As the genre expands its reach and scope — becoming more adventurous and more sophisticated — its top drivers are more coveted and valuable than ever. Armed with viewership data and insider guidance, The Hollywood Reporter highlights the most significant creators, execs and icons.
The legendary chef, activist and food ambassador has come a long way since arriving in the U.S. in 1991 with $50 in his pocket — from hosting Made in Spain, the 26-part PBS series that shot him to celebrity status a decade ago, to consulting on what a modern-day Dr. Lecter might serve for NBC's Hannibal. Andrés, 50, oversees an empire of more than 30 restaurants, including three Bazaars, the Michelin-starred Somni at the SLS Beverly Hills and the new $40 million, 35,000-square-foot Mercado Little Spain food hall in New York's Hudson Yards. A constant guest presence on the morning shows, he lately has also made headlines for activism, pulling out of a restaurant at D.C.'s Trump Hotel over the president's Mexico policies, feeding furloughed workers during the government shutdown, and serving more than 3.7 million meals to victims of Puerto Rico's Hurricane Maria. No wonder he was featured onstage at the Oscars alongside Common and nine other activists and introduced best picture nominee Roma (with Diego Luna).
DISH HE'LL NEVER SERVE AGAIN "At the original Jaleo [in Washington D.C.] I used to serve shark, which is traditional in southern Spain. Even if it's not an endangered one, 'shark' on the menu doesn't look good."
Launched in 1999, Brown's wry, instructive Good Eats cooking show became one of Food Network's first original hits, leading to a 10-plus year run of more than 250 episodes. After a six-year hiatus, the 56-year-old personality — who's also been the host of Iron Chef America and Cutthroat Kitchen and the author of 11 books — will bring Good Eats back Aug. 25. Brown says the widespread embrace of online purchasing in the interim has transformed the program. "We used to call up a list of 20 grocery stores across America and ask if they had certain ingredients," he recalls. "If enough didn't, we wouldn't use them. Now you can hit three buttons and they're at your door."
ON FOOD MEDIA'S IMPACT "In restaurants, you see it in the trend of open kitchens and chef's tables. And in home renovations — the kitchen is now truly the center of the house."
This April, when the prolific Chang, 41, realized he was perhaps overextending himself, he stepped aside from day-to-day operations of his Momofuku restaurant group (and its 14 North American eateries) and named longtime employee Marguerite Mariscal as the company's first CEO. "I want to make sure that we're growing and it's done well," says Chang, who is using some of his extra time to beef up his year-old production outfit, Majordomo Media. In addition to the previously ordered second season of his breakout hit, Ugly Delicious, Netflix has greenlit new series Breakfast Lunch & Dinner, in which Chang explores cities with different celebrity guests each episode. He also hosts a podcast for Bill Simmons' The Ringer and recently announced a pact for new originals with Hulu and Vox Media Studios, including a series Chang will star in with friend Chrissy Teigen. On the restaurant front, the new dad is continuing his expansion into Los Angeles — following successful 2018 debut Majordomo in Chinatown — with a settlement of original effort Momofuku Noodle.
ON HIS DISPARATE EMPIRE "The restaurants and content are two worlds that have nothing to do with one another. I try my best to make it all align."
Before this duo collaborated on the 2014 food truck comedy Chef, they hit it off when chef Choi — a Los Angeles icon since he slung his first taco from the original Kogi truck in 2008 — guest-catered the set of actor-director Favreau's Iron Man. When they started missing their time together in the kitchen, Favreau set up cameras and they began cooking for famous pals like Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. "We just started filming," says Favreau, 52, who shot The Chef Show before knowing it would land on Netflix. "I work on films where there is a lot of planning. It was nice to have the freedom to just cook with Roy." Favreau won't be giving up his main gig (his Lion King opens stateside July 19 and already has grossed $54.2 million overseas), but for the first time, the 49-year-old Choi's side hustle is taking up more time than his restaurants: He kicked off a new KCET food-and-travel series, Broken Bread, with food media company Tastemade in April. As for The Chef Show, Netflix will release a second batch of episodes in the fall.
ON NEW OPPORTUNITIES IN FOOD MEDIA
CHOI: "There's this idea that you can never stop being a chef. But people evolve and I feel like I'm evolving into something different."
