This isn’t a Traci Lords situation or anything–you’re not going to have to return his cookbooks–but are y’all aware of just how young Food Network cook Dave Lieberman is? He’s 26, or maybe 27. 27. He graduated college in 2003. He’s about as old as Yukon gold potatoes (1981), The Silver Palate Cookbook (1979), aspartame (1981), and Applebee’s (1980). Not very old.
In his very little time on Earth he’s managed to carve out your complete, full-blown, multifaceted career as a “food personality.” He hosts a weekend show on Food Network, Good Deal With Dave Lieberman, and an online series called Dave Does, has authored two cookbooks (Young and Hungry and Dave’s Dinners), apparently still works part-time as a private chef and caterer, has designed menus for Delta Airlines, is a spokesperson for Amstel Light and also hosts/produces segments on the Annheiser-Busch Here’s to Beer web site. He was recently spotted whoopin’ it up and over-beering a bit during his cookoff with Michelle Bernstein at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
As befits a 26-or-27-year-old, his resume’s pretty brief, but it’s not without substance. He talks often of his father as his culinary inspiration–he was a stay-at-home dad and did most of the family cooking. In high school Lieberman worked in several Philadelphia-area restaurants and at Yale he hosted a public access show called “Campus Cuisine.” It was while doing this that he was “discovered” by Amanda Hesser (to quote every piece of Lieberman lore; it’s like Lana Turner and Schwab’s) in her 2003 NYT article, Dude, Where’s My Spice Grinder? (TimesSelect only), which addressed the new level of interest in food among college students. When Lieberman got out of class the day after the article came out there were messages from publishers and agents on his phone, and it was all over but the 50 Hottest Bachelors nod from People magazine.
Lieberman knows how lucky he is: “I knew I had this love and passion for cooking but I didn’t want to be in a professional kitchen. Now there’s this fortuitous turn of events and I don’t have to. Working in a restaurant kitchen is a really tough environment and it’s matched to certain personalities. The focus is on routine and repetition and I’m much more fascinated by the idea of creating dishes than I am in honing the minutiae of the production. I knew it wasn’t going to be fun to work my way up through the ranks. I mean, I would love to work in Thomas Keller’s kitchen, and I’m sure it would be good for me. But I like to have my hand on the entire picture.”
But how’s the show? Is it full of embarrassing gaps and lacks? Neh, not really. It’s okay. Sometimes he seems a little inexperienced and ill-informed and as if he’s chanting the wrong info off cue cards–but who doesn’t on FN? By and large he has an ease in front of the camera (and great hands), and a sense of the rhythms and patter required to fill the time. I like, too, that he talks about cost, adding up how much things are at the grocery store. I dunno, though, shouldn’t there be more? Is it OK just because it’s surrounded by eh-OK shows? (It’s worth noting that Lieberman’s been–as far as I can tell–unscathed by Anthony Bourdain’s recent beat-downs of Food Network Stahs. Why’s that?) What’s he going to do with his life in 20 years? How franchised and leveraged can you be? What happens to “America’s Naked Chef” when he’s middle-aged? I have this mental image of him in his bearded late 60s living off of wildflowers and tap water in California, sick of it all, sick of food, running from the cameras. Who knows?