Episode 9

The Alton Browncast

Judges Roundtable

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The Alton Browncast #9: Judges Roundtable

Alton Brown sits down with Food Network executives Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson. They talk about how a niche channel found its place among the mainstream, and open up to their own on-camera strengths and weaknesses. Alton also answers questions from fans and percolates on a fruit from paradise.


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  • I am saddened by the “dumb-ing down” of the Food Network. Used to love to watch, but not much relevant content these days.

    Tyler Florence, Michael Chiarello, Mario Batalli, Anthony Bourdain – these are chefs that would draw me in – because they were trained chefs!!

    The worst of the worst is the Pioneer Woman. Truly the most uncomfortable, unnatural, and worst of all useless show on the network currently.

    • Marilyn: No, I’m not a paid publicist. But now I wish I were. What a knack I have for bringing people out of their hatey-holes! I had no idea before I mentioned I liked her show that so many people envied Ree Drummond and her success. I watched her show because I liked the (admittedly) staged scenes of life on her ranch. Why? Because I used to live on a cattle ranch/farm, and I miss it. And I also think that no matter whether one despises or adores the Pioneer Woman show (I’m not in either camp – I’m in the middle at “like”), one could agree that the branding of her and her product (the ranch lifestyle) is pretty damn good. Drummond is not solely responsible for that, but so what? She has the marketing experts at FN to take care of that. And so what if she’s not the best cook (she is not and I don’t think ever claimed to be a trained chef, but my guess is that someone here who has pored over PW’s blog will correct me on that) ever in the history of Food Network? Neither is Guy Fieri, but he is ubiquitous on the channel. Drummond makes the food that her family will eat. FN bets that there are plenty of other families that eat that way, and will watch the show. Same with DDD guy. Same with all the cooks/chefs on the network. Somebody, somewhere, wants to eat the food they see being made on whatever show is a fave. I agree with olycrestnancy that Florence, Chiarello, and Batalli gave the viewers something to aspire to and it’s sad that they and their ilk are either gone or are playing games. The “leaner-in” in me loved their shows. It loved “Good Eats,” too. But whatever. Things change. Food Network is taking a gamble that either nobody misses them and their shows, or that other people just like food fights.

  • Shows like The Pioneer Woman are dragging Food Network down big time, IMO. Ree Drummond has had zero training in the culinary arts, as painfully evident by her awkward episodes of running her droopy sleeves through all her food. She is notorious for passing off recipes as her own when in reality they were lifted from church and community cookbooks. Amy Thielan recently discussed how such cookbooks are an inspiration for her, but at least she was open about it unlike Ree who does her best to believe that she created every single thing on her blog. She lies about homeschooling her kids (she employs a tutor) as well. If Ree would have been honest from the start, these things would not be an issue. But she chose to deceive from the beginning, and I would wager to say it’s all going to come crashing down some day.

  • Are you a paid, professional publicist, Ms. Oliver? That first post would make you appear so. No one referred to The Pioneer Woman until you posted that advertisement for her.

  • Must say I agree with the negative Pioneer Woman comments. Most bloggers have the integrity to name the source of their recipes. This woman blatantly “borrows” recipes that have been published elsewhere and gives no credit to the source. She uses her millionaire status to buy “hits” with her elaborate give a ways. I don’t consider that ethical at all. She is very awkward on camera making watching her painful. She pays a huge staff to accomplish what she eludes to doing herself. Other wealthy television cooks/chefs don’t try and hide their money behind an “aw shucks” schtick. She bought her way onto television and is laughing all the way to the bank.

  • More disturbing to me is the Pionneer Woman’s lack of basic cooking skills. Reusing marinade that has been used for raw meats…little to no hand washing…the shirtains sleeves being dragged thru food…the hair not being restrained…etc. Not to mention her food/ingredient choices.. most recipes are from uncredited cookbooks from the
    1960s to the 1970s…she blogs about her garden yet only uses the basil. Mostly canned ingredients. The ’70s are over and most home cooks do try to cook healthier meals.

  • The pioneer woman is a joke. It was painful to watch the few times I did. She can call her brother retard and use the word whitey yet Paula gets fired…… makes no sense. I have boycotted food network since and will continue to do so.

  • Welcome to the club, Janet Oliver. Paula Deen was let go for racist remarks, yet PW posted My Black Grandpa on her blog, refering to whites as “whitey” and “vanilla”, and stereotyping blacks as gospel-singing soul food eaters. She also use to refer to her brother as “my retarded brother”, stating she doesn’t have to use “annoying euphemisms”, and as a blood relative is exempt from that. Also posted she likes to object to the “r” word’s use by others until she has to bust out laughing or she drops the “r” word in just to make people squirm. Classy.

