Big personalities, high drama—the extraordinary behind-the-scenes story of the Food Network, now about to celebrate its twentieth anniversary: the business, media, and cultural juggernaut that changed the way America thinks about food.
In October 1993, a tiny start-up called the Food Network debuted to little notice. Twenty years later, it is in 100 million homes, approaches a billion dollars a year in revenue, and features a galaxy of stars whose faces and names are as familiar to us as our own family’s.
But what we don’t know about them, and the people behind them, could fill a book.
Based upon extensive inside access, documents, and interviews with hundreds of executives, stars, and employees all up and down the ladder, Allen Salkin’s book is an exhilarating roller-coaster ride from chaos to conquest (and sometimes back). As Salkin takes us inside the conference rooms, studios, homes, restaurants, and after-hours meetings, we see a salty Julia Child lording it over the early network performers; a fragile Emeril Lagasse staggering from the sudden public shock of cancellation; a very green Rachael Ray nearly burning down the set on her first day; a torn Tyler Florence accepting the Applebee’s job he knows he can’t refuse, but with a chill running down his spine; a determined Bobby Flay reinventing himself once again to survive.
Paula Deen, Tom Colicchio, Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Jamie Oliver, Martha Stewart, Guy Fieri, Cat Cora: Salkin illuminates the people we thought we knew, and the ones we never knew about, in this irresistible story of the intersection between business, television, pop culture, food—and us.
I was disappointed by this book. I had hoped it would be stories from the personalities that Food Network has made famous but it's much more about the business of starting a cable network and the people who did all the behind the scenes work. I guess those are the only people that the author could get to talk to him but it's too bad because I don't think very many people are interested in the excruciating (to me at least) details of the business deals that went into starting the Food Network and keeping it going all these years. There are some tidbits about the names you know and recognize but they are really few and far between. Without those powerful personalities guiding the story, I had trouble remembering who was who because honestly I didn't really care. There were a lot of behind the scenes stories that seemed to be building up to something and then they just ended with nothing dramatic happening. It was like the author only got a few good stories and so he wanted to include them all, whether or not they added to the narrative or supported a point he was trying to make. Another reviewer compared this to the oral history of SNL that came out a few years ago and I don't think this book comes even close to that. The SNL book was full of stories from the main players about what it was like to work on the show in the early years and this book has almost none of that. I wonder if it's because the Food Network stars are mostly professional chefs who were doing this in addition to running restaurants and selling cookware so it wasn't a huge part of their lives like SNL was for its cast. In any case, this was not an interesting book and I'm sorry that my sister saw it on my amazon wish list and bought it for me in hardcover for my birthday. She should have saved her money.
I was so excited to get this from the library, because Food Network is big around my house. But this book wasn't what i really expected at all. I guess if you want to know about cable company execs and their conversations then this is the book for you. I guess I just wanted more of the shows and chefs I watch. I ended up reading about a third of the book before skimming and ultimately just using the index to look up what appealed. Disappointing for me. I did learn a few things but it turns out I would rather watch Food Network than read this very longwinded account about it.
Cooking has always been a passion of mine. From purchasing unique ingredients and recipe creation, to presentation and currently compiling a cookbook; it relaxes me and obviously makes the tummies of those around me happy. I remember when the Food Network began (then called TVFN) and have watched it grow since its inception. Allen Salkin exposes the creation of the channel to its current status in “From Scratch: Inside the Tumultuous Billion Dollar World of the Food Network”.
I was initially worried with “From Scratch” as Salkin’s Preface (before his Prologue) contained two editing/grammar errors, questioning the credibility of his writing. However, this dissolved quickly as Salkin introduced his massive amount of research and insider information which makes “From Scratch” worth reading.
“From Scratch” is incredibly entertaining and yet informative on a whole other level. Combining investigative journalism, business, exposes, advertising/branding topics, some celebrity gossip, and never-before-heard developmental stories; Salkin reveals Food Network to both fans of the channel and simply those interested in television branding. In fact, “From Scratch” is not some raunchy tabloid of juicy chef gossip but is rather a business book focusing on the network itself (the book is much recommended for those interested in advertising). Even though “From Scratch” is not a spotlight on individual network “stars”, it still manages to reveal personalities and behind-the-scenes information in a classy way, satisfying the gossip searchers. Again though, the main plot is the business end of things and will disappoint those readers expecting a sole celebrity focus. Yet, Salkin is a genius at not boring the reader with too much business and mixing the text up with lighter fare.
