When the Food Network first appeared on my television lineup, I loved it. No, I mean I LOVED it. I couldn’t get enough. Emeril? Bam! Alton Brown? I was an acolyte. That hunky Bobby Flay? Eh well, I think I’ll stop there. But I felt like I was adding to my existing and expanding food knowledge. And I was really…because I could see the techniques in real-time rather than read and look at pictures. In most cases, it made whole some things I was already doing. It also prompted me to take more chances.
Around that time, I was asked by a friend who was putting on a New Orleans-style party to come over an be the “guest cook” and make some jambalaya to supplement the rest of the fare. I was no stranger to doing this for friends as I had done several dinner parties and whatnot. Being situated in the kitchen (facing the main room of the party), I became a small center of attention with people asking how I did this or that or what things I did in the kitchen. I admit that I liked the attention but at the end of the day, my real “like” was if the guests at the party enjoyed the food that I was producing.
In my wildest fantasies, I mused about being famous and on television doing the thing that I loved: cooking. Screw all of the paying-your-dues crap….bang-zoom, right to the tube! But no. I’m just not that stupid. I liken that industry to joining the NBA. There are thousands of college basketball players – some extraordinary, some great, some nicely skilled. Of the first category, only a minuscule fraction actually make it to the NBA. The other two categories better have a back-up plan. So I was content to let the fantasy live in its own world.
What food television since then has become is sheer spectacle. There’s very little learning. There are chef challenges galore (some horrible, some just plain demeaning), junk “chefs” humping the Emeril paradigm until it is beyond raw and has bled out (you know exactly who I mean, Mr. Flavortown), and the worst of the worst: food challenges that have their hosts eating strange/overblown/junkheap food in train-wreck-sized amounts usually with cheering crowds behind them urging them on. Pointless, save for sheer spectacle.
Now I an a huge fan of Chris Cosentino. He (and his initial Boccalone Salumi Society folks) inspired and de-frightened me to make my first pancetta. I always wanted to go to Incanto (his first restaurant, now closed) but never did even though it’s just up the road about 50 miles. I follow his Twitter and other social media accounts and more-or-less hang on his every word. At first I was happy for him to have a television show (Chefs vs. City) but watching it left me kind of empty. It felt clown-ish and even though his entertaining, competitive character shows though on it, it was mostly spectacle. I didn’t lose respect for him at all but wished for more technique and story behind why he did what he did. But that shit doesn’t SELL on food television as it once did.
And today, thanks to Eater, I got to watch a heart-wrenching, courageous and inspiring video of Chris Cosentino telling the story of his food television experiences and how it drove him to sickness, shame, anger and regret. There’s so much here that describing it blow-by-blow won’t do it justice. I was close to tears through some of it and respect the man even more now than before.
If you were ever deluded about the “rich and famous” part of food television, watch this now.