Food Network was started in 1993 as a small cable network devoted to airing cooking shows. By 1995, the channel had managed to sign both Bobby Flay and Mario Batali, who were already well known chefs of high regard in the New York City food scene. To the rest of America who preferred to dine at Olive Garden and On The Border, they were relatively unknown. The network first began to gain wider popularity when it kicked off production on Emeril Live! in 1997, which featured the wild energy of Louisiana based chef, Emeril Lagasse. Lagasse thrilled his live audiences with the extra pizazz he added to his cooking demonstrations, including his signature catch phrases, “Bam!” and “Let’s kick it up a notch!”
As increasingly more viewers began tuning in, Food Network decided it was time to branch out in their offerings. While the early days of the network were populated by high end restaurant chefs offering instruction on more technical recipes, Food Network realized it wasn’t reaching the home cook as well as they would have liked. In 2002, the network brought on Paula Deen to host Paula’s Home Cooking, in order to share some southern comfort food with their audiences. The year before, Rachael Ray joined the network with 30 Minute Meals. Ray caught the eye of executives when she appeared on The Today Show to do a cooking demo from her book of the same name. Ray also captivated audiences with her cutesy catch phrases, including “EVOO.”
While Food Network had always split it’s programming into more instructional daytime cooking shows, verses more travel based night time shows, by the mid 2000s, the network realized their astronomical group had stopped. They began leaning more heavily on competitive shows, like Iron Chef America and Food Network Challenge which were often centered around gourmet cake makers constructing labor intensive tiered cakes. Most of Food Network’s most popular shows in the last several years have been competition base, whether it be Chopped with its basket of mystery ingredients, or the network’s flagship show, The Next Food Network Star. From these programs, a number of celebrity chefs have risen up and taken over popular culture, some of whom have even appeared in scripted TV shows and films. Let’s take a look back and see what Food Networks biggest stars looked like when they first started compared to how they look now.