Netflix has thrown it’s hat into the cooking competition world and the results were mixed, but the overall message is still very intriguing. Once upon a time when Iron Chef America showed up on Food Network the original chefs were all full fledged cooking studs. Their food was unique and their presentation was unlike anyone else in the world. That was a long time ago, however, and now the networks results are mixed at best. Food Network has had a monopoly on televised food culture for a long time now, but Comedy Central had that for stand up comedy at one point and when is the last time you checked out a new special on that channel?
Bobby Flay and Gordon Ramsay are the two most well known celebrity chefs, but there is a distinct difference between the two. Bobby Flay is a TV personality at this point and Gordon Ramsay is a TV personality with a shit load of Michelin Stars to his name and someone who doesn’t feel the need to compete himself. He’s relevant in the food industry right now and that is something that is missing from Food Network.
All of these things were in my mind as I watched The Final Table and had the thought of “could a celebrity chef hang in this competition”. The Final Table itself is an interesting version of a cooking competition and much more interesting than the normal version of Chopped or Beat Bobby Flay that you see on the air now. Each episode travels to a different part of the globe and forces the team of paired chefs to serve a signature dish from that part of the world and it is judged by 2 celebrities and a food writer. The teams that serve the dish that end up in the bottom 3 have to cook again immediately to try to remain in the competition. A decorated/important chef from that area is introduced and a secret ingredient must be used for the final dish. That dish is judged by the guest chef and the worst dish is kicked off of the show.
The part that is most interesting is that the chefs competing aren’t home cooks or ex-con’s or someone’s grandmother. These chefs have current successful restaurants and there are several Michelin stars and James Beard award winners here to win. Hence the question “could a celebrity chef hang in this competition”. If you are looking for name recognition, then who would you get to fill out a cast of chefs to compete? Does anyone want to see something more than Flay vs Ramsay, which has been rumored for years now? The problem is, I don’t know that celebrity chefs is what should fill out the dream scenario of cooking competitions here, but rather a mix of celeb chefs and real life chefs with skins on the wall to see what the celebs are made of. Either way, that’s been unable to happen to this point because of competing networks.
If anyone has the money and power to make this happen, it’s definitely Netflix, which leads me back to my original point. If Netflix has decided to take over the game from Food Network, then I’m not sure there is anything that could be done about it. They now dominate stand up comedy by flooding the market and making sure that nobody is going to Comedy Central. HBO still gets some big names because they are HBO, but Netflix has all of the top names and it’s not close. If they decide that food is next on their list, then what can Food Network do about that? Chopped is probably it’s signature show and Bobby Flay its signature personality, but how hard would it be to take that over. If The Great British Baking Show and Final Table is any indicator, then Netflix could clean house when contracts come up and just pump out food competition series of 8 episodes and take over the game.
This is a real shift for Netflix and their ability to move on and destroy niche programming like comedy and cooking is a real thing and more could certainly be coming. Does this lead to them opening the checkbook like they did with Rock and Seinfeld and Chappelle to get big name celebrity chefs? If that happens, then where do we go from there? I’m not sure, but the writing is on the wall and you can bet executives at Food Network have to be trembling in their aprons.
Stephen Balding is the founder of Cinema Soapbox. You can reach him at email@example.com