11 Times Food Network Shows Outraged Fans

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For years, Food Network cooking shows have been a source of solace and entertainment for many. From home cooks to regular folks, the network's shows have been a way to pass long afternoons filled with procrastination. Seen in a brighter light, they certainly provide a more informative solution to the TV-binging urge than the likes of Jerry Springer. Meanwhile, shows like "Barefoot Contessa," "The Kitchen," and "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" created a new era of cooking shows that was far fresher than the PBS cooking shows of past generations.

However, despite the sunny side, Food Network has run into trouble. It's dealt with its share of lows over the years, from politically controversial comments to serious and very visible issues with diversity. Even some of our most favorite Food Network stalwarts are not immune from controversy and outrage, some of it even stemming from lifelong fans. 

While, at one time, these shows were the comfort we needed at the end of a hard day, that doesn't mean we can't call them or their stars out when they have done something wrong. In that spirit, these are the times that Food Network shows seriously outraged their fans.

Pioneer Woman made politically incorrect wings

Ree Drummond, popularly known as the "Pioneer Woman," has been widely praised for her delicious comfort food recipes and quirky home life on a ranch. However, a 2017 clip from Drummond's cooking show was called out for alleged anti-Asian sentiment. On the episode, Drummond baked a batch of "Asian hot wings." Upon being presented with the meal, her family members asked: "Where are the real wings?" Another on-camera diner replied "I don't trust 'em." That was already ban enough for some viewers, but then Drummond took it a step further. In the clip, she said "I'm just kidding" and then brought out a tray of Buffalo wings (via Twitter).

Fans seemed split by the game day Asian-style wings. Some Twitter commentators were baffled that the episode was still aired, while other others argued that the episode's commentary had been taken out of context. Blog Thick Dumpling Skin, which posted the original clip, called for the Food Network to do better, asking why non-Asian chefs who "can't pronounce Sriracha ... show us how to make our own dishes?" Food Network did not comment on the controversy, but the episode is unavailable for streaming on Amazon as of July 2022.

Semi-Homemade Cooking produced an awkward Kwanzaa cake

Sandra Lee is, to some minds, the discount version of Paula Deen and Rachael Ray, a TV chef who brings all of the comfort food, with more canned goods. She constructs her easy recipes using her 70/30 rule — namely, easy meals that consist of 70 percent canned fare and 30 percent fresh food (via Harper's Bazaar). While some may raise an eyebrow at that ratio, Lee's cooking show, "Semi-Homemade Cooking," came under more serious criticism when she decided to make a Kwanzaa-themed cake.

Anthony Bourdain himself called Lee's cake no less than "a war crime on television" (via AV Club). We have to agree, given that it resembles an ant hill more than an edible treat. True to her show's concept, Lee's dessert consisted of a grocery store angel food cake covered in store-bought icing and topped with corn nuts and sunflower seeds. It was also filled with apple pie filling. 

According to Salon, a food stylist and recipe writer on the show apologized, saying they were "backed into a corner" by Lee to create the cake. Jessica Harris, a professor and author who studies foods of the African diaspora, said the cake wasn't exactly problematic, though it was culturally irrelevant and horrifying-looking. Nothing about the cake really said "Kwanzaa," besides the candles.

A Worst Cooks in America contestant was charged with murder

For most, the show "Worst Cooks in America" provides the chance for sub-par home chefs to achieve cooking redemption and a chance at nationwide recognition. That certainly seemed to be the case for Ariel Robinson, who won Season 20 of "Worst Cooks in America." However, fans were shocked when news emerged in 2021 that Robinson and her husband were charged with homicide by child abuse. The couple were arrested after their three-year-old adopted daughter was found unresponsive at home. Even worse, Ariel Robinson's husband said he had seen his wife beating the child (via Greenville News).

The community and fans were shocked by the sheer violence of the child's death. How could Robison, a former middle school teacher and aspiring comedian, commit such a crime? An associate of her commented on their shock, noting how "[Robinson] expressed a passion for working with children and the community" (via WYFF4). Meanwhile, fans of the show expressed their own shock and disgust on Reddit. Shortly after the charges came to light, Deadline reported that Food Network declined to comment on the incident, but removed the season featuring Robinson from all streaming services.

