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Pete Wells is Not Charmed by Giada

Pete Wells is Not Charmed by Giada


When Pete Wells reviews a restaurant outside of New York, he does not implement his star-based award system. Even if he did, it seems unlikely that he would have given Giada, opened in Las Vegas’ Cromwell Hotel and Casino in June, even a single one.

“Understated” and “subtle” are not usually terms associated with Las Vegas, but Wells finds the branding of the décor in Giada De Laurentiis’ restaurant, even for its host city, completely over-the-top “there is little doubt whose place it is. Ms. De Laurentiis is invoked so often that it can seem she wants you to feel as if you’re in her museum... Her words, familiar to her television audience, are even repeated in six chandeliers around the dining room, cut out in silhouette so that light beams from behind: ‘I eat a little bit of Everything and not a lot of Anything.’” The critic then smoothly transitions from critiquing the interior of the eatery to the food he was served, delivering the first jab with his trademark high-brow snark: “As a quotation for posterity, this is not exactly ‘Et tu, Brute?’ But it may describe Ms. De Laurentiis’ philosophy for the food at Giada. All of it is in a relaxed, approachable California-Italian mode, and none of it is very hard to leave on the plate.”

He then continues with an unflattering barrage against the dishes he sampled, which were “flaccid” bucatini in a “bland” tomato sauce; a margherita pizzette that “might have come from the children’s menu of any restaurant in America except an Italian one,” and the chicken cacciatore for two. Billed as “Giada’s signature dish,” the presentation and subsequent sample served confused the critic, as first he was first presented with a trussed, roasted chicken garnished with cipollini onions, peppers, and mushrooms. After the bird was whisked back into the kitchen, the origin of the “stack of browned, dry chicken pieces” Wells was then served made him dubious as to whether they were actually cut from the enticing dish that had previously been displayed. This prompted the food journalist to poke fun at the celebrity chef’s culinary beginnings, with his final comment on the dish being “Something was missing here — maybe the commercial that on television would have run between the first chicken and the second.”

In the final paragraph, Wells points out that the restaurant is missing an executive chef, as De Laurentiis fired the one she had lined up just days before the official opening. The critic seems a bit mystified by how the eatery operates — albeit poorly — without one, and he takes this opportunity to deliver the Food Network star one last knock, subtly calling attention to the plebian nature of the cuisine her restaurant serves: “two weeks before Giada was scheduled to serve its first meal, Ms. De Laurentiis fired her executive chef. She has been looking for a permanent replacement ever since, but the restaurant stays open. The ideal candidate should have experience with pizza and pasta.”

Kate Kolenda is the Restaurant/City Guide Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @BeefWerky and @theconversant.


Giada De Laurentiis on New York Times Restaurant Review: 'I Spent Two Days Bawling My Eyes Out'

Although Giada De Laurentiis is known for her elegant recipes and successful restaurant ventures, the chef is no stranger to harsh criticism.

The 47-year-old says when New York Times food critic Pete Wells ate at Giada—her Las Vegas restaurant located in the Cromwell hotel, which opened in 2014𠅊nd gave his review, “it was not pretty.”

“I spent two days bawling my eyes out,” De Laurentiis said in an interview with the Eater Upsell podcast. “He went a month after I opened, and of course he ripped it to shreds.”‘

Along with scathing criticisms of the pasta and pizza, Wells called Giada’s signature dish, chicken cacciatore, 𠇊 puzzle whose pieces didn’t fit” with 𠇋rowned, dry chicken pieces that seemed to have no relationship to the original bird.”

But the author of Giada’s Italy says she knows the feedback comes with being in the food industry.

“They’re after us. It’s fine,” De Laurentiis said. “It is what it is. It’s part of who we are. We open ourselves up to those critics. I feel like I have my iconic dishes, my restaurant does really well, I do my best to deliver great service and great food, and that is the job that I have. I will tell you that I was immensely upset. It really killed me for a while.”

De Laurentiis also opened up about how she got into the restaurant industry, and the pressures of attending the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in Paris in her twenties.

“You already know I’m a little person, I lost 10 pounds,” she said. “I couldn’t eat, sleep, I was so … I didn’t speak French, the classes were in French … I don’t know what I was thinking. The whole time. What was I thinking in this life because I am not that person. I don’t take those kind of risks, but I always wanted to go to culinary school. My parents … and I’m the first in my family to go to college, and my parents were like, ‘You can’t possibly know what you want to do so why don’t you buy yourself some time?’ I paid for my own college. I paid to go to UCLA, probably why I went to UCLA and not USC, and then I said I want to go to culinary school, and they finally were like, okay fine.”

