Food52 Life

Too Many Cooks: The Food Network, and Other Gateway Drugs

January 29, 2016

Last week, someone brought up Food Network shows—specifically, the ones we watch(ed) obsessively—in our company chatroom, and suddenly we were off. The whole team was claiming their allegiances, naming their preferred TV chefs, and realizing that, for a lot of us, the Food Network was a real gateway into realizing how much we loved food.

We wanted to know more, so this week, we asked the team flat out: How did you get into food?

Micki: I was always slightly into food and cooking (although I was a really picky eater as a kid), and my big thing with my mom was baking pies together. What really sealed the deal, though, was the summer after my freshman year of college, when I quit my job and was having trouble finding another one, so spent the whole summer watching Food Network episodes. It all pretty much spiraled out of control from there.

Shop the Story

Jeremy: Cooking was something that was somewhat part of my childhood, but I was unfortunately what could be referred to as a “picky eater” in my youth (or, as George Carlin would call a "big pain in the ass.”). Once I graduated from college, I got better about food and had regular access to the Food Network. I became mildly obsessed with Alton Brown (Good Eats Alton, not Cutthroat Kitchen Alton). Good Eats triggered the budding food geek and the well-established science geek in me.

Kristen: My family indoctrinated me early to the idea of food as occasion, even if plenty of our dinners were straight-up frozen lima beans and canned salmon cakes. So when my friends and I were bored, food was a means for adventure: We baked cookies, or made elaborate breakfasts after slumber parties, or spent Saturdays walking a mile to the Chinese restaurant for a celebratory pu pu platter, or to the gas station for junk food.

But Alton Brown was my career gateway—I watched a lot of Good Eats as I was mulling my career change away from economics. (Thanks Alton!)

Connor: I had to withdraw from college my second semester of freshman year to recuperate from spinal surgery. Pretty much the only physical activity I could do was sit upright so for about a month, so I would get situated in an armchair in the living room and spend the day watching TV.

After figuring out that the Food Network usually had the highest quality daytime schedule, it became my go-to channel. I developed a love affair with Ina Garten and became fascinated with everything she did, culinary or not. (The love between her and Jeffrey is the purest ever known to mankind and you cannot tell me otherwise). When I started getting my strength back, I asked my mom if I could help her cook dinner from time to time—and now I can't get enough.

Rebecca: Yes! Ina!! I loved whenever Jeffrey was coming home; you knew she was going to make roast chicken. #InaandJeffrey

Leslie: I come from a family where good food comes above all else—but the first time I really became interested in cooking myself though was when I cooked my way through Ottolenghi's Jerusalem one summer for an internship. It made me realize that it's possible to make anything as long as you have a recipe, regardless of skill (except for cakes—those are hard).

Amanda S.: Good Eats was also my gateway drug, but the transition to actually cooking came when a doctor in Tennessee diagnosed me with Celiac's in 2009. I had just moved to France when I got the call from her, and—terrified of accidentally eating gluten due to poor French label-reading skills—I stopped subsisting on baguettes alone and started cooking everything from scratch. Which turned out to be great fun, and delicious.

(I didn't eat gluten for the next 3 years, until a doctor in New York confirmed with a test that I don't actually have Celiac's—!!—which was very exciting, bewildering news indeed. I quickly went back to beer and bread, but the cooking part stuck.)

Photo by James Ransom

Kaitlin: My obsession with food started when I randomly enrolled in a sociology course on the political economy of food in college. The Omnivore's Dilemma had just come out, food politics was starting to get hot, and I gulped down the organic/fair-trade/raw Kool-Aid. I figured the best way to avoid the industrial food scene was by learning to cook, and it stuck when I realized how enjoyable and satisfying it is.

Zoe: I was never allowed to eat junk food as a kid—so when I moved out for the first time at 17 I was thrilled I could eat whatever I wanted. After a month, I realized that gallons of chocolate milk and jumbo boxes of corn dogs weren't going to cut it (shocking!!!)... and so I began The Great Experiment: Cooking for One. I'm still working on it, but I can definitively say that corn dogs no longer have a place in my life/heart.

