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

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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?

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Everything You Need to Make the Perfect Pie
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Everything You Need to Make the Perfect Pie

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.

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.

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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!)

The Best Roast Chicken with Garlic and Herb Pan Sauce
The Best Roast Chicken with Garlic and Herb Pan Sauce

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

Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi's Basic Hummus
Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi's Basic Hummus

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!

Tags: Food Network, Home cooking, Food writing