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RELATED VIDEO: Giada De Laurentiis Dishes on Life after Divorce and Coast to Coast Parenting

Now mom to daughter Jade, 10, De Laurentiis says she is all about making time for her family, and stresses less about impressing everyone else. “I used to say ‘yes’ to a lot of things. And I worked, worked, worked, and I traveled a ton,” she recently told PEOPLE. “I still travel a lot, and I still work a lot, but I’m a lot pickier than I used to be. And simply because I want to be with Jade.”

“On the days that I have Jade, I don’t travel,” added De Laurentiis, who recently opened another Vegas restaurant, Pronto, inside Caesars Palace. 𠇊nd then on the days that she’s with her dad, I travel. And I really fine-tuned that schedule and I live and die by that calendar. And I try my hardest to not change things up and not leave at the drop of a hat. Because it’s really hard on her. And it’s really hard on me. So I just say ‘no’ a lot more than I used to.”


EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50 Essential Restaurants – 20. GIADA

Far be it for a late-middle-aged white guy to explain (or fathom) why Giada Di Laurentiis seems to be the most popular chef in the history of Las Vegas, but she is and there’s no denying that her restaurant has created another rumble in our gastronomic jungle…and that the whole food world has felt the shudder.

None of her predecessors — not Puck, not Lagasse, not Batali, not even Ramsay — has opened a place that became a tough, almost impossible ticket from day one. (Call for a reservation today, for lunch or dinner, and you’ll be told “we’re fully committed” for at least a month. P.S. When did “fully committed” become restaurant-speak for “totally booked?” What that sweet-voiced 20 year-0ld is really telling you is: “Don’t even think about eating here anytime soon, loser.”)

Some of this pent-up demand comes from the restaurant’s (and Giada’s) desire not to exploit the space and the staff too soon. She told Eating Las Vegas that they could easily be doing a thousand covers a day, but wants to keep a lid on things (and do about half those meals) until the shakedown cruise is over.

Giada’s fame among socceer moms may be getting them in the door, but it’s her recipes that keep everyone riveted to their plates. Recipes like a pasta e fagioli soup that takes this time-worn, worn-out, warhorse and gives it a whole new personality with small, tubular ditalini pasta, cannellini beans, finely diced carrots all suspended in a first class broth. Or a black truffle pizzette:…so crispy, chewy, rich and intense you will wonder how so much flavor can be packed into so small a triangle.

Vegetable dishes like artichokes two ways (roasted and deep-fried), will have you re-thinking your attitude towards healthy edibles, and her pastas like farrotto with morels (top) and lemon spaghetti will have you wondering how something so sumptuous can leave you feeling so light.

Sides like peas with parsley, pancetta and pecorino, crispy polenta, and sweet corn with spicy sausage show real attention to detail and are more than worth the ten dollar price tag. For a piece de resistance, you can hardly do better in any Italian restaurant in this town than Giada’s whole roasted chicken for two with cacciatore (hunter’s) sauce — consisting of a good bird, properly roasted, with the cacciatore portion served as a separate sauce, rather than the braising liquid in which the clucker was swimming as it cooked. Some might prefer the wetter version, but we found this one just perfect….even though Pete Wells might disagree.

In keeping with this “less liquid is more” philosophy, Di Laurentiis likewise believes that Americans over-sauce their pasta (and she would be right), so, she pretty much goes in the opposite direction with her rigatoni Bolognese — barely flecking her toothsome noodles with bits of vegetarian Bolognese, and making the dish no less delicious for it.

As for the wine list, it is typical of the corporate lists which burden (instead of enhance) most of our top end restaurants — it being unfocused, expensive and all over the map. (Don’t blame super-sommelier Darius Allyn — he and his talented crew of wine sellers are just following orders.) Its something-for-everybody quality may keep the conventioneers and bean counters happy, but oenophiles looking for interesting bottles to match with these unique recipes will be disappointed.

Love her or hate her (and lots of people love to hate the marketing machine behind her), there’s no denying the little dynamo has created her very own delectable vernacular in this cuisine. Call it Cal-Ital, call it over-hyped, call her made-for-TV, just don’t call yourself late for dinner here. Because you won’t find better Italian food anywhere in Las Vegas right now.

