Food Network spawns edgy, young Cooking Channel

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But it also looks like the Cooking Channel will stick to the formula that has made Food Network a culinary cultural force: the focus on personality-driven shows.

By relying on hosts that are sometimes manic, often good looking and always with personalities that pop from the screen, the Food Network and chipped away at the old image of the professional cook as some interchangeable guy in a chef’s hat.

“They have become these exalted, demiglace gods,” joked Epicurious.com editor Tanya Steel, who said that when her children met Mario Batali, they acted like they met Bono.

The Food Network’s DNA is easy to spot not only in dozens of TV food shows, but also the consumer-friendly culinary magazines and food websites offering easy meals and food-related contests. The cookbook section of chain bookstores is jammed with titles from Food Network talent.

“When you look at the shelves of those people, it feels like, ‘These are my cooking buddies,’” said Suzanne Gluck, who handles chef book deals for William Morris Endeavor Entertainment as co-head of its worldwide literary department.

Gluck credits the Food Network with consistently finding stars with equal measure cooking talent and personality.

The triumph of the Food Network has been welcomed by industry types like Steel, who sees the channel inspiring another generation to cook and love food. It has inspired more mixed feelings from some of the old guard, who struggle to cope with a culinary world where Gourmet magazine is out of business and figure skater Brian Boitano was given his own food show.

“I’m a chef … so it hurts me to see this dumbed down or disrespected,” said Anthony Bourdain, known for his non-Food Network media ventures. “But I’m aware of the fact that however repellent I might find a lot of this programming, it is a spectacularly successful business model that probably benefited me in the long run.”

Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University who worked briefly for the Food Network at its start, said she wished the channel gave more time to “serious food news.” But in the same e-mail she greeted the launch of the Cooking Channel, writing “I’m for anything and anyone who gets people excited about food and cooking.”

Bourdain echoed that point, conceding that any additional food programming is a good thing.

“What’s worse,” he asked, “another network about food, or another network filled with steroid-jacked reality freakazoids?”

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