Many steps lead to a cooking show at the Food NetworkBy Francine Segan, Tribune Media Services
January 6, 2010
"People don't realize how many hands are involved even before Rachael, Guy or Melissa touch the food," says Rob Bleifer, executive chef of the Food Network Kitchen. The names he mentions will be familiar to fans of the network — they are stars Rachael Ray, Guy Fieri and Melissa d'Arabian. "There's an entire kitchen behind the kitchen on one of our cooking shows."
He's not kidding. The Food Network's behind-the-scenes kitchen, in its studio located above the Chelsea Markets in New York City, is a gigantic space with five separate kitchen areas, so chefs can prepare the food for several different shows at the same time. These spaces were designed to function just like a typical home kitchen, each with its own oven, stove top, sink and fridge. It is here that the ingredients are prepared for the hosts to use on air.
"Typically between 15 and 20 people are involved just for the culinary elements of a basic cooking show," says Michelle Betrock, publicist for the Food Network. For a bigger show like "Iron Chef America," she adds, the number could be double or more.
Planning for a daytime cooking show starts several months in advance in meetings between the host of the show and a culinary producer. The producers make sure the recipes selected will make an interesting show and that everything can be cooked within a program.
A lot of enticing recipes don't make the cut. "I had to tell chef Alex Guarnaschelli ("Alex's Day Off") that she couldn't make the chocolate crostata — sort of (like an) Italian chocolate pie — that she wanted to prepare," notes the show's culinary producer Ashley Archer. "It just had too many components for a 30-minute show."
Culinary producers "organize every detail" of a given episode, says Jill Novatt, who oversees the network's programming as executive culinary producer. That includes "what goes into the cabinets and fridge; what cooks on the stove top and what in the oven; and even what utensils and pots will need to be handy."
Claire Robinson, host of the popular Food Network show "Five Ingredient Fix," says she and her producer, Wes Martin, often spend six weeks working on the recipes for just a single episode. "There are sometimes 20 points that can be mentioned for any one recipe, and Wes and I break down those points to fit into the show's format."
The culinary producer also plans all the "swap-outs" — the examples of a single recipe prepared at different stages of completion. "We don't want the TV crew to have to stand around and wait for three hours for the osso buco to cook," jokes Susan Stockton, senior vice president of culinary production. The culinary producer gives a list of recipes to a food stylist, who tests them so the home audience can be assured that the recipes work and are written with easy-to-follow directions.
One of the most surprising behind-the-scenes facts is the tiny earphone worn by many of the cooking show hosts. "Cooking on TV is a hard job," Novatt says. "You need to really actually cook while listening to the culinary producer whispering in your ear telling you to smile and to move your hand because it's blocking the celery, all while you also have to pay attention to the studio director on the floor who is pointing to which camera you have to face."
"What's great about the Food Network studio environment," says Sunny Anderson, star of "Cooking for Real," "is having a team where, if I miss an ingredient in the rush or forget how much time I have left, a gentle voice chimes in my ear to keep me on track."
See the rest of the story, including some nice recipes here.