Bravo's Top Chef wasn't the first food competition show, but its success — now in season 17, the 28-time Emmy nominee is still watched by 2 million viewers a week — helped transform the genre. Those who appear on the show now often proceed to their own high-profile careers. Meanwhile, Colicchio, 56, and Lakshmi, 48, have become household names, leveraging their roles for food activism. Colicchio lobbies Congress on eating issues, while Lakshmi recently protested McDonald's in support of workers fighting sexual harassment.
DISH SHE'LL NEVER SERVE AGAIN
LAKSHMI: "I'm sick of cooking Indian food for my guests. I want to make enchiladas!"
No matter what you think of his platinum-blond tips or trips to "Flavortown," Fieri, 51, has a golden touch. He has three Food Network shows, reaching more than 15 million adults 25-to-54 in the first quarter. Heading into its 30th season, the flagship Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives — or "triple D," as he refers to it — has been the most impactful, in ratings and for the eateries featured (which see a post-airing visitor bump even in reruns). Though a scathing New York Times review of his shuttered Times Square restaurant generated plenty of social media attention, Fieri has 70 restaurants in the U.S. and licensing deals with cruise ships, casinos and airports.
BEST ADVICE HE'S GOTTEN Friend Matthew McConaughey, on hand when Fieri got his star on the Walk of Fame in May, told him, "Don't change you — you is what got you here."
When Flay shot early Food Network series Grillin' and Chillin', his daughter Sophie was 10. On The Flay List, his 15th show on the network, debuting Aug. 22, the now-23-year-old Sophie guides her dad to the hippest spots around New York. Meanwhile, BBQ Brawl with chef/buddy Michael Symon airs Aug. 1. The combination of cook, host and competitor is what Flay does best, as seen in the more than 250 episodes of Beat Bobby Flay, his longest-running and highest-rated show (first-run episodes average 1.7 million viewers). Although he continues to cook in his restaurants ("It's what I love most"), he only has six concepts, including a chain of burger joints; Gato in New York; and his latest, Shark at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. "When the Food Network showed up, I thought, 'This is going to last a week — how much can you say about food for 24 hours a day?' " says Flay, 54. "Clearly I was incorrect."
DISH HE'LL NEVER SERVE AGAIN "The lobster and duck paella at [NYC's] Bolo. I loved the dish, but no one else did. Then [New York Times critic] Ruth Reichl came in and absolutely murdered it. She said she felt bad for the lobster because it was trying to get out of the bowl."
Garten's trick is to make viewers feel like her neighbor — the one who treats them to a slice of her recipe for double chocolate cake at her idyllic Hamptons spread. Garten, 71, describes herself as an author who does TV to support her best-selling books: Her 2016 Cooking for Jeffrey was the No. 1-selling cookbook of the year, and for Cook Like a Pro, released in October, she was given a 1.5 million copy first-run printing. Each of the 26 seasons of Barefoot Contessa on Food Network is based on her most recent tome. It's telling that Garten's popularity has only soared: "If cooking gets too complicated or rarefied, you're not going to do it."
TREND THAT NEEDS TO END "I don't get foam. It has no flavor."
Thanks to its novel, moody, cerebral approach — a template set by creator Gelb, 35, with his acclaimed 2013 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi — being featured on Netflix's Chef's Table has become the ultimate food-world status symbol, breaking stars (n/naka's Niki Nakayama) and turning sensations into legends (Mozza's Nancy Silverton). Gelb's new show for the streamer, Street Food, from his 35-person Supper Club production banner, expands this notion along more egalitarian lines. "Our work is not informational as much as emotional," says Gelb. "It's different from what food TV has been."
CAREER HIGHLIGHT "Being parodied on Documentary Now! [the episode 'Juan Likes Rice and Chicken']. They reached out to our cinematographers to get the right lenses."
Hall, 55, didn't win Top Chef, but her charisma landed her a permanent gig hosting ABC's The Chew. Its cancellation hasn't stopped the model turned chef's stampede across the food media landscape. Her 2019 cookbook, Carla Hall's Soul Food, hit The New York Times best-seller list. And she traverses the country for cooking demos and speaking gigs, including interviewing Michelle Obama on the former first lady's book tour: "It happened fast, and I didn't have a lot of time to overthink it."