Max Jacobson (Max hasn’t been well enough to review this place, but if he was, here’s what he would say): Once again, a pretty face and a pair of breasts has robbed John of his good sense. You can dine well here if you order carefully — don’t miss the lobster arancini or the 28 oz. Tuscan rib eye. But the menu is too large (and the prices too rich) for my palate. There’s no beating the beauty of the room, however, although the stunning surroundings only whet my appetite for a plate of beshbarmak, washed down with a nice glass of kymyz, ayran or shubat.

Recommended dishes: Peperonata with Caper Berries Caponata Cipollini Onions Agrdolce-Style Artichokes Two Ways Orzo Meatballs Lobster Arancini Clams Casino Black Truffle Pizzette Pasta e Fagioli Soup Spaghetti with Shrimp and Lemon Rigatoni Bolognese Tortellini with Pea Pesto Farrotto with Morel Mushrooms and Fava Beans Tuscan Rib-Eye Whole Roasted Chicken Caccciatore Peas with Pancetta and Pecorino Lemon Potatoes Sweet Corn with Spicy Sausage.


Giada De Laurentiis reveals she spent ‘two days bawling my eyes out’ after bad New York Times review

Though life is now peachy for Giada De Laurentiis, the celebrity chef recently admitted that one bad restaurant review once seriously shook her confidence.

The Food Network star recently revealed on the Eater Upsell podcast that New York Times food critic Pete Wells’ 2014 review of the opening of her eponymous Las Vegas restaurant “was not pretty,” going so far as to say the whole experience was “traumatic.”

“I spent two days bawling my eyes out. He went a month after I opened, and of course he ripped it to shreds,” the celebrity chef recalled of Wells’ unflattering review. “I will tell you that I was immensely upset. It really killed me for a while.”

Describing De Laurentiis’ signature dish chicken cacciatore in his 2014 review, Wells called it “a puzzle whose pieces didn’t fit” with “browned, dry chicken pieces.” He also slamming the restaurant’s pizza and pasta, but De Laurentiis claims she accepted his opinion and moved on.

“They’re after us. It’s fine. It is what it is,” De Laurentiis said of life as chef in the spotlight.

“It’s part of who we are. We open ourselves up to those critics. I feel like I have my iconic dishes, my restaurant does really well, I do my best to deliver great service and great food, and that is the job that I have,” she added.

In addition to discussing the negative review, De Laurentiis opened up to Eater about her start in the restaurant industry balancing her career and motherhood and the sexual misconduct allegations fellow chef Mario Batali, which she said didn't “come as a huge shock” to her.


Giada De Laurentiis "Spent Two Days Bawling" Over New York Times Restaurant Review

Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for SOBEWFF

Giada De Laurentiis is opening up about the review that brought her to tears.

The chef was a guest on the Eater Upsell podcast this week when she talked about her career and dealing with criticism. During the conversation, she admitted she "spent two days bawling" over a 2014 New York Times review of her Las Vegas restaurant, Giada.

"Yeah that was not pretty," Giada shared on the podcast. "I spent two days bawling my eyes out."

She then told podcast co-hosts Amanda Kludt and Daniel Geneen that the critic, Pete Wells, went to the restaurant "a month after I opened, and of course he ripped it to shreds."

"It's also his only Las Vegas mention," Daniel noted.

"Yes, it is. Which is why, you understand, I don't open a restaurant anywhere other than in this casino, because I am not ready for that. I was so traumatic," Giada confessed.

When ask if the critic saw her as a "target," Giada replied, "Of course. And I don't blame him."

She later added, "It is what it is. It's part of who we are. We open ourselves up to those critics. I feel like I have my iconic dishes, my restaurant does really well, I do my best to deliver great service and great food, and that is the job that I have. I will tell you that I was immensely upset. It really killed me for a while."

Despite the criticism, Giada has continued to find success in the restaurant business. She's also found success as an author, her new book, Giada's Italy, was just released on April 3.


Jiro Disciple Dreamed Of The Perfect Egg Custard. Now, He Has Four Stars.

New York City&rsquos ongoing sushi transformation was officially validated yesterday, as Pete Wells of The New York Times awarded newcomer Sushi Nakazawa four stars (out of a possible four). The review marks the first four-star praise from the acting critic, and only the sixth restaurant in NYC to currently hold this highest grade. No small feat for the small and unassuming West Village shop.

