For nearly 30 years, Bobby Flay has been beamed into American homes as the leading Chef Who Knows His Stuff. Just look at this incomplete list of shows that have traded on Flay’s culinary expertise across the decades (thank you, Wikipedia):
- Hot Off the Grill with Bobby Flay
- Grillin’ & Chillin’
- 3 Days to Open with Bobby Flay
- Boy Meets Grill
- BBQ with Bobby Flay
- Throwdown! with Bobby Flay
- Grill It! with Bobby Flay
- Bobby Flay’s Barbecue Addiction
- Brunch @ Bobby’s
- The Main Ingredient with Bobby Flay
- Bobby’s Dinner Battle
- Beat Bobby Flay
- The Bobby And Damaris Show
Again, I must emphasize that this is not even a complete list. These are just the shows with the funniest, most Bobby-filled titles.
Bobby is the unassailable expert, the cool and confident chef you turn to when you have questions about how to salvage your Thanksgiving dinner or what to feed your snooty cat. He is synonymous with the Food Network’s authority on home cooking, and has been hailed as such for years.
On the other side of the aisle, you have Guy Fieri, Mayor of Flavortown, whose own impressive culinary knowledge is presented not in chef’s whites but beneath bleach-blond spikes. His brand is over-the-top by design, as are his culinary creations (see the Apple Pie Hot Dog for proof). Below is a partial list of his own Food Network shows from the past 15 years, which demonstrate a bit more restlessness and wanderlust than the more traditionally instructive Flay catalog:
- Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives
- Guy’s Big Bite
- Guy Off the Hook
- Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off
- Guy’s Grocery Games
- Guy’s Ranch Kitchen
- Guy’s Family Road Trip
Earlier this year, Guy Fieri became the highest paid chef on cable, signing a three-year contract with the Food Network worth a cool $80 million. That deal, apparently, got Bobby Flay thinking about his own worth—and Flay has subsequently parted ways with the Food Network after 27 years after failing to negotiate a similar contract to Fieri’s.
“Bobby wanted a contract in the ballpark of $100 million,” a source told People magazine. “The two sides were just way too far apart. It became clear the two could not and would not be able to come to terms and so the network decided to move forward without him.”
So, Guy will continue on at the Food Network, while it’s safe to assume Bobby will pop up again somewhere else in the media landscape very soon. It doesn’t sound like there’s any ill will between Bobby, the network, or his former colleague. But regardless of where they’re each headed, my question is: Which of these star chefs matters most to you, the viewer?
Fieri is undeniably the flashier, more playful media darling. He barreled onto the scene in 2006 with a wardrobe and vocabulary that seemingly haven’t changed ever since. But if his formula hasn’t evolved, that’s because it hasn’t needed to: Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives has only become more relevant and vital in an era where independently owned restaurants are under threat from encroaching chain restaurants and COVID-related downturn. Plus, there’s something hypnotically appealing about watching him take down a triple-stacker Cubano with his signature power bite.
But of course, Fieri’s rockin’ motif and processed meats aren’t for everyone, and his Flavortown schtick might wear on those who come to the Food Network to actually learn new skills and gain recipe inspiration. In that case, there’s a lot to be said for the sheer confidence of a chef like Flay, whose competition series Beat Bobby Flay wouldn’t be the least bit compelling if he didn’t set the stakes so high by winning so damn often. Insofar as every Food Network star has a gimmick, Flay’s basically seems to be “cooking well,” and that’s been enough to power him through multiple decades of unwavering viewership.
So, of this pair of well-paid fellows, who’s the ultimate TV chef—Guy or Bobby?