to come up with a new show every few years. “It’s the Madonna approach. You don’t want to see Emeril going ‘Bam!’ forever. It keeps me exciting about what I’m doing.”
The final season of Glutton for Punishment premieres January 4.