ON THE FUTURE OF FOOD MEDIA "I don't want to be the most visible [African American chef]. I want to bust through the door with a posse."
Segueing from op-ed columnist to a media-minted “domestic goddess” with the 1998 publication of cookbook How to Eat, London-based Lawson, 59, helped make foodies out of much of the Anglophone world. She has published 12 books, selling north of 3 million copies, and her first of several TV programs is largely credited with establishing the aesthetic for contemporary cooking shows in the U.S. "They were full of people chopping things with virtuoso flair," she says of predecessors to her 1999 debut Nigella Bites. "When I chop, I chop like a normal person." Lawson, who wrapped a three-continent speaking tour early in 2019, is prepping her next book — likely to spawn another series.
ON CHOOSING A TV GIG "I do MasterChef Australia because I love the food in Australia — and I really love getting out of England during winter."
The 2017 best-selling cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat made Nosrat, 39, a darling in the food world. The accompanying 2018 Netflix show made the Chez Panisse alumna a culinary rock star. In a bidding war, Random House acquired her book follow-up (What to Eat), and Netflix is awaiting her pitch for a second series. (Nosrat jokes that the working title is “Carbs of the World.") And while Netflix won’t reveal audience stats, anecdotal evidence of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat's success is formidable. Unscripted producers and executives are near-unanimous in their praise of the project, part elemental cooking tutorial and part travelogue, as the newest high bar in the genre. Meanwhile, her newfound audience is taking her where they can get her. A May 8 column she penned for the The New York Times Magazine under the headline "The Best Green Salad in the World" prompted a traffic spike and sellout crowds at the featured NYC restaurant, Via Carota.
ON HER TV FAME "I'm still wrapping my mind around the fact that if I say something is yummy, everyone wants it. It's about harnessing that power for good."
Two of the most revered brands in food media, Bon Appétit and The New York Times, have transformed themselves by heavily extending into video. "For 150 years, the Times published recipes," says Sifton, 54, who wore many hats at the paper before becoming its food editor in 2014. "I came on as an experiment to bring a bunch of dead articles back to life." NYT Cooking, the hub of old recipes, relaunched as a stand-alone service in 2017 and now has a subscriber base north of 200,000 paying $5 a month. Condé Nast's Bon Appétit now supports multiple verticals (see Healthyish and Basically), a podcast (hosted by Rapoport, 49) and video output (340 million views in 2018 on YouTube alone) that's grown so much that it spawned a stand-alone OTT channel in February. A slate of streaming series fronted by Bon Appétit editors now air on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon and other platforms.
ON THE NEW LANDSCAPE
RAPOPORT: "In 2011, my job was to make one magazine a month. Now that seems so quaint."
The chef/entrepreneur, 52, has taped more than 620 episodes of original programming for Fox since he launched Hell's Kitchen in 2005. Across his current Fox portfolio (Hell's Kitchen; MasterChef; MasterChef Junior; 24 Hours to Hell and Back), Ramsay accounts for more than 60 hours in annual primetime programming. "Fox wants new ideas," says Ramsay, "and I'm a firm believer in stopping something before it gets canceled." Under his Studio Ramsay shingle, a joint venture with All3Media, the Emmy-nominated host maintains a slew of U.K. series and next lends himself to U.S. cable with travelogue Uncharted (out July 21 on Nat Geo) for a total of 11 current projects. The acerbic chef has lucrative side hustles with MasterClass (more than 1 billion views), book publishing (29 titles) and a popular app (mobile game Restaurant Dash). Thirty-five restaurants bear his name, including London's Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, home of the longest Michelin three-star streak in history. His plan is to open 100 eateries in the U.S. in the next five years, including one in Culver City.
ON FOOD MEDIA'S BROADER IMPACT "The days of going to culinary school for 24 months are going away. There are so many ways to learn how to cook."
"We're not trying to show something unattainable," says Ray. That's how the 50-year-old has built her $60 million empire. Back in 2001, the Food Network was taking a risk putting a non-restaurant cook on air. But the frenetic 30 Minute Meals ushered in a new style of cooking show, with Ray's not-everything-is-perfect ethos, big smile and penchant for shortening culinary terms that speak to people who didn't already love to cook. ("EVOO," or extra-virgin olive oil, was officially added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2018.) Ray's brand extensions now include a nationally syndicated talk show that still pulls 1.5 million viewers per day; almost 30 cookbooks; a glossy magazine; and home, fashion and cookware lines sold at Macy's and QVC. This year, she returned after a seven-year hiatus with 30 more 30 Minute Meals episodes.
