From Scratch: Inside The Food Network by Allen Salkin (4 out of 5)
I love smut. The tabloidism. The celebrities and the stupid ways they act. I think chefs fall into a whole different category. This book just goes to drive that point home. However, there is a seedy side to these magnetic personalities, as well. Salkin shows the good, the bad, the network politics, and the major ego on some of the personalities that dot the skies of The Food Network.
Allen Salkin repaints the history of the Food Channel from its inception, beginning with the assistance of a somewhat dubious Julia Child, who thinks nothing of showing up at the studio and scaring the crap out of the young, naive stars (in particular, Sara Moulton has an encounter with Julia that will have you chortling madly). It goes all the way through to the new blood currently gracing the TV waves with their shows. As much as you get power struggles between some of the chefs, this book is mostly devoted to the power struggles behind the scenes at Food Network. Much as any other company, they do have profound effects on the channel and its legacy. You espicially feel bad for how women seem to dominate the highest positions, and yet, make some of the stupidest moves you can imagine (having Jane Curtin host a cooking show. JANE CURTIN?!????!). It’s the same as anywhere else you go, except that viewers inexplicably continue to tune in to watch a channel that still has its fair share of crap (Paula Deen and her butter drenched thighs, y’all).
I was entertained by the stories of some of the more charismatic personalities- in particular, Rachael Ray, for whom I have a special railroad spike waiting for. I didn’t much like her “cooking”, nor her stupid abbreviations (note, honey, EVOOOOOO sound like a more evolved “Suey!”), but I also didn’t realize how incredibly unlucky she was. For as many good things that have come her way, she’s had some really incredibly bad shit go down as well. So I guess I don’t despise her as much as I used to. The book made me love Anthony Bourdain MORE, if that was even possible. Guy Fieri comes off as a self-absorbed taco shell reject, which he is. You wonder if Robert Irvine isn’t a little insane. I love Emeril, and after reading how he got the shaft, well, I love him even more. Bobby Flay consumes a good portion of the book (not literally, although that would make another great anecdote for this collection), but since he doesn’t register on my cooking radar, I care not a whit. Overall, most of the chefs are covered well (except Deen, and really, who wants to see that? Blech!). Ina “Barefoot and Hopefully Not Pregnant” Garten and Giada “I’m a Supermodel Italian Chica Cheferella” DiLaurentis didn’t cooperate with the book, so any info on them is obtained by heresy. Since I could give not a shit about them, I didn’t really mind their scant contribution to the history of the channel.
Overall, not a real sordid book. More like a technical behind-the-scenes at the nuthouse. You question how such a mess could rake in so much money or have Guy and Anne Burrell as their chefs these days (who’s next, Ed Hardy? Nikki Sixx?) and still maintain some semblance of credibility. It’s an eye-opening look at the nuts and bolts with the nuts and bolts shacking up at the food asylum. I really did enjoy the book, but I almost wish it was written as an Oral History, because it would have been better formatted in that context. Not a bad book, overall. Just not a great book.