  • The Pioneer Woman show is an affront to any serious cook. Ree Drummond’s lack of camera presence is palpable and the staged scenes of ranch life are a scripted mess. The recipes she uses are rip offs from Oklahoma community cookbooks. Why anyone would buy her cookbooks, when the same fat-laden, high cholesterol recipes are widely available on line, not to mention her mediocre website, escapes logic. Not sure how Food Network allowed themselves to be duped by Ree Drummond, who has done nothing more than use her husband’s fortune to hire publicists and promote her fake persona. A cook she’s not, a poseur she is.

    • While it would be difficult to feel or touch a “lack” of something, and by its nature a persona is fake, you know what, HillJ, you’re right. I take back everything I said about Ree Drummond and her show being “real.” From now on it’s Trisha Yearwood all the way.

  • Thieves, Inc? Seriously man. Alton, thanks for going digital, I’m diligently listening to your casts in my car each week, really appreciate it. I’m a big fan of the science behind the recipes, and I tell people all the time that you teach folks how and WHY things work the way they do.

    That being said, sadly, I no longer watch the Food Network. I stopped watching television when I started taking marketing classes for graduate school and realized how much of a sheep people are, I will not be manipulated by people I don’t even know. Reality TV is a ridiculous sham on all of the unique people of this world, and shame on the Food Network for buying into it.

  • Mr. Tuschman is right about moms being busy working and not having time to teach kids to cook. When I asked my mom to show me how, she told me to look online for recipes. I learned to cook from watching shows like Good Eats.

  • The show the “Big Waste” was fantastic. Love to see more like that. Thanks for sharing that. I like the educational, historical, and of course instructional programming the best.

  • Darn, I actually had to fast forward thru alot of this because gosh darn it, it just got on my nerves. My take away was that I am exactly the viewer the FN is looking for (42 year old female) and that they somehow think I have time during the day to watch to determine what to make for dinner. I watch at night and use the info for the future. But hey, maybe I’m not the norm. I can just watch Cooking Channel at night if I want instructional I guess. Hate the “reality” shows. Reality my ass.

  • Hey Alton,

    Was the topic of Justin Warner/Rebel Eats a no fly zone in this interview? When you brought up FNS and how there’s only been one “megastar” in all 9 seasons of the show, I was so sure you’d bring up Justin and how season 9 aired without the season 8 winner’s show making it on the air. If anyone has the potential to be an actual star in the post-Guy era it’s Justin and I think you know that better than anyone.

    I think the problem is that Food Network itself doesn’t exactly know what to do with FNS winners, and the show’s title “The Next Food Network Star” is inaccurate because not even FN itself treats all of FNS winners like “stars”. For the most part, FNS winners are put out to pasture in early morning weekend timeslots until they’re forgotten (how IS Aaron McCargo doing these days?). Not to mention there have been runners-up getting better timeslots during FN Night Time like Adam Gertler. The only reason I know Sandwich King is still on the air is because I follow Jeff Mauro on FB. I don’t ever recall seeing any commercials promoting any of the past FNS winners’ shows during FNS. How can FNS winners become stars if they don’t even have the marketing support of their own network?

    It bugs me to no end that while Justin’s show hasn’t aired, FN greenlit Thieves Inc and is also airing obvious fake “gotcha” shows like Mystery Diners and Restaurant Stakeout. How do I know they’re fake? Because as an actor I receive casting info and there have been casting calls looking for actors to play obnoxious waitstaffs on those shows.

    That said, I once ran into Susie on the subway (I wasn’t the one who burst into tears) and it was the day after FNS season 5 concluded. I told her I was a fan of the show, but that I was disappointed in the outcome of the previous night’s season finale because I was really rooting for Jeffrey to win. To my surprise she said “maybe I was too.” So that got me wondering, exactly how much of the decision-making is out of her (and perhaps Bob’s) hands? Are the true decisionmakers the same higher powers who are preventing FNS winners to become, well, stars?

    I’ve been watching FN since the only programming they had was original Iron Chef in Japanese and Emeril shows rotating throughout the day. I’m still a fan of the network, but there have been some real headscratcher decisions being made these days.

  • I agree with the comments about the FN focus. I stopped watching some time ago and am not interested in listening to anyone talk about it unless it’s to announce they are changing the format and will begin focusing on real cooking and more instructional and informational shows.

    Hope Alton will focus more on food and chefs and the bazillion other topics that are related. It also wouldn’t be bad to branch out and discuss the other things AB nerds out on like flying and Dr. Who.

  • Wow, you guys apparently have no sense of pacing. We’re only 9 episodes into the podcast, and Next Food Network Star was a major project for Alton which just ended. I don’t blame him for wanting to reflect on it a little, and I seriously doubt that in the long run, Food Network will be the primary theme of the podcast. If the podcast is around long enough, it will cover those other topics that you guys are dying to hear about, so how about giving it a fair shot?

