Strange Things You Don't Know About The Food Network

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The Food Network has been on the air for more than two decades, churning out drool-worthy dishes for the home-cooking masses and launching the careers of dozens of celebrity chefs in the process. Emeril Lagasse's "Bam!" and Rachael Ray's "EVOO" have become a part of our lexicon. We know that Anne Burrell thinks brown food equals good food. We know what Ina Garten means when she tells us to use the "good" mayonnaise. But if you peel back a layer or two, behind all the recipes and the star-studded kitchens, you might be surprised to learn some strange facts about everyone's favorite food channel. Your beloved cooking shows might not be exactly what they seem, and what goes on behind the scenes might not be exactly what you'd expect.

Whose show did Martha Stewart put the kibosh on? Did the network really air parts of an adult film? Do the chefs actually make all those dishes? Let's find out.

The time they aired X-rated content

Sure, the Food Network is known for its food porn, but the X-rated kind? Not so much.

In 1997 hosts Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger walked viewers through the recipe for their Latin risotto on an episode of Two Hot Tamales. Inexplicably, the feed switched to several seconds of an adult film before the screen went blank, and although an engineer attempted to switch to to a backup feed, that tape also contained salacious material. The X-rated footage aired for a solid minute before returning to the regularly scheduled programming. Milliken and Feniger, presumably regretting the moniker "Two Hot Tamales" in that moment, released a statement saying, "We were stunned and dismayed. We have a broad viewing audience that we really care about and we hate to think of the shock or embarrassment this may have caused any of our viewers."

According to GrubStreet, a federal investigation into the matter laid the blame on the Food Network, not the cable provider, but it was never discovered who switched the feed.

The chefs do a lot of gross stuff on air

When you're in the comfort of your own kitchen you might sneak a taste of sauce using the spoon you're stirring with, or you might stick your (possibly unwashed) finger into the bowl of frosting. But when you're on television, that's not a good look, and a study by Texas Tech University proved just how unsanitary your favorite Food Network chefs can be.

The study looked at 17 food safety and handling habits — some positive, some negative — from hand washing to cross contamination to proper use of a thermometer. In an analysis of 49 episodes of five different shows, only 118 positive food safety measures were identified, compared to an overwhelming 460 poor food handling incidents. Not washing produce and not washing hands were the most frequent offenses, but Paula Deen's show, Paula's Home Cooking, won the award for the most negative behaviors, thanks in large part due to one bad habit — the southern chef licked her fingers more than 20 times during the analysis. Not exactly a squeaky clean performance.

The Martha Stewart/Ina Garten drama

Fans of Martha Stewart will have trouble swallowing this one: It turns out the super successful businesswoman and DIY queen, who seemingly has it all, is a bit threatened by her competitors — or at least that's the way she's portrayed in Allen Salkin's tell-all book, From Scratch: Inside the Food Network.

According to Salkin, Stewart reached out to Garten — before she'd hit it big with Barefoot Contessa — to produce Garten's cooking show. A crew was dispatched to the Hamptons and a pilot was filmed. Stewart, however, was not pleased with the results. Among the reasons? That Garten's Fiestaware plates were too similar to those she used. The book also alleges that Stewart was "unhappy that another woman was going to be the star of a show produced by her company," and reports that she even went so far as to destroy all evidence of the pilot. "I don't want to be representing Ina," Stewart told her team. "I don't want this shown. I want the tapes of this whole series destroyed." We bet Martha's sorry she didn't stick with the Barefoot Contessa now.

The chefs don't do it all themselves

Think the celeb chefs featured on your favorite cooking shows are doing all the work themselves? Think again. For any given episode, there are between 15 and 20 chefs behind the scenes, all working to ensure the on-air hosts can do their jobs well. "People don't realize how many hands are involved even before Rachael [Ray], Guy [Fieri] or Melissa [d'Arabian] touch the food," says Rob Bleifer, executive chef of the Food Network Kitchen. 

