Exploring five pivotal “courses” of food creator history and why we’re living in the golden age of entertainment and empowerment for the next modern food creator.
Nearly 60 years ago, Julia Child made her way into our homes for the first time, reminding us that “people who love to eat are the best people.” Julia taught us to have fun in the kitchen, to make mistakes, and to use our imagination. With pioneering food entertainment with The French Chef came new and evolving waves of culinary creators: Madhur Jaffrey was America’s first major foray into non-Westernized food, Emeril said “BAM” a lot on live TV, and Sohla taught the world to temper chocolate on YouTube.
Food is the ultimate unifier. It also has a unique power in connecting people across cultures, in ways that language cannot.
However, food is more than sustenance. It’s the first thing that we think about when we wake up and the last thing we think about before we tuck in for the night. There isn’t a major life celebration complete without a feast or particular food to commemorate the event.
It is entertainment, a hobby, a form of art, an experience, and for some, a living. We are here today to champion the modern food creator and give you the tools needed to make a living doing what you love. If this is you, we want to make your dreams come true. Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up for updates here.
First Course: The Julia Child Era
What started as an engaging hobby to pass the time blossomed into a culinary empire with 20 cookbooks, a cult following, and a brilliant Meryl Streep homage. After an appearance on Boston public television station WGBH, several viewers wrote in asking to get more of Julia Child and her vivacious personality. Thus marked the beginnings of “The French Chef”, one of America’s first cooking television shows.
For decades, Julia graced television sets teaching interested Americans the intricacies of delicious home cooking. Technology limitations to television editing in the 1960s gave Julia’s cooking an air of authenticity and approachability. Viewers tuned in to educate themselves but also find delight in the occasional blunder and blooper.
Second Course: Traveling through Television
In 1982, New Delhi native and actress Madhur Jaffrey made her debut with her show “Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery”. Longing for her mother’s recipes but constrained by the American grocery aisle, Madhur personally adapted and introduced viewers to the comfort foods of her childhood. Other culinary personalities followed Madhur’s suit like Joyce Chen, who popularized northern-style Chinese cuisine for the American palate and developed the first line of bottled stir fry sauces.
To gain mass appeal, both women had to dull the authenticity of their dishes to cater to a primarily white audience. Madhur and Joyce served as the accepted token for their native countries, regions full of diverse cuisines. This is a weighty responsibility that both women, and several others, held with dignity but shouldn’t have to do.
Third Course: Food Network Family
Weekly cooking segments and monthly magazines weren’t enough to satisfy the appetite of food-interested consumers. The launch of the Food Network gave us a constant channel to access food content and a new cast of characters. An all you can eat buffet featuring Bobby Flay! Accompanied with their shows, these culinary stars expanded their empires: Ina Garten with her Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, Guy Fieri’s Flavortown restaurants, and Rachael Ray’s cookware line. The unfortunate reality is that, like most media content of the time, the Food Network represented a primarily white perspective on food from show production to viewer patronage.
At the same time, the blogosphere was taking shape and giving passionate enthusiasts the opportunity to self publish. After hearing crickets from food magazines when applying for internships, Deb Perelman took to Al Gore’s Internet and started documenting her twist on classic recipes with her blog, Smitten Kitchen.
While Food Network stars offered the illusion of accessibility, Deb embodied the energy of your “friendly foodie neighbor.” Writing each post from her homely East Village kitchen, she brought an air of relatability to her work as she forged acquaintances with readers by thoughtfully responding to comments.
Fourth Course: Bite-Sized Entertainment
With more users flocking to mobile social media apps, food had to follow. Food entertainment went from being exclusively on one channel, to playing a small part of every channel. The new culinary creator showed that, with little luck from ~the algorithm~ and a consistent posting cadence, you could break through and become a household name. Short-form video became the new cooking show, replacing the “pans in hands” cooking shows of the Food Network days.
Binge-friendly platform Netflix brought Samin Nosrat’s book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat to life taking viewers to the corners of the globe while discovering the elements of good cooking. The streaming service also introduced North American audiences to the delights of the Great British Baking Show, a show where extremely talented home bakers go head to head for Paul Hollywood’s affirmation and the chance at Star Baker.
Legacy food media publications moved online as well, but one stood above the rest: the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen was a vibrant cast of characters combining cooking knowledge with banter akin to The Office. On YouTube, we watched as Claire dove into a scientific rabbit hole while attempting to recreate Oreos, or Chris Morocco reverse engineered Snoop Dogg’s lobster thermidor.
With the Black Lives Matter movement taking center stage this past summer, what appeared to be a fun-loving Test Kitchen turned out to be another instance of toxic corporate culture. Even though the cast was diverse on several fronts, there was a dark history of BIPOC creators being compensated unfairly or not having the same opportunities as their white colleagues.
The downfall of Bon Appetit was the flint that sparked Test Kitchen members to venture out as their own culinary personalities. In an interview with VICE food writer Bettina Makalintal, former Bon Appetit Test Kitchen member Molly Baz mentioned how her departure from the publication “expedited the timeline of creating her own little food empire.”
In the last year, TikTok introduced a new generation of food-centric entertainers. With 60 seconds to capture an audience, Jeremy Scheck, Tabitha Brown, and Shereen Pavlides demonstrated the joys of college cooking, veganism, and bougie mom energy through delectable meals coupled with colorful commentary.
Fifth Course: Today’s Culinary Creator
The next era of culinary creators are no longer held back by the gatekeepers of the past. They can come from any corner of the globe and represent every culinary perspective. These creators are fully in charge of all aspects of their business from brand voice to video editing, managing a website, and everything in between. This is a lot of work, and it’s hard to know how to turn a passion into a profession.
The platforms where culinary creators share content today are built solely for entertainment. We believe that food content should be different. Color me cynical, but isn’t it bizarre that the same platform where one gets business news is the same place to make Bill Clark’s (RIP Meme’s Diner) recipes? We believe there is a happy place where a solo culinary creator can build an online business — selling recipes, classes, merch, enabling community and more — packaged in a consumer-friendly experience.
We, Abena Anim-Somuah and Kenny Cohen, are excited to build a platform that honors the traditions of past pioneers with the spirit of the present and the hope of a better future in food media.
Consider this a long introduction to our new business, Food Supply. We’re on the mission to empower culinary creators, established and emerging, with the tools to build their brand and shape the discourse of food media.
Over the coming weeks and months, we will be releasing some “bites” that will entice and excite you. Sign up here to receive updates!