Ok, so I know you all know me as the “wrestling savant” (Cardo’s words) and sometimes sports and pop culture guy here at 10YS. What you don’t know is that most nights my wife and I ( I assume like a lot of super domesticated 30-somethings) fall asleep to Food Network. Don’t look at me in that tone of voice (and don’t lie to yourself, Food Network is probably a half step from being in Netflix and chill territory) I’m dead serious. Outside of wrestling, sports and some light live TV watching, Food Network is by far the most watched channel in my and hopefully for the sake of this article a lot of other people’s homes. If you are one of them, then this article will probably be more about nodding your head and chuckling along with the #facts being presented. However, if you are newly domesticated and just now finding yourself in this brave new world of risotto and Chopped and the California dude with the flaming shirts, this article is for you. I’m just here to give you a primer on some of the things us Food Network vets already know.
(For the wrestling fans, I need a minute before I can talk about Wrestlemania with any coherence, so check back on that next week).
In the meantime, here goes:
It’s Perfect Background Noise
Background noise is an essential part of life. Sometimes you want to be home but not feel like you have to watch a show or channel that matters. So no, you don’t want to watch the news, or ESPN, or Game of Thrones, you just want something to be on the television that is mildly entertaining if you decide to pay attention but also not important enough that you feel it requires your attention at all times. Food Network (and to be fair, HGTV falls in this category) is just that. It’s not threatening in any way, it’s not usually capable of demanding your full attention and is perfect background noise for cooking, reading, having casual conversation with your partner etc.
Trust me, for domesticated life, finding the perfect balance of something that can be just distracting enough to use as an excuse for “not hearing” something from a conversation but also not serious enough to have not actually heard said comment is a major key *DJ Khaled voice*.
Be Prepared for Flay and Fieri
Back when I was a young pup in SAC and taking food nutrition, I stumbled into early 2000’s era Food Network, which was a much different landscape. Back then, the main guy on the network was Emeril (last name not required). He had a live (at least I think it was meant to appear to be live) cooking show that seemed to be a crossover between a “let me teach you how to cook this” show and a late night show complete with guests, good food and a whole lot of “BAM!” (which was and quite possibly still is, Emeril’s catchphrase). Nowadays, if you stumble onto Food Network on a random night you are most likely to see either Bobby Flay or Guy Fieri or sometimes both.
Flay in some ways represents a slightly more aloof and Randy Orton-style douchebag that I assume is meant to endear himself with the upper crust type viewers (pardon the pun, or not). He’s a New York guy with more restaurants than I think I can count, more money than a chef by trade could probably ever need and a role in at least four shows on the network. He cooks brunch on the weekends with Brunch at Bobby’s, fights off culinary challengers in the evenings on Beat Bobby Flay and once or twice a year lends himself to either Next Food Network Star and/or one of Food Network’s myriad competition style shows as judge and/or host.
Undoubtedly, Food Network’s other shining star is Guy Fieri. Similarly to Flay, Guy has three primary shows – the relaxed, cooking at home show – Guy’s Big Bite, the show that truly made him famous and launched a litany of wannabes – Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and his very own competition show – Guy’s Grocery Games – and makes appearances on other shows such as various cook offs between kids celebrities and more. Contrary to Flay though, Fieri oozes that laid back California rocker vibe and seems to be a much more down to earth family man. In a lot of ways he is meant to be the everyman’s Food Network star (a la Dusty Rhodes) whereas Flay is meant to be the flashy big city star (a la Ric Flair).
It’s hard to decipher at this point who is the bigger star, considering how much both guys show up on Food Network on a regular basis, but Food Network knows that it has two top tier stars in which they can (and have) grow and expand their empire on (think Attitude Era Austin vs Rock).
Cooking Competition Shows
If I sat down and tried to list off the amount of cooking competition shows on Food Network I could probably get to twenty and just grow tired of naming them all. Where early 2000s Food Network was about chefs of varied backgrounds essentially teaching their viewers at home how to make a wide array of meals, the past 10 years has shown a shift to more and more competition and culinary travel shows (probably as a result of Iron Chef and Triple D respectively). As it stands now, you have Iron Chef Gauntlet, Chopped, Triple G, Cooks vs Cons, Bakers vs Fakers, Next Food Network Star, Worst Cooks in America, seasonal Baking Championships, various seasonal Wars, the now defunct Cutthroat Kitchen, old school Iron Chef (a 3am staple according to my wife and something I think I’ll find myself watching a lot more when this baby gets here), and a host of variations to most of these shows. Now, for competition shows there are a few things you need to know:
Chopped – Everyone has a sob story
Beyond the random and unexplainable ingredients some times (what the hell is blood sausage, or canned whole chicken for that matter) the one constant with Chopped is that there will always be at least one contestant every episode that has a sob story (read: some emotional or important thing in their life that has influenced them or is currently motivating them to be on the show and do well). Sometimes it’s as simple as “if I win chopped my family will know that I made the right decision to become a chef” or as light-hearted as “if I win chopped I am going to give my wife the honeymoon we never had”. At other times however, it goes into “I just want to win chopped because my grandmother who taught me how to cook has cancer and only has a few weeks to live so I want her to see me succeed on a show like this because of her influence on my life”. I’m not saying this as a positive or negative, I’m just saying if your significant other is weepy, Chopped always has at least story that could potentially turn on the water works.
