5 Ways The Food Network Went Insane When You Weren't Looking
I have a degree of confidence I would describe as fair to middling that Food Network was constructed specifically by Satan himself as a tool to sucker in the innocent. I'm not sure how he proceeds from there, which is why my confidence level isn't higher, but there's definitely some shit going on with this channel and its inexplicable ability to produce shows that are both fascinating to watch and utterly devoid of merit. It's what TLC was trying to do when they started airing shows about backwater chowderheads and circus people, but they obviously failed. Food Network, however, has succeeded beyond all reason. Let's see if we can't piece together why.
Have you ever watched Nigella Lawson try to cook something? It's like every step she reads off a recipe card also includes "try to stymie an orgasm" at the end.
Likewise, Giada De Laurentiis is unable to afford shirts that contain enough material to clothe her entire body. I'm not faulting either of these women for their personal quirks and style, but I am suggesting that Food Network is clearly not oblivious to these qualities, and is probably OK with the idea of you yanking your noodle while these two cook pasta, if you follow me. And you do. Makin' the bechamel the old-fashioned way, is what I'm saying. A little of the ol' Greek yogurt.
Workin' on the whisking technique.
And don't even get me started on Top Chef's Padma Lakshmi. Because I would. I would start by going on Top Chef, and I would make her a delicious ceviche, and she would take a delicate bite while bald and terrible Tom Collicchio said some shit neither of us listened to, and I would ask her what she thought, and she'd say it was delicious, and I'd say I know, and there would be a curious pause, and Tom would try to interrupt and I would shush him! I would shush him with authority and say, "Padma, it has been an honor and a pleasure to have you taste a little piece of my soul today. I hope we can do it again very soon." And that fucking line would work! It would work!
Basically, I am marrying Padma Lakshmi after I become Top Chef, but don't distract me. We're discussing Food Network's penchant to make you tolerate Guy Fieri by wedging him between boobs, figuratively speaking.
Food Network's entire programming strategy in GIF form.
I am not opposed to this clever plan. Sex sells; that's the oldest adage in the book. Have you ever seen the weather report from literally any South American or Eastern European country these days? Nine times out of 10, it's delivered by a woman whose boobs are so big compared to her tiny shirt that you'd think today's forecast was cleavage with a high probability of boner. TV networks aren't doing this by accident, and I won't even try to tackle the great, mountainous issues of sexism here (it's not like we ever see Bobby Flay's moose knuckle when he's cooking bratwurst), but it's something to be aware of.
Bobby Fuckin' Flay
Speaking of Bobby fuckin' Flay, what's the deal with Bobby Fuckin' Flay? There was a time when he was just the whitest Iron Chef of them all, and that was OK. Now he's the star of every third show on Food Network. Does Bobby Flay have a family? A home he can go back to? Is Food Network keeping him against his will, or is he a food automaton? You can watch him in Iron Chef, Grill It! With Bobby Flay, Throwdown With Bobby Flay, Worst Chefs In America, Food Network Star, Boy Meets Grill, Grillin' And Chillin', and probably a dozen other shows that air at 3 a.m. that even I can't be bothered to watch. Let Bobby Flay sleep!
The man is drinking on the job, for God's sake.
I understand the need for a corporation to latch onto a star and squeeze the life out of them. Disney does it all the time with people like Miley Cyrus. Food Network does it to Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri -- only Guy Fieri is such an endless font of doucheisms and frosted tips that they could give him his own network and he'd probably manage to fill it with 36 hours of programming per day, with not a single repeated Hawaiian shirt. Bobby Flay, however, always seems just this side of slapping someone for overspicing their fish and walking off set forever. The man needs a break. And so do we as an audience.
I'm not saying that he had to start doing segments with his kids in order to find time to actually see them, but I'm not not saying it.
If you're not familiar with Bobby Flay's cooking style, he's generally a Southwestern man, which is to say he'll barbecue a fork if you let him, and everything is seasoned with poblano peppers for a vaguely Mexican kick. Everything. If you had a dollar for every time Bobby Flay cooked with chorizo, you'd have enough to buy him all the chorizo he'll need for next season on Food Network.