Erin: Despite coming from a food-obsessed family, I desperately wanted to be an artist—but to my dismay, I just wasn't good at art. I finally got really into ceramics, but feared I was destined to be a starving artist, if I could ever even crack the code. One day I came home from the studio to discover my mom frosting a cake; she was using the same tool I had been using on the pottery wheel earlier. Had I been a cartoon, a giant lightbulb would have appeared above my head. I was 16, and I landed my first job in a bakery about a week later.

Side note: I've been far from starving ever since.

Photo by James Ransom

Merrill: My mother still loves to tell people about my childhood obsession with the Little House books. As only a parent can predict, she "always knew" I'd end up doing something related to food because of the amount of time I spent talking about pig butchery, roasting meat, and how to dye homemade butter with carrot juice—just a few of the many food activities described in loving detail by Laura Ingalls Wilder (who, I'm convinced, missed out on her true calling as a food writer by being born ahead of her time).

Sarah D.: I graduated university in 2012 and realized I had accidentally spent four years using my major’s sociological lens to write about food—and spent most of my free time with my hands in flour. I lamented not going to culinary school. Luckily, I had enough friends working in some aspect of the culinary field who encouraged me, saying I didn’t need a culinary degree if I was willing to work. I was, and started working with bakeries for free.

Eventually I landed a bakeshop job that paid, and I’ve spent the last few years baking my way through restaurants as a pastry chef. It wasn’t until last January that I realized how much I missed writing and how fascinating other aspects of the culinary field could be.

How did you get interested in food? Tell us in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Doug R.
    Doug R.
  • LeAnne
  • Yazmin Santa Ana
    Yazmin Santa Ana
  • Katie
  • MarZig
Writing and cooking in Brooklyn.


Doug R. February 1, 2016
I've enjoyed cooking and baking for as long as I can remember. I got my first cookbook nearly 40 years ago, and the first thing I made out of it was sugar cookies. When I was in college, I had a job as one of the training cooks for a Big 10 football team, which is where I learned to follow a recipe well and adjust quantities. But I didn't really venture into cooking just for its own sake until I discovered the cookbook "The Frugal Gourment Cooks American."
LeAnne February 1, 2016
As a kid I was also focused on children's books that had a food element, like "Bread and Jam for Franics" or the YA book "Fig Pudding" but it wasn't until I saw an episode of Rachael Ray's "Forty dollars a day" that a light went off and I became obsessive about consuming food media. It took me a few more years to actual jump from watching a million cooking shows to actually cooking but I am always thankful for the Food Network's programming in the early 2000's whenever I go in my kitchen and cook.
Yazmin S. February 1, 2016
At a very young age after making my brothers eat partially "baked" goods from my easy bake oven, I was finally allowed to use the big oven. With supervision of course. I loved baking so much and I remember I used to watch Great Chefs of the World and wait for the dessert so I could record it on vhs! I had hours and hours of recordings. Then in high school when we had to start deciding what we wanted to do I finally said I wanted to go to culinary school. My parents were very supportive and my dad even told me then if I was going to bake anymore at home he wanted me to start making everything from scratch! Which was great cuz my passion really exploded from there. Once I started culinary school that's when I actually got into Food Network, Alton, Ina, Giada and Tyler were my Idols!
Currently I'm working in the medical field still baking on the side though, hoping to finally bake in a wonderful Bakery someday!!
Katie January 31, 2016
Eight years ago today, I made a batch of the highest-rated chocolate chip cookies on allrecipes and the following day delivered them to a boy I had a crush on (it was for his birthday). After that, drop cookies kind of became “my thing” (though I have branched out quite a bit in both baking and cooking). I love making good food and sharing it with others brings me such joy. So there you go! :)

