Bobby Flay: Love/Hate

Bobby Flay and the finalists of The Next Food Network Star.

At Toastmasters, they teach you not to start a speech without an opening joke, so:

Q: What do you get when you spell “Bobby Flay” backwards?
A: Tyler Florence.

Get it? Of course you do.

Like a lot of people, I have a love/hate relationship with Food Network. I adore the brainy didacticism of Good Eats, the goofy travelogue of Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives, and the stoner vibe of Ace Of Cakes. On the other hand, five fingers: I cringe at the encroaching blight of cooking competition shows, wonder why so many people tune in to Food Network Challenge just to watch a cake fall over, and if I have to sit through one more factory tour on Unwrapped, I’m gonna hurt somebody.

This week, Endless Simmer was invited to sit in on a conference call with Bobby Flay; New York native, television chef, and host of the fifth season of The Next Food Network Star. A lot of people have a love/hate relationship with Flay. They admire his passion for cooking, drool over his baby-fat good looks, but still hoot when he loses on Throwdown. Like it or not, Flay has become, along with several other single-name chefs, the new face of a post-Emeril Food Network.

Fortunately, we were able to eke out a little insight into the man’s mindset towards his profession and what the world thinks of him:

In light of The Next Food Network Star and other food competition shows, how do you think the role of the chef has changed in the era of cheflebrities?

The chef on television has a lot of roles. Obviously they need to be a teacher, they need to be able to inspire people, and they need to be entertaining. I think that in lots of ways chefs on television are becoming role models for adults and for children. From an adult standpoint, getting people to eat better and more nutritiously, and then there’s tons of kids who watch Food Network too. I cannot tell you how many kids there are who watch the network; it’s amazing. It’s one more profession and one more thing for kids to look up to, so I think we do have a responsibility to be a role model to people, too.

How much influence do you think critics, and food bloggers in particular, have on a chef’s style, whether it’s yours or a competitor on a show like The Next Food Network Star?

The Internet can be a wonderful and dangerous place at the same time. No matter who you are, you can find plenty of negativity online about what you do or who you are. I think the best-case scenario is to stay true to what you feel is right, and not everyone is going to agree with it. Just like the customers in my restaurants, not everyone is going to like the food that I cook; they don’t like the style of it, maybe it’s too spicy for them, they don’t like Southwestern food, who knows? It could be anything.

What I’m trying to do, both on television and in my restaurants, is to carve out my niche. I’m not trying to feed everybody, I’m just trying to feed the kind of people who want to eat this kind of food. If you read too much into everything that’s written on the blogs and in the newspapers and magazines, you have a tendency to lose your focus. So I think that it’s important to put out there what you want to showcase, and then just let people say what they want.

We also got Bobby to tell us his dream cooking partner: Muhammad Ali. (“If I could get into his kitchen, I’d just like to hear his story, and I’d do all the cooking.”) Now that’s a show we’d watch!

The Next Food Network Star premieres Monday, Sunday June 7th on Food Network.

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