Salkin’s writing contains incredible prose, intelligence, and accessibility; along with a slight hint of style and comedy. The pace is steady but builds almost like a fictional narrative. I have read many business exposes but “From Scratch” is incomparable and stands out on the crowded book shelves. “From Scratch” does suffer from some slower moments but this is not because of poor writing or content but rather because there is so much information, that sometimes a break is needed in order to process it all.
On a negative side, Salkin sometimes is too eager to tell every single detail regarding the Food Network, resulting in some choppiness and jumps in chronology. Also noticeable is a more-than-obvious focus on Emeril Lagasse. Yes, he was the channel’s first star; but he overpopulates the pages. Despite these complaints, “From Scratch” is still strong and a joy to read.
One of the most striking features of “From Scratch” is that Salkin’s writing is passionate about the subject but yet unbiased; and is therefore a perfect journalistic piece revealing various angles, figures, and views. Being both impressive and thorough; Salkin truly carries the book well. Salkin’s main strength is bringing the Food Network alive. Those who are fans of the network will see events unravel simultaneously with how they remember it on air; while also learning about the corporate culture. “From Scratch” unveils the precise moment when the channel evolved from instructional cooking to its current food-based reality show programming (similar to when MTV stopped playing music).
In the last quarter of “From Scratch”, Salkin begins to incorporate thought-provoking ideas of the psychological merit and ‘foodie’ effect of the channel. This flows naturally and eases into the study/expose, adding depth and richness (and actually makes sense). The conclusion of “From Scratch” was noticeably weaker than the preceding portions of the book while feeling rushed. Plus, it felt like Salkin was ending his manuscript when the Paula Deen debacle hit the media and therefore he re-grabbed his pen to insert the news resulting in a shuffled and unmemorable ending.
Despite the less attractive ending; “From Scratch” is remarkable with terrific writing, a clear and concise aim with mounds of backing research, and a well-paced, compelling story. Salkin is clearly a talented writer and “From Scratch” is recommended for foodies and all fans of the Food Network. You will never look at the channel the same again!
Big personalities, high drama - the extraordinary behind the scenes story...
This is how Allen Salkin describes his book. It couldn't be further from the truth. This is not a book about the "big personalities" of Food Network, at least not the ones you know and love. This is not a book about the stars. This is not a book for a casual fan, or even a devoted fan who watches for the food. This book is probably not what you're expecting.
So what is From Scratch?
It's a laundry list of name drops. The author discusses, at length, who he spoke to when he was writing the book. He also lists who he briefly interviewed and who refused to speak with him. He will go into painstaking detail about who he talked to and when. This carries on throughout the book and crops up again in the very lengthy acknowledgements section at the end.
It's a biography of Emeril Lagasse. As far as the chefs go, Emeril is the main focus. We follow him from the day he was hired to the day he was fired. Not much is left to the imagination. Anecdotes about Emeril are injected into nearly every page, even when they don't fit. Yes, every Food Network fan knows who Emeril is, but that doesn't mean that his name needs to appear on every page of the book.
It's a "what not to do" for starting a business. Salkin goes into depth about how stupid the management was when Food Network started. At one point, staff members were found sleeping on the job and stealing petty cash. The management obviously didn't like that, so they installed cameras to obtain proof and take action. The staff didn't like it, so they got rid of the cameras. Clearly, no problems were solved.
It's an unorganized mess. Nothing is tied together. There are no transitions. When he's actually talking about the chefs, he jumps from Bobby Flay to Tyler Florence to Alton Brown to Ming Tsai and back again with absolutely no connections.
