So You Wanna Be a Food TV Star? 5 Tips from the Pros

By Kathleen Squires  |  August 20, 2013
Credit: Diane Bondareff/Invision for FOOD & WINE

This year, the Food Network celebrates its 20th birthday. And Nielsen Media Research granted a fitting present, announcing that the network drew record viewership in 2012. As the profile of food-related TV continues to grow, so do culinary personalities striving for airtime. At this year's Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, American Express even sponsored a panel about “Breaking into Broadcast” for a crew of food writers, chefs and restaurateurs hoping to add some TV work on the resume. At the panel, experts Sue Feniger, Steve Dolinsky, Ming Tsai and Michael Voltaggio offered tips on the first step to food television fame: surviving the live cooking segment. Here’s a video where four hopefuls (including yours truly) tried to hold their own with various types of “host” archetypes (we feel for anyone who has to cook with Jimmy Fallon).

The experience caused us to think about what other attributes one needs to have in order to make it on food TV. Here are the top five things we learned from two decades worth of programming.

  • Credit: Food Network

    Cooking skills not necessarily required

    There’s no need to be a good cook or a good restaurateur. As Anne Burrell searches for the Worst Cooks in America; Gordon Ramsay scouts for Kitchen Nightmares and Robert Irvine combs small towns for Restaurant: Impossible, even culinary mediocrity is aiming too high.

  • Credit: Food Network

    Learn to stunt cook

    If you must have a skill, learn how to stunt cook. That means everything from whipping up a meal on a hot plate in a ski gondola to creating a 20-course themed tasting for the entire cast of Downton Abbey while wearing a blindfold with one hand tied behind your back…with a canine sous chef.

  • Coin your own catchphrase

    Got a good catchphrase? If you can come up with something along the lines of “Bam!” or “You’ve been chopped,” then your next stop is “Flavortown!” It’s been a fail-safe way to gain airtime, stretching back to the Emeril days of yore. Face it, no one had really heard of Padma Lakshmi before she uttered, “Pack your knives and go.” And where would Rachael Ray be without her “EVOO?”

  • Credit: CNN

    Eat everything imaginable

    Eat anything and everything, of any quality and in any quantity, a la Andrew Zimmern, Adam Richman and Anthony Bourdain. Scrambled pork brains sautéed with cat hair? An entire 5-pound pulled pork sandwich? A pint of hot sauce, guaranteed to give third-degree mouth burns? And the freakier the better. Strange food addictions—chalk, dog treats, paste—are a plus.

  • Credit: Fox

    Sharpen your tongue

    Practice your obscenities and colorful put-downs. Preferably with an English accent.