In Defense of Rachael Ray and the Food Network

“For my next trick, I’ll fit this entire salsa bottle in mouth!”Photo: Getty Images
Anthony Bourdain’s smackdown of the Food Network stars on Michael Ruhlman’s blog — in which the chef calls Sandra Lee “pure evil” and Paula Deen and drag queen Divine lookalikes, among other things — caused quite a stir the other day. Readers cheered Tony, and jumped on the Food Network with both feet. “But will the Food Network listen? Not likely,” Ruhlman lamented in a follow-up post. To him, the reason is obvious: Americans (other than his readers) are sheeple, shuffling Philistines who celebrate Rocco DiSpirito and Rocco Siffredi alike. “America is a mediocrity factory, and the Food Network is no different from any other business trafficking in cheap goods,” Ruhlman sighs. As opposed to trafficking in cheap shots — that’s Ruhlman’s specialty.

We don’t think this mandarin hauteur has any intellectual basis. Aside from the fact that it is unbecoming for a privileged and educated man to sneer at his own countrypeople, even by the standards of practical gastronomy his complaint doesn’t hold water. Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee are culinary lightweights, as they would be the first to admit, but they’re a product of — and engine for — people’s love for food. As David Kamp illustrated so well in The United States of Arugula, his history of “how we became a gourmet nation,” we’ve all grown into our food awareness, and people like them have helped us do it. (Kamp, by the way, recently ran down his favorite books about New York’s own food history here on Grub Street.)

For an amateur, taking tips from Rachael Ray is no less legitimate than a good cook learning from Lidia Bastianich or Mario Batali. (And that’s leaving aside the class issue — Ray’s special appeal to the hard-working people who barely have the time to make meals for themselves and their families.) How different is it, really, from Ruhlman’s own infatuation with professional cookery? Rachael Ray’s voice bugs us, too. But that doesn’t make her, or her audience, mediocre. It’s Ruhlman who has failed the Food Network, not the other way around.

Shocked [Ruhlman]

Nobody Asked Me, But …[Ruhlman]

In Defense of Rachael Ray and the Food Network