There's a lot wrong with this book. Salkin's insistence on using first names only (except, apparently, when it comes to Nigella Lawson) drove me crazy. It was especially confusing when he was writing about Paula Deen's sons, Bobby and Jamie, around the same time he had been writing about Bobby Flay and Jamie Oliver. He will describe what an executive was wearing in minute detail, from the way her hair was styled to the color of her nail polish to her choice of footwear, but he'll just gloss over that time when Rachael Ray accidentally set Emeril's set on fire. And the ending - Salkin writes a perfect conclusion to the book, then writes a good ten to fifteen pages about the most recent Paula Deen debacle, as if it happened so close to publication that he couldn't even be bothered to work it in to the story. Then there's a half-hearted, completely unsatisfying conclusion involving Ina Garten visiting Bob Tuschman in the hospital and Joe Langhan eating pizza. I literally rolled my eyes upon reading the last page - that's how bad it was.
Nearly everything in this book is irrelevant. It could have been half the length without losing anything important. It's extremely dry reading, to the point where it was a struggle to knock out ten or fifteen pages a night. The only reason I'm giving it two stars is that I learned one good fact - Food Network was started by a regular guy who gets absolutely no credit and absolutely no profits.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Reading the reviews, I knew what I was getting into. While the title is admittedly misleading, it's important to focus on the "From Scratch" part of it. Rather than a trashy gossip rag about the network's stars, this book details the Food Network from its conception to where it stands now.
I really enjoyed learning about how the idea of a 24-hour food channel went from being almost universally rejected to the incredible business it is now. I had no idea that the original sets were right out of OSHA's nightmares, that the original hosts were... washed up TV stars, or that there were so many financial challenges from inside and outside.
Plus, while I was a huge fan of the network (I prefer the earlier programming of 5-10 years ago), I never really liked Rachel Ray or Sandra Lee. However, after reading more about their back stories, I have much more respect for how hard they've worked and where they came from. I also never realized how much Emeril and Bobby have done for the network, and it was refreshing to read about the people who worked/work so hard behind-the-scenes. Lastly, I realized that I have a tendency to read headlines and skim articles so this book did give a little more information about some of the Food Network scandals, namely the Paula Deen controversy.
My only criticism is that the book often jumped around without finishing its train of thought. I suppose this is a factor of writing about the wide range of shows and the huge number of events happening simultaneously. Nevertheless, it sometimes felt like the author introduced a character or show then moved to a different topic before completing the story.
Overall, the book was fun to read. I recommend it for fans of the network who are interested in the origins and development of the network. However, if you're hoping for a bunch of tell-alls or behind-the-scenes of the current shows (I was), this isn't the book for you.
So this book is marketed as a tell-all about the wild and crazy personalities and celebrity chefs at the Food Network. Really what it is is a history of the Food Network and the behind-the-scenes folks, the ones who made the decisions to hire/fire. What shows do you market? What works? Who works? Some scary descriptions of very dirty, barely usable test kitchens. Certain chefs come away shining, like Emeril (who is a REAL chef and knows what that means), and Mario, who learned how to adapt quickly by talking about all the differences in regional Italian cooking. Alton Brown is barely talked about other than the fact that he is unique and brilliant and very talented. Bobby Flay is an opportunist and that has worked for him, Tyler "Food 911" made the mistake of working with Applebees (for A LOT of money)and had to recover, Anthony Bourdain never sold out and was always himself. Paula Deen blew it by handling things remarkably badly, but we all know that. The folks who aren't really chefs and became stars are the ones that the Food Network went with much of the time, looking for younger, fresh-faced personalities as they changed their image. I stopped watching when there was no more Emeril or Mario, I really enjoyed them, and I continue to marvel at Alton Brown. I really could care less about who were the executives when and why they made decisions the decisions they did. While there was a bit of dirt there wasn't as much as advertised, so I skimmed through most of the book to get to it.
This book was everything I expected it to be - and the bar was set pretty high. It chronicled the life of the Food Network (and Cooking Channel), giving behind-the-scenes looks at both the business and talent side.
At times, the business side could be a little dry. However, I thought it was critical it include this information, since it so deeply effected the talent side. But as someone who has watched the Network for most of it's life, it gave some insight into certain shows (like how Ina and Giada's shows were shot differently) that made sense to me.
On the personality side, it's not a full bio of every chef. There are a few paragraphs for the major talents, explaining their rise and how they came to be on the Network. There is some good dish here, though nothing unexpected. Obviously, if you want an in-depth look at a particular chef, most of them have their own books. I thought this was a good background. Ina Garten and Paula Deen come off pretty harsh here; that's not too surprising. The author doesn't editorialize too much, but it's difficult to stay neutral when covering such distinct personalities - which most of these chefs/cooks are.
