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Heat-Seekers-challengeIt’s been slammed on Facebook and panned by James Wreck of Eat More Heat. People have asked me what I think of Heat Seekers, which originally aired on the Cooking Channel and are now being replayed on Food Network. I’ve finally gotten around to watching my DVR-ed copies; and as of this writing I’ve viewed the Chicago and Seattle episodes, so my opinions are based on how those two installments turned out.

Here’s a short synopsis of the program: two chefs, Aaron Sanchez or Roger Mooking, travel to a major U.S. city each episode and visit three pre-determined different eating establishments, known for at least one super-spicy dish, where they will partake in eating a spicy food challenge of some sort at each one.

My quick take is that Heat Seekers is boring, seems forced, and is a slap in the face to every chile-loving individual from Miami to Moline. What did I specifically find at fault about it? Read on…

This Show Ain’t About the Fiery Foods Industry

Those tuning in in hopes to spot a bottle of one of CaJohns’ hot sauces, an interview snippet with Dave DeWitt or mention of a chilehead festival or event will ultimately be disappointed. At its core, Heat Seekers is a spicy hybrid of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and Man V. Food, and a wearily dull one at that. It seems like a retread of so many other “visit x number of eating establishments” accenting the schedules of the culinary-friendly cable networks.

The Hosts Aren’t Qualified Experts on the Subject of Spicy Food

You may have caught Aaron Sanchez or Roger Mooking on previous cable shows, yet just because they have general chef experience or previous face time on TV doesn’t mean they offer real chile pepper know-how.

Those of you familiar with goings-on in the barbeque world may recall an occurance that happened months and months ago on the second season of TLC’s BBQ Pitmasters. That show had acquired the services of chef and restaurateur Kevin Roberts as host. What irked some people about Roberts was, that prior to the airing of his BBQ Pitmasters episodes, he appeared on the Today Show and broke several cardinal rules of traditional low and slow ‘queing. Well, with Roberts I personally was able to oversee any faults because he neither cooked the BBQ on the show nor judged the food, and was merely there to verbally tie in together all the segments.

The situation with Sanchez and Mooking is different. They talk about the food, get down to the nitty-gritty with the chefs inside the kitchen and then they wolf down the spicy dishes. Now, I know the higher-ups at High Noon or the Food Network decided on the hosting duo because of their personalities and chemistry, but couldn’t they have gotten somebody with a decent grasp of super-hot cuisine?

They’re Scientifically Wrong

Early on in the Chicago episode, Aaron Sanchez advises a dinner patron at a restaurant which is providing one of the fiery dishes they’re consuming for show that water won’t help soothe the agonizing burn from chile pepper-induced spice – only dairy products will. So far, so good, I thought; that’s good, factual info they’re laying out for the TV viewing audience. But not even ten minutes later Sanchez holds up a chile pepper and claims that the chef is going to leave the seeds in, because “that’s where the heat is”. Ouch. Any novice with access to the internet can find out that the placental tissue in chiles is where the bulk of the capsaicin burn is, and the actual seeds contain no heat.

Elsewhere in the Chicago episode Sanchez mentions getting heartburn from a slice of habanero. Again, scientifically inaccurate. Chile peppers or the capsaicin obtained from them do not cause any type of GERD, unless there’s a preexisting condition.

In the Seattle installment of Heat Seekers, Sanchez repeats the erroneous “heat in the chile seeds” myth once again. C’mon, guys, did you even think to do some fact-checking? Did it cross the minds of the folks at High Noon Entertainment or the producers of this show to even get a consultant? I’m sure there are dozens of higher-profile chile pepper experts or industry gurus who would freely volunteer their time to proof a show.

Because of the irresponsible lack of verification, Food Network is just killing the chances of gaining any traction with a faithful, hardcore audience of home heat seekers. Of course, we rabid chileheads are in the microscopic minority, and as long as the cable network has their million or two viewers, it won’t matter if Sanchez and Mooking (the later unfortunately guilty by association) look like clumsy dilettantes.

There’s No Frame of Reference

I’ve watched both the Chicago and Seattle episodes at the time of this writing, and so far there’s been no mention of the word “capsaicin”, no Scoville Heat Unit numbers given and no real comparison of chile peppers against one another. How is the unlearned viewer supposed to know exactly how hot is hot? By the number of times Sanchez or Mooking over-exaggeratedly cry “ooooooooooo!” like jackasses?

One of the great things that Man V. Food or any other Travel Channel or the History Channel show that may have focused on spicy foods has done was to give the TV watchers a frame of reference. They’ll post a graphic chart of peppers along the Scoville Scale or display how hot a chile is in relation to a jalapeno. Give us some numbers! Provide a little science! Let’s talk about the peppers in detail! By not doing so, everything seems so vague to the heat-seeking newbie.

Enough With the Quick Editing Style

There’s enough rapid zooming, panning and lighting-fast video chopping to nearly give me an epileptic seizure. The editing is par fo the course with many Food Network “man on the street”-style shows, but it’s almost like staring into a strobe light. Please, stop before I puke!

One more point about this: during the segment featuring Chicago’s Heaven on Seven, I wanted to take a look at the restaurant’s collection of thousands of hot sauces bottle adoring its “wall of flame”, but I couldn’t make out a single label because of the constant and head-inducing panning and zooming! Whatever junior editor is in charge of what approximates a cocaine-fueled nightmare should have been fired on the spot. Big-time fail.

The Show Hosts Are So-So

Other than what I previously mentioned about Aaron Sanchez or Roger Mooking and their lack of expertise on the ins and outs of heat, they do perform decent jobs as hosts. Sanchez, who has served as one of the judges on Chopped using deadly-serious mannerisms, seems a bit out of place trying to be “one of the boys”. I do like Mooking better out of the two. One thing that’s succinctly noticeable is the coerced and forced exclamations that seemed forced and stiff – and make any “cool points” that might have earned from me go totally down the crapper.

Love him or hate him, but Adam Richman of Man V. Food is a dominating host and a presence not to be toyed with. It’s HIS show. By comparison, Sanchez and Mooking in Heat Seekers give a sense that they could easily be replaced and the home viewer wouldn’t be effected one iota. Now, I’m NOT suggesting a gonzo personality be required for every show airing on broadcast or cable TV. That’s why a chile pepper expert or a knowledgeable voice is needed if the hosting duties aren’t up to snuff.

Bottom Line

This show offers very little to both the lover of heat and the novice just starting out with spice. The food often looks delicious but the hosts pull off a weak delivery. Unless ratings proved to be huge for this, I don’t see this returning for a second season.

Listen to the Hot Sauce Weekly review of it: http://hotsauceweekly.com/hsm-003-hotsauceminute-heat-seekers/

Read the Eat More Heat review of it: http://eatmoreheat.com/2011/07/heat-seekers-great-new-show-or-gotta-go/

My Take on Heat Seekers