Jeffrey Steingarten vs. Food Network

There are some events in life that play out in front of you like a slow-motion trainwreck; where you feel pity and sorrow for some involved and white hot anger at others. Tonight was one of those nights.

Katie and I attended yet another seminar at the Museum of Television and Radio; tonight was The Edible Airwaves: Cooking for Television. On the slate to speak were celebrity chefs Alton Brown, Mario Batali, and Giada De Laurentiis, as well as Senior VP of Programming for Food Network, Bob Tuschman.

But there, like a cloud looming, was the fifth member and moderator of the panel: Jeffrey Steingarten. Arguably one of the most known food critics, I only knew that he could be a bit ascerbic.

Soon after the event started, it became immediately obvious that this was going to be different. Steingarten was, to put it nicely, off-topic. To put it poorly, he was a rude, obnoxious asshole. Some examples:

  • Implying, over and over, that Giada was only hired because she looks nice and not because she has cooking talent or is an accessible cook. Bob Tuschman defended her at least five times before someone in the audience shouted at Steingarten that she had talent, and he finally let it drop.
  • Repeatedly attacking the entire panel that they have an unfair advantage in selling cookbooks because they were on television. The panel protested that while their starting points may be a little higher than other cookbook authors, no one can sell a horrible cookbook and expect to continue their career.
  • He went off on frequent and needlessly long tangents, not at all helped by his very slow and shaky speaking style. At one point he actually caught himself and said “actually, this is irrelevant” – if only he had done that the other ten times. He even rambled out some non-sequitur about how Martha Stewart didn’t have time for her friends anymore and how she had changed.
  • Not asking any question that actually had much to do with the process of putting food onto television; if it wasn’t for audience questions at the end, I don’t think we would’ve gotten much insight at all.

I felt the most pure, unbridled pity I’ve felt in ages as I watched three expert cooks share baffled and slightly shocked glances as they were taken out of the conversation we all expected and had to defend their right to even have books. I felt minorly bad for Alton and Mario, but I cheered them on as Alton fired a number of shots back at Steingarten and Mario joined in occasionally. I felt horrible for Giada; she tried her damndest to sit there and smile that wonderful smile of hers and just take it, but by the end of the night she looked run down and a bit hurt over the repeated implication that she was just another pretty face.

The audience was largely in agreement; as the seminar went on, the mutters of “what the hell?” and “what a prick” grew louder in a slow but steady manner. By the end, a number of people felt ready to shout out whenever Steingarten made a bitter comment at any of the panel.

I kindly request that if anyone at the Museum of Television & Radio want to have another Food Network panel, that they keep Mr. Steingarten as far away from it as possible. I’m sure he’s a wonderful food critic, but it’s obvious from his actions at this event that he is not a big fan of the way food television has been evolving over the last ten years. This squarely puts him in opposition with much of what the Food Network has been doing since its inception.

Huge thanks to Alton, Giada, and Mario – all marvelous people, and were kind enough to stick around and talk to the fans afterwords – as well as Bob for putting up with all this nonsense.

  • alex

    I was also at the event last night, but unfortunately wasn’t so lucky to score tickets to the staged seminar and had to settle for a live feed of the event two floors above. I knew from the get go when Mr. Steingarten opened his mouth that the whole event was going to be a trying affair. It wasn’t so much his stuttering, but his laborious, off tangent, lack of focus questions he started spewing to the panel. I had a really hard time following his train of thought of where he was going with a majority of his questions. To add insult (literally)to injury when he started to attack Giada and the lack of “old” cooks on the Food Network is when he became a real asshole.
    The only time I’ve seen him was on Iron Chef American and he seem more or less competent and less of an asshole, but I guess his true nature came out last night as a cynical old fart.
    Regarding the audience member who shouted at Steingarten that Giada had talent, it might have been her hubby, but then I think most people in the audience and myself know she has talent.

  • http://www.gothamist.com/archives/2005/03/03/law_order_takes_on_the_food_world.php Gothamist

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  • Jen

    Steingarten is a dick. I quit watching ICA because I hate him so much.

  • chris lin

    I typed in steingarten asshole as search parameters on Google and imagine all the links I got.
    the guy was an incredible dick towards Sakai and Morimoto during the so-called battle of the American vs. Japanese chefs (of course it was a sweep for Booby Flay and Co.) but I wonder what his contributions are besides smirking and belittling everything qualified professionals are doing.

