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Saturday, 31 of October of 2020

The Next Food Network Star – “Secret Supper Club”

Way to take a step back, Food Network Star.

After a very solid two weeks, the show backslid with Sunday’s episode, an episode that misses the mark for a whole slew of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the Star Challenge had no business being on this show. What the star challenge, an underground supper club for LA foodies (“The first rule of supper club is that you do not talk about supper club. The second rule of supper club is that you do not use saffron. It is so 2005.”), tells me is that Food Network wants to extend its brand to foodies. Too bad Food Network doesn’t really scream foodie to me. Or anyone.

The ‘foodie’ designation is one that has grown in usage as food as moved into the pop culture mainstream. And by this I mean it’s more than cooking shows on PBS or even on the Food Network. People are selecting food to become geeks in, like film or TV or baseball, and are being viewed as experts in it, even if they lack the culinary training. Food, like libraries will be in a few years, is hot and trendy right now, and it behooves Food Network to try and appeal to those people who are watching Top Chef and Top Chef Masters, people who consider themselves foodies and know who Eric Ripert is without Googling him.

But the foodie label also carries with it that of being in the loop about food trends and people, and Food Network doesn’t highlight those trends and people.  They highlight their brand, and the chefs associated with that brand. And their brand isn’t foodies. It isn’t foams or  molecular gastronomy (with rare exceptions on Iron Chef America) or, as they say in Ratouille, “getting fancy with the spices”; Food Network is the descent of Julia Child making food accessible for everyone, showing people how they can cook things that don’t take a lot of time, will taste good, and can please a range of people (guests, children, picky eaters).

So this secret supper club seems like a weird challenge, one that would be better served for a Top Chef elimination challenge than a Star Challenge for NFNS. On Top Chef, we have foodies participating (by and large) and foodies judging them. The contestants on NFNS never come off as foodies, really. They come off as a smart and trained chefs, but never people who are engaged in food trends. And they’re judged by people who know food (and I have no doubt that Bobby Flay is aware of trends and people), but that the two network executives may not be the ones to keep up with the big trends in food (which would appear to be cupcakes, yes, and food trucks now).

The food that ends up being served at the supper club, a flan, some pasta, poorly seasoned carrot soup, and a green curry chicken don’t seem like “foodie” dishes. They seem like good ideas for dishes (goodness knows I love some green curry), but they’re not the bold dishes that, at least I think, are culturally associated with foodies. Tom’s stab at a Thai fish soup was the one the judges mentioned that the foodies were the most excited about, but no one else’s dishes seemed to spark much interest.

So, Food Network, leave the foodies alone. You do what you do very well, and expanding your brand to foodies is only going to get you mocked (foodies are a bit snobby, like many geeks,  in case you’ve forgotten what Anthony Bourdain thinks of Rachel Ray) and possibly marginalize your core demos.

Or stick the foodies on the Cooking Channel.


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