MY TWO CENTS: Food Network and its miserable decline
Mr. Pelia dishes the lowdown on Food Network. Is it as legitimate as it used to be?
It’s the night of the Food Network Awards. It would be one thing to say that the Food Network Awards are trying upend the James Beard Awards in terms of recognizing fine food and chefs’ accomplishments. It would be one thing if they were the Golden Globes of the culinary world, which would not at all be an insult to the dressed down version of the Oscars. But we liken the Food Network Awards to the Teen Choice Awards, or perhaps even less. The VMAs, perhaps? At least the VMAs always have shocking moments in store.
The Food Network Awards honor the finest in the food world–the best “edible entrepreneurs” and “tasty technology,” “funniest food festival” and, to top off the alliteration, “icy innovations.” Like the channel itself, the Food Network Awards no longer pretend to be about fine food. Once upon a time, the Food Network would offer its audience simple ways to make creative homemade meals. Now, the trend is to have shows centered on how to make “semi-homemade” meals. The host of said show is Sandra Lee, a “chef” (even cook wouldn’t be appropriate), who whips up store-bought icing. Iron Chef America, the American spin-off of the hit Japanese TV show, features strategically edited comments by judges, making judges like Jeffrey Steingarten appear more grouchy than usual. It also just so happens that the Iron Chefs of America always are able to predict which expensive, rare ingredients will go well with the secret ingredient to bring along with them to Kitchen Stadium.
As foodie culture has become more prevalent with blogs entirely devoted to DIY culinary tricks and “food porn,” Food Network has become the USA of food television. Most of the programming the channel has to offer is not entirely bad–Ina Garten’s simple twists on classic recipes are always reproducible and before Mario Batali was cancelled, his wizardry in the kitchen was always worth a watch. But, like USA’s feel-good television, the Food Network is all about selling us “food TV” often more focused on style than substance. Now, the Food Network presents us with shows like Paula’s Home Cooking, which presents us with Paula Deen’s family recipes for Southern comfort food. Which is fine–comfort food is an important part of the food industry–but Paula’s focus often shifts to theatrics, not cooking. Oftentimes, tears brust out when Paula reminisces about her childhood memories. Paula’s boisterous image, very much centered around her obsession with butter, has been capitalized upon by producers–with recipes existing simply for novelty. Paula fries butter and makes sandwiches of bacon and doughnuts and fried eggs. Comfort food has somehow become an all-in-all heart attack on a plate.
While our disappointment with Food Network does not stretch as far as Anthony Bourdain’s does (he fiercely criticized Deen as well as her colleagues Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee in his celebrated novels Kitchen Confidential and the very recent Medium Raw), the Food Network has diverted from its original goal of bringing simple, effective tips for everyday home cooks to providing entertainment with a side of some recipes. The Food Network has not completely lost it–we have Alton Brown, who at least seems to be competent. There’s Emeril Lagasse, who apparently knows how to cook but always seems to just throw things around and create a “dish.” There’s also Chopped, the Food Network original reality series, which is always exciting to watch. Chopped All-Stars featured some truly amazing feats by chefs who may or may not have been associated with the channel. But to balance all of this out are Giada de Laurentiis, who seens to have been hired to increase male viewership, Rachael Ray, who apparently has charisma and some type of talent, and of course the aforementioned Paula Deen.
All “reality” television is fictionalized to some extent and perhaps has to be to have a broad scope of appeal. However, the foodies in us wish that the Food Network still focused more heavily on presenting audiences with unique and worthy-of-reproducing recipes, with the entertainment factor being the afterthought.
– Damanpreet Pelia