There are five kitchens at the Food Network studios. It's in these kitchens that all the ingredients are prepped, "swap outs" (dishes completed at varying points in the recipe) are made, and every detail of every show is organized. "Cooking on TV is a hard job," says Jill Novatt, executive culinary producer. "You need to really actually cook, while listening to the culinary producer whispering in your ear telling you to smile and to move your hand because it's blocking the celery, all while you also have to pay attention to the studio director on the floor who is pointing to which camera you have to face."

Someone paid a ton of money to pal around with Guy Fieri

Since winning season two of The Next Food Network Star, Guy Fieri has taken his fair share of ribbing. Critics love to hate on everything from his flashy wardrobe to his liberal use of donkey sauce — The New York Times Pete Wells scathing review of Guy's American Kitchen will forever live in infamy — but we're willing to bet nobody ever paid them $100,000 to hang out for the day. 

According to Allen Salkin's salacious book, From Scratch: Inside the Food Network, that's exactly what Steven A. Cohen did. Salkin reports that the billionaire hedge fund manager forked over a boatload of cold, hard cash to pal around Connecticut with Fieri for day, playing out his fantasy episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The duo reportedly become so close that Fieri even featured one of Cohen's favorite restaurants on Triple D. Who says money can't buy love?

The not-so-real reality shows

Watching chefs compete on competition shows can be downright nerve wracking. The surprise ingredients, the drama, the mishaps. But is that really how it goes down? Perhaps unsurprisingly, these shows blur the lines when it comes to certain aspects of reality.

Iron Chefs are actually selected in advance, and two of the three chefs lurking in the dark are stand-ins. And the secret ingredient? Competitors are given three possibilities ahead of time, which allows the show to stock their pantries accordingly.

As for all that cattiness between contestants? One Redditor who says they filmed an episode of a pastry competition show says it's all in the editing. "All the talking about other people is bull****. They sit you down to interview you and don't let you go until they get something they can edit to sound badly."

Another Redditor, who says they worked as an intern on a Food Network reality show, says you can also blame editing for the seemingly rushed finish. "Editing is what's mostly responsible for making everything look 'down-to-the-wire.' You can always have the countdown put over footage of a contestant making the final touches, even if those final touches were done 5 minutes before time was up." 

And the inexplicable mishaps? A culinary assistant on Cupcake Wars claims that those "were all the producers faults." If the oven wasn't hot enough, it was actually due to a camera man purposely turning it down. How's that for reality?

The Triple D effect

Guy Fieri might make trash can nachos, and he might have hair that went out in the '90s, but nevertheless, his show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, has quite the positive impact on the restaurants featured. "When you get the call that they are going through with [featuring you on the show], they warn you: This will change your business forever," Emily Biederman, whose eatery made the cut, told Thrillist. "And yeah. It did. It really did." Griffin Bufkin echoed the sentiment, saying, "[Fieri] told us to be ready for a 200 percent increase in business. Believe it or not, that's what happened. And it really hasn't stopped ever since." Who knew Guy Fieri had so much pull?

From taping to airing, there's about a six month lag, but once it hits, it hits big. And because the network reruns shows, the restaurants experience regular upswings in business. "We can always tell the day after our episode has been re-run," Sarah Sanneh says. "Like, all of a sudden we'll be slammed on some random Tuesday, then we'll realize, 'Oh, they just replayed our show... that makes sense.'"

Sounds like it might be worth putting up with the ever-present sunglasses and shirts with flames.

The stars can be really rude to each other

No matter how famous you are, or how delicious your recipes, Food Network stars face a whole lot of criticism, and some of the most memorable quotes come from former Food Network personalities themselves.

"She revels in unholy connections with evil corporations, and she's proud of the fact that her food is f***ing bad for you," Anthony Bourdain said of Paula Deen. "I would think twice before telling an already obese nation that it is OK to eat food that is killing us. Plus, her food sucks." Ouch.

Bourdain had similarly insulting things to say about Rachael Ray. "Does she even cook anymore? I don't know why she bothers," he said. "To her credit, she never said she was good at it. I feel bad that she still feels compelled to cook." Piling on the Rachael Ray hate, Martha Stewart said of the 30 Minute Meals star in a Nightline interview, "She — just did a new cookbook which is just a re-edit of a lot of her old recipes. She — and that's not good enough for me." 

Imagine what gets said behind closed doors...