If you like the Food Network - and millions do - this is a pretty interesting and entertaining look at why it's become so popular.
It's more a business case study than a tasty dish. And the case is pretty interesting. It's a wonder that the network ever happened at all given the vague concept to begin with, the difficulties in finding investors, and the conflicts between management factions, to say nothing of the three changes in ownership in as many years and the ever changing terrain of the cable universe.
These aspects are well handled and make up much of the book, but I think I would rather watch sausage being made than hear quite so much about ownership shares and the changing demographics of the ideal target audience. Or target. It is a business after all, market shares and PE ratios are more important than programming unless the programming makes a measurable contribution to them.
I do with there had been more about the network content - how the shows are made, how hosts and contestants are selected - and a bit less about the shifts in management personnel. Given the number of high profile, big personalities involved, this is a surprisingly flat book.
I bought this because I enjoy watching Food Network and thought there would be a lot of interesting behind the scenes information. Well, the first half of the book is filled with business related minutia regarding the start of Food Network and cable companies...a LOT about cable companies. More than I ever wanted to know. The book only started getting interesting in the last half to third, when the author started writing about the Food Network that we have all come to know and enjoy. This is not a book that I would recommend unless you want to learn how to start a niche cable channel. For Food Network fans: it's not what you expect. If you want to read it, borrow it and skip the first half of the book. Be prepared to skim a lot. :-)
This is a completely uninspiring book - mostly It is a list of facts and name dropping with a couple of offset quotes to liven things up. That said, I enjoyed reading it but only because I have been a loyal viewer since almost the beginning of the network.
If you know the TV personalities and their names and remember the old shows like "Ready Set Cook" and "Hot Off the Grill" and the rise (and fall) of "Emeril Live!" you may find it worthwhile.
I think it was really interesting to see how/why the focus of the network changed over the years and to see where on the spectrum my own tastes are.
Bottom line: good for hardcore, longtime Food Network viewers only and iffy even for them.
I'll confess straight up that although I used to enjoy the Food Network's programming a decade ago, when its programs specialized in interesting and engaging talk about food and its preparation, I rarely give the network a view now that gimmicky game show competitions rule its airwaves. In From Scratch, Allen Salkin takes a broad look at the bumpy ride the network has taken over the years since its premiere in 1993. He especially concentrates upon the paradigm shifts that have shifted the network from its instructional roots to a type of lowest-common-denominator programming in which "it was not the network's job to teach or to have a conscience or a memory or to always put something beautiful on the plate . . . the network's prime directive was to sell as many Ginsu knives, boxes of detergent, Corollas, and breath mints as it could for paying advertisers."
The network's lack of both conscience and memory appears throughout its history, as through multiple changes of ownership and direction its talent regularly got the shaft. When Jennifer Paterson of the immensely popular import Two Fat Ladies passed away, the funeral hadn't even been held before Food Network execs were making trans-Atlantic calls to the production company, blunting asking if they simply couldn't find another fat lady to replace the dead one. Chefs responsible for the network's early popularity had their shows canceled for cheaper, louder, less experienced personalities. Longterm stalwarts on the air for over a decade, such as Sara Moulton, found themselves fired without as much as a meeting or telephone call from the network's executives. Emeril Lagasse was stunned when he was suddenly shoved off the air after driving the Food Network's primetime schedule for a decade. David Rosengarten, who found himself iced out of the studios during one of the transitions in power, had been sacked for a good five years when a Food Network producer—unaware he'd once been one of their former bigger celebrities—called him up and said he had good television potential and would he like to try out for The Next Food Network Star? Talk about adding insult to injury.
There's no lack of insider gossip here, either. Salkin is blunt when it comes to dissecting how the channel's gamble to choose personalities over talent has led to a number of Food Network-related scandals over the years, from Robert Irvine's embellished claims to working in the White House and for Britain's royal family, to Ina Garten's publicity flak when she twice refused to allow a Make-A-Wish Foundation child to cook with her, to the infamous bad publicity that Guy Fieri received over his Manhattan eatery, to the more recent Paula Deen scandals.