ON HER TV FAME "I don't get the reaction that celebrities get. People ask me to help them find something in the grocery store."
First on PBS (I'll Have What Phil's Having) and since 2018 on Netflix (Somebody Feed Phil), the 59-year-old former executive producer of Everybody Loves Raymond has reinvented himself as a food TV host, exuding a dorky-dad persona he describes as "like Anthony Bourdain, if he were afraid of everything." His travel series cater to those who may have the same hang-ups. "I think there are many people like me: a little skeptical about trying a new thing."
ON CELLPHONES ON THE TABLE "I'm OK with it. I took a survey to find out if I'm addicted. Turns out I'm not — I'm just very rude."
Samuelsson's No Passport Required, the first TV show from Vox Media's Eater, will return to PBS for a second season on Jan. 20 (the first was watched by 13 million households). The show, for which PBS stunningly outbid Netflix, is characteristic of the heightened ambition in food programming. Not content to serve as a tourists' guide, the acclaimed chef of Harlem's Red Rooster, 48, an Ethiopian Swedish émigré, uses his platform to examine urbanism and immigration. "After the first season, the biggest thing we got was, 'Thank you for showing the complexity, the things I didn't know': the Vietnamese community in New Orleans, the layers to the Arab conversation in Detroit, that Chicago has the second-largest Mexican population in America," he says.
ON HIS DECISION TO BECOME A CHEF "My grandmother taught me how to cook, but being in France showed me I could do it at a world-class level. I couldn't speak the language but I could hang."
Stone's omnipresence in Los Angeles has helped make him a pinch-hitter in TV, most recently serving as a judge on Top Chef Jr. Though the 43-year-old Australian hasn't had a solo TV vehicle in a few years, he's the go-to food guest for top-rated morning shows such as Today, The Talk and Hallmark's Home & Family. Stone, who came up under London's legendary Marco Pierre White (Gordon Ramsay was another apprentice), is aware that on-camera careers like his own have contributed to the celebrification of a workaday profession. Which goes a long way to explain why he spends so much of his time in the kitchens of his two L.A. restaurants, the critically acclaimed Maude and Gwen. "People say, 'I never expected to see you here.' I think, 'Well, you should,' " says Stone.
DISH HE'LL NEVER SERVE AGAIN "Foie gras terrine. I'm kind of glad that California now has the ban. You become good at it and then everyone wants you to do it. Now I'm out of jail for it."
Anyone who might laugh at the suggestion that a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue model could be a formidable force in food has not been paying attention to Teigen, 33. A culinary enthusiast with 24.8 million Instagram followers, she has proved would-be detractors wrong with two best-selling books (Cravings and sequel Cravings: Hungry for More) and her own cookware line at Target. Her Suit and Thai Productions also just signed a two-year deal at Hulu, where she'll first star alongside friend David Chang in the home-cooking show Family Style — as well as develop a slate of other food-themed projects for the streamer's forthcoming culinary vertical.
ON CHOOSING THE RIGHT TV GIG "Every time I've ever been presented with a food show, it's 'Do you want to cook for your celebrity friends?' Everyone assumes that we [she's married to singer John Legend] have these wild guests over, but it's all about family."
Tapped for the top job at Food Network after Discovery acquired owner Scripps, White, 44, now commands the only all-food portfolio in linear and digital — as well as spinoff Cooking Channel. The flagship, which also boasts a successful print magazine (a joint venture with Hearst) and a website with 46 million monthly unique visitors, will premiere more than 700 hours of original programming in 2019 (the network retains a robust primetime audience north of 800,000). Food regularly mints new stars (see 2018 blogger turned breakout Molly Yeh) while remaining home to many names on this list — Guy Fieri, Ina Garten, Bobby Flay and Alton Brown, among others.
ON SERVING HER AUDIENCE "We feel it's important to have variety within the genre. With Guy Fieri, we skew male, but our baking audience is majority women. There's something for every gender and every age."
A version of this story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.