Bobby Flay's a jerk, Guy Fieri is ridiculous, and Anthony Bourdain makes fun of the Food Network like it's his job. Allen Salkin's forthcoming From Scratch: Inside the Food Network, is a detailed look at the network from start-up phase to the present, with a generous lump of juicy stories about the network's most polarizing figures — Guy Fieri, Bobby Flay, Anthony Bourdain and, of course, Paula Deen y'all — heaped on top.
The Food Network was already over Paula Deen
Be honest. You mostly want to know what happened with Paula Deen. Well, it turns out that her star was already fading at Food Network before we discovered she was a raging racist — it wasn't that hard for execs there to let her go. The backlash over her alleged racism erupted a month before her contract with the network was ending; by then, she apparently didn't have as much clout as she had in the past. "[Deen] had become an increasingly expensive star who was no longer pulling audiences the way she used to," Salkin, a former writer for The New York Times, writes.
The network was also still upset about Deen's diabetes fiasco. After National Enquirer broke the news in May 2011 that Deen suffered from diabetes, diabetes drug makers Novo Nordisk approached Deen for a partnership that later drew criticism for being, well, ridiculous.
Fellow network star Anthony Bourdain, for example, tweeted, "Thinking of getting into the leg breaking business, so I can profitably sell crutches later." Salkin reports that Deen and her agent, Barry Walter, didn't consult Food Network on any of this — and that was when some higher ups first suggested the network start distancing itself from her. "Food Network executives were so upset at having been blindsided [by her diabetes announcement] that Paula's Best Dishes was put on hiatus and no new episodes were shot for about a year," Salkin notes.
But whereas the hypocrisy of butter slinging chef marketing diabetes medicine wasn't enough to topple her empire, her use of the n-word and her so-called fantasy slave-themed wedding were. According to Salkin, between the deposition and the diabetes announcement, she was already on thin ice. Executives debated whether to give her the axe immediately or eventually. Salkin wrote:
A debate raged within the company about what to do and when to do it. Some wanted her gone immediately. Her contract was up. She had two major strikes against her. Why wait for a third strike? Others counseled patience. Even if they were going to let her go, why do it in the heat of the moment? Better to investigate for a few weeks, see how it played out and do whatever they were going to do calmly, in their own time.
In the end, "in their own time" meant firing her just moments after she released a series of amateurish apology videos.
Salkin won't admit it, but Bobby Flay really is a jerk
Despite Bobby Flay's not-very-stellar reputation, From Scratch is pretty nice to him. Actually, really nice. As in, there's a "grace and humility of Bobby Flay" section in the index, nice. As in, maybe Flay and Salkin are best friends, nice. This is an actual description of Flay in From Scratch: "Bobby, although somewhat shy, was a natural leader. He always seemed to have something up his sleeve, his tight blue eyes and shock of curly dark red hair projecting a cross of boyish carelessness and and calculating coldness." In general Salkin's book is generous towards its subjects, without any of the snark or contempt we'd hope for in a behind-the-scenes look, but his fondness for Flay is rather egregious, as is his willingness to forgive him. We have two points to make about Flay, of whom we are not great fans:
- Bobby Flay on Throwdown, the show on which he challenges chefs to cook-offs of their signature dishes: "Let me put it this way. We gave everybody who we challenged every possibility to beat me. Didn't happen all the time." This is from one of the "grace and humility" sections.
- Masaharu Morimoto after their Iron chef showdown, and Flay's victory lap on the counter: "He's no chef...He stood on the cutting board. In Japan the cutting board is sacred." When Flay faced Morimoto again, he threw the cutting board on the floor instead.
Anthony Bourdain has always hated the Food Network
Bourdain had nothing but contempt for the network, both before his ill-fated A Cook's Tour (a precursor to his Travel Channel masterpiece No Reservations) and afterwards. There's an entry in the index under his name title "ridicule of Food Network personalities" and it has twice as many entries as Flay's "grace and humility" section. Here a sampling of Bourdain's zingers:
- When the network approached him for A Cook's Tour, after his last book compared Emeril Lagasse to an ewok: "I got the impression, I'm sure a highly subjective one, that they were really sick of their own programming."
- On meeting Brooke Johnson, then Food Network's programming head: "There was a limp handshake as cabin pressure changed, a black hole of fun — all light, all possibility of joy was sucked into a vortex of this hunched and scowling apparition."
- When asked to name the most offensive cooking show: "[Food Network chef Sandra Lee, girlfriend of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo] seems to suggest that you can make good food easily, in minutes, using Cheez Whiz and chopped-up Pringles."
Guy Fieri has never been to a party without havarti
Guy Fieri, the guy whose first signature dish was Cajun Chicken Alfredo, fell in love with food in the French countryside, where he lived with a kindly Norweigan family. True story. His comments in From Scratch, as told by Salkin, are exactly as ridiculous as you'd expect:
- After watching Food Network great Emeril Lagasse on Good Morning America: "Wow-ow-ow! Guy thought. That's awesome! Look at this dude! This dude can walk the talk. He's jamming! This guy must own the Food Network!"
- After eating sheep's tongue and couscous with gusto for lunch while living in France: "Where has this been all my life?"
- On sandwiches: "To me, food is a party. Food is energy. Food is love. Food is excitement. Food is — I mean, I get excited making a sandwich... you know, that's where the jive starts coming down."
- On Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, talking about... who even knows?: "That's the corner of delicious and juicy right in the middle of flavortown."
- On havarti: "It's not a party without Havarti."
No, it certainly is not.
(Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri photos via AP.)