I know I'm not the first one to question the direction Food Network has been moving in, but something I saw recently on a replay of Chopped bugged me enough that I decided to put my thoughts out there on the topic.
Now, before I go and say my piece, let me give you a little bit of perspective as to what my history is with Food Network. I feel like I was an early adopter of the whole food TV thing. I can remember watching Bobby Flay cook before he was even part of the Food Network. Ready, Set, Cook (est. 1995) was an early favorite of mine during my teenage years. So, while I'm not an expert on food by any stretch of the imagination, I've been watching Food Network for close to two decades now and feel like I have spent enough time with the network to comment on where it was and where it's going.
Even though I never had any designs of cooking professionally, I always had an interest in food. However, were it not for my early obsession with Bobby Flay (and slight crush on Jacqui Malouf) I might never have started cooking on my own as early as I did and with the confidence I did. And while I was gaining the confidence to give cooking a shot for myself, I was also learning about a whole slew of new and exotic ingredients I would have never otherwise have heard of. A tomatillo --- in 1996 --- what the hell was that? Well, now I knew. And even if I didn't know what specific ingredients tasted like, I knew what kind of dishes I saw them being added into and that helped me come up with ideas for my own recipes later on in life. That's why I loved Food Network. That's what made it fun. I was gaining real knowledge that I could apply in my own kitchen.
Come to present day and Chopped is one of the few shows I still enjoy watching on Food Network. You get to see culinary creativity at it's finest while learning a little bit about all kinds of crazy ingredients. Do I care how someone makes a dish with leftover nachos? Not really, but the show as a whole is usually entertaining and semi-educational. For those of you not familiar, Chopped is a cooking contest in which 4 contestants are matched up against each other and they all must create a dish using the mystery ingredients found in a basket before each round. There are 3 rounds with one cook being "chopped" after each.
The other day one of the mystery ingredients they had was referred to as "sour beer". As a beer geek and a long time fan of Food Network this really bothered me. Sour beer is more of an umbrella term for a type of beers and not a specific beer style itself. The beer geek in me immediately thought "Cool. I wonder what type of sour beer?," but I never got an answer. Was the sour beer a Lambic, Gueuze, Flanders Red Ale, Berliner Weiss, Gose? What was it?! I wanted to know, but more than that I would have liked the Food Network to tell us. I would have liked them to take the opportunity to educate their viewers about one of my favorite topics. Why would they even use such a broad term like that to describe an ingredient. When they have something like Blue Foot Chicken as an ingredient they don't refer to it as blue poultry and then fail to give any type of description. So, why do that with beer? Why not do what they used to do so well and educate us, even if it's just a brief sentence or two about "sour beer"? I used to be hopeful that Food Network would someday have a show that taught us about beer, but if this was any indication of what might be offered then forget it.
Don't get me wrong, this isn't the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night by any means, but as far as food/beer and Food Network is concerned the complete lack of teaching that goes on these days is frustrating. Even Alton Brown, producer behind maybe the most educational show (Good Eats) in Food TV history is guilty of the continued bastardization of the channel. His newest show Cutthroat Kitchen is downright pitiful. In what is one of 50 billion cooking competitions now airing on the channel, the contestants on Cutthroat Kitchen have $25,000 that they can use to buy weird ingredients or implement weird rules for a fellow contestant to work with. One episode had someone cooking with oven mitts on. Another had someone forced to make tools out of aluminum foil. How is any of that applicable to the home cook? How does that help today's 15 year old version of me get an understanding of what cooking is and how it can be approached. It doesn't and it's a shame.
Food Network, once upon a time you were awesome. You brought me and plenty others into your world with simple shows about Food and free of gimmicks. Please, get back to that simple MO before you're so long gone there's no hope. And if nothing else, when beer is an ingredient on one of your shows it'd be nice if you could give it its' due. Sour beer is much more than simply sour.