November 2008

Jennifer Johnson

magazine whore

Food Network Magazine

You may be surprised to discover that this is Food Network Magazine's first issue. After all, the Food/Wine section of the newsstand has been plastered with the faces of Food Network “stars” like Paula Deen and Rachael Ray seemingly forever. It's almost as if someone in Food Network upper management walked past the newsstand one day, picked up a copy of Rachael Ray’s magazine, smacked their hand to their forehead and exclaimed, "Dammit! Why didn’t we think of this?” A few marketing meetings later, here we are.

Or something like that. After all, Food Network has already learned the branding lesson the hard way with one Mr. Emeril “Bam!” Lagasse when they neglected to include themselves in the profit machine that is the Emeril Lagasse line of cookware, cutlery, spices and more. It’s a multi-million dollar mistake that Food Network won’t make again.

Now the Food Network is a branding machine. There is a Food Network brand of cookware at Kohl’s and Food Network Kitchens cookbooks in your local bookstore. This magazine was only a matter of time.

You can’t deny the networks ability to turn your average specialty food shop owner in the Hamptons (Ina Garten), off-the-wall cake baker (Duff Goldman) or nutritionist (Ellie Krieger) into a culinary star. Now, it’s time to see if their collective star power can be harnessed into a magazine.

The magazine starts with Star Search, a yearbook style photo listing of the Food Network stars, their Food Network credentials and the pages their recipes (or just mentions of their cookbooks or new restaurant openings or whatever) appear on. This is the only page that the more accomplished Food Network stars (Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Michael Chiarello) actually appear on.

Next is the Recipe Index, another yearbook-style photo montage, but, this time, it’s a little picture of every single recipe that appears in the magazine. It’s an impressive 128 recipes in total, and I’ll admit, this page made me take the magazine a little more seriously as a food magazine. The photos are vivid and beautiful and made me a little more excited about what was to come.

The rest of the front of book was pretty boring. It’s your typical news and tips section, completely lacking any of the personality that the Food Network is typically driven by. (Although I’m happy to learn that “mac and cheese is hotter than ever!”)

Keep flipping past the Book Report (you guessed it, a listing of all the new cookbooks available from your Food Network stars) and past the article about Tyler Florence’s home kitchen (if only my kitchen had a 1,000 pound vintage butcher block and a $1,500 espresso machine -- then I’d truly be happy).

Finally, the recipes begin. Pages and pages of unadulterated recipes. Cornmeal blinis. Grilled flank steak with gorgonzola cream sauce. Sardinian spaghetti. Moroccan turkey stew. White pizzas with arugula. And so on.

All are beautifully photographed and have clear instructions. There are also a number of attempts to show you how you can use the same ingredients from one dish to make a second dish the next night, which seems particularly useful for the home cook.

This magazine should really be called "Food Network Test Kitchens Magazine" because the spotlight shines much more brightly on the food and the recipes designed in-house than on the network's hosts and chefs. Sure, recipes developed by star chefs are marked and a few of the stars have Q&A columns (Ted Allen, Ellie Krieger). But, for the most part this magazine is all about the food.

Unfortunately, the Food Network itself is about more than that. It’s “food entertainment” -- food made with an enigmatic grin by the good-looking, yet approachable, “stars” that the network itself has created. I like the focus on food here, but I think the average fan wants a little more of the entertaining touch that the Food Network stars provide. They want to know that Giada DeLaurentis serves this pasta to her husband on “date night.” They want to know that Tyler Florence discovered this cooking technique while traveling in Spain. They want to hear that Paula Deen made these cookies for her sons every Christmas or that Emeril Lagasse serves this cocktail exclusively at one of his restaurants.

This is a magazine trying to find its footing and Hearst has only guaranteed them two issues to get it right. The beautiful food is a good start, but I think the magazine needs a little more sparkle if it wants to stand out in the already crowded “Food/Wine” section of the newsstand. Frankly, it needs a little more “bam!”