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FoodNetwork — What's the Right Amount/Kind of Personality?

OK! I guess it's clear most people who love food and cooking think the FoodNetwork has gone somewhere between offkilter and completely obnoxious. And I'm with you there.

But, the truth is, personality *is* a big part of the equation. Personally, I like Alton Brown as much for his personality as his knowledge of food, technique and original delivery. And when people say they can't stand him, I think it's his personality they're talking about.

I suspect the wonderful Sara Moulton would still have a show if she had a little more down home in her. I will also concede that Mario Batalli has a great deal to teach about Italian food and culture. ...but I can't make myself listen to the man. And though I can't imagine myself ever cooking a Paula Deen recipe, I'd love to have a cup of coffee or a beer with her. Conversely, I'd throw darts at Sandra Lee (rather than at her poster) even if she *could* cook.

What's the right sort of personality for a TV cook and how much of it do you want coming through that screen to get you engaged enough to see what they have to offer?

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  1. I have to admit that part of the joy of watching the Food Network is loathing some of the personalities. My granddaughter and I happened on Sandra Lee the other day (I've been home recovering from surgery) and this 11 year old and I had a great half hour making fun of the woman's speech patterns. "The whoooooollllle bottle, Gramma. Not half the bottle, not a cup of wine...the whoooooollllle bottle." Perhaps not the best lesson in tolerance, but funny as all get out.
    And while I love Alton and the guy on Ham in the Street (who's just a goofball, but he's willing to look like a total fool, which I appreciate), I think Bobby Flay is just conceited, yet I watch (and I've loved his restaurants). Mario: a little full of himself, yet I watch (and I've loved his restaurants). Paula: definitely someone I'd love to hang with, but I'd never cook one of her recipes, either. Ina, the Barefoot one--anyone who seems to salivate over their own cooking as much as she does (she's constantly having to swallow) probably has the chops to back up that inane laugh. And I truly can't stand Rachael Ray--on some level, I even blame her for that spelling of the name--yet I watch (and mock, roll my eyes, can't believe what I'm hearing).
    The simple truth is that I'd rather watch someone cooking than...well, almost anything. So, to answer the "market research" part of the question: What's the right sort of personality for a TV cook? I'd say, someone who seems to be having fun cooking.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Elizzie

      I agree with most of your opinions on the "chefs", my only divergence is that I did try Paula Deen's pumpkin pie recipe and I will use it again. The Krispy Kreme bread pudding however....

      What is it about Bobby Flay, I like most of his recipes but can't stand the man himself. He has an unstated arrogance that just rubs me wrong.

      1. re: Scrapironchef

        Remember when he was on Grillin and Chillin? I loved him then. Clearly, pre superstar chef fame! I would watch reruns of that show!

    2. Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Lidia B., anyone that actually knows how to cook (except Emeril)

      3 Replies
      1. re: faijay

        Emeril nows how to cook? I watched a show of his one time where he couldn't even open an oyster.

        A good general rule for me is not whether the host has the chops to do the recipe without a horde of PAs in the back.

        1. re: Scrapironchef

          I think his "Essence" shows are very well done and clearly explain his recipes. Yes, he knows how to cook.

          1. re: Scrapironchef

            Weren't his earliest FN shows a hoot? SOOOOO stiff, couldn't read cue cards, couldn't demo worth a darn--his food looked terrible as he tried to assemble it. I remember wondering, "WHERE did they find this guy....?" but eventually he started to loosen up, they got him a better set, he started joking with the camera guys, etc.

        2. Entertainment is secondary. I really am only interested in cooking when I am watching a cooking show. Most of them don't actually provide any entertainment anyway, instead they just keep repeating the same superlative over and over. The worst of them all is RR. After a few episodes, I really rather turn the TV off than listening to her. She gives me a headache and I don't even get headaches. Actually, in a different way, I hate "top five" even more. Bobby Rivers makes it very hard for me to keep my food down, listening to him and watching his expressions really make me want to v...t. It's so fake I don't know how he can even stomach himself. Tyler Florence comes across as a very insecure individual. Paula is just too scary. It's not just that her recipes are extremely "rich", but that she seems to go out of her way to make sure it is always way over the top - as if her mission in life is to make as many people as big as possible, like growing farm animals... sorry i think I have gone too far.

          3 Replies
            1. re: mimolette

              I totally agree with you about Bobby Rivers! Ugh...

              1. re: mimolette

                I couldn't agree more with you! I am losing interest with the food network. Paula Deen really gets on my nerves with that forced laugh of hers, and like everyone says her recipes just seem too way over the top. I have to cook for an 87 year old, and between PD and Emeril I just can't hack it.
                I tried many of Sarah Moultons recipes and liked most of them. I watch cooking shows, for the food--not for the celebrity! One reason I rarely watch Emeril. He is simply too much for my stomach to handle. ( so are many of his recipes) Likewise I have to agree Bobby Flay is a little prig. Maybe I'm showing my age, but I'd much rather enjoy reruns of Julia Child, and the Frugal Gourmet ( I have known many a chef, who was a dirty old man ). It matters little.
                Whether they can cook, and present it in a formative manner is all that should be important. Oh while I'm dissing Foodnetwork cooks, how about Giada! She has to be an orthodontists dream. LOL

                Hope my input, wasn't too critical.
                I'm just a cook.

              2. One thing that I have a hard time with is condescension. I think that is my problem with Bobby Flay, Rachel Ray, Bobby Rivers, Sandra Lee, Mario to a certain extent, and Emeril to a certain extent.

                These people condescend in two major ways:
                1) Talking down to people. "Well, EVERYONE knows what a mise en place is..." I put Bobby Flay and Mario in that category.

                2) Dumbing things down, to the point of being insulting. And that is the Rachel Ray/Sandra Lee/Bobby Rivers bunch.

                Alton Brown has that mad scientist glee and enthousiasm that is really cool, like he is sharing this real cool thing with you. Paula is just a down home gal, not prentious at all. Sarah Moulton laughs at herself all the time, which is endearing because it shows a certain humility and gives off a feeling that she is there with us in our struggles in the kitchen. Sincerity, that is the key. And you can't fake it.

                11 Replies
                1. re: Phaedrus

                  I was thinking the other day how much I would love to see Alton Brown do a show that focuses on World Cuisines. I was willing to try his Road Food show, but just wasn't taken with it. Good Eats is the only show left on Food Network that I watch because it is both informative and entertaining. Among the remaining personalities, that Lee woman has got to be half retarded and Bobby Flay and Mario really need to take a step back!

                  I do not want them to overexpose Alton, but I think that his expository approach would be a fantastic way to teach a broad segment of America about different cuisines. Oh and also he should do a project with the Myth Busters guys about Food Myths!!

                  1. re: Kater

                    I am kind of a geek. OK, not kind of, I am. Shows like Unwrapped, The Secret of... was to me, shows of great potential. But the way they use those shows as half hour product placement fests and silliness really turned me off. I would like to see Shirley Corriher or the food anthropologist ladies grab hold of the script writing and shake it out, put some real food facts in the contents and really give us some neat facts about the history of food and some of the science behind it. They probably should host the things but some one who has a modicum of intelligence would be a reat start.

                    1. re: Phaedrus

                      If they aired a robust version of The Secret Life Of hosted by a coherent being, I would watch it!

                    2. re: Phaedrus

                      what happened to sara moulton anyway? i used to like watching her a lot. she seemed really normal, and didn't take herself too seriously.

                      1. re: auberginegal

                        She's no longer in their demographic, according to TFN. They don't want chefs who teach. They want "personalities" who look good.

                        1. re: LindaWhit

                          Look good? FT is attack of the giant heads!

                          1. re: JudiAU

                            Well, obviously some people think they look good - there are those cults out there who revere Giada and Rachael Big-Head Big-Mouths. :-)

                        2. re: auberginegal

                          Of all the chef personalities on this network, she was my favorite. What a shame they've written her off. Who is their demographic these days anyways?

                          1. re: diablita FL

                            Would you believe men from 18 to 34, or something like that? Perhaps the reason for Sandra Lee and Giada and the "girls" hanging out.

                          2. re: auberginegal

                            I too adore Sara Moulton. Every one of her recipes that I tried (and I tried lots!) worked.

                            I believe she has a show on PBS in Boston.

                            http://saramoulton.com/weeknightmeals/

                        3. Jamie Oliver was the best before he became too popular.
                          Charming, Cute and Capable. Before I get skewered, I'm talking about the early shows, The Naked Chef and Pukka Tukka. Yes, they were contrived, but they made for fun watching and they are on tv after all.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: pescatarian

                            I liked Jamie Oliver too but had trouble understanding him sometime. Does he has a lisp or something? Enjoyed seeing his mates come over for dinner--reminds me of Ina, except in England.