The accomplishment is no small feat for Daisuke Nakazawa, either. The chef first charmed us on the surprising hit Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a limited release documentary that profiles the passionate work ethic of 85-year-old sushi master Jiro Ono and his three-star Michelin restaurant, located in a Tokyo subway station. As one of Jiro&rsquos &ldquodisciples,&rdquo Nakazawa spends much of the film perfecting an egg custard creation &mdash in a pivotal scene, he breaks down in tears when it is finally deemed acceptable. After the film was shot, Nakazawa moved to work in Seattle, and finally to his current home of New York City, opening his namesake, omakase-only restaurant this summer.

Wells&rsquos first four-star review does not lack significance. At Per Se and Jean-Georges, there&rsquos no counter seating or back-and-forth banter with diners. There's no live sea urchin or squirming shrimp at Del Posto. Each of the four little gold stars on the top of the review firmly puts sushi &ndash and non-Western cuisine as a whole &ndash back on the map of the fine dining scene. Masa, and its staggering $450 prix fixe, lost its fourth star in 2011.

It&rsquos refreshing to see such a venue receive an accolade normally reserved for more traditional &ldquofine dining&rdquo restaurants, and not just appear on a list of city &ldquohotspots.&rdquo Welcome to New York, Daisuke. Now, can you please help us out? Food Republic is dreaming of a reservation.


Giada De Laurentiis is “Very Shy,” Doesn’t Want You Touching Her

On the most recent episode of Bon Appetit’s podcast, Bon Appetit Foodcast, Giada De Laurentiis went pretty deep in a way that we don’t see that often. We all know her as the always bubbly chef on The Today Show, Giada at Home, or any of her other countless television appearances, but really, she’s just like us (only prettier and better at cooking and everything else).

“Chefs,” she began, are a “new phenomenon.” It’s only in the last ten or so years that chefs are also celebrities. They used to just want to “feed people and make people happy…behind closed doors.” For Giada, doing television helped her come out of her shell. She’s self-described as an “antisocial human being,” but she forced herself to do TV, and to meet people and she’s known to meet and shake hands with every single fan who attends her events. She described it like therapy.

What she doesn’t like about that part of the job is the “touching…I don’t know that they touch Gordon Ramsay or Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] as much as they like to hug and touch me. That’s where it gets a little tricky,” she said.

Giada entered the celebrity chef world backwards. Unlike most chefs, she did television before she ever opened a restaurant. It made it more difficult, when she did open a place of her own, not to be crucified. That’s part of the reason she chose Las Vegas over a place like New York or Los Angeles. It was what was plausible for her brand, a “dinner and a show” type thing. The concept wouldn’t work anywhere else in the world.

It didn’t stop critics. In 2014, Pete Wells reviewed her restaurant. If you remember anything about his review of Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar, we’re not going to say it was exactly like that…but he didn’t like the restaurant one bit. The place is still open, and plenty of people are going.

She also recounted her successes. When she published her first book, she was told by an editor that she would “never sell as many books as Ina Garten.”

“Watch me,” she said. And she did. During her first book tour, she had sold out every book in pre-sale, and she didn’t have any copies to bring with her. She signed other chefs’ books instead, including Rachael Ray‘s, Bobby Flay‘s, and, incidentally, Ina Garten‘s.

In a lightning round, she also shared some quick tidbits. She prefers chia seeds to acai berries, and fritattas to omelets (she makes her fritata in a pizza oven).

Also, it’s pronounced ja-dah, not jee-a-dah, but you can just call her “G.”


The not-so-real reality shows

Watching chefs compete on competition shows can be downright nerve wracking. The surprise ingredients, the drama, the mishaps. But is that really how it goes down? Perhaps unsurprisingly, these shows blur the lines when it comes to certain aspects of reality.

Iron Chefs are actually selected in advance, and two of the three chefs lurking in the dark are stand-ins. And the secret ingredient? Competitors are given three possibilities ahead of time, which allows the show to stock their pantries accordingly.

As for all that cattiness between contestants? One Redditor who says they filmed an episode of a pastry competition show says it's all in the editing. "All the talking about other people is bull****. They sit you down to interview you and don't let you go until they get something they can edit to sound badly."

Another Redditor, who says they worked as an intern on a Food Network reality show, says you can also blame editing for the seemingly rushed finish. "Editing is what's mostly responsible for making everything look 'down-to-the-wire.' You can always have the countdown put over footage of a contestant making the final touches, even if those final touches were done 5 minutes before time was up."