Though the book is a little sloggy in its early parts before the Food Network really gets off the ground, it's an intense and often exciting read once the studio lights switch on and actual filming begins. As an insider look at the business institution that (depending upon one's perspective) either made the kitchen a national obsession, or else latched onto a zeitgeist at the right time and made its personalities national stars in the process, it's both eye-opening and invaluable.
Disjointed and unfocused, like the author couldn't decide whether he was writing an entertaining behind the scenes tell-all or a dry blow by blow of the Food Network's business decisions. Much of the book focused on things like shifting shares of the company and the struggle to get cable networks to carry the network, which might be interesting to business students or stock market junkies, but not the average Food Network viewer.
The cover of the book promised "big personalities and high drama" and featured photo's of the network's biggest stars, but actual stories about the chefs were relatively sparse. I wanted much more of segments like the brief one about a day in the life of Anne's show vs one of Rachael's, for example. They focused a fair amount on Emeril and his rising/waning stardom, which was somewhat interesting.
The writing style was very choppy and amateurish for someone with an apparently long writing career. Maybe his style is more suited to shorter column pieces. There were many instances in which an apparently unrelated anecdote was tacked on to the end of a chapter, as if he had gathered a bunch of them while researching the book and didn't want them to go to waste no matter how off topic they were. (Why end the book with Ina Garten visiting Bob Tuschman in the hospital and giving him a blanket? How does that tie the network's story together in any way? That they care about each other? Very odd choice.)
In the end, I learned a bit more about the network that I spent a lot of time watching for many years, but not really the aspects that I was most interested in.
I cannot fault the book for its focus on details that are fairly uninteresting to me -- early cable network distribution issues, corporate hirings and firings, management personnel, etc. The author may have different interests than mine. I was hoping to learn about the on-screen personalities and their backstories, stories of both the best episodes and the worst episodes of some of my favorite shows, some opportunities to laugh and cry with some of the stars, and to learn about how the network has evolved over the years. This just wasn't the book for that.
What I can fault the book for is a style of writing that is more appropriate for short newspaper reports or brief blog post than full-length book. Subject matter from paragraph to paragraph changes unexpectedly. Narratives are rarely complete stories. There is no cohesiveness within chapters nor any real sense of why there are chapter breaks at all. It reads more like a journalist's notes simply strung together rather than a book with an overall purpose, movement, and storytelling. Rather than develop themes, a plot, or characters, the writer puts into print scattered details in a somewhat chronological order without regard for creating a narrative flow. It leaves the reader bored, confused by unrelated details, and ultimately turning to write reviews in amazon that are not very flattering.
Disclaimer: I have received an ARC copy of this book.
The book is a detailed look at the beginnings of what was then a radical idea: an entire cable channel devoted to food and cooking. The book profiles the determined and resourceful folk who created the Food Network and the many challenges they needed to overcome. There are plenty of interviews and some great stories as they experimented with ideas that might make the new channel successful. There are also detailed biographies of various Food Network stars such as Rachael Ray and Emeril Agasse.
The book is an interesting read and would be especially appealing to anyone in the TV business. It details what to do and what NOT to do if you are trying to create something both big and original. One minor flaw, the book was written before Paula Deens fall from grace and so it is somewhat out of date. There is mention of her diabetes drug endorsement but that was a minor stumble compared to what happened later. And it was fascinating to read how difficult it was to get Food Network started, you would think in hindsight that it was obvious there was (and is) a strong market for shows about food and cooking.
-- The Food Network was conceived by a regular dude in New England who gets no credit or money. -- Emeril first started saying "Bam!" because his cameramen were falling alseep. -- One of the Food Network's first broadcasts was a Thanksgiving show that featured Robin Leach suggestively fisting a turkey. -- "Whoever says 'fuck' first at a meeting controls the meeting." -- TV executives get fired all the time and it is not a career-ender for them. -- "You don't get rich going to work, you get rich going to the mailbox." -- The concept of a 'rockstar' chef was apparently invented by Alice Cooper's agent, who was impressed by Roger Verge. -- The Food Network stopped being interesting after an executive from Lifetime took over. She has since left, but they can't get the zing back.
So, if you've read this review, I think I've saved you some time and you can skip the actual book. But if you do read it, don't miss the paragraph in the four-page acknowledgements section that the author devotes to thanking his yoga instructors.
