On Cooking Television: Insights, Retrospection and the Now

A few weeks ago, I came across an article on Slate that chronicled how the Food Network had changed for the worse: all thanks to one platinum blonde beach boy by the name of Guy Fierri. I won’t lie, a number of those points very much resonated with how I felt about the changes that had emerged during my own hiatus from Bobby Flay and company.

But I’m not here to answer to that article. Instead, I’d like to share my own insights about the Food Network: from growing up with it to my personal sentiments about the changes that both the Food Network and cooking television are going through as a whole.

A Foodie Since Forever 

Before the latter years of my life led to a desire for a job in the world of journalism, I grew up wanting to be one thing and one thing alone: a chef. Having grown up right above a thriving food business, food was to me more than just a source of physical sustenance.

I remember growing up with fake tomatoes and plastic eggs and a stove wherein I would pretend to cook something I had seen on TV. I remember making cakes of out clay and putting them in holes I would call ‘microwaves’. Sometimes, I would pretend to cook and talk to some invisible camera, instructing it as though I were a professional.

These moments would never have been possible had it not been for the Food Network. Yes, I watched cartoons like any other kid, but my childhood had a special place for this channel. My favorites back then were shows like Hot off the Grill, and East meets West (whatever happened to Ming Tsai?). I remember watching Mario Battalli cook a divine plate of pasta in his angelic kitchen and Jacques Torres create some of the most beautiful chocolate I had ever seen. There was also Alton Brown, whose quirkiness used to be so amusing to me as a child.

Back then, the concept of the cooking competition was but an idea. Back then, the only chefs you did see on TV were those that actually cooked for a living. It was an idyllic period, but a period I feel extremely lucky to have seen.

The Hiatus 

The period I describe as a hiatus from the Food Network was, if I remember right, one that was a ‘cable issue’. For a number of years, I lived without this channel and life went on, normally.

A Changed Channel

When I finally got back to watching the Food Network almost ten years later, a lot had indeed changed. From shows that featured a number of oddball hosts, to an obvious lack of a number of my favorite craft shows (Carol Duvall, I miss you!), the Food Network had grown up.

‘Anyone Can Cook’: The Emergence of Cooking Competitions

One of the major changes involved the emergence of the ‘cooking competition’, wherein amateur chefs cooked and chopped their way to kitchen supremacy. Popular examples include Iron Chef, Masterchef and Top Chef (which actually do not air on the Food Network). Personally, I have nothing against these shows. After all, they do manage to do an incredible job of humanizing the art of cooking, bringing to life the proposition that ‘anyone can cook’.

The real problem lies in how shows like these have taken over the cooking television landscape, turning cooking  into just another aspect of reality television.

Relatable Hosts vs World Class Cooking 

I am all for seeing pseudo amateur cooks or culinary school graduates (Guy Fierri is one, btw) become hosts of their own show, but I deeply miss seeing longtime professionals bring world class cooking to homes everywhere.

A large part of me believes that both of these entities could have coexisted: humanizing cooking television and seeing cooking professionals on television. I guess not everyone agrees.

On Guy Fierri

The Slate article I read politely lambasts Fierri’s annoyingly ubiquitous presence on the Food Network’s schedule. That, I agree with immensely. Could they not have found someone else to host the seven or so shows Fierri helms, or is it because he’s the biggest seller when it comes to cookbooks? You tell me.

On the other hand, it seems rather unfair to solely blame Fierri for what the network has become. It also seems unfair to discredit Fierri’s capabilities, as it seems it is his personality that’s really in question here.

Perhaps Bobby Flay, Giada di Laurentis and Alton Brown should do a much better job of searching for a tolerable, yet talented Food Network star.

Changes Changes Changes 

Looking back on it now, I’ve come to realize that the Food Network changed for an obvious reason: the times. In the years that followed, cooking television wasn’t limited to the Food Network anymore… other channels followed with shows of their own. You would think that a name like ‘Food Network’ would give them sole reign of the cooking television market, but you would be wrong.

The emergence of modern technology has pretty much made the TV obsolete. The modern day viewer is not limited to watching a twenty minute show for a good recipe of marinara pasta anymore… instead, he/she can opt to find the recipe (and an even shorter video) online.

Let’s be honest: in a day and age where attention span is but a thing of the past, watching someone cook something in their kitchen is not enough. It’s bland. It’s boring. Thus, cooking competitions are at their height. The Food Network has cashed in on that as well with shows like Chopped, the Next Iron Chef, the Next Food Network Star and Cutthroat Kitchen. They had to find answers to make the kitchen an interesting place, and they did.

But for viewers like me, they lost something in exchange. And, if you’ve been reading the previous paragraphs, I think you’ll know what I mean.

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