And if you're wondering about the boy... Those cookies worked! ;) We're now happily married and he "helps" with cookie quality control (aka taste-testing the dough AND baked product, of course).
MarZig January 31, 2016
For the record, I wish I could hit like for everybody's story...they are all really relatable and good stories.
MarZig January 31, 2016
almost from the beginning...while my friends were watching Sesame Street, I was watching Julia Child..... I wanted to make Bouillabaisse. I think I was 10 when I made my first pie crust from scratch, I was bored so I made Lemon Meruage Pie from the Betty Crocker cook book my mom had... from like the 50's. I still got it...I love every grease and food stain on that page :)
Kathryn H. January 31, 2016
My mother was seriously ill and for a while we subsisted on my Dad's cooking. I remember a night when leftover beets made their way into a kind of hamburger goulash. The next day I got the Betty Crocker Children's Cookbook out of the school library and demanded kitchen rights. I was nine.
susan January 30, 2016
My mom had a group of friends that would hold classes at each others homes. Baking, painting, furniture restoring, hooked rugs, you name it, they mastered it. An amazingly creative + loving group of women. But - the day my Mom came home with her batch of baklava - I was totally hooked. From age 11 on - every Christmas was a baklava holiday for me. I was the queen of baklava!
To this day baking or making anything in the kitchen is where I want to be. Happiness can always be found in a kitchen.
Panfusine January 30, 2016
Driven by family stories about my mother's supposed disdain of cooking and how karmic it was that she got married to my father, the consummate foodie and had a spectacular talent for cooking. by the time I was born, she had mastered the art, & my dad? he could reverse engineer just about ANY dish he had tasted in a restaurant & recreate it. One of my biggest regrets in life is that my obsession with food and all things culinary struck after they passed on.
Roberta J. January 29, 2016
It was the Chronicles of Narnia for me - those books are full of British Empire food. Turkish delight, big fried breakfasts of sausages and tomatoes and mushrooms, the "Calormene" cuisine which was vaguely Arabic . . . And I was a girl from Akron who had never heard of such things.
Kate P. January 29, 2016
I am totally on board with your suggestion Merrill, that Laura Ingalls Wilder was way ahead of her time. Her descriptions of the food her family ate were so vivid - the crispy pig tails in the fire after hog butchering, making sweets from the maple sugar, the blackbird pie, the oyster and cracker soup they had one Christmas when Ma had to stretch it to feed everyone at the table .......

For myself, I loved Vogue Entertaining magazine, which is sadly no longer published and I started buying it from about the age of 16. Later, I loved Gourmet from the US just as much. These two magazines were definitely my early influences and I miss both those magazines still.
henandchicks January 29, 2016
Merrill, Yes! Me, too! The little house books were transformative and a defining part of my childhood also. I love the part in one of the books where Laura's mother makes fried cakes that were apparently balloon shaped and delicate. Even as a grown-up pastry chef I am still not sure what these cake could have been. Beignets? Some sort of fried doughnut? I have several of the Laura Ingalls Wilder based cookbooks, but none of these fried cakes seem to live up to her description. Oh! And when Laura describes how her mother would lay her hand on the loaf of cornbread that the family would eat, because that is all the sweetness that Pa needed in his cornbread. As a child I thought it was kind of peculiar and funny, as an adult it is charming and sweet.
tia January 29, 2016
Cakes aren't hard! They really aren't! A little prone to the "dirty every dish in your kitchen" side of things but not nearly as fussy as, say, meringues.

My mom always cooked dinner for our family and made lunches for us so cooking was just a thing that happened for me. Food Network is much beloved by my entire family but it didn't really exist before I went away to college. Pretty sure college was a catalyst. You have to feed yourself and it has to be cheap. We did a lot of stir-fries as a household and invented pizza crunchies (wrap pizza sauce and cheese in a wonton wrapper and fry. Very healthy) on a lazy night. I think I really missed family meals and eating with other people so I got better at cooking for a crowd so I could host. Food = love, as they say.

Pretty sure that the desire to put in work and have a tangible result afterwords has something to do with my love of cooking, too. Most of my work entails long, LONG timeframes so spending a couple of hours in the kitchen and actually having a result after was really satisfying.