Chef John Besh has a relatively new show on PBS called Chef John Besh’s Family Table, in a bright, spacious kitchen that’s a step up from his last teevee show Chef John Besh’s New Orleans, where the set was cozier, even a little claustrophobic. I enjoy listening to Mr. Besh talk, though I admit my mind wanders. Over the holidays, my brilliant stepmommy Darla and I were staring at our monitors while Chef Besh narrated from safety of the living room flat screen. Suddenly, we were both confused.
The new show is sponsored by BP and features an unusually desperate tagline asking you, person not from the Gulf Region, to visit the Gulf Region and eat its fine seafood. Though my memory is hazy, it isn’t a complete fog, so I remember an oil rig explosion, Corexit contamination, massive wildlife poisoning and mutation, ruined marshlands and, more recently, BP kicking up a big stink about settling with its victims. If BP asked me nicely to please eat some free-range sponge cake I wouldn’t touch that and – I am sorry – but neither should anyone else. That BP seeks to rehabilitate its and the Gulf’s images is exactly what we expect in this cynical time of spin and bullshit. So I looked up from my laptop when I heard their name at the end of a New Orleans-based PBS cooking show. There were two other foundations sponsoring the show, which I, a frequent PBS viewer, had not heard of until then. Darla scoured the Great Gazoogle for the who/what and found the L.E. Phillips Family Foundation, Inc. and Melvin S. Cohen Foundation, Inc. are both registered in Delaware and neither issues an annual report about revenue or donations. During my own Gazoogling, I found obituaries for a whole mess o’ Melvin S. Cohens, but our candidate for Most Likely To Have His Own Foundation was the Melvin S. Cohen who chaired Presto, whom you may remember as the pressure cooker and Frybaby folks. One surmises there would be interest in food prep in the wilds of Wisconsin, which is also where we find the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, the L.E. Phillips Senior Center, the L.E. Phillips Career Development Center, the L. E. Phillips Planetarium at the University of Wisconsin, and the L E Phillips Libertas Center for the treatment of alcoholism. Not a lot of interest in food prep and how could there be no annual report for a foundation engaged in that level of donating?
How did these Wisconsin foundations get involved with BP in this retooling of the Gulf’s image? I don’t know, but it seems like that should mean something.