Jeremy explores many topics as he juggles his passion for writing with his career as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
The Food Network's Best Hits
Established in the 1990s, Food Network soon grew to become one of television's biggest forces. Appealing to both cooks looking to acquire new recipes as well as simple food enthusiasts, the network attracted viewers from all walks of life. The generally family-friendly nature of most shows also makes it a nice respite from PBS or Nickelodeon for viewers with kids.
But with hundreds of Food Network programs released throughout the years, which shows reign supreme? These are the ten best Food Network series!
10. Everyday Italian
Host: Giada De Laurentiis
Premise: Learn home-style italian cuisine
I'm as much a fan of the numerous challenge-style competitions as the next food junkie, but even I like to occasionally unwind with a relaxed format. For a more laid-back experience, Everyday Italian showcases nearly everybody's favorite food type in a comforting home environment.
Giada is a warm and inviting host, making this a more artistic than dynamic program, and her cooking skills stand the test of time, avoiding the criticism that some stars (like Rachael Ray) received for their questionable abilities. Whether it's your flavor or not, Giada's not the only infamous FN star...
9. Emeril Live
Host: Emeril Lagasse
Premise: Live program showcasing cajun recipes alongside featured bands
Bam! Emeril's catchphrase for seasoning one of his many Creole-style dishes, Emeril Live was notable for being, well, live. No do-overs to save him if he screwed up, but this only increases our appreciation for Emeril's cooking abilities and engaging personality.
Beyond that, the show featured live jazz music to further complement the southern feel, and the series lasted for an impressive ten years. Lagasse also appears in his more relaxed, non-live series Essence of Emeril.
8. Throwdown with Bobby Flay
Host: Bobby Flay
Premise: Flay challenges famed cooks in an informal cook-off
Bobby Flay's been a Food Network superstar for many years, but he often serves as just a part of something bigger, like his role as one of the Iron Chefs or his judge status in Food Network Star.
Luckily, Flay takes the spotlight in a handful of his own series, my favorite being Throwdown with Bobby Flay. Food Network's got many cook-off series, but few offer the compact time and informal environment of Throwdown. Here, Flay challenges an unsuspecting expert to their specific craft, knowingly enter the contest with a disadvantage. Heck, he loses about 2/3 of his battles—but that only cements his opponent's expert status. With a run-time of just 30 minutes, we're getting a quick challenge with the fun of a battle but without all the drama. Not that we don't love a good emotional roller coaster...
7. Food Network Star
Premise: Chefs compete to earn a chance at hosting their own Food Network program.
With the full title of "Who Will Be the Next Food Network Star?", each season of this series offers long journeys of friendship, laughter, and heartbreak. We come to know and love a varied cast as we watch them one-by-one get eliminated in their quest to earn a chance at hosting their own Food Network series. Star is also the program that initially launched Guy Fieri (of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives fame) into the spotlight, so you can either thank or blame it for that.
Admittedly, most of the winners's programs don't last long in the competitive environment of Food Network, but that doesn't make the journey any less meaningful, especially when accompanied by several fun guest celebrities, judges, and challenges.
Host: Ted Allan
Premise: Competitors battle in various food challenges to avoid getting "chopped"
With Ted Allan directing them, four chefs compete in a three-round clash, with each round "chopping" the worst performance. Think Food Network Star but with a fresh cast each episode, so if you don't find any favorites to root for in one episode, you can simply watch another.
Everyone loves the excitement of competition, and with the mystery ingredients adding an extra layer of challenge, we love seeing how the Chopped contestants can unite typically-opposed ingredients (like watermelon and sardines). Ted Allan also hosts Chopped Junior, essentially the same show but with rugrats doing the cooking.
5. Ace of Cakes
Host: Duff Goldman
Premise: Experience the day-to-day business of the Charm City Cakes shop
On paper, the nature of this show might not sound terribly thrilling, as it's basically just the everyday operations of a custom cake shop. But something about the vivid personalities and humor of Goldman and his friends helps each episode entertain. You can tell they're having fun, and the happiness is infectious. Of course, Goldman's team also crafts their cakes brilliantly, so there's no shortage of talent either.
The banter in Ace of Cakes tosses some serious Pawn Stars vibes, and you've got to admit that Chumley would fit right in with a dessert show.
4. Kitchen Nightmares
Host: Gordon Ramsey
Premise: Chef Ramsey visits failing restaurants and helps revamp them (usually after some heated arguments)
Props to Robert Irvine and his Dinner: Impossible series, which follows a similar pattern and debuted before Kitchen Nightmares. However, all things considered, it's hard to beat Gordon Ramsey's epic adventures to salvage failing restaurants. In the first half of each episode, we witness dingy kitchens with gross menus and belligerent owners. These amateurs often enter hilariously unreasonable arguments with Ramsey, who isn't afraid to get in someone's face with an issue. After helping the owners recognize their mistakes (in his own tough love manner), Gordon's team revamps both the restaurant's interior and menu, breathing new life into a dying business.
One episode also showcased the infamous Amy's Baking Company, run by some of the most insane creatures on Earth and the only establishment Ramsey deemed beyond his help.
3. Good Eats
Host: Alton Brown
Premise: Learn both how to cook in this zany Alton Brown classic
Bearing a goofy yet skilled host, Good Eats quickly became a hit thanks to its delicious recipes, amusing star, unique camera angles, and imaginative characters. The zaniness always throws something new and interesting at you while sticking to the episode's theme, making it a joy for both entertainment and instruction. As of this writing, Good Eats is the third longest-running Food Network program (behind 30 Minute Meals and Barefoot Contessa).
GE fans rejoice: Alton Brown states he'll be uploading a sequel to show online in the future. Until then, we can satisfy our cravings with more Alton delights like...
2. Cutthroat Kitchen
Host: Alton Brown
Premise: Competitors face-off in food challenges and bid their potential prize money on sabotages
Take Chopped and put in Alton Brown to craft Cutthroat Kitchen. As chefs compete in the familiar survival battle, Brown has more leeway to be his naturally devious self, offering some great quips as well as culinary knowledge.
As if that weren't enough, Cutthroat introduces the unique concept of sabotages, where contestants can bid away their own potential winnings (up to $25,000) to spring penalties on others. This introduced an awesome risk vs reward concept, and since every sabotage was unique, they always added some creative mayhem.
1. Iron Chef/Iron Chef America
Premise: A challenger faces one of several famed Iron Chefs in a cook-off
Whether you're viewing the original English dub of the Japanese show or the modernized American rendition, Iron Chef offers intense culinary battles. In both versions, contestants test their skills against a selected legendary "Iron Chef" in a food challenge using a mystery ingredient. The Japanese version is lovably cheesy while the American is more serious, and this is the series that really popularized the chef vs chef contests that would later dominate the network.
With two shows utilizing different atmospheres but similar set-ups, you're bound to fall for at least one of these programs. And for even more variation, we can also enjoy the newer Iron Chef Gauntlet, where competitors first face each other before testing their skills against a trio of Iron Chefs.
Future of Food Network
Only a few months older than myself, Food Network has grown a long way from its humble 1993 origins. With an ever-expanding repertoire of program types, we can enjoy food however we like, from cook-offs to survival battles to simple recipe guides.
Though the network has faced its hazards, like the fallout over Paula Deen's racial comments, it remains a prime force in entertainment and the king of the hill in cuisine-related television. But for now, as we eagerly await the future series Food Networks cooks up, vote for your favorite show and I'll see you at our next culinary countdown!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill
Liz Westwood from UK on August 22, 2018:
We have Gotdon Ramsay shows in the UK, but the others are new to me.