For the past two seasons my husband and I have been addicted to the reality show The Next Food Network Star airing, of course, on Food Network.
Now in its fifth season The Next Food Network Star has produced new Food Network shows, some memorable personalities, and many non-memorable ones.
While watching a cooking show or a food travel show, like Road Tasted with...[insert Food Network personality here], I figured it couldn't be that that hard to host a show on the network that's steadily grown and whose only focus is something we all have in common...food. I could be bubbly, humorous, quirky, extroverted, and any other adjective synonymous with out-going and likable. I could eat dish upon dish of food and explain how good it tastes. I could give people tips for how to eat on a budget. Forty dollars a day! That's easy! Having spent no more than $10 a day on food most days, I placed my fingers in a pyramid of evil and seethed that Rachel Ray could eat-my-dust.
I think many people look at or read or hear something and think to themselves: I could do better than that! Without the complete understanding of how much work and know-how (in most cases) goes into any art form. No, one doesn't have to go to the Culinary Institute to know how to make succulent chicken or moist cakes (look at FN stars Rachel Ray, Sandra Lee, Ina Garten, Paula Deen, or newest member of the FN family Aaron McCargo Jr.). Of course it doesn't hurt (see Bobby Flay, Cat Cora, or Giada DeLaurentiis). But one does need something, a certain je ne sais quoi to make the art of cooking interesting and enjoyable for those of us watching. For the host it may be work, but for the viewer it has to be entertainment and being informative couldn't hurt either.
For those of you who aren't Foodies or interested in cooking shows a la Food Network, lemme give you a quick breakdown. Various types of people and foods are represented on Food Network. They have the Southern Belle single mom who's down home comfort food has made her a staple (Paula Deen). There's the decadent woman that came into her own with natural, classic flavors and style (Ina Garten aka The Barefoot Contessa). They have a young woman with culinary expertise and close ties to her Italian heritage and family (my personal favorite personality, Giada DeLaurentiis). The city boy with a flair for keeping it real and spicy with a background of being a bit of a hard-ass (Bobby Flay). Who can't resist the knowledgeable & scientific nerd who can break down the hows and whys of food preparation (Alton Brown)? There's the blonde, overly cheerful and perhaps organizationally compulsive lady that has a place for everything and everything in its place, while helping you customize meals in a semi-homemade fashion (Sandra Lee). FN even has a place for the quirky cook who wants to make dishes quick and easy for those of us in a hurry (my least favorite personality, Rachel Ray). As time has gone on Food Network has branched out to include more ethnic differentiation from Ingrid Hoffman's Latin flair, The Neely's down-home grit, Sunny Anderson's sweet demeanor, and fourth season Food Network Star winner Aaron MacCargo Jr's "Big Daddy" mentality with big flavors.
My husband and I have tried recipes from numerous people from Food Network and various recipes from the site. We've had hits (Giada's Simple Bolognese, Sandra Lee's Cafeteria-style Mac & Cheese, the Neely's Get Yo' Man Chicken) and misses (Rachel Ray's Sesame Seed Chicken Fingers, Rachel Ray's 30-minute Coq Au Vin). We've broadened our horizons to try new dishes, work overnight to impress family & friends, and conquer simple recipes for desserts, sides, and entrees. A couple of times I've found myself pretending to talk to a camera as I folded my batter or melted my butter or marinated my chicken.
"I could definitely host my own show," I've thought to myself time and time again when a dish came out the way I anticipated.
However, watching Food Network Star it was made evidently clear that I'd probably buckle under pressure; freak out; throw stuff around the kitchen leaving a olive oil trail behind me; or vomit consistently before having to go before a TV, panel, or audience as I attempted to BS through cooking and presenting myself as a culinary expert. As we got into the fourth season of Food Network Star our egotistical thoughts were quickly shutdown at seeing people--who like us probably thought getting a show on FN would be a walk in the park--get their culinary butts kicked week after week.
Explaining a dish in 30 seconds upon tasting it? Not as easy as you may think. Words like "delicious" and "tasty" need to be removed from your lexicon. Moist, spicy, sweet yet not too sweet, bitter; these are the specific types of words that explain how food tastes to the viewer. "A hint of lemon makes all the other flavors pop out." "The musky smell from liquid smoke makes this taste like a hickory dream." Vivid. "Delicious, creamy ice cream." Not so much.
In the past two seasons of Food Network Star I have seen grown men and women cry on a regular basis. I've seen grown ups and young people alike get chewed out by Bobby Flay and Co. A comedian lost all humor as she attempted to back up her dish. And most recently a man lied under pressure so he could last at least another week, thereby throwing his partner under the bus. Of course these are amateurs! And the reality set in that I am one as well.
On Iron Chef I've never seen Chefs Flay, Morimoto, Cora, Batali, or Symon buckle under pressure. I've never seen them throw a towel at their competitor and say "F*** this!" whether the secret ingredient was apples or catfish. They went to work and a majority of the time are successful in completing the task presented to them. Even after losing the Iron Chefs are graceful and kind knowing they put their all into the five dishes they had to prepare & plate in 60 minutes or less. Now that's pressure. And if I couldn't make a signature burger or present kid-friendly veggies to a bunch of eight year olds how in the hell could I think I'd ever be able to deal with the big dogs on FN?
Food Network Star, you'd think, would be a reality check to the posers like myself who'd like to think as long as you can cook, think on your feet, and talk it'll all be gravy. We see the strongest competitors get put in their place when they're told they have to serve a dinner party of 12 on a $60 budget or that they have to make a grown up version of chicken fingers, while making a kid-friendly version of brusselsprouts or to think of and create a dish within 30 minutes. And don't get me started on the Dinner Imposible missions they have some of these people going through with tiny ovens/kitchens, limited ingredients, etc. Last season a contestant broke a glass of juice over a grill plate with food on it, duck confit no less, which ultimately became trash leading to her ouster. Oh it gets hard core, my friends. The FN Gods want to rock you to your core to make sure you-can-handle-it. And once a year only one person is deemed able to.
However, it seems if you have personality enough you may end up with a show anyway. Perhaps you'll be like last year's runner-up Adam Gertler and get a show where you're sent around the country to do odd jobs that are food-related at their own discretion because you were pretty peppy--and at times funny. Maybe you'll luck out like season three semi-finalist Nathan Lyons with his own show on FitTV. Or season 4's finalist Kelsey with a show on upstart Food2. Just because you didn't win the title, doesn't mean you're out for the count. And this is true for many reality shows like the most recent Bachelor where said bachelor picked the semi-finalist to marry instead of the "winner" or the runners-up on America's Next Top Model (one of two I've seen model at Bryant Park in Project Runway). And look at American Idol. At least half of the top ten finalists get their own record deal once the show ends for the season. You may grow with the competition leading you to better understand yourself as a potential food host. Or you can fade away and go back to the life you had beforehand.
The cards aren't always aligned to help you live your dream. And if you aren't overly interesting then you may want to kiss the chances of having your own cooking show good-bye, right quick. However, I'd like to think I'm an optimist and say that as long as you work hard at it your dreams may come true at some point. Of course, I've come to realize that I'll need a lot of preparation before I can host my own show. Needless to say, I'm not going to be quitting my day job anytime soon.