Most of the Shows are All in Good Fun
Outside of Chopped, Iron Chef and Next Food Network Star, most of the competition shows are here for our pure entertainment value. Guy’s Grocery Games is perhaps the biggest example of that. They play rules very loosely, are always coming up with silly constraints within which to force their competitors but it never turns into the torture that it used to be on Cutthroat Kitchen. Where Triple G may force competitors to cook with a budget of $14 for a full meal, Cutthroat might have your station on a see-saw in a pool with a live wire dangling over your head. Similarly the baking competitions, while serious competition, aren’t filled with as much angst or seemingly real life stakes as Food Network Star and others. You can easily drop into a marathon of Triple G or a baking championship on a Sunday afternoon and just have enjoyable, semi-mindless white noise/entertainment for a few hours.
Bobby and Giada
Here’s what happens when you have watched Bobby and Giada have one too many overly flirtatious interactions on television:
Now, I recognize that Giada has a new man who is not Bobby Flay and Flay seems perfectly fine with just being out in these “I’m rich and single” streets, but that does not change the facts. You will find it on Beat Bobby Flay and on Food Network Star. Their interaction seems like, in my wife’s words in relation to another two individuals, that of two people who have definitely slept together before. There is the childish giggling by Giada, the slightly concerned looks from Bobby like, “chick you being too obvious, chill” and all of the other little moments in between.
As you slowly dive into the Food Network black hole you will find yourself uncovering little nuggets like this, and like the one Andrew dropped in this conversation about Barefoot Contessa and her husband. As my wife put it, that woman keep letting gay men into her house, it can’t just be for the food. Put it this way, if a woman had a husband as suspect as hers, there would be no way she would let that many gay men into her life. In any event, these types of discoveries are a natural part of aimlessly watching Food Network almost every night.
Ok, so the other thing that is beneficial to know when it comes to Food Network is some of the usual language used across the network. If you are a newbie, this is especially crucial.
Al dente – perfectly cooked pasta. It’s like Goldilocks favorite texture of pasta – not too soft, not too hard. If your pasta isn’t al dente, you’re not doing it right.
Deconstructed – most common on competition shows when someone has missed a crucial ingredient or doesn’t have access to a certain apparatus to prepare a dish properly. Basically the dish isn’t going to look pretty. Can sometimes be used as a replacement for rustic.
EVOO – shortform for extra virgin olive oil. Made famous by Rachel Ray in the mid aughts.
Flavortown – a fictional place where Guy Fieri is transported when he experiences a dish that he enjoys.
Fresh (dish) – Usually means your dish is underseasoned – not enough salt, not enough something. Negative connotation.
Fresh (ingredients) – Usually a fruit or vegetable that is just right for use. Positive connotation.
That’s Gangsta – another Fieri fave, this is usually reserved for something that is really tasty but also really unique or creative – think a donut topped with bacon and maple syrup or a burger topped with lobster mac and cheese.
Hot – an unacceptable level of pepper for a dish.
Off the hook – Fieri strikes again. This is usually reserved for the best of the best. As I saw it explained elsewhere it is usually followed by an exclamation of it being in his top five (insert name of dish here) ever.
Open-Faced Sandwich – I, for one reason or another, don’t have two slices of bread, so I will serve you a “sandwich” that is uncovered and basically an incomplete dish. But if I call it open-faced though…
Party in my mouth – Not to be confused with anything sexual, ever. Another Guy Fieri favorite that basically means the dish is so exciting, tasty and interesting it literally feels like there’s a party happening and your taste buds are the guests of honor. At one time my wife’s favorite Food Network saying.
Rub – a mix of spices used to season meat. Most popular amongst the BBQ nerds. Can be wet or dry.
Rustic – when a chef on one of the competition shows makes something that is a bit messy so they try to cover by making it sound intentional and fancy. Can sometimes be used as a replacement for deconstructed.
Shut the front door -A slightly more aggressive cousin to “That’s Gangsta”. This usually occurs when someone has gone to such extremes that “gangsta” simply won’t suffice. Think of this as a double “that’s gangsta”
Spicy – an acceptable level of pepper for a dish.
There you have it
To be honest, this only scratches the surface of what there is to learn and experience from watching Food Network. As you settle into a life of domestication, HGTV, Food Network, Chip and Joanna, Guy Fieri, Bobby Flay and more, at least you can sound like you have some idea of what’s happening and not just be blindsided by it all. Sit back, relax and enjoy. And in the words of Emeril…