This is a must-read for any Food Network fan or even anyone who is a fan of a single Food Network show because you're going to find tidbits in here that interest you and keep you reading! I had no idea what the network used to be - complete with a "news show" - and enjoyed learning about that period I had no prior knowledge of. And I loved learning about the backgrounds of the popular shows/stars of today, even if I don't personally watch those shows or follow those stars. You still can't help but hear about them and therefore want to know more! I got lost a few times with the names of network execs tossed around...I would read a name and know that it had been mentioned previously but have to flip back to figure out who it was. No matter, I was willing to put in that effort because this book was very entertaining!
Back when I had a TV to watch things on, I invariably found myself watching various shows on channels that I might once have looked down my nose at, because I'm a recovering snob to a certain degree. It wasn't that huge of a leap for me to, having embraced Tony Bourdain's snarky disdain via "No Reservations" and "Parts Unknown," look down upon the Food Network, the target of much of his disdain. But then a funny thing happened; I started tuning in and liking many (though not all) of the shows I found there. Even Guy Fieri, a cultural punching bag, could be entertaining if I was in the right mood (and later prove to be a stand-up guy during the COVID shutdown of last year). So the Food Network, cheesy as it could be sometimes, ended up being something that I watched on a regular basis.
"From Scratch: Inside the Food Network" by Allen Salkin gets into the history of the channel, its troubled birth and cruel childhood of being a red-headed stepchild to the emerging cable TV industry foreshadowing its eventual climb to be the premier destination of cooking shows, cooking competitions, and travel-foodie shows. It's a fascinating read at times, occasionally bogged down by the sort of "behind the scenes" business deal reporting that doesn't always play as compelling narrative but which is important to understanding the ups and downs of television's major culinary channel. And the gossip about the personalities (like Bourdain, Rachael Ray, Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, and others) is hard to beat.
Salkin covers the unlikely origin story of the network and its even more unlikely creator, Joe Langhan (no foodie, he was more comfortable with take-out pizza that had been in his car for a week). Beginning in 1993, the Food Network tried to overcome the lack of interest it often came up against from potential investors and viewers by offering them a chance to watch some dynamic hosts serving up recipes and meals that many had never experienced before outside of New York or other major cities. The channel built up an audience with hosts like Emeril Lagasse, Alton Brown, Ray, and Flay, and brought "Iron Chef" to the States first as an import of the original Japanese show and then as an Americanized version. From "Emeril Live" to "Chopped," from Julia Child to Paula Deen, the Food Network has in its almost thirty years been both a blessing and a curse to the notion of food culture, but the overall impact is that it has opened doors for the average consumer to venture into more daring fare and more economical cooking.
The book is a quick read, even the bits about the business side (with a lot of turnover among the presidents of the network and even who owned it over the years, it's something of a miracle that the Food Network didn't fold), and like I said, the behind-the-scenes stuff about various personalities is very interesting. In the wake of Bourdain's death, Batali's fall from grace over sexual harassment charges, and other scandals, it would be interesting to revisit the story of the Food Network in more recent times (the book was published in 2013). But for now, "From Scratch" is the inside scoop on how a channel built around cooking shows managed to change television and whet viewers' appetites for food-centric programming.
The Food Network was created just for me. Before there was a Food Network, I watched Julia Child on "The French Chef," Pasquale Carpino singing opera and talking about his mother on "Pasquale's Kitchen," Jeff Smith on "The Frugal Gourmet," Martin Yan on "Yan Can Cook," Justin Wilson cooking Cajun, Graham Kerr on "The Galloping Gourmet" (before he got sober) and the whole "Great Chefs of" series: New Orleans, San Francisco, Chicago, the West, and the rest. I defined the demographic; The Food Network filled in the squares with programming. In a highly anecdotal history of the first twenty years of the Food Network, Allen Salkin tells a very insider's story. Never mind questions like "Does cheese go with fish?" or "Should pasta water be salted?" Salkin explains the gritty economics of making a cable network happen, including the ruthless infighting of people in the television-production industry. For a person who has watched the Food Network continuously since its inception, there are many questions answered here. What did Emeril Lagasse do to get unceremoniously dumped? Likewise, Robert Irvine and Paula Deen and Mario Batali? Do Bobby and Giada really have the hots for each other? Is Alton Brown as whacky as he comes off in "Good Eats"? How come "Top Chef" is on a different network? What sort of mitosis resulted in The Cooking Channel? Did "Iron Chef" get rusty? What will they whip up next? All of this is interesting to the reader who is already interested, perhaps less so to one less devoted to the network's programming. Rather like one of those Oscar winners who can't stop thanking people at the Academy Awards, Salkin is the poster child of gratitude; in five pages of "acknowledgements" he thanks eighteen yoga instructors on two continents, each by their full name.