And the inexplicable mishaps? A culinary assistant on Cupcake Wars claims that those "were all the producers faults." If the oven wasn't hot enough, it was actually due to a camera man purposely turning it down. How's that for reality?


Giada De Laurentiis "Spent Two Days Bawling" Over New York Times Restaurant Review

Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images for SOBEWFF

Giada De Laurentiis is opening up about the review that brought her to tears.

The chef was a guest on the Eater Upsell podcast this week when she talked about her career and dealing with criticism. During the conversation, she admitted she "spent two days bawling" over a 2014 New York Times review of her Las Vegas restaurant, Giada.

"Yeah that was not pretty," Giada shared on the podcast. "I spent two days bawling my eyes out."

She then told podcast co-hosts Amanda Kludt and Daniel Geneen that the critic, Pete Wells, went to the restaurant "a month after I opened, and of course he ripped it to shreds."

"It's also his only Las Vegas mention," Daniel noted.

"Yes, it is. Which is why, you understand, I don't open a restaurant anywhere other than in this casino, because I am not ready for that. I was so traumatic," Giada confessed.

When ask if the critic saw her as a "target," Giada replied, "Of course. And I don't blame him."

She later added, "It is what it is. It's part of who we are. We open ourselves up to those critics. I feel like I have my iconic dishes, my restaurant does really well, I do my best to deliver great service and great food, and that is the job that I have. I will tell you that I was immensely upset. It really killed me for a while."

Despite the criticism, Giada has continued to find success in the restaurant business. She's also found success as an author, her new book, Giada's Italy, was just released on April 3.


Leave Guy Fieri alone: Why he has nothing to do with the Food Network's decline

By Allen Salkin
Published August 16, 2014 3:00AM (UTC)

Guy Fieri (Reuters/Matt Sullivan)

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Give Guy a break. The Food Network is not in the business of improving the world’s eating habits or shrinking the American waistline. Its main goal, in fact, is to sell toothpaste and Lexuses.

Those who bemoan the network's loss of good old-fashioned cooking shows or who want to drag their talons across Guy Fieri’s oddly cherubic face, as Farsh Askari did so charmingly in this publication last week, are missing issues at the Food Network that are much more deep-seated.

But this isn’t surprising. The owners of the network, fat with ever-rising revenues -- $238 million in the last quarter, a 6.4 percent hike (add it up: nearly a billion annually) -- are behaving as if they are blind to the tragic problem at their cash cow as well.

As the author of the unauthorized history of Food Network, I'm hardly a zombie cheerleader for it and Mr. Fieri. But let’s get one thing out of the way. Guy Fieri is actually a man with an impressive background in food and a sensibility that inspires non-food people to come to the table.

Consider that just as Julia Child had her fateful sole meunière experience in northern France (when she was in her thirties), Fieri had his biggest mind-expanding food experience in the south of France when he was a high school exchange student.

In sixth grade, Guy worked at the Ferndale meat market in his native Northern California. The first meal he ever cooked for his parents was a steak when he was 10. But France opened him up. (Yes, take a breath. I’m actually talking about Guy Fieri here). He was as enthusiastic about the chicken feet soup and escargot served at school lunch as he would be later at the sight of jalapeño cheeseburgers.

But the food experience that led him to write home and tell his parents he wanted to someday open restaurants was a plate of steak frites. He was driving through small villages with a European family, and they stopped at a house for dinner. There, he was served beef so rich and flavorful he could think nothing other than “Oh, my God!” He loved it and then, increasingly, nearly everything else he ate in France. “The vinaigrette, the mustard, the bread, the cheese — oh, God!” Fieri told me during an interview for the book. “At the end of the day, eating cheese was so overwhelming.”

He attended a hotel management program at University of Nevada, Las Vegas in the late 1980s. The spicier foods he was exposed to there influenced his palate. He won a cooking competition in one UNLV class with his invented Cajun Chicken Alfredo.

After college, Fieri moved to Los Angeles and found work at Louise’s Trattoria, a string of Italian family restaurants across Southern California. Fieri got into a conflict with an executive at the Louise’s chain, Robert Kissinger. As the sophistication of diners in California deepened through the mid-1990s, the chain had spent heavily to improve the authenticity of its Italian menu. When Guy added tortilla soup to the lunch menu at the Louise’s locations he was managing, Kissinger phoned him, furious. “What the hell are you doing? This is an Italian restaurant chain!”

