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Friday, November 30

Shut Up, Anthony Bourdain

I haven't been sure what to think of Anthony Bourdain for a long time. I wasn't yet watching the Food Network when his show "A Cook's Tour" was on, and I haven't read his actual books... just the recent blogs and interviews he's done. I actually liked his little quip about Sandra Lee at the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

Still, I'm getting so sick of one thing: his need to continuously bash the Food Network in an attempt to garner publicity for himself, his Travel Channel show, and whatever else he may be promoting.

Somehow it’s become the “cool” thing to say Food Network is less relevant, less entertaining, and less everything it used to be simply because its original focus on instructional-based cooking shows (hosted by professional chefs with little to no personality) has shifted. You're fine if you bash the chefs and shows (because that must show you're a food professional and care so much about cooking, right?) but criticized if you actually acknowledge you like the network (and the new shows that go with it). It seems like the people who constantly talk about just how bad the network has become must be watching a lot of Food Network. Odd, huh?

Holier-than-thou foodies write him and leave comments on his blogs about the “decline” of the Food Network and praise him for saying things like: “Minimally talented wannabe cooks of negligable [sic] to moderate experience compete to become ‘Celebrity Chefs’ based on a focus group-like criteria of ‘likeability’ while food and cooking ability (such as it is) take a distant back seat” in regards to last season’s cast of The Next Food Network Star.

But here’s the thing: nowhere in “Food Network” does it imply “instruction-based cooking shows.” That’s not the name of the network. Simply assuming that because the network was founded around that simple concept it must continue down that path and never stray is foolish. That’s not how television networks work.

If so many die-hard fans are so deeply troubled by the current state of the Food Network, why don’t they start their own network?! Anthony Bourdain can be CEO and SVP of programming & production. Then, he can program 24 full hours of instruction-based cooking programs to the delight of people like this Washington Post commenter in Arlington, Va., who asked Tony: “Is there anything worth watching in the way of cooking shows these days (in your opinion)? (I mean real shows where people actually cook, a la the great Julia Childs.)”

It’s this whole “real show” vs. “fake show” mentality that irritates me. Nothing about Julia Child’s (that’s singular ‘Child,’ Arlington. You must not have loved her show that much.) show was more “real” than Rachael’s. They’re both cooking shows on television! The ingredients and style may differ, but isn’t that to be expected?

It’s kind of ironic that Bourdain is bashing the network so much for its focus on “entertainment-based” and travel shows, when his Food Network show WAS an entertainment-based travel show!

And don’t get me wrong—I realize “food” is in the title of the network. Food should never take a backseat to what we’re watching. It should always look beautiful, inspire you and make your mouth water. That’s indisputable.

But what the network’s done (sometimes well, sometimes not) is highlight the multitude of ways we as people experience food, and that’s not something you can do by just having a fancy chef cook in a kitchen. Food is about life and living and cultures.

Anthony Bourdain is wrong. Food Network isn’t doing a disservice to its viewers by showcasing food and cooking in a variety of ways; it’s actually quite the opposite. The real disservice would be to simply promote food to an elite group of chefs and foodies.

Luckily, I don’t think the Food Network is ever going back.

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At 11/30/2007 3:48 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think Bourdain wants the Food Network to be food just for foodies. I think he wishes that all the talented chefs like Mario and Sara Moulton weren't being pushed out in favor of talentless hacks like Sandra and Rachael Ray. Not everyone wants to eat chilli dog nachos, and buffalo chicken everything. I wish there were some balance available on the Food Network rather than everything being unhealthy, preservative laden crap. I'm not talking about super fancy fare. Just the other day I was talking to my mom about how much we missed Sara Moulton and "Cooking Live." On Cooking Live, Sara Moulton used to, every Wednesday, make quick, inexpensive, healthy meals that were way more appetizing than any crap Rachael slops onto a plate. I like the idea of 30 Minute Meals, and I like the idea of Semi-Homemade cooking, it's just that neither concept has been well executed. Half of the stuff Rachael puts out and calls "Healthy" would give a cardiologist or nutrionist a heart attack (even without having to consume it).

I'm glad that Bourdain keeps giving the Food Network hell, because it illustrates that not everyone wants dumbed-down, Americanized crap to eat.

At 11/30/2007 5:59 PM , Anonymous SB said...

