A history of food television

With a side of acerbic wit

By
February 22, 2013

Russ Parsons, the Los Angeles Times food writer, has been chuckling a good deal over the sarcastic history of food television penned by Andy Greenwald on the ESPN website Grantland.

Greenwald pegs the 1990s rise of Emeril Lagasse as the fulcrum between old-school food TV (think Julia Child, standing behind a counter) and the current school of hyperactivity: reality shows, cooking competitions, travel extravaganzas, and the like. According to Greenwald, the Food Network in particular decided to emphasize TV over food:

The schizophrenic network seemed committed to the idea of separating its viewership into either cartoony warriors or overmatched civilians, presenting the kitchen as either a battleground or a ticking time bomb. Food itself was either impossibly out of reach or beside the point, like fat floating on the surface of a broken sauce.

This choice, says Greenwald, accounts in part for the career of Anthony Bourdain: “He was never half the chef Emeril was — something he’d be the first to admit — but he was twice as good on camera.”

So if you want to watch food TV, go for it — just don’t expect to learn how to cook. Rather, hold out for the likes of Padma Lakshmi, “that stoned and regal puma,” or, yes, the return of Emeril, now “a Wookiee in winter.”

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