Food ShowsOpinion

Bobby Flay’s Dead Eyes

By on August 7, 2013 11:30am EST

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My daughters noticed it at the same time I did.  I didn’t have to ask them for verification.  “Bobby Flay is going through the motions,” one of them said.  “He isn’t having any fun.”

To be fair, we had just watched The Pioneer Woman making food for cowboys and Ina Garten, who always has a reason why she’s making what she’s making, either for her husband, Jeffrey, or for some friends coming over or some chef dropping by to share secrets, create their fare with great enthusiasm and purpose.

Poor Bobby Flay didn’t have a context at all.  He stood in front of a camera in a well-appointed backyard, cooking a Korean-influenced pork butt with a BBQ sauce and slaw and a refreshing watermelon drink.  But he was making it alone for no one but himself, with a washed-out face and dead eyes.  He was not into it.

“Who eats his food once the show is over?” my daughter asked.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a Bobby Flay fan. I’m not trying to play “Gotcha” because he had a bad day. I had a wonderful meal at his Mesa Grill in NYC a few years back.  Clearly, he’s highly-skilled, but accessible, and I mean that as a compliment.  But, let’s face it.  The guy can cook in his sleep.  And I think I saw him doing just that last week.  And I was sad.

I wonder what that says about us; I wonder what that says about him.

These days, we like to see these superstar chefs and breakthrough cooks as people, don’t we?  Isn’t that part of it?  I still remember the endearing cooking series where Jacques Pepin was teaching his daughter to cook.  I remember Emeril drooling all over Pat Benatar.  I even remember a younger Bobby Flay, years ago, doing his cooking show flirtatiously, since his future wife was the regular guest at his grill.

As the cooking shows have mostly moved away from the brilliant chefs to the accessible cooks (a shift I don’t fully endorse, but…), one of the expectations is that we will get to share the cook’s world.  The Pioneer Woman is cooking basic dishes and casseroles that are in most any Junior League cookbook, but she is doing it with her own flair and energy, and we enjoy her backstory maybe even more than we enjoy her adobo chile and Dr. Pepper pork butt.  Who is really going straight from a Food Network show to its recipes?  We are watching personalities.  And stories.

Chef Flay’s show was odd, because he is the personality on the network.  He’s everywhere, either cooking or hosting competitive shows.  For all I know, he owns the whole damn network.  And yet, he has overlooked what is happening around him.

His ubiquitousness has come with a price.  A man who is judging or competing on Food Network shows, cooking with yogurt in magazine ads, overseeing an empire of restaurants, featuring himself at various food festivals, cranking out cookbooks, and taking on all of the other duties of a celebrity chef, perhaps finds the preparation of an actual meal to be fairly mundane.

That’s what I thought I saw last week. Of course he did what chefs are supposed to do, cook at a level higher than the rest of us, exploring the possibilities of food. 

But while Chef Flay was crossing the “T”s and dotting the “I”s on his show, he seemed to have lost touch with the stories.  Criss-crossing the country and the globe, he may even have lost his own story, since so many little pieces of him are doled out to so many different enterprises in a given day or week.  The story I saw was that Chef Flay is a tired man who has a cooking show to do.

Recipes and great cooks are everywhere these days, Chef Flay, and few of us are loyal to any particular source.  There are too many options and we collect them from everywhere, even here on Food Riot.  But show us that you are a real person cooking real food for real people with real passion, and we’re hooked.  Show us your life.


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Bob Bires

Bob Bires serves as an administrator and English teacher at a private boys' school in Tennessee. He makes a mean pizza. Follow him on Twitter: @bobbires.