Fifteen years. The Food Network has been around long enough now that most kids can't remember a time before Alton and Giada and Rachael. • Susan Stockton, senior vice president of culinary production, oversees what she calls the "food part" of the Food Network, which means she works on set with the talent, overseeing the kitchens, products and cookbooks. She has been with the network since its inception, working on the set with Emeril Lagasse when his show went live. Even back then, she says, kids related to his excitement and enthusiasm: "It has always been, first and foremost, the talent that gets the kids hooked — then the subject." • We caught up with Stockton by phone to find out just what kids find compelling about the Food Network.
Most kids seem to be on a first-name basis with at least some of the Food Network stars. Why is that?
These people are in their living rooms every day; kids relate to them. Guy, Ina and Paula feel like family. You just want to pull up a stool and be with them in the kitchen and laugh. One thing that sets us apart is that Food Network shows are never mean. There are no bullies or screaming.
Have kids always liked food shows?
Right from the beginning, when we started doing audience shows people would come with their children and we'd think, "Is this a good idea?" And we'd ask, "Why'd you bring your kids?" And they'd say, "No, the kids brought us."
Which shows are most popular with kids?
There are shows for curious minds, shows like Good Eats and Eat and Run, a new show with two chefs who go to a city on a food tour and it's a race. Then there are the "yuck factor" shows like Extreme Cuisine, and shows like Ace of Cakes with Duff Goldman — what kid wouldn't want to see a cake blow up? Kids also seem to like games and competition shows like Chopped, which is especially great because it showcases younger chefs.
If kids are seeing these chefs as role models, do you think more kids are thinking about cooking as a career choice?
Personally, I think this economy has given the career path a lift. I teach in cooking schools periodically, and I see people are pursuing their passions more. Cooking is something that touches your heart. It's fun, it's entertaining, you're nourishing people and giving of yourself.
Any plans in the works for shows aimed directly at kids in the kitchen?
We've talked about it from time to time — food shows can be educational, teaching science and even working on math skills with fractions. Still, children tend to watch with their parents. Kids track things the same way their parents do. We've never felt we had to talk down to them.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining.