Eat Drink Love: Has Foodie Culture Hit Critical Mass?

By Graham Kates  |  August 20, 2013
Credit: Bravo

At some point between the release of Anthony Bourdain’s landmark restaurant exposé, Kitchen Confidential, and the premiere of the new Bravo television show Eat Drink Love, the restaurant industry revealed nearly all its secrets. The last 13 years have seen a restaurant industry renaissance that has pulled food television from a kitchen-set stasis to an entertainment industry staple, replete with fame, scandal and, of course, reality shows. Along the way, viewers learned what “86” means and found out that asking for a well-done steak is like filing a request to be served the worst chunk of meat in the kitchen. They learned the stations in a brigade and the nuances of ticket management.

But until last week’s premiere of Eat Drink Love, food television never really delved into the restaurant industry’s true culinary underbelly: public relations. It’s a world in which who you know, and how you’re written about, can often mean the difference between obscurity and celebrity.

The show follows the familiar and extremely successful Bravo formula that has spurred half a dozen versions of The Real Housewives. Five women are thrust into a variety of awkward public and private social exchanges in which their competing ambitions are mixed with that deadly cocktail of booze and ego, producing fights, tears and great TV. 

In this case the show follows two hardworking, but publicity-hungry chefs, Nina Clemente and Waylynn Lucas; two media gatekeepers, Brenda Urban, a food industry publicist and Jessica Miller, a marketing director; and Kat Odell, a food critic who says she can “make or break a restaurant.”

Much of the show’s drama revolves around the chefs’ and gatekeepers’ simultaneous disdain and simultanenous need for approval from Odell, the editor of Eater LA. Privately, the frenemies accuse Odell of “fake dating” sources and of “shallow and mindless” journalism, while publicly they offer hugs and angle for her coverage. What makes Eat Drink Love unique in both the Bravo and general food TV spheres is that its moments of action often provide background context for events that viewers might already be familiar with.

For instance, much of the drama in episode two revolves around an interview of Lucas conducted by Odell, who is the editor of Eater LA. The cameras make a point of showing that Odell is taking few notes on her computer during the interview. Lucas later complains to the camera that a Q&A with Odell “doesn’t make you think too hard.” The real interview was published on August 23, 2012.

Readers likely had no idea that Odell and Lucas were filming a television show together. They also likely had no idea that Lucas was furious about the post. On the show she accuses Odell of getting several facts wrong, and notes that journalists typically record and transcribe Q&A-style interviews. Odell acknowledges getting “one thing” wrong and tells Lucas that her site is happy to publish corrections. But Lucas says it’s too late, and the post remains unchanged.

It’s the kind of confidential exchange that is normally confined to the culinary underbelly, far from the hungry public’s ears. But on Eat Drink Love, viewers are given the correction that readers never were. The fact that the world of restaurant journalism is now being splayed wide open for all of America to see proves that the nationwide food obsession has hit a point of no return.