I believe I recall reading in his book that he was a big druggie back in the day. Maybe he should take it up again.

At 11/30/2007 7:30 PM , Blogger yoshi said...

Bordain's honesty is refreshing in a world where most 'talent' won't (or can't) speak openly about their experiences with a network or a corporation. And putting down someone for criticizing something that not only deserves criticizing but could learn something from the criticism is just plain childish.

But the thing is there are alternatives. Both PBS and Travel channels are doing interesting shows. And as others bail on the food network and go elsewhere we are going to see many new shows. I, for one, am looking forward to it.


Wow - can't handle Bordains arguments so you attack the man. Good show.

At 11/30/2007 11:58 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're one of my very favorite Nintendo characters, Yoshi. Keep up the good work!

At 12/01/2007 12:14 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boredain (yes,I meant to spell it this way) is starting to sound like a broken record.
If you hate Food Network so much, then start your own cooking channel and shut up about it already. Stop being a whiny crybaby.

If Boredain wants something to complain about why doesn't whine about the Travel Channel? That channel is the one that has gone downhill. At least FN is still about food, everytime I turn on TC either the World Poker Tour or Most Haunted is on, what the hell does poker and ghost whispers have to do with travel?

I like the Food Network just the way it is. Getting rid of Mario Batali is a mistake, I like him.
Sara Moulton was dull as a dishrag,so I'm glad they got rid of her and it was high-time for Emeril Live to die.

The only shows I don't like are 2 Dudes Catering and Have Fork Will Travel,but it looks like they cancelled that, so hopefully the 2 dudes will follow.

At 12/01/2007 12:02 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand your frustration. Anthony is an aging hipster desperately trying to remain cool and relevant. The food network just is what it is, but he's like an adolescent with a Dad that embarrasses him in front of his high school friends. He should lighten up.

I get the same kick out of watching Sandra Lee that I get from watching I Married a Monster from Outer Space. You gotta get into the bizarreness of it. Let it roll over you.

At 12/01/2007 11:22 PM , Blogger Lester Hunt said...

I agree with anonymous #1: Tony's main gripe is that "he wishes that all the talented chefs like Mario and Sara Moulton weren't being pushed out in favor of talentless hacks like Sandra and Rachael Ray." It's hard to deny that this trend does exist. Yes, Bourdain does exaggerate it, for effect, but maybe it will have a good effect. Maybe the evil gnomes that control the Food Network Corporate Borg will learn something from their critics. Stranger things have happened!

At 12/02/2007 6:51 PM , Blogger John said...

Hoowee, Jacob, you have definitely touched some nerves :)

At 12/03/2007 7:30 AM , Anonymous Jeff said...

As I have written before to this and other blogs, I still think it's the absinthe talking(from his "No Reservations" segment on Travel Channel when he got so stoned on it while in France, his head spun...almost literally).

At 12/03/2007 11:08 AM , Blogger Tina said...

Well said...

At 12/03/2007 2:22 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, I can understand how Anthony Bourdain's opinion on the current (IMO - horrible) state of the Food Network is hard for those who love the network to swallow. I used to love Food TV when Emeril was thin, Bobby was less obnoxious, and legitimate chefs and cooks (professionally trained or not) taught COOKING skills, not, Step 1 - open bag ans seasoning packet, Step 2 - heat through in sauteuse, Step 3 - pretend you made your family a healthy dinner and take all the credit. Bourdain may be hard to take, but he's not wrong, Food Network is a shadow of it's former self.

Second, anonymous 3, it costs a**loads of money to start a network...I don't think it's feasible for Bourdain to start his own network, nor is it a solution to the currently sad state of affairs that is Food Network. Although, I would never watch anything else on TV if Bourdain had his own network.

Third, to the poster, Jacob, if you don't like Bourdain and want to write about how he's wrong on your blog, you're clearly free to do so. I visit your blog often and have found your posts to be intelligent and insightful. However, if you want to prove a point about Bourdain, you should use quotes from the man himself, not random comments on his blog, which he may or may not agree with. Focus on what Bourdain says and refute that if you want to. Or, focus on my comments...I opened myself up to that by posting here. But, I don't think you'd appreciate someone bashing your point of view, while using my random comments on your blog to do so.

