Maybe it’s all the anxiety on cable news, but viewers are hungry for family cooking series

Why This Matters: Shows focused around food and family offer viewers a comfy respite from the contentious cultural mood.

Family cooking shows, which see families competing to craft and serve a better dish than the clan across the way, are suddenly hotter than a Viking Professional 5 Series oven. Family Food Showdown started on Food Network March 3, and Dinner Takes All breaks bread on BYUtv beginning March 20. The Big Family Cooking Showdown is on Netflix, and Family Food Fight, hosted by Ayesha Curry, will run on ABC.

Cleve Keller and Dave Noll, whose Keller/Noll created the competing chefs series Chopped on Food Network, created Dinner Takes All, a mix of cooking competition and food trivia. They hope the rookie show captures the best of both family TV and food TV. “Our hope is that our show embodies everything that family programming means,” said Noll.

Dinner Takes All features two teams of five family members who build their best Sunday dinner, including an entrée, three sides and a dessert. Family members are also quizzed on their knowledge of food. Winning families get a year’s worth of groceries or cash. Kelsey Nixon hosts. Between the cooking competition and the food trivia games, Keller calls it “an incredibly hard show to host.”

"Family Food Showdown"

"Family Food Showdown"

Valerie Bertinelli hosts Family Food Showdown, which features three rounds of cooking challenges and two families doing culinary battle. Each episode sees the top family take home $10,000. Food Network is on board for 13 episodes.

“We look for standout families with really strong culinary chops, engaging stories, challenging situations with high stakes,” Food Network president Courtney White said, “along with some valuable takeaway information, and of course, beautiful, delicious food.”

The Big Family Cooking Showdown is a BBC series with two seasons on Netflix.

ABC announced Family Food Fight last summer, but has not divulged a premiere date. Based on an Australian format, the series will have eight families sharing a kitchen and fighting for a $100,000 prize. Host Curry, who also hosted Ayesha’s Home Kitchen on Food Network, said at the time, “Cooking is such an important part of my family life, and I can’t wait to find others from across America who share that passion for creating delicious dishes and have great stories to tell.”

Hail to the Chef

While the family angle is a fresh one, food programming has of course been around nearly as long as television has. Unlike shows about, say, motorcycles or fishing, everyone can relate to food. “We all eat,” said Walter Podrazik, co-author of Watching TV and TV curator at the Museum of Broadcast Communications. “Many of us cook. We all know someone who cooks extremely well.”

Some say the seemingly endless strife bouncing about in our nation, much of it brought on by political in-fighting, makes food programming — and family food programming in particular — a good fit in 2019. Podrazik refers to such programming as, fittingly, comfort food.

“People are rediscovering the fun of family, the reassurance of family,” he said.

Speaking of fun families, Phil Rosenthal created hit comedy Everybody Loves Raymond, and then shifted to food programming. I’ll Have What Phil’s Having ran on PBS in 2015 and Somebody Feed Phil, a reimagined take on I’ll Have What, debuted on Netflix in 2018.

Rosenthal said he pitched a family cooking show to several networks around 15 years ago. His Family Recipe concept would have two families prepare a signature meal, with one family sampling the other’s meal and a winner named. No network bit.

Rosenthal calls food “the great connector” in our society. “We all have to eat, and we usually eat with family,” Rosenthal said.

He added that food programming almost always goes down easily. In this peak TV era of dark characters and at times convoluted story lines in our popular dramas, foodie fare is “easy background music,” Rosenthal said. “It’s a subject we all know and love.”

Time, and the Nielsens, will reveal just how much demand there is for family cooking shows today.

For her part, Food Network’s White is optimistic about Family Food Showdown, which she likens to a big family event — say, Thanksgiving or a reunion — where it’s all hands on deck in the kitchen, for better or for worse. “Those fabulous food gatherings that are the heart of family,” White said. “To see those real dynamics of families play out during cooking challenges is incredibly entertaining.”

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