Guy was unintimidated. “Listen, I got a lot of businesspeople that come in here every day and want soup and salad for lunch. And I can’t feed ’em pasta fagiole and Italian wedding soup every day!”

This is a creative dude, an American original. By his mid-20s, he and a friend, Steve Gruber, moved to Santa Rosa, Calif., and opened Johnny Garlic’s. It featured the Jackass Roll, a sushi-style maki with pulled pork and green chili, and a recipe he’d been saving, Cajun Chicken Alfredo. Locals loved the place.

It would be a decade before he was on the Food Network, but early one morning in 1996 or 1997, Guy was, uncharacteristically, watching television with his wife before work. A "Good Morning America" host announced “Chef Emeril Lagasse” and mentioned that the chef had a show on the Food Network. Guy had never watched it.

Unusual name, Guy thought. Then he saw a performer who stopped him cold. Emeril strutted out to a gush of loud blues music, with a towel draped over his shoulder. “Oh, baby, yeah!” Emeril praised his suddenly sizzling array of pots. In Emeril, Guy recognized the showmanship of his childhood heroes, Evel Knievel and Elvis Presley. The New Orleans chef used a sauté pan to do what Evel did with a motorcycle: reveal its inherent power.

This is who Guy is: a product of all of his influences and passions — and genetics. He is what a television star should be. If he’s on-screen, love him or hate him, you can’t take your eyes off him. When it comes to food knowledge, compared to Sandra Lee and any number of personalities the network has foisted on viewers in recent years, he’s Jacques Pepin. What’s more, many people genuinely love him. I meet them at every book signing and see them lining up for autographs wherever Fieri appears. The dream: to get in that Camaro with him and tour around like best buddies. Guy celebrates a part of the food world that had not been celebrated before. No one is saying it's the healthiest food. But the food on "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" is worth looking at as an expression of human spirit and creativity. Guy sings the song of the little guy, and that’s what makes people love him.

I’m certainly not 100 percent pro-Fieri. To my taste his Time Square restaurant sucks as bad as a restaurant has ever sucked. But I think its suckiness says more about Guy’s swollen ego than his culinary abilities. He signed a deal with a New York company to open a Times Square joint, a deal that required him to make a certain number of visits annually, to allow his image and his recipe concepts to be used. What he didn’t do was spend enough time overseeing the place. The New York Times' Pete Wells, author of the famously scathing and hilarious takedown of Fieri's Times Square joint, recently visited the Vegas outpost and Tweeted that “it’s easily twice as good as his restaurant in Times Square,” leading me to believe either that Fieri is working to improve the formula or that he loves spending time in Vegas so much he’s tasting the Donkey Sauce regularly to make sure it has just the right amount of donkeyness.

Emeril, who understood that exacting New York critics might savage a TV star who opened a restaurant but was not regularly on the premises, never opened a New York outpost. Note how Bobby Flay spent every night cooking in his new restaurant, Gato, for month after month. Wells gave it a rave.

Even if I can’t convince you that Guy Fieri is a worthwhile presence on television, please consider that he isn’t the real problem at Food Network: The real problem is a loss of inventiveness at the company’s core.

There was a time when Food Network presented revolutionary television like "Iron Chef" and "Good Eats." This was before the billion-dollar years, when chances were being taken by an earlier generation of network presidents like Eric Ober and Judy Girard. And even when it wasn’t revolutionary, it was at least pleasant. Back then the goofy David Rosengarten of "Taste," the sweet-faced, knowledgable "Two Hot Tamales" Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, and others were nice people who stood in as surrogate family members for viewers. These stars were performing the second-oldest activity on earth: cooking. As humans we couldn't help but be transfixed by someone who seemed as nurturing as The Barefoot Contessa, as indulgent and grandmotherly (we thought) as Paula Deen, and as wholesomely appealing as Giada De Laurentiis and Tyler Florence.

But then, as the 1970s passed into the 1980s and Rock and Roll mostly died, the Food Network lost its creative momentum sometime in the mid 2000s. Perhaps it’s just that we all know how to grate our own Parmesan now. We've learned to fold our fingertips under when chopping onions. Something new was needed. But nothing new was provided. The era of revolutionary television formats ended when Tennessee-based Scripps Interactive tightened its control over the Food Network. As the profits increased to over $100 million a year then to over $300 million and beyond, its ownership became more conservative.