At 12/04/2007 10:09 AM , Blogger jacob said...

anon1: "I wish there were some balance available on the Food Network rather than everything being unhealthy, preservative laden crap." Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger, perhaps? And I agreet that Rachael's dishes aren't always healthy, despite referring to them as such-- but if that Food Network's fault or the hapless viewers who don't realize a pound of cheese and butter on your broccoli isn't the best option?

sb: would probably mellow him a bit, yes.

yoshi: it isn't childish to criticize someone who uses tired, false arguments ("Rachael uses pre-chopped options!") to get soundbites and quotes in major papers and blogs. If he wants to promote his own network, own show and other options in food TV, then do that! Don't use the Food Network as a reference just to get attention, is my argument.

anon(12:14am): for real! what's the deal with the poker?

anon (12:02pm): i agree completely. just take sandra for what it's worth: a B monster movie:-)

lester: I agress that it's unfortunate when talented people lose their job in any setting, but it happens everywhere-- especially in the fickle entertainment industry. One day you're hot, the next you're not. What people may forget is that the primary goal is "compelling television," NOT "instructional cooking TV."

john: well, it was a nerve i was compelled to touch... a pull.

jeff: yeah, i tried some of that stuff while in Spain. it's not to be messed with.

tina: thanks. glad there's a few who agree.

anon: FN may be different, but that's not a bad thing to everyone. And, again, it's not the cooking network.

I think my argument (and others') for Bourdain to start his own network, reflects the same idea you bring up-- it coss "a--loads" of money to start and RUN a network. A 24/7 instructional cooking network would NEVER be successful (and be able to compete against Bravo, E!, TiVO, Internet, etc. etc. etc.) unless it was on public access cable or PBS. It's great that those shows are on PBS-- don't get me wrong, but cable is a totally different world.

And my quote about him bashing TNFNS3 contestants WAS an actual quote by Bourdain. I've linked to the article. I could provide numerous others in which Bourdain references FN and uses inaccurate statements ("Rachael says it's okay to buy pre-chopped onions!") in an attempt to get more publicity for himself and generate controversy.

At 12/05/2007 5:37 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am waisting my time to tell you that nobody really cares what you think for posting such a stupid blog with a even stupider title. In short you are stupid.

At 12/07/2007 8:14 AM , Blogger John said...

Actually, I am sort of surprised that Food Network hasn't considered doing a spinoff niche channel -- "FN in the Kitchen" or what have you -- to repurpose their library and answer the people who don't like the competitive / reality type shows. They could throw in one or two originally-produced shows (maybe bring Sarah Moulton back).

It's become virtually impossible to start a new basic-cable channel -- there's just no room -- but some of these spinoff channels on the digital tier seem to be successful.

At 12/08/2007 9:23 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey anony 5:37pm:

Anthony Bourdain is that you! Shouldn't you be at a bar getting drunk somewhere? Since the two book signing events I have attended you were hung over.

At 12/17/2007 11:23 AM , Anonymous DelicisoMama said...

Ok, people, take a big breath....
Things you should remember in kitchen life...and in general:
Not everybody likes the same foods
Not everybody likes to cook the same
Not everybody likes the same cooking shows
Not everybody likes the same chefs
I am sure that Raychel Ray, Sandra Lee and even Anthony Bourdain have inspired people to cook, to try new foods and given pep to some otherwise ho-hum dinner party....so why all the bashing? Food would be pretty damn blah if we all ate/cooked/entertained the same,,,if some show that I don't care for can give someone inspiration to make something other than pretending like KFC is homecooking, than I'm all for it!

At 2/16/2008 11:42 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that almost everything is american food, festivals and such. Give me argentinian food, middle eastern mezze (appetizers), indian rice dishes. Now That's Cooking!!

At 7/23/2008 10:17 AM , Blogger Bryan said...

FN needs to move into more "sensational" types of shows, they need to appeal to the more middle of the road, red states, ordinary viewer sitting in front of their tv with a big bag of pork rinds and two liter bottle of Dr Pepper. It needs to do this to keep the general public interesting they dont really care about those interested in the techincal aspects of food preparation.

