Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 21st 2013 Contents B5
Monday, October 21, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
Talk about an unlikely recipe
for success---a cable network ded-
icated to... food?
It may not seem even a little
preposterous today, but when Food
Network launched 20 years ago
America was sitting at a very dif-
ferent dinner table. After all, this
was before we d learned to fetishise
cupcakes, before Instagram made
our every mouthful a shared expe-
rience, before vegetables had cult
And yet this backwater network
launched, plunking cameras in front
of chefs---many of them truly not
ready for prime time---and hoping
for the best.
The gamble paid off. Two
decades on, the Food Network has
morphed beyond a television sta-
tion that teaches us how to cook
(more about that in a moment). It
has become a lifestyle, a marketing
behemoth turning chefs--- and
home cooks---into household
names even, if not especially, with
people who never cook.
"It surprised me at first. But I
think now, it doesn t surprise me,"
longtime network star Bobby Flay
said Thursday at a party to celebrate
the 20-year milestone during the
New York Wine and Food Festival.
When the network launched,
Americans didn t take food seri-
ously. Less than a decade later, a
culinary awakening ---fueled in part
by the network itself ---allowed
Food Network to succeed, Flay said.
Food Network didn t invent the
food celebrity --- the fame of James
Beard, Julia Child and others pre-
date it by decades --- but it codified
it into an industry. And it did so
with such efficiency, spawning the
likes of Flay, Rachael Ray, Tyler
Florence and Emeril Lagasse, that
other networks were left scram-
In many ways, the network was
in the right place at the right time.
To Giada De Laurentiis, star of
Giada at Home among other shows,
the right time was 9/11 and the
nesting instinct it triggered in so
"I truly believe my success is
because of 9/11. Had it not been
for 9/11, I don t know that I would
be here," she said. "It made them
think twice about what was impor-
tant in life."
Today, of course, food television
is a crowded field. Bravo helped
redefine the reality segment with
Top Chef and its various spinoffs.
Gordon Ramsay spouts fire on Fox.
ABC gave food a golden hour of
daytime chat with The Chew. Even
CNN and Travel Channel have
pulled up a chair, snatching up Food
Network alum Anthony Bourdain.
Still, Food Network---one of
many lifestyle brands owned by
Scripps Networks Interactive---touts
enviable numbers, reaching some
100 million US households, never
mind programming in more than
150 countries around the world. It
has its own magazine, its own lines
of cookware and kitchen gear. Want
Food Network wine or tablecloths?
There s a product for that.
Food Network: 20 years of changing food culture
Of course, that s broad strokes history.
There s also plenty in those 20 years
the network would rather forget. Paula
Deen (conspicuously absent from the
party) speaking her mind, anyone? Or
not minding her diabetes. And there s
Robert Irvine s little resume flub (the
Dinner: Impossible star was fired for
fabricating some of the more fantastic
parts of his resume, but later returned
with Restaurant: Impossible). Mean-
while, lower-tier talent love to grumble
about stranglehold contracts that give
the network near complete control over
And then there s the profitability
algorithm, which goes something like:
less cooking equals more viewers and
sizzling ad dollars. It actually took years
for the network to get profitable. And
many say it did so by turning its back
on some if its own fans and stars.
In those early red ink years, the net-
work was known mostly for food tel-
evision with a how-to attitude aimed
at people who cook. But on television,
personality trumps talent, entertainment
trounces know-how. That spelled the
demise of shows with chefs offering
teachable moments at the stove.
To Irvine, it was a smart---and nec-
"We ve all got choices now. And our
choices are very, very different from
what they were 10 years ago, 20 years
ago," he said. "The television world has
become so cutthroat, they ve got to
continue coming up with better pro-
So shows like Sara Moulton s easy
paced Cooking Live, gave way to frenetic
competitions like Iron Chef, Chopped
and Rachael vs Guy. The switch from
chefs to personalities, from information
to entertainment, got ratings and adver-
tisers, but triggered an MTV-style back-
Just as the music network was
ridiculed for letting videos die, Food
Network was ribbed for favoring reality
TV over real cooking. Bourdain prac-
tically launched his post-Food Network
career by bashing it --- as well as some
of its less pedigreed stars.
In response, much as MTV launched
sister networks to recover its lost ground,
Food Network in 2010 created The
Cooking Channel, a back-to-basics,
What about the next 20 years? It s
hard to imagine Americans tuning out
food-as-entertainment. But that doesn t
mean Food Network gets an easy ride.
Some of their biggest properties are
feeling stale, have been shown the door
(Lagasse, for example), or in Deen s case
simply imploded on their own.
Meanwhile, Food Network hasn t
launched a major celebrity since Guy
Fieri won The Next Food Network Star
in 2006, a lifetime ago in TV years.
"They re trying to evolve into some-
thing. They just are not sure what the
next step is yet," said De Laurentiis. AP
u y u
y B (C
) C u u u
C u PHOTO: EDISON BOODOOSINGH
Links Archive October 20th 2013 October 22nd 2013 Navigation Previous Page Next Page