Pioneer Woman's portrayal of gender roles came under fire

Ree Drummond may not be one of the most modern homemakers around, but she is definitely one of most influential. The Pioneer Woman has taken her traditional roles as a wife, mother, and homemaker and monetized them into a brand that's downright ubiquitous. Her fans already know that she is an accidental country girl who moved to rural Oklahoma with her rancher husband, Ladd Drummond. What began as a small food and lifestyle blog after the move has turned into a powerful brand with considerable income.

However, not all fans and haters idolize her more-traditional lifestyle. Some have even called her a "menace to society" (via Twitter). However, Melanie Haupt wrote that Drummond was a "modern-day Betty Crocker" turned toxic who represents "domesticity as escapist entertainment." To achieve that, however, she indulges in outdated nostalgic narratives of docile women and espouses narrow views of masculinity and femininity." Haupt also targeted the "worshipful" portrayal of Drummond's husband, arguing that I t paints domesticity in an overly romantic and unrealistic way (via Psychology Today).

Food Network Kitchen was called out for diversity issues

In 2020, in an attempt to take advantage of emerging media trends, the Food Network released Food Network Kitchen, a subscription service for an all-in-one cooking experience. With an app, subscribers can access thousands of recipes in order to plan weekly meals, take master classes on specific cuisines, and watch some of Food Network's best shows. Wired described the service as "the Peloton of food," featuring classes conducted by celebrity chefs like Ree Drummond, Bobby Flay, and Giada De Laurentiis.

Despite the appeal of recipes and cooking classes at your fingertips, Food Network Kitchen's biggest shortcoming was the majority presence of white chefs and awkward views of different cuisine. That wasn't the first time Food Network had been criticized for "whitewashing" traditional recipes, as well as for white chefs explaining the cuisines of other cultures, as per Blavity. Even though there has been a visible uptick in the network's diversity, including what's available on Food Network Kitchen, we hope that effort keeps moving forward. After all, this sort of positive change shouldn't stop after a few baby steps.

Chopped dealt with a cheating scandal

"Chopped" chefs are often given completely unrelated ingredients and told to whip up a masterpiece, which makes even a poorly executed effort still worthy of some praise. However, the celebrity edition of "Chopped" is arguably the most entertaining version of all, as fans get to see a variety of celebrities show off hidden cooking skills — or flounder trying.

One of the biggest Food Network cheating scandals happened on "Chopped" involved rapper Coolio, best known for his hit song, "Gangster's Paradise." According to The Cut, the incident happened in episode 3 of Season 19. There, Coolio was going head-to-head with magician Penn Jillette, singer Carnie Wilson, and actor Lou Diamond Phillips. As Coolio was trying to put the finishing touches on his version of a beef and broccoli, the clock ran out of time. Coolio then not-so-stealthily took a lemon wedge off of Wilson's plate, placed it under his armpit, and juiced it onto his plate as the other contestants watched in disbelief. 

Fans on Reddit were steaming, especially because the celebrities were playing to benefit charities. To be fair, Coolio was eliminated after the debacle not only because he cheated, but because his food was awful. Perhaps we should all try to live by Coolio's final words before he departed the show — "cheaters never prosper."

Gender diversity on Chopped became an issue

Food Network has been criticized for its lack of diversity before, but now "Chopped" is on the chopping block, too. It may have a selection of female judges like Alex Guarnaschelli, Amanda Freitag, and Maneet Chauhan, but fans are not always pleased by the portrayal of women on the show.

Venkat Sethuraman analyzed 278 episodes of "Chopped" for how the show fared when it came to representing female chefs. Of the episodes surveyed, approximately 37% of "Chopped" competitors were women. Around 33% of the winners were women. Of 22 seasons, only four had a higher percentage of female winners. Intriguingly, the study also discovered that, when there were at least two female judges on the panel, female contestants won less often than if there were a majority of male judges.

The Student Life argues that shows like "Chopped" are catered to male viewers with its aggressive energy, while "domesticated" cooking shows like "Barefoot Contessa" are catered to more female-centric audiences. Whether consciously or not, the target audience may push "Chopped" to cast more male contestants, while also portraying its female contestants as "underdogs" for the sake of fake diversity.

Guy Fieri made inappropriate comments on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

Guy Fieri has always had an explosive reputation, from his booming voice to his Heat Miser-adjacent hair. His widely popular show, "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," matches his dynamic personality while featuring a plethora of foods from across the United States. In the early 2010s, however, trouble arose for this Food Network stalwart when allegations surfaced over concerning allegations that Fieri had expressed some seriously inappropriate things sentiments.

