It’s true: there’s nothing we foodies like to sneer about more than established Food Network stars. Sandra Lee and her thousand things to do with Jell-O; here again—gone—and then here again Robert Irvine, with his dubious knighthood and Stretch Armstrong body; or the Darth Vader of all TV chefs, Raych, whose relentless giggle is as ominous as the heralding notes of the Death Star.
Laugh, laugh, laugh—but 16 years into the Food Network, we’re all still watching…
We remember a callow Bobby Flay, with an absent “swap out” and a balky food processor, when he finally resorted to upending the machine, weighty base and all. We watched in helpless horror as the Flay competed on Iron Chef Japan, whining like a newbie just because he nearly chopped off his thumb (and got slightly electrocuted). All us blistered, electrocuted, and cut cooks in the audience winced in collective shame. Then there were the glorious moments of Food TV— like when funny, charming, and hugely informative Mario Batali dazzled us with finesse as we basked in his regal personality. Besides launching multifaceted careers—to foodies of a certain generation—the Food Network gave us touch points. It launched stars as iconic as PBS’s Julia Child.
Not surprisingly, there’s a lot of competition for access to the pantheon. This season, on the reality TV/ competition program The Next Food Network Star, two Westchester chefs will be competing for a programming slot. Brett August, executive sous chef of Rye Brook’s Doral Arrowwood, is slogging it out, along with Michael Proietti, executive chef of New Rochelle’s Radisson Hotel. The show premieres on June 7th.
And while most food reality TV challenges have little to do with actual culinary situations, The Next Food Network Star is chillingly real. The producers aren’t contriving situations to mimic a restaurant kitchen: it’s a bunch of hopefuls competing on real studio sets for a real television opportunity. Mostly, they fail…and fail hard. You’ll squirm in sympathetic flop sweat as their food processors jam, or their timed segments run a critical 20 seconds too short. You’ll wince at the public gaffs, and be staggered by the brutal criticism. If you think Top Chef is harsh, just imagine: at least those competitors are professional chefs, cooking. Imagine how much rougher it is for same cooks to be tested on their ability to be telegenic in Peoria.
Listen, I can barely cook dinner for friends when some clinging limpet follows me to the stove—glass in hand—and on insists on complicated chatter as I attempt do my thing. Every time, it makes me look at Sandra Lee with newfound admiration.