My first thought upon hearing that Bobby Flay was leaving the Food Network? Good riddance.  

Having grown up on Food Network, I’ve seen my fair share of Bobby Flay, and I’ve never been particularly impressed.  Despite his best efforts, his Southwest/Tex-Mex style of cooking will always remind me of “this is Chili’s, but fancier.” The title of Iron Chef may have meant more to a younger me, but several seasons of the competition/reality show created specifically to give away said title has made me cynical to how much weight it really carries.  Any of his attempts at making a traditional, stand-alone cooking show were lackluster and forgettable, with most of them consisting mostly of “I’m just gonna throw something on the grill.” Throwdown with Bobby Flay’s whole premise was based on the presumption that he could just waltz into any chef’s house and make a better version of their regional delicacy- one that usually had historical significance or at the very least had been passed down from generation to generation- all because he is Bobby Flay.  And while its spiritual successor, Beat Bobby Flay, did away with the more problematic implications, the message at the end of the day was still the same: Bobby Flay is a Golden God of Cooking, and only a fool would dare to challenge Him.

So when word broke out that the split between Flay and Food Network came down to their refusal to pay out the $100M contract he demanded, it’s easy to continue to hate him.  Does his hubris know no bounds?  Guy Fieri was recently renewed for an $80M contract, but he’s still regularly cranking out new shows (and is actually likeable).  All Flay does nowadays is Beat Bobby Flay, and the smug bastard thinks he deserves a bigger payout than the Mayor of Flavortown? 

But let’s look at the big picture here.  Bobby Flay was the last of the old guard.  

Emeril Lagasse cashed his Food Network check years ago, and has been floundering from one network to another and putting his name on cheap infomercial pans ever since.  Mario Batali has been ousted for pervert crimes.  As much as I don’t like Flay, I have to admit he’s the only chef that’s been on the network since its founding and is still making a name for himself.  And I’m sure that the problem here isn’t that Food Network didn’t have deep enough pockets to satisfy Flay’s request.

It’s no secret that Food Network has changed a bit since its inception.  Little by little, the focus of the channel has shifted away from chefs towards home cooks and from practical cooking to competition/reality shows.  The former isn’t necessarily a bad thing, home cook viewers are going to be more likely to relate to and cook along with home cook show hosts without being intimidated by cheffy techniques and pretensions.  But the latter has spun so out of control that the parent company had to start the Cooking Channel in order to compensate for the lack of actual instructional cooking shows.  At first, I was going to say that since Flay is the last of the old chefs to stay on the network, this could signal even further devolving into brash competitions for the sake of the drama and/or mindless background noise.  But, again, his only remaining show at this point was Beat Bobby Flay, so it could be argued his presence had little influence over this trend.

At the same time, what will Flay do next?  I honestly find it hard to believe that he intends to go back to being just a restaurateur.  Many have speculated that with the bloat of unremarkable streaming services flooding the market, there’s a good chance that many will try to grab him up for shows exclusive to their platforms to give themselves an edge.  That being said, I feel like most of them will struggle to come up with anything close to the $100M that he’s asking for. 

Or, maybe we’ll get something like the Jeremy Renner app.

Remember when that was a thing? Wild.

Ok, but really. Some people have been speculating that he might just launch his own streaming platform of some kind. Between his ego and the recent trend of content creators striking it out on their own, I really don’t think this would be too out of left field.  And, assuming he’s able to obtain the rights to all the shows he’s done over the years (I don’t even know how that would work for Iron Chef), such a platform would, if nothing else, have an extensive backlog of programs upon launch.

Let’s revisit that ego for a second.  Bobby Flay helped build the Food Network, and he knows it.  And I’m sure he’s just as aware of the changes to the network that have transpired over the years as the rest of us.  To see an empire he created become so bastardized, to see his precious title of Iron Chef be turned into a tangled mess of sloppy spin-offs- and to be powerless to stop it- is not something he would take lightly.  It’s quite possible that if he has something in store, it could be something that he’s been planning for a while, and he’s using this failed contract negotiation to a.) make a clean break from Food Network and b.) drum up publicity and anticipation for his next move.

Or maybe he just really wanted that $100M, and he’s just waiting for Food Network to come crawling back to him.  Who knows.

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