Love it or hate it, the monster that is food television might not exist today without Emeril Lagasse. The young chef was among eight people in The Food Network’s original lineup in 1993, hosting a show called “How To Boil Water,” and he arguably went on to become the network’s biggest star thanks to its follow-ups, “Essence of Emeril” and “Emeril Live.” More than 25 years into the food television revolution, however, the man who helped launch it is not a fan of what he and his early compatriots have wrought.
“Most of it, at least 80 percent of it, is garbage,” he replies bluntly, when asked about the current state of food TV.
The man who helped teach America how to cook through television believes the medium, and his old network, have taken a wrong turn by making it all about competition.
“If the kids are not competing it’s the guys, it’s the gals. Now grandmothers are competing against grandfathers. It’s just turned into too much. And I think what’s happened is we’ve just lost the sense of cooking.”
Although the public knows far more about cooking today they they did when he started on television, Lagasse says they are still more interested in learning than watching contrived battles.
“I don’t know that when people are planning a Sunday dinner or a great dinner for a family, that they’re going crazy in the kitchen and throwing stuff and racing to get the corn done,” he explains.
“I think people want some doors to open, that they can learn more about German food, Italian food, American food, regional American food, Asian food, the different parts of Asia. And when I started “Emeril Live” and “Essence of Emeril,” that was my philosophy. I wanted to encourage people, not intimidate people, about cooking, shopping, learning about wine, why wine is important with food, why spirtis, etc.”
The chef also says the competition format and instant fame it provides are hurting the industry.
“The labor pool in America stinks right now. It’s terrible. Because what’s been embedded with these young people, it’s no longer about learning and honing a craft. It’s like, well if I go to cooking school for six months, or two years, I’m going to get my own TV show. And then once I get a TV show, I’m going to open my own restaurant. And you know what? That’s why there’s so much failure rate with these young people. They haven’t honed their craft. And they haven’t really put in the hard work, the discipline, to understand that it’s not just about boiling an egg or making hollandaise sauce. It’s about the business. It’s about people.”