In his new book, From Scratch: Inside the Food Network, writer Allen Salkin takes a deep dive into the world of Food Network, from before it was a kernel of an idea all the way up to the latest Paula Deen scandal. For anyone who has an interest in the network, or television in general, it’s a fascinating read.
The book is full of information that you probably didn’t know about the network. The story begins with a man named Joe Langhan, who was head of programming for Colony Cablevision, and had the idea to broadcast food-related programming 24-7 on one of their channels. From the start-up business plan, which relied heavily on subscribers buying an electronic coupon machine called Couponix, to the early team, which included CNN co-founder Reese Schonfeld, being told that they were out of their minds for wanting to broadcast cooking shows all day long, the early chapters are a textbook example of a great idea coming along at exactly the right time and beating the odds. The founders of Food Network refined their vision as they went along, and managed to convince enough people to invest to make their vision come to life.
"My fondest memory from the early days was realizing that what we had been working on, we were actually going to do it," Langhan told us. "We were able to take it from idea to implementation."
"CNN was architecture, and Food Network was carpentry," Schonfeld added. "It’s fun to be a carpenter, but it’s never finished."
The early schedule was full of traditional "stand-and-stir" cooking shows hosted by folks like David Rosengarten (Taste), Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken (Too Hot Tamales), and a little-known chef named Emeril Lagasse (How to Boil Water and later Essence of Emeril), as well as a program hosted by Robin Leach (Talking Food), and a talk show hosted by Rosengarten and New York first lady Donna Hanover called In Food Today. But as Schonfeld put it, the work was never done. If Food Network has been consistent in one field it’s been its ability to constantly take chances and reinvent itself, from airing a wacky Japanese cooking competition show called Iron Chef to giving a cook without high-end restaurant experience named Rachael Ray her very own show to deciding who will be its next star via a reality competition show.
But for everything that’s public knowledge, there’s a wealth of fascinating information that you most likely didn’t know about the network and its stars that’s revealed in the book. Click here to learn 20 facts that you most likely didn’t know about Food Network and its stars, starting with the early days and progressing to the present.