I became a foodie by watching The Food Network's Next Food Network Star and Bravo's Top Chef. I began to long to taste those beautiful dishes. That led me to joining in monthly with Portland Food Adventures to enjoy tasting dinners with Portland's own top chefs. At the Floyd Cardoz/Sarah Shafer Feast Portland dinner last month, I sat next to New York author Allen Salkin. His book, From Scratch - Inside the Food Network was released this month. Now I could learn the juicy secrets behind the source of my addictions.
The book includes many details of the corporate history and difficulties of launching and sustaining a new concept for a cable network. Twenty four hours of food programming? How many pots can you watch get stirred? Who would watch it? Even worse, their business model was to give it to cable companies for free rather than selling it for a per-subscriber fee. That meant they had to operate on shoestring budgets for most of their history.
But the reason to read the book, and to watch The Food Network are for the personalities. The book opens with the sad tale of Emeril being cut after making the network a success for many years. Allen Salkin did extensive interviews with everyone connected with The Food Network and tells their tales faithfully.
We learn the backstories, successes and controversies of Paula Deen (including her recent non-renewal due to scandal over court testimony), Rachel Ray, Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence, Guy Fieri, The Two Hot Tamales and many more.
The ins and outs of the network startup and corporate history can be dry, especially for the vast majority of us not in the industry. I think the author didn't overplay the drama, which I appreciate. It was a lot of sausage-making, but without coming away thinking there were villains and heroes.
If you want lots of snark and scandal about the stars, you instead get good stories and tidbits mostly from their point of view. I learned enough to regale my other friends who love Food Network shows. I came away with a new appreciation for the life and career paths of several of the stars.
I listened to the audiobook version, which was well-narrated but there were mispronunciations of a few of the names. For example, Alton Brown is very insistent that his name is pronounced like Al, not All. That was a little irritating. If I had been reading the print version, I might have just skimmed the corporate info to linger on the personalities.
My bottom line is that this is worth the read for all of us who have enjoyed the ride over the past two decades.