Things first bubbled to the surface when former "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" producer David Page said that Fieri "needed protection from homosexuals" while filming the show and said that "those people weird me out" (via HuffPost). He also claimed that Fieri had a "poop joke" problem and would make lewd jokes to women. When editing the show, Page said that Fieri had a wandering eye, and so had to cut out multiple scenes of him staring at women's bodies (via Gothamist). 

After the allegations were made, a spokesman for Fieri told Eater that he was "a stand-up guy who does right by people" and "would never make the kind of comments attributed to him." Food Network sued Page and City Papers on behalf of Fieri. To further complicate things, Fieri has since displayed apparently sincere support for LGBTQ people. He officiated a wedding ceremony for 101 LGBTQ couples in 2015 (via TIME) and expressed his hope to do much the same for actor Kristen Stewart and her partner Dylan Meyer (via AV Club).

Down Home with the Neelys concealed marriage troubles

There wasn't anything quite like "Down Home with the Neelys." On air, the title couple, Pat and Gina Neely, seemed almost perfect as they peacefully cooked together in their beautiful home. For many, it was no less than a picturesque image of the American dream. However, that dream shattered when the Nellys announced that they were divorcing after 20 years of marriage.

After divorcing, their once-secret marriage troubles began to see the light. Gina Neely told People that "she never wanted to be a TV chef" and that she was planning on divorcing her husband prior to the show's 2008 debut. Gina felt conflicted. She wanted to keep her commitment to Food Network and her husband, but also wished to leave because her children disliked the attention brought on them by the show. Gina and her husband essentially became little more than business partners playing husband and wife. Yet, when she announced her divorce, she told People that fans initially were mad because their idyllic image of love and family was broken because of her. 

For his part, Pat Neely told People that he was concerned he let fans down because their love had become so central to their Food Network fame. Despite everything, the two have moved on amicably, even after the divorce forced the show to end. Pat has since remarried and had two more children, while Gina went to star in Bravo's "To Rome with Love."

Bobby Flay pulled an on-air stunt on Iron Chef Showdown

Not only is Bobby Flay a grill master, but he's also an "Iron Chef" master, often beating out other chefs with his impeccable skills and spontaneous creativity. That said, during one "Iron Chef" battle, Flay baffled fans and Food Network by putting in his resignation mid-episode.

During his final competition on the show, Flay revealed a shirt hiding under his chef's coat that read "this is my last chef battle ever." He later said that he thought the joke was a good idea at the time. Flay explained everything about the stunt at the South Beach Wine & Food festival, elaborating that Food Network was not thrilled and didn't see it as good TV. Despite the scandal initially being a joke, Flay later confirmed that he would be leaving the show, saying that the work was physically and emotionally exhausting and he "wanted to go out on a high note" (via People). 

Fans were more confused than anything else, with some on Reddit saying they were excited to see different personalities as opposed to the same-old Food Network chefs on every episode. In 2021, Flay renewed his contract with Food Network and filmed a new show with his daughter, "Bobby and Sophie on the Coast" (via US Weekly).

Everyday Italian host spits out her own food

Giada De Laurentiis is a force to be reckoned with –– don't let her petite size and friendly smile fool you into thinking that she isn't here to play. She shot into the spotlight in 2003 with her Food Network TV cooking show, "Everyday Italian," focused on family-friendly pasta and flavorful Italian-inspired dishes. Despite being ranked against other Food Network celebrity chefs, De Laurentiis still maintained a healthy fan following even when dissed by celebrities like Nicole Kidman who spat out the food De Laurentiis cooked on "Ellen" (via Variety).

In 2014, however, De Laurentiis was put into the hot seat by fans after allegations surfaced that she never ate the food she cooked. A source that worked on the show revealed to Page Six that De Laurentiis never eats while filming and that "when she is making drinks and food ... they have a dump bucket that is brought out the second they cut" for her to spit in. Their source continued, explaining that "sometimes when they are shooting her taking bites ... they have an assistant take the bite ... and then cut back to [De Laurentiis] taking an empty fork out of her mouth."

In response to the claims, De Laurentiis' representative told Page Six that the claims were "absurd and completely false," citing that she sometimes has to film three episodes in a single day and "that would be too much for most people to eat in one day." Nevertheless, fans were shocked by the allegations with tweets ranging from disappointed and disingenuous to some fans even losing an overall appreciation for her show (via Twitter). However, some chefs supported De Laurentiis by explaining that many chefs spit out food regularly when developing recipes and for portion control and even sommeliers swish and spit wine as a general practice (via PopSugar).