Look What Bourdain Started

You can always count on Anthony Bourdain to get people talking. His post on Michael Ruhlman's blog criticizing anything and everything about the Food Network and its stars created quite the buzz in the blogosphere. Probably the biggest buzz I've seen since I started blogging almost a year ago. After Bourdain's post, Ruhlman himself wrote a follow-up post supporting Bourdain's comments.

Next thing you know, New York Magazine's Grub Street weighed in with a post entitled: "In Defense of Rachael Ray and the Food Network." Despite this title, the post mostly takes aim at Ruhlman, rather than defending Rachael or the Food Network. The main criticism is of Ruhlman's statement that: "America is a mediocrity factory, and the Food Network is no different from any other business trafficking in cheap goods." However, I think this is the most interesting part for Rachael Ray fans:

We don’t think this mandarin hauteur has any intellectual basis. Aside from the fact that it is unbecoming for a privileged and educated man to sneer at his own countrypeople, even by the standards of practical gastronomy his complaint doesn't hold water. Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee are culinary lightweights, as they would be the first to admit, but they’re a product of — and engine for — people's love for food. As David Kamp illustrated so well in The United States of Arugula, his history of "how we became a gourmet nation," we've all grown into our food awareness, and people like them have helped us do it. ...

For an amateur, taking tips from Rachael Ray is no less legitimate than a good cook learning from Lidia Bastianich or Mario Batali. (And that's leaving aside the class issue — Ray's special appeal to the hard-working people who barely have the time to make meals for themselves and their families.) How different is it, really, from Ruhlman's own infatuation with professional cookery? Rachael Ray's voice bugs us, too. But that doesn't make her, or her audience, mediocre. It's Ruhlman who has failed the Food Network, not the other way around.

I often say that people like Rachael Ray and her recipes because they don't want to be gourmet chefs. They just want to make dinner for their family after a hard day of work. They don't want to eat fast food anymore, but that doesn't mean that they care to learn how to prepare fois gras. And gourmet chefs seem to condescendingly believe that any recipe not created by one of their own is automatically a subject of scorn.

I think Grub Street's explanation is an interesting riff on this theme. Basically, it's all relative. While Ruhlman can't learn anything from Rachael Ray, I can't learn much from a gourmet chef because I am not at a skill level where I could benefit from that level of instruction. Maybe someday I'll get there, but right now I'm not even interested in it! I just want to make dinner and eat it before 8 pm. Why is that so wrong? Maybe people are beginning to see that it's not wrong at all.

In case you are interested in reading more, Rulhman responded to Grub Street's criticism here.


  1. I actually have a complaint about Every day with rachael ray magazine my payment was sent for the year subscription and i keep getting bills for the PAID subscription... I don't understand why when I have a canceled check in front of me from my bank and I explain to the 'call taker' that every day with rachael ray cashed my check and I give them my check number they still said they have no record of the account being paid!!! Are you serious?? You cash the check and you still send me a check to charge me again??? I hate the fact that this happens so much and no one complains about this... rachael ray makes money on these subscriptions and her magazine producers think it's okay for them to double charge her fans... I will report this to the Better Business Bureau.

  2. Marilyn,

    The BB is a much better place to report it, since it's now February 2008 and you just left this comment on a post from March 2007. Not much chance of people seeing it here!


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