You Ate What?
Once upon a moonlight dreamtime, Food Network was the channel bored housewives and desperate bachelors went to in order to find inspiration for dinner. There, they'd watch a lady named Madge cook stroganoff step by step and give you the recipe. It's so easy and affordable that you'll want to make it all the time!
Last time I watched Chopped, they gave the chefs a basket containing four ingredients -- four food items that exist in the world -- only one of which I'd ever even heard of. I'm an adult. I have more than one degree, and I used to work in several restaurants. The very idea that you could possibly drum up nearly an entire meal's worth of ingredients that I'm not just not familiar with, but have never heard of, is literally insane. This is the work of a madman. What the fuck is this show teaching anyone? Here, have a ghoolaput, a slimmy, a yog apple, and a can of tuna. Make me dessert. What the fuck does that even mean? Why would you do this to a real chef and, in turn, to an audience?
Why do I vaguely feel like I'm being threatened?
I don't gain knowledge if a chef can turn that into a meal; I gain incredulity that some of those weren't just made up on the spot and this whole show is rigged. Watching Aaron Sanchez eat your plate of slop is not enlightening. It's not like the food is ever bad enough that I can laugh with sinister schadenfreude as the judges are forced at gunpoint by Ted Allen to clean their plates, lest they be banished to the judge's panel on Guy's Grocery Games. Everything, no matter what preposterous ingredient in it, is presented as "OK," "Not OK," or "Not bad." That's the range of emotional delight you get when eating food made from a mishmash of Satan's crisper items. Sometimes, food gets elevated to "Surprisingly good." That's not a compliment. Use it in any other context.
"Hi, nice to meet you."
"No, sorry. Hello! It's just ... you're surprisingly less ugly than I expected."
That's not nice. It's just relief that you're not suffering. That's the whole basis for a show about cooking.
"You were able to elevate the broken shot glasses. However, we found your execution with the bag of hobo shit lacking."
"Yeah, it's not something I normally have my kitchen, and it kind of threw me for a curve."
"And that's why you're chopped."
This ridiculous need to make chefs cook what for all intents and purposes we can describe as "garbage from the other side of the world" is repeated on Top Chef and other shows. It's like the spirit of Fear Factor lives on, and we want to make professionals uncomfortable by watching them eat shit -- possibly literally. One challenge on Top Chef forced contestants to make food using only ingredients you might find in a college dorm. So, ramen noodles and condoms. Is that appetizing? No sir.
Once in a while, it's fun to introduce your audience to something like durian -- I have an Asian market down the street that sells durian, so I can go in there and be like, "That's the stinky shit I saw on TV!" and be a part of something bigger. It's another thing to devote an entire episode of your cooking show to pick dong and Latvian ketchup, because I ain't ever going to the market that sells that shit.
A Series Of Preposterous Events
I have a list of names for you: The Great Food Truck Race, Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, Mystery Diners, Restaurant Impossible, Guy's Grocery Games. Do you know what they all have in common, aside from being Food Network programs? They're all fucking preposterous. Which isn't to say they're bad. I could watch Chopped all day every day, despite what I've said. It's oddly fascinating. But man, what the hell is happening on any of these shows? On Cutthroat Kitchen, you could find yourself tasked with making a Monte Cristo sandwich, except you have to make it out of food found on a movie theater floor and you have to do all your prep on a unicycle. That's absurd. This isn't a show that tests your cooking ability; it tests your willingness to put up with bullshit in a controlled environment. The future of Food Network is a show in which chefs try to make simple dishes while a guy just keeps tasing them from behind. Eventually, it'll drop the chef bit.
This is a poster for a Will Ferrell movie, not a cooking show.
