I cook. A lot. I started at six or seven, worked in restaurants in college, have a semi-annual breakdown where I contemplate chucking it all in and starting a food truck, and spend a lot of time reading, studying, and practicing technique.
I was excited when Scripps announced it was launching a second cooking channel, more focused on teaching, technique, and training than the mothership. ((I remember when Food Network was focused on those things; that’s a long time ago.)) And it certainly does have a lot fewer celebrity-driven and spectacle-driven shows and more traditional half-hour shows given over to teaching and recipes.
But after a couple years of watching, it’s pretty clear what Scripps was looking for: a way to make a few easy dollars by airing the Canadian and Australian shows to which they already had rights, in addition to older Food Network shows that no longer fit its schedule or updated tone. There is precious little original programming on Cooking Channel, but a lot of shows aboot the way to cook.
All of this leads to a rather second-hand quality to the network that is a bit depressing; however, that’s not to say there are no quality shows on the network—I watch many of them myself—nor compelling personalities. So let’s focus on those.
- Chuck Hughes is, to my eyes, the standout star of the network. With a bold and infectious personality and an obvious love for cooking and sharing what he knows about cooking, Scripps has been smart to bring him over to play the bigger room of Food Network—first as a competitor on Iron Chef America and then on the all-star edition of The Next Iron Chef—where he has had mixed results. Winning ICA was good; getting knocked out of TNIC early wasn’t the way to become the network’s next star.
- Jamie Oliver hasn’t popped up on Food Network in ages, but he’s a regular fixture on Cooking Channel. I like Oliver well enough and it shocks me his star doesn’t burn brighter on this side of the Atlantic. ((I know he’s a star here; it seems to me he should get more exposure on Food Network.))
- Julia Child. The queen. The start of it all. I was very happy when I saw Cooking Channel was re-airing old episodes of The French Chef. These never go out of date.
- Nadia G is…well…I’m not sure what I think about her. I mean, she’s cute and assertive and funny and her food seems decent and…but her show is a bit more cartoony than I’d prefer. It’s a hard half-hour to swallow.
In addition to the rerun nature of the network, I already sense some movement away from its original mandate, converging on the same model Food Network operates under—a greater focus on celebrity and spectacle and games and tricks than on the art and craft and cooking—making it less of an alternative and more of a less-popular duplicate. I hope its programmers can find a way to hold onto some of that educational focus and not succumb to the cheap ratings of its sister. It would be a shame if in a decade’s time, Scripps had to announce a third food-based network on which education took center stage.