Journalist Allen Salkin fascinates us readers with his book From Scratch: Inside the Food Network. Yes, the book is about Food Network—its creation, its development, its stars, its successes and failures. But it is also an in-depth look at how a cable channel gets made. Rising from a start-up with almost no budget, Food Network, in twenty years, has become a multi-million dollar company, making media stars of chefs like Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, Mario Vitale, Anne Burrell, Tyler Florence, Rachael Ray, Paula Deen, Giada DeLaurentiis, and many others. We are privileged to anecdotes that make the network come alive, and we are able to enjoy the triumphs and foibles of our famous Food Network personalities. Although the book was published five years ago (and I wish Salkin would write an update) the infamous firing of Paula Deen, an incident that to me seemed like yesterday, is included. It’s more like a “letting go,” than firing, for her contract was up anyway and thus was not renewed. The amazing thing is that many of the Food Network stars have gone through tabloid scandals over the years, and the viewers have remained loyal to them. I have no doubt, if the network had renewed Paula’s contract, she, too, would still be slathering butter all over everything in her shows at the network. The tenacity of Bobby Flay, the depth of Rachael Ray, the bombastic personality of Anthony Bourdain, the roughness of Anne Burrell, the towering persona of Julia Child, and the duplicity of Robert Irvine all make for fun reading. This is a book for all lovers of TV, especially those who are loyal fans of Food Network.
At first I enjoyed reading this book for many reasons other reviewers did not. It talked about the early start up of Food Network and the people behind it. Yes, I was interested in the ‘celebratory chefs’; note a newly addressed way of speaking of a broad array of new chefs, cooks, home cooks, entertainers, etc., but to a limited degree. I was not interested in a claws out, back and forth run down of arguments, egos, and extreme fights. Yet, for all the author seems to understand that food preparation, in many ways, is not dull he misses his mark. Food is exciting, interesting, loving, even sensual. The Food Network in it’s early days, I never even knew about, yet I loved many later shows. I thought this just happened and was an easy transformation. It was not at all. Still, The Food Network did transform culinary and everyday Supermarket shopping and Cooking. It was quite an extraordinary achievement. Still, I said I liked some background in the beginning, but this book is over 400 pages. For all it’s incessant listing of ever top to bottom employee change, and I did lose track after page 100, it continues. So, if knowledge is key and understanding imperative, this book missed out b/c it is Dull. It drags for 1/2 the book. It is not interesting, sensual, new, and formative. It becomes boring. It lost the point. It got too bogged down. A mix of the people responsible for starting the network from nothing, the early cooks, the later celeb cooks, and some discussion of the cultural impact would have been much more interesting, and a lot more editing. Much More!
The first half is a very dull book centered around the lives and drama of ... not the biggest stars of Food Network that we are used to watching - but the producers, writers and programmers who created and planned the network. Aside from explaining the basic origin stories of Alton Brown, Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay and a few others, the book mostly avoids talking about the stars at all - instead preferring to drone on mindlessly about advertising dollars, revenue streams and such. If you're looking for a juicy expose about the stars on the cover, look elsewhere - most of the information he provides about stars could be found on a Wikipedia page. Less a book about "how the sausage is made" and more a book about "how a fifteen year old dish washer at your favorite restaurant stacks the plates." No disrespect to the producers, programmers, assistants, makeup artists and other regular folk who helped shape and create the network but the book misrepresents what it's content really is. There are some decent stories about the beginnings of some stars - Ina Garten crying between filming her initial series was humbling and details of Emerils failed sitcom humanized the star. And one cannot but love the witty and savage criticism Anthony Bourdain published about the network. There is the occasional juicy tale - Mario Batali is apparently quite the party anima but the interesting content could have been a few internet articles not a whole book.