Much in the way Discovery and TLC have changed from teaching their audiences anything, and instead now focus on billies of the hill and human garbage, Food Network long ago left cooking behind in favor of circus-style carny pranksterism and awkward bumblefuckery in a food-related setting. There's a show called Worst Chefs In America, in which a team of clueless food-poisoners-in-the-making are assembled under the tutelage of a pair of Food Network chefs who attempt to teach them a handful of basic dishes, and the winner is the last one who doesn't make a plate of feces every week. So a professional chef will show you how to cook something like coq au vin step by step, right in front of your fuckin' face while you take notes, and half the room-full of people will still fuck it up. And then we repeat next week with a new recipe and one fewer contestant. How is that even possible? These people aren't bad chefs; they're bad people. And not in the moral judgment way of saying "bad." They're bad the way an apple goes bad if it sits too long. They're unusable, slightly rotted people.
For many a year, the feather in Food Network's cap has been cake-frosted turd baron Guy Fieri. A man fueled by pork passion and dimwitticisms galore, Fieri's entire career has struggled up from the mire of tuna casserole hell to the lofty heights of family eatery heaven, all thanks to the Donald Trump method of "louder is more righter." He yells and makes barnyard noises and intellectually smothers you to death with his shirts and his hair, and when it's all over, he's made millions of dollars and you're considering eating a five-pound hamburger that's literally had three hot dogs and a serving of mashed potatoes and gravy cooked into the middle of it.
He looks like how Smash Mouth sounds.
Guy's two biggest contributions to Food Network are Diners, Drive-Ins And Dives and Guy's Grocery Games. His contributions to culture are boundless in the way the Hulk's rage is boundless. You don't really want to know where the limits are. Suffice it to say that he added "donkey sauce" to the lexicon, and every time you hear it, you should recite Roy Batty's speech about tears in rain from Blade Runner in your head.
"I've tasted flavors you people wouldn't believe. Mountain-Dew-and-Taco Bell-fire-sauce-glazed pork shoulder of Orlando. I watched sashimi nachos glitter in the dark at my Las Vegas restaurant. All those bold flavors will be lost in time, like Jack Daniels sriracha dipping sauce ... in ... rain. Time to dine."
If you've somehow missed out, Diners, Drive-Ins And Dives -- or Triple D, as only Guy Fieri calls it -- is a show in which Fieri gets fed by strangers around the country, and we watch it happen with a detached sort of moral and spiritual dread. Maybe this week he'll eat Grammy's Famous Bacon, Lobster, and Vermouth Mac 'N' Cheese from Grammy Slim's in Butte! Next week it's off to Gatorminge, Florida for a steak the size of your face and some home-brewed ginger beer. Nothing else happens. Guy Fieri just eats all this fucking food, then pauses to ask other people eating the food if they like it, and Shyamalan twist! They always do. They have filmed 5,000 episodes of this show. It's like the most disgraceful version of fantasy football ever -- fantasy dinner -- but you can't even bet on it with friends. It's so very sad.
Silver lining: If he modifies that car to run on grease, he'll be able to reuse the stuff they take out of his heart during his eventual quadruple bypass.
Guy's Grocery Games is, as you may have guessed, a much more game-show-themed debacle. Guy makes other cooks perform a series of silly-ass tasks in order to pull together ingredients from a grocery store, which they will then use to make a meal for the judges. It's a spiritually depressing melange of The Price Is Right and a soup kitchen run by a demonic clown.
Food Network's mix of sex, barf-inducing food, and goofy games hosted by goofier people shouldn't really work. Yet it does. The answer is clearly devilry.
Zoroastrianism used to be one of the biggest religions in the world, but their idea of heaven had a slight twist on it: To get there you'd have to cross a bridge, sometimes rickety, sometimes wide and sturdy. If you fell off, you'd go to the House of Lies for eternity. Fun! Not terrifying at all! This month, Jack, Dan, and Michael, along with comedians Casey Jane Ellison and Ramin Nazer discuss their favorite afterlife scenarios from movies, sci-fi, and lesser-known religions. Get your tickets here, and we'll see you on the other side of the bridge!
Check out why you've never actually tried a carrot in Why You've Never Really Tasted Your 6 Favorite Foods and see the horrors of food delivery in 5 Ways Delivering Food Is Like Living in a Tarantino Movie.
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