  • Bob Dobolina

    To refer to Jeffrey Steingarten as a “rude, obnoxious asshole” is to put it in the kindest possible terms. I was watching the Iron Chef the other night, and I actually had to look this guy up to see who he was. His rudeness to his fellow judges and the chefs on the show was that striking. Although, I believe what I said at the time is, “Who is that arrogant, fat fuck?” Same general idea, I guess…

  • Christopher M

    Jeffrey Steingarten may or may not have been an asshole at this panel, but his books are great reads, he knows a hell of a lot about food, and you all seem a little defensive, as if there’s something wrong with someone critiquing the Food Network and its hosts.

  • http://vjarmy.com/ Dan Dickinson

    There’s nothing wrong with critiquing the Food Network and its hosts in a general sense. But when the event is billed as a discussion about what’s involved in putting food on television?
    Steingarten was unfocused, off-topic, and rude at the event. If pointing that out makes me “a little defensive”, so be it.
    As for everyone who’s posted comments due to his performance on ICA – can’t speak for them.

  • Will

    Steingarten is an asshole in the truest since of the word. Every episode he appears on ICA, he makes nothing but snide, smarmy remarks to both the chefs and his fellow judges. He’s created so many awkward silences on that show, it’s astounding. Furthermore, can you imagine a more worthless station in life than being a food critic? What kind of talent does that require? Oh, your escargot was a little rubbery? Go whine to the starving numbers in Nigeria, you little bitch. Maybe you’ll lose a few chins over there.

  • bajaflyer

    I love it. Jeffrey Steingarten suitably trashed. What a jerk! It seems he must have a share in Food Network because I think he is still there trashing his fellow judges. This guy is too fat to have taste buds. He should realize his bitter angst towards his cohorts is generated by his inability to ……. whatever…. not worth any more text. Good night whatever your name is. I hope i don’t see you again.

  • alex

    I was also at the event last night, but unfortunately wasn’t so lucky to score tickets to the staged seminar and had to settle for a live feed of the event two floors above. I knew from the get go when Mr. Steingarten opened his mouth that the whole event was going to be a trying affair. It wasn’t so much his stuttering, but his laborious, off tangent, lack of focus questions he started spewing to the panel. I had a really hard time following his train of thought of where he was going with a majority of his questions. To add insult (literally)to injury when he started to attack Giada and the lack of “old” cooks on the Food Network is when he became a real asshole.

    The only time I’ve seen him was on Iron Chef American and he seem more or less competent and less of an asshole, but I guess his true nature came out last night as a cynical old fart.

    Regarding the audience member who shouted at Steingarten that Giada had talent, it might have been her hubby, but then I think most people in the audience and myself know she has talent.

  • Jack Brack

    Jeffrey Steingarten is an asshole. He is not just the average asshole, but an arrogant, controlling, misogynist, boresome, rambling asshole. His interactions with women on Iron Chef show how eagerly he is to correct them and point out any perceived faults. Although Jeffrey's attendance at Harvard Law School suggests he is extremely intelligent (unless he's a legacy student), it may also reveal why he is an elitist pig. The only bright spot of his appearance on Iron Chef is that hopefully his arteries will sooner become irreparably clogged and the world won't have to listen to the endless garbage spewing out of his mouth.

  • John Vuenza

    I stopped watching ICA bc of that asshole, he is wildly offensive and offers nothing to the show. To be a tv personality, you need to first be someone that people don't mind hearing. Jeffrey should no longer be a judge to make room for someone that the viewers actually respect and listen to. If I would meet this guy in an alley I would kick his teeth in.

  • mitchell

    All of the comments is all of the above comments, how can any show continue to have this asshole as a judge. he may be knowledgable, but, is his commentary worth this much animosity?

  • Marion in Savannah

    He's a poisonous old toad, and I can think of no reason why he remains a judge on ICA. Does he own Food Network?

  • Joseph

    Jeffrey Steingarten is a total moron. Why does anyone consider him credible? He seems to only like boring gross fatty dishes (which would explain a lot).

  • mcoz11

    Steingarten is fronted on ICA as the author of the “Man Who Ate Everything” but this was first published in 1977. OK. Steingarten added new chapters to a 1997 edition. Unfortunately, some of this newer material was already outdated or just pure wrong when it was published. He doesn’t reference any of the so called facts/information. So it’s not worth bothering to criticize the text. He’s not a scientist and wherever he gets his information it’s not from scientific papers. He’s a lawyer and it would be to his advantage to stick to the law. If he wants to talk about food he should acknowledge that he’s providing his view, his opinion. But please stay away from science. Nutrition, fats, carbohydrates. Just leave science out of your discussion.