I am not sure how fervently I would recommend this book to others, but I am always looking for long, engaging non-fiction for audio and this met that standard. Allen Salkin has written a history of the Food Network over its first three decades. It's not a gossipy tell-all. Instead, it's more a business case study. If you watch way too much of this channel, as I do, it's fascinating to see how precarious the network's position was at various points. And the backstories about the celebrity chefs were always fun to hear. That said, I was looking for more of a cultural history. To what degree is the network pushing larger societal trends, and to what degree are they responding? Of course this is there, but there is some connect-the-dot work necessary from the reader. More often, the larger context Salkin engages with the legal and financial maneuverings of cable and digital media. If I were reading a physical book, I'd have been bored with this. With audio, I just zoned out a bit. The narration was also a mixed bag. The narrator mispronounces so many names and places - it was ridiculous. That said, the impressions of Julia Child, Emeril Lagasse, Robert Irvine, and Paula Dean were hilarious. Just not sure if they were supposed to be...
I decided to read this book like many others did, for the big personalities. I wanted lots of Alton, Emeril, Ina, Geoffrey, Paula and Bobby. I did not get that, but, I did get how and why we have the channels. I know why there is so much I dislike about what is on and why I have to DVR my favorites.
What I did miss was the advertising influence of the channel. I believe strongly that Scripps does not want viewer input. There is no way to make suggestions on any website I have found, in fact there is a disclosure stating that they will not accept unsolicited input!
I have watched for years, since the early broadcasts of iron Chef (the Japanese originals), but have never seen a show for people that need to relearn cooking - for Diabetes, Gluten Free, Heart issues, Vegan. The major food producer associations, like Dairy, Beef or Poultry wold hate it! This is what is needed. Instead Brooke Johnson thinks we need to be entertained and given shows like Cutthroat Kitchen with the most ridiculous and unrealistic challenges ever imagined - Not interested! Mr Salkin did not get into these aspects of the network at all, a miss I think.
I read what I guess was an updated version of this called From Scratch: The Uncensored History of the Food Network. I typically love behind-the-scenes type stuff and learning how things I like came to be, but the first part of this book was rather boring. All the stuff about the network and subscribers and the meetings and whatever, was only mildly relevant, in my opinion. I didn't REALLY care to learn about THAT kind of tedious detail, but I can say that in the larger scope, it can help me appreciate how far the network has come.
What it also did was cement my opinion that I wouldn't want anything to do with the television industry. A lot of people were presented to be rather negative or heartless or uncaring.
But a lot of it was really interesting, and it was cool to read about the early shows and meager resources, and how they had to improvise for TV. I remember watching Emeril Live back in the day and it was fascinating to read about what was happening behind the scenes during that time.
Overall, I enjoyed it. I'll probably read it again at some point, but I'll be skipping the beginning.
This was an interesting read. I stumbled across this a dollar store, and from the quotes on the back, assumed it was some sort of tell all about the chefs.
It's really not. Like other reviews have noted, it's more about the behind the scenes stuff. How the channel was established, what running it was like, that sort of thing. Which is still an interesting story, even if it's not entirely what seemed to be being advertised by the book's dust jacket.
There are some definite missteps though. The book feels disorganized at times. There were more than a few parts where I wasn't sure when the stories being told were taken place. The author's insistence on using first names does get confusing at times, and there are times where the author refers to a story that wasn't actually elaborated on or mentioned in the prior pages.
I liked reading it, and definitely found the concept of a book around how a cable channel was formed and the struggles of keeping it afloat to be an interesting one, but things like those mentioned above keep it from standing out.
This book drew my attention because I am a part-time fan of the Food Network. There are shows I like to watch and shows I never watch so it was interesting to see how the shows were developed. Over the years, the administrative personnel changes had a significant influence on the direction and philosophy of the programming. This brought considerable inconsistency to the growth of the network. That part of the book became a bit laborious. I would have preferred to read more about the on-screen personalities. While that played a part in the book, it always seemed to come back to how the performers related to the philosophy of the boss at that given time. The book was published in 2013 at the 20th anniversary of the Food Network. Therefore it does not include events of the last five years but it does present an interesting look at the first twenty.