Serious Eats

Food Fight: Food Network Awards to Debut Sunday

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Bobby Flay dons a black tuxedo. A bejeweled Giada DeLaurentis saunters down the red carpet. Guessed the picture yet? Awards season isn’t over. In fact, for one niche, it’s just begun. Introducing the Food Network Awards.

“Way more than cooking” just got a little more out there: The first-ever awards show, which was held in February in Miami's South Beach, will debut on television this Sunday (April 15) on the Food Network. The 90-minute event marks not only a first for the network but also one for food television.

The question probably stirring in most viewers’ minds is not who will win top honors—but what are the categories? Just how does this work? Serious Eats takes a closer look.

The show will be hosted by the network’s favorite onomatopoeia-slinging star, Emeril Lagasse. Making appearances as presenters will be most of the network’s usual suspects—Rachael Ray, Alton Brown, Paula Deen, and Sandra Lee, to name a few. Viewers can also expect one live musical performance by the artist G. Love. “His songs are about cooking and food, so he's a natural fit,” said Carrie Welch, the network's public relations director.

Despite the star-studded hoopla, the award categories show a tendency toward more humble achievements in cooking. While subject to change, these include Favorite Comfort Food Combo, Best Better Burger, Icy Innovations, Funniest Food Festivals (honoring the wackiest food festival in the country), Tasty Technology (awarding one new kitchen appliance), and Not Your Grandmother’s Food Club (awarding one unique food club in the country). Most winners and nominees will be individuals, chefs, or groups from around the country, with the exception of a few categories, as in the case of Best New Food Destination. We’re not sure who will accept on behalf of whichever locale wins. If this smorgasbord of food competition confuses you as of now, hold still.

“In the show we explain the criteria by which the Food Network panel chose the categories, nominees, and winners,” Welch said. “We are celebrating innovations in the food world and think viewers will enjoy learning about these people and places.”

So, who’s on the judging panel? With so many awards shows based on "people’s choice," it can be hard to keep a track of how winners are chosen these days. For the Food Network Awards, the judging is two-fold: A panel of network executives and employees across all departments of the network will be choosing the nominees and winners for most categories. In addition, five unique awards will be determined by an online “Viewer’s Choice” panel—sorry, voting closed more than a month ago.

It is the Viewer’s Choice awards that pose perhaps the most unique aspect of the awards show. With awards such as Favorite Coolest Cocktail, Best Ball Park Eats, and “Professional Grade” Kitchen Appliance You Can’t Live Without, these seem to resemble a gathering of data on America’s food preferences more than anything else. Whereas the network panel–chosen categories will award, for instance, a talented chocolatier or burgeoning organization, the viewers' panel will vote on, essentially, food—and products.

This isn’t much different than rooting for favorite television show or hit single—they’re both consumer products, after all. Presumably, viewers can look forward to making a great batch of baked potato skins while they root for the dish itself, chiding or jeering less-deserving nominees in the category. Maybe that’s taking the picture a bit out of hand, but the point is that we have yet to see how the voting and viewing public will respond—if at all—to competition over their kitchen commodities.

However, as any good chef might tell you, a new experiment with food is one that should be done with joyful abandon. As the network's senior vice president Bruce Seidel said, “We wanted to create an awards show that is both fun and unique, one that showcases what the Food Network viewer loves about our network—the celebration of food, pop culture, and innovators.”

The show will also feature a special Food Hall of Fame Award, this year to be presented to the late Julia Child. While this may seem obvious, it’s fitting for the network’s first-ever awards show to present an award to the pioneer of food television.

So, Serious Eats wonders, when is the show going to include a category for Best Food Website? Only time will tell.

About the author: Cathy Erway writes about eating in at Not Eating Out in New York, a blog about cooking affordable meals at home. She has also written about pickles for Serious Eats.

Photograph courtesy of the Food Network

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