Night Crawler

Eat, Drink, and Be Wary

Eat, Drink, and Be Wary
In Catholic tradition, the patron saint of cooks and chefs is St. Lawrence the Martyr, one of seven deacons charged with giving help to the poor under Pope St. Sixtus. Story goes, the Prefect of Rome executed Pope Sixtus and commanded Lawrence to bring forth the wealth of his church. Lawrence brought Rome's poor, and the Prefect ordered Lawrence tied to an iron grill and roasted, ever so slowly, over a low, open fire. (Thus Lawrence's divine association with the culinary arts.) But not only was Lawrence a good roaster, he was a real cut-up: During the whole being-cooked-alive ordeal he dropped pithy comments on the judge, such as, "Turn me over, I'm done on this side," and, as he took his final blackened and bubbling breath, "All right, I think I'm cooked."

Kitchen humor, it's timeless. Which brings us to Feast or Famine.

Not since the days of subtitled episodes of the Japanese cooking show Iron Chef have the drunk, the hungry, and the belligerent failures of home economics had such a reason to rejoice. Feast or Famine is a cable-access cooking show that airs on the second and fourth Sunday of each month (originally on Channel 53, but now in the lofty stratosphere of Channel 29). The premise is this: Mike and Stu, two highly qualified but notoriously inebriated chefs, arrive at your front door with a fully loaded beer cooler named "Big Red." Their challenge is to make a meal from whatever pathetic ingredients you might have on hand but, before the cooking portion of the show, there is the rummaging-and-beer-guzzling portion of the show during which you, the hosts, are humiliated and chastised on camera for having a tremendous assortment of moldy mustard, crusty cheese, mystery muck, and Starbucks paraphernalia, which is why we, the viewers, tune in -- for the spontaneous humor of the cooks, the complete denigration of the hosts, and the humping (more on that later).

Feast or Famine's Mike Yakura (kneeling) and Stu Randall raid Cheryl Hurd's (left) fridge.
Paul Trapani
Feast or Famine's Mike Yakura (kneeling) and Stu Randall raid Cheryl Hurd's (left) fridge.

This brilliant premise was concocted during a beery night in which the then-26-year-old Elroy's chef Mike Yakura whipped up an impromptu dinner at a friend's house, out of not much at all. Friends signed on as cast and crew: Chris "Pete" Parker, producer, director, and editor; Scott Kramling, boom operator, on-camera interviewer; Andy Lund, music director and audio engineer; and Kristen Miro, second camera, boom operator, beer runner, and cupboard rummager. Mike has cooking skills, natural good looks, and a knack for making people feel at home while mocking them; the obvious task was to find a complement for Mike. They needed a chef with charisma, style, and savoir-faire, someone with real star potential. Enter 25-year-old Chris "Stu" Randall, a brawny, foulmouthed carnivore of a man with seven years of fine restaurant experience. Though they'll say they met through a personal ad, Mike and Stu met at LuLu, after Mike quit his graphic design job and lied his way into a line-cook position.

The first few episodes of Feast or Famine were filmed at friends' homes -- Stu likened it to cooking for the floor staff at LuLu, trying to make interesting food out of the same ingredients night after night -- but soon invitations were pouring in. Over the last year, Feast or Famine has achieved local cult status among denizens of CityVisions, the public access television station for San Francisco, which also boasts Bug Girl, Phil the Security Guard, Queen Bee TV, and the too-be-avoided Noisy Kitchen.

Inside bars and cafes, folks with their fingers on the remote and their eyes on the future ardently discuss their favorite segment: the invigorating ironing-board stair surfing; the beer-and-cigarette pre-show sit-ups; the exciting hand-blender nipple massage; the borrowing-salt-from-the-neighbors interlude; the jumping-over-the-neighbors'-gate interlude; the ever-erotic dish-towel dance; the "sphincter" update, given after the discovery of moldy corned beef hash; the skipping-through-the-sprinklers dream sequence; and the relentless, endearing, SoCal straight-boy dry-humping-with-clothes-on routine.

But all is not frivolity and giggles on Feast or Famine. As any repeat viewer knows, there is always the potential for tragedy and heartbreak, as during the infamous "Pokémon" episode, in which Mike -- deserted by Stu and left with only ancient, unidentifiable Asian foodstuffs as ingredients -- suffered a complete breakdown on par with Martin Sheen's hotel scene in Apocalypse Now. Or the episode, in which a line of masking tape was run down the middle of the kitchen to prevent our cooks from shedding each other's blood. At the same time, Feast or Famine can be a teary testament to brotherly devotion and unconditional love, as at the end of "Pokémon," when Mike affectionately licks the face of his vagrant partner, whom he finds drunk, sprawled out on the couch in front of a fan, dressed in a long scarf and sunglasses like a fading silver-screen starlet.

I invited the crew over, not realizing Chris Parker, who is responsible for the three days of editing that each show requires and all the equipment he borrows from his real job at CNET, had put the show on shooting hiatus. After being featured in a segment of Evening Magazine, Feast or Famine was apparently looking for bigger fish to fry, or at least some chick who looks good in a Jacuzzi.

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