Just read the comments about Lisa Garza from this season of TNFNWS how her cooking talents her arrogance. Well when your good you can be arrogant and she is at what she does, she's gonna need some work if she wins, but she is the best, but what I have read is so many people dont want to see her she is "perfect" they want imperfection, they want ordinary, they secreatly love the crap that Sandra Lee makes, why do you think she is still on FN

Bourdain is right but like some of the others, I cant take Bourdain in large doses, he did write a really scathing and really FUNNY review/rant about the FN personalities...sadly it was right on.

FN does need to branch into some ethnic type shows, Ming Tsai had a good show on chinese cooking, Kylie Kwong on Discovery Home has an excellent show but hopefully she will never come to FN it will be the end of her and she'll end up doing some road show food fest thing or hosting some "Throwdown" crap and..that would just be...not good.

So FN will move on and try to come up with more crazy shows. Maybe Alton brown will take Paula Dean with him on his next Motorcycle food run and he can get a side car and stick her in it...can you see it now!!!!

I want to see them come out here to Southern California and go to In and Out Burger and watch her stuff a big 4x4 animal style burger in that maw of her's now I would watch that!

At 8/27/2008 5:27 AM , Blogger Cory said...

First off, Bourdain is a di@k. He's an accurate one, but he's still a di@k.

Secondly, If i have to watch one more damn show about great "road, food" or shows about how tater tots are made or shows about a jammery that specializes in cornhusk and dog nail jams on some boardwalk in some jersey town i'm going to die (hyperbole).

Thirdly the veering away from quality cooking shows would be accpetable to me if they were being replaced by quality non cooking food oriented shows like bourdains own travel show or like mario batalis old "eating around italy" or whatever the hell it was called...you know the one with him in tuscany on a vespa, but it's not, it's replaced by hill billy sons of a talented (but reckless) home cook who made good traveling the country and eating. Yeah, thats engrossing tv.

Or perhaps we can learn the fascinating origin of the napkin...delightful.

So okay, too hot tamales and cooking monday to friday with michelle urvater may not have been made with the highest production values but in those days the chefs had authority to give you information ( you know like they are always beating the masochistic contestants on NFNS over the head about) I don't feel like paula deen is going to teach me anything my grandmother couldn't have, and you know what some of the the things my grandmother taught me are wrong, she says so because times change. we know through fairly reputable sources, that a breakfast sandwhich with sausage and egg and cheese prepared on a krispy creme doughnut is an abomination to food it's unhealthy, unappatizing, and was never meant to be.

The proof is in the pudding at least as far as i'm concerned. There was a time when i could sit down with my wife, any night of the week and be entertained and informed solidly by the food network. Now i hardly ever watch and if i do it's because none of the other 6 million channels have anything remotely interesting on. Do i watch some guy shovel crap on the discovery channel for an hour or do i watch the neelys "homespun charm" (which is just code for putting bbq sauce on every damn thing). Honestly when faced with that conundrum i turn the tv off and read.

The food network needs to be taken to task by someone, someone with authority and gravitas, so if not bourdain, Who? A bloated emeril? Rachel Ray? They aren't exactly the best envoys for the argument against style over substance.

oh and p.s.- great blog. I'm really pleased to see this conversation being had.

At 1/26/2009 7:43 PM , Anonymous Mattheis said...

Alright, look... I'm a professional chef, and I have been for over a decade. Anthony Bourdain is an a-hole, but that doesn't make him any less right about the Food Network. He's been working in high-pressure kitchens for almost thirty years. He's earned the right to be an ass. I was watching FN twelve freakin' years ago, and it was a different beast. I actually enjoyed it and learned a few things. Now, it doesn't teach you a damn thing, except that your kitchen should be filled with all sorts of expensive and useless crap so you too can make "authentic" guacamole and hummus. Whats worse are the people showing you how to do these poor imitations. I'm not sure Giada de Laurentis has a soul, and Paula Deen needs to die already...

At 1/31/2010 2:48 AM , Anonymous Charles Flashier said...

Fret not. Scripps is launching 'The Cooking Channel' for those interested in cooking.

Except the Food Network to focus more on eating and thus on travel-oriented eating.

Apparently the Travel Channel has been, um, eating Scripps' lunch with its travel-oriented food shows, e.g., No Reservations, Man vs Food.

Reading the comments related to your post amuses.

Never are persons fearful about rendering an opinion. Yet, you can see that all come from childish minds. They don't get money and business and television.


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