    We’re 9 episodes in. Feel free to revisit this idea of “too much Food Network talk” after the 50th episode.

  • Just chiming in to agree with the other comments about this FN angle that seems to be taking over the focus this podcast. Alton, please take these comments into consideration. I could listen to you geek out about random food topics for hours. The interview with the GA based icecream maker was fantastic and your guest spot on John Hodgman’s podcast was very entertaining! If wanted to hear about FN, I would go to their website and watch their shows. i download your podcast to hear YOUR take on food and cooking, not FN’s.

  • Amen, Y-knot.

    Another exception to the FN reality programming is a REAL reality show, Pioneer Woman. For thirty vicarious minutes we get to live Ree Drummond’s ranch lifestyle. I’m pretty surprised neither Tuschman nor Fogelson mentioned this show as an example of “honest” programming. It’s also an example of perfect product branding, a practice the wife of cattle rancher knows a little something about. The recipes featured on the show make me want to buy the cookbooks; the cookbooks make me want to continue watching the show. Everything works on this show, and it’s my favorite.

    As for the new “It Takes a Thief” premise, I guess it takes one to know one. FN seems to have taken a page from the Disney playbook. Time was, when Disney was run by Walt, the company produced luscious, high-fat, artisinal fare. Now Disney owns the entire flippin’ world and their products are so watered down, unsaturated, and banal they are the gruel of the entertainment industry.

    Don’t go there, FN. Don’t keep feeding your viewers bread and water, or rather, bread and circuses. Don’t play to the lowest common denominator. If people want to watch reality shows they can tune in to Bravo. Or ABC. Or wherever else they watch those things.

    Why does everybody have to have a gimmick? Why does everybody have to be star? Why does everything have to be a competition? Why can’t we just watch competence instead?

    We are starving for proficiency, skill, expertise – not schtick!

    Dear Food Network: Start tossing back in some enriching, nourishing, and sustaining programming. Give us chefs or cooks who excel, and who work hard for the love of it, not the fame. I guarantee you that the audience will come back for more.

  • I agree with those making comments about Alton’s recent podcasts being FN commercials and the fact that FN has become all reality-all-the-time (except the Guy Fieri mega-DDD daily night time block).

    p.s. the new show they were talking about is about as original as “pie style”. Pie style was just a rip-off of Throwdown with BF. And their new show is just ‘It Takes a Thief’ set in restaurants.

  • Mr. Tuschman, you read my mind. My older son (he’s 30 yrs. old and is currently reading AB’s book “I’m Just Here For The Food”) and I saw the ad for the upcoming “Thieves” show recently while watching “Chopped.” We looked at each other and said “Nope. Not gonna watch that.”

    Ms. Fogelson, you are correct when you say that one of the reasons women watch the channel is to plan what to make for dinner, only we
    – or I – don’t watch it at 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon. We watch early in the morning, before we go grocery shopping or off to work. My favorite program for this sort of activity used to be Tyler Florence Ultimate. Now there is no program that fills that niche for me, although I sometimes watch “Chopped” in the evenings so I can play along in my own kitchen.

    Now there’s an idea for a show! Go to someone’s home, find what’s in their pantry, fridge, and freezer, and make a decent meal from it! Oh, wait. Ya’ll have been there and done that:

    I’m one of those leaners-in I guess. Right now the FN line-up is tipped toward the leaners-back. Really wish FN had more programs for those of us who enjoy the honesty of a good instructional show with innovative recipes.

  • I’m sure Alton will give you your money back if you’re not happy with the free content. I don’t see it as a commercial for Food Network Star, I think that’s just where is work is at right now and he’s grabbing people to talk to along the way and making interesting conversation. AB taught me how to cook and really seems like a good guy.

  • I do wish that Bob, Susie, and Alton would have commented on whole Paula Deen situation. I realize that lawsuits may still be out there and it all part of a no-comment agreement or policy set forth by Food Network lawyers….but they could have mentioned her show as a success story without discussing the lawsuit. Seeming to totally ignore her and pretend that she she suddenly doesn’t exist just seems fake….something that Susie and Bob have preached against oh so many times.

    Personally, I don’t care for most of the reality shows…and instead like the informative cooking shows that focus more on techniques and skills. Not too many of those that are around anymore. A sad loss.

  • I like Bob and Susie as people but not in how they have shepherded the Food Network. I used to love the Food Network. But when they said all the names of the past chefs of whom had exciting, warm shows until now we have all-reality, all-the-time. Not to mention the poor decision with Paula Deen.

    Even Alton has gone from warm, funny and informational to a snarky, reality host.

  • Nerdist, – when you reached out to Alton to put his podcast on the Nerdist network, did you realize it would end up being a weekly ad for Food Network Star?

    Some of the shows have been pretty interesting, but the past few, not so much,