In a conference call announcing the company's financial results this month, CEO Kenneth Lowe raved that “Our family-friendly networks in the home, food and travel content categories are extremely popular with viewers of all ages, but they particularly appeal to upscale women who watch our programming live.” What Lowe meant was: The non-DVR watchers love us. These are rich women who actually watch the commercials, increasingly rare birds who are the golden geese of the cable TV biosphere. Every programming gatekeeper seeks to woo them. Commercials for Lexuses, toothpaste, dog food and cruises are what make profits.

If running back-to-back episodes of "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" on a Friday night gets an extra few thousand live viewers, that’s the way Food Network goes, instead of trying to break in a new star's cooking show, someone like the rather charming "Food Network Star" winner Jeff Mauro or the maternal Amy Thielen. The network is letting the seed corn go to waste and taking fewer and fewer chances.

The real problem is not too much Guy. It's too little Justin Warner. One of the most common questions I am asked at book appearances is whatever happened to Justin, the winner of "Food Network Star" two years ago. A mad-scientist-type Brooklyn chef who came off as a more charming Alton Brown type on TV, he was supposed to have won the right to host a TV series on the network. But after conflicts between Brown and the Food Network, and a struggle to find a format that would fit Justin, they eventually made one episode of a road-trip type show for him. It was called "Rebel Eats" and was like a hybrid of "Good Eats" and "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives." The Dives were punkier and the Eats were more molecular. The network aired it during a dead time, a Saturday night.

Justin has since appeared on "Beat Bobby Flay," but has never managed to break through the conservatism of Food Network programmers, like the man who has come to be known in the industry for saying no to risky ideas, Food Network programming chief Bob Tuschman. As the network ignores Justin, it breaks its faith with viewers who fell in love with him during "Food Network Star" and expected him to be the future of food TV. Prime time instead features negative dreck like "Mystery Diners" and "Restaurant Stakeout," where every week seems to feature a batch of fake employees who are actually actors hired by the production company. They steal beer by rolling kegs out the back, only to be caught and scolded by some rough-talking “consultant” with a pugnacious Long Island accent.

People can get any recipe they like on the Web -- even on FoodNetwork.com, which also has a nice library of instructional videos. Why should the casual viewer or even the food-centric viewer watch the Food Network if it isn't a hearth that warms the heart like it used to, especially during its peak creative years in the wake of 9/11, when the nation craved warmth?

The network is being irresponsibly careless with what’s left of its cultural momentum. Days after it crowned Lenny McNab the winner of this year’s "Food Network Star," it was revealed that he is a foul-fingered Web commenter who, amongst a cavalcade of inane racist, sexist and homophobic postings and videos once wrote of The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, a rare bright spot in the network’s recent history, that “I’d f**** her…IN THE ASS. that’s right…I said it. ”

This comes long after the mess that was Robert Irvine’s trumped-up résumé nearly torpedoed the muscleman’s career (it seems he did not actually work on Princess Di’s wedding cake, etc.) after the host of "Calorie Commando," Juan-Carlos Cruz, put out a hit on his wife after a "Star" contestant was removed late in another season due to problems with his military service record and after the series of devastating public relations cluster bombs that was Paula Deen’s greedy diabetes drug endorsement cash grab followed by her N-word self-immolation.

Do you think Food Network president Brooke Johnson, the marketing department, or the overlords at Scripps might think about hiring a more effective private investigator to vet the humans who are the key representatives of their billion-dollar brand? If not five years ago, then when?

People used to watch the Food Network at the gym. It eased pain. For some viewers, Guy still does. But since 2006, when he won "Food Network Star," very few new household names have been created by the network. The Pioneer Woman created her own fame via a blog. Even before someone started -- too-late -- digging up McNab’s Internet history, did anyone seriously think he was going to someday have a line of hamburgers at Wal-Mart like Fieri does?

Sure, giant hamburgers are bad for the planet. Yes, Paula Deen turned out to be a greedy monster. Of course, not everybody on TV is perfect. But for a little while they can make us happy. I’d rather ride along with Guy than be told for the zillionth time to eat more dark leafy greens. I do it already. That’s not why I watch TV.

Allen Salkin is the author of "From Scratch: The Uncensored History of the Food Network," out in paperback Oct. 7 from Berkley Trade.


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