The Rise and Fall of the Food Network

Tara Taghizadeh

 

Opinion:

When I first moved to the United States in the early 1980s – after living in Europe and Asia for all my life – American cuisine was considered by and large as a nonentity in international circles, and mainly contained dishes such as meatloaf, hamburgers, hotdogs, and chicken pot pie in its repertoire.

The late, great Julia Child had already introduced the knowhows of French cooking to Americans through her book and a TV series on PBS, but in most American households at that time, it’s safe to say that a nice dinner probably consisted of Salisbury steak instead of Beef Bourguignon.

But something magical happened in the 1990s: A cable TV show called the Food Network arrived on the scene, and millions tuned in.

The beauty of the channel was that in its early days, it featured a roster of talented professional chefs who actually cooked and taught us their recipes. They opened a window onto the rest of the world, and taught American viewers that there is so much more than the usual fare they cooked and ate.

 

 

There is no disputing the fact that the Food Network – and its sister, the Cooking Channel – helped prompt Americans to become a nation of gourmets, eager cooks, and foodies, and opened the door for the appreciation of more diverse and ethnic cuisines.

Viewership exploded as acclaimed chefs such as Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, Ina Garten, Jacques Torres, Gale Gand, Paula Deen and others highlighted our TV screens with clever tricks of the cooking trade.

It’s important to note that the Food Network was also the home of the late acclaimed chef and globetrotter Anthony Bourdain – before he ventured off to the Travel Channel and then CNN. This is where Bourdain got his start, even though he later scorned the network and in particular, its former president, Brooke Johnson. 

Reflecting his disdain for his former employer, Bourdain is quoted by the Observer as saying: “2007 was also the year that Food Network canceled ‘Emeril Live,’ and stopped ordering episodes of ‘Molto Mario,’ a calculated break with the idea of the celebrity chef as a seasoned professional and a move toward an entirely new definition: a personality with a sauté pan.“

 

 

Bourdain was absolutely right. As its fame grew and millions of devotees tuned in to watch, things began to escalate around the time that Paula Deen was fired from the Food Network. Deen, who is labeled as the queen of Southern cooking and was a bona fide star of the channel, was fired in 2013 after horrendous racial slurs she had made in the past came to light. However, scores of Deen’s fans came to her defense, claiming that the past is the past and that Deen had apologized for her mistakes and should be allowed to move on. But the axe fell, and Deen was chopped (pardon the pun). Martha Stewart can serve a prison sentence and get her own shows on PBS, but Deen was banished forever, even after apologizing and begging for forgiveness for her past sins.

At lightning speed, a never-ending array of cooking competitions -- and Guy Fieri – began to wallpaper the network – coupled with the appearance of celebrities with their own cooking shows –the same ones, remember, that Bourdain had described as “a personality with a  sauté pan.”

Fieri is the biggest offender and the reason why so many of us have lost respect for the channel and don’t watch the network as frequently. He is one of those “personalities” that Bourdain frowned upon, but instead of a sauté pan, Fieri boasts a red convertible.

In a 2014 article in Salon, aptly titled “How one man destroyed the Food Network: Guy Fieri has made culinary TV into a viewer’s hell,” Farsh Askari hit the nail on the head and wrote “…we get Guy Fieri screaming at us to adopt a diet that will at best yield diabetes. I get it – Guy won your first ‘Food Network Star’ competition so you had to give him his own show. Yet, unless I’m mistaken, you only had to give him one show. Instead he is all over Food Network’s primetime programming.”

 

 

Another culprit is Ree Drummond, aka “The Pioneer Woman,” an affable and popular home cook who has managed to take over significant air time with her show about life and food in rural Oklahoma, and whose claim to fame appears to be devising 16-minute dinner recipes. Drummond, who seems to be running out of new recipes of late and is constantly revising standard ones as mash-ups – chicken jalapeno poppers quesadillas, anyone? -- should think about limiting her time on TV and take a page from Ina Garten’s book: only appear on the network on occasion – when you actually have something new to say.

At the end of the day, though, the joke is on us, because both Fieri and Drummond are laughing all the way to the bank.

Fieri continues to bombard the channel -- in between “Spring Baking Championship,” “Chopped,” and other competition shows that have nothing to do with teaching us the joys of cooking -- with his tiresome vocabulary, which appears to be a riff on the dialogue in the movie Swingers.

Yes, the network does have an array of great talents – such as Michael Symon, Bobby Flay, Ina Garten, Kardea Brown, Roger Mooking, Trisha Yearwood, Molly Yeh, Tyler Florence, Damaris Philips, Alton Brown, and Eddie Jackson.

 

 

And these above-mentioned acclaimed chefs and stars, including the chefs on the Saturday morning show, “The Kitchen” – Katie Lee Biegel, Geoffrey Zakarian, Sunny Anderson, Alex Guarnaschelli, and Jeff Mauro – and also Ted Allen, the host of “Chopped,” who is intelligent and charming and should be encouraged to host other shows in addition to “Chopped” -- offer viewers informative and entertaining programs, where they actually cook and introduce a wide array of new recipes from various cultures and cuisines.

But Food Network programming executives fail to understand that the network, which was once a beacon of light for talented and renowned chefs who actually performed an important culinary service, has become nothing more than an annoying roster of amateurs and wannabes who compete against one another in a senseless array of back-to-back competitions, and a home for second-rate celebrities who consider cooking as a hobby, not a profession.

Typical Tuesday programming includes reruns of “Food Paradise,” followed by a 17-hour block of “Chopped.” And a typical Friday lineup includes episodes of “Cake Wars,” Food Paradise” and a never-ending block of Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” which runs until 5 a.m. the next day. And on June 23, 2021, the entire Food Network lineups featured “Guy’s Grocery Games” all day. Are you kidding? Would it be possible to break up the numbing stream of The Guy Fieri World Domination with an hour of “Delicious Miss Brown” and “Ina Garten: Cook Like a Pro”?

And now, with the arrival of Discovery-Plus, it appears that the new and interesting cooking shows are reserved for streaming only.

 

 

It’s as though the Food Network has given up on itself and doesn’t recall its former glory days. We want more cooking shows; more “Cook Like a Pro”; more “Symon’s Dinners”; more “Brunch With Bobby”; more Kardea Brown, Molly Yeh, Eddie Jackson, and Alton Brown.

Dear Food Network: We are tired of the endless back-to-back episodes of “Cake Wars,” “Cupcake Wars,” “Holiday Baking Championship,” and Guy Fieri wallpapering our TV sets. We are tired of your laziness and apathy. Please elevate and promote the wide array of acclaimed professional chefs and culinary experts who appear on your network and showcase their works more expansively. This is what propelled us to rank you as a must-see channel years ago – instead of now changing the channel and skipping over your current coma-inducing lineup of programs.

 

**Editor's Note: There is an error in Farsh Askari's quote (from his 2014 article in Salon): The Hearty Boys won the first "Food Network Star." Guy Fieri won the second. Thanks to Jimmy and Gale Gand for bringing this to our attention.

 

Author Bio:

Tara Taghizadeh is the founding editor and publisher of Highbrow Magazine.

 

For Highbrow Magazine

 

Image Sources:

--Mike Mozart (Flickr, Creative Commons)

--Joshua Dickens (Flickr, Creative Commons)

--Wikimedia (Creative Commons)

--Ponce Photography (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

--Kelly Huston (Flickr, Creative Commons)

--Veesees (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Popular: 
not popular
Bottom Slider: 
In Slider