Call it the American Idolization of food television. Cooking competition shows a là the music industry’s mega-hyped, mega-successful talent showcase have proliferated in the last several years, to the point of absurdity (Cupcake Wars, anyone?). Networks have discovered that, like American Idol and its imitators like The Voice and Duets, such shows cook up booming business. But something crucial is lost in the race for ratings.
The Food Network used to thrive on the standard celebrity chef cooking instruction shows like Everyday Italian with the glamorous Giada DeLaurentiis, Paula’s Home Cooking with downhome Paula Deen, Thirty Minute Meals with superstar Rachael Ray, and Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten, who disappointingly is not actually a barefoot contessa. Those shows, or variations thereof featuring the same hosts, still anchor the network’s weekday schedule, but its prime time lineup now is given over almost entirely to cooking competitions.
Here’s a list just off the top of my head: Top Chef, Top Chef: Just Desserts, Iron Chef, Iron Chef America, Next Iron Chef, Next Food Network Star, Throwdown, Chopped, Cupcake Wars, Dinner: Impossible, The Taste, Rachel vs. Guy Celebrity Cook-off, Bobby’s Dinner Battle, Food Network Challenge, Halloween Wars, Last Cake Standing, Food Feuds, Food Fights, Ready…Set…Cook!, Sweet Genius, Ultimate Recipe Showdown, Worst Cooks in America, Chef Wanted, Chefs vs. City, Next Great Baker – but you get the idea.