Dishing on the drama: Behind the scenes of the Food Network

WASHINGTON – New York Times journalist Allen Salkin got his first taste of Food Network frenzy while covering the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in 2008 — and he was struck by the attention paid to the network’s top chefs.

“These (Food Network) chefs had bodyguards and handlers and talent agents around them,” Salkin says.

“And then the fans come out on crutches, you know from the hospital beds and everywhere, to pay $150 to catch a glimpse of Rachael Ray.”

He asked himself how in the world this could happen: how food on television could turn into a celebrity ordeal so quickly. So he decided to explore the topic further.

In his new book, “From Scratch: Inside the Food Network,” Salkin cuts right into the meat of the nearly $1 billion per year industry and takes readers on a behind- the-scenes tour of the drama of food TV.

But it didn’t come easily.

“Writing a book like this is like giving birth to a sideways watermelon,” says Salkin, who received access to the Food Network’s executives while working on an article about the Cooking Channel, the Food Network’s 2010 spinoff.

During that time, he sat in on several planning meetings and “got to know all of the characters.”

“I’d learned so much about the Food Network at that point, just from the meetings and the tapings,” says Salkin, who refers to the Food Network as “an American success story.”

“It was a rag-to-riches kind of network that is now worth billions of dollars,” he says.

But the book is not limited to the business side of the Food Network. It also explores the lives of those who make it so successful — the chefs and hosts. And Salkin confirms chefs don’t just bring their own knives to the kitchen. They bring plenty of personality.

Salkin dishes on one particularly rowdy night at Michael Symon’s Lola Bistro in Cleveland. A handful of the network’s stars gathered for dinner at the height of the Food Network’s success.

“Mario Batali declared they would eat without utensils

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