Deb Puchalla and Jenna discuss Food Network and the Cooking Channel’s intention to inspire and empower home cooks with the insights and tools they need to gather their loved ones around a delicious meal.
Deb shares a glimpse into her process of identifying great talent, why the chefs who become household names are the ones you want to share a meal with, and the question she asks everyone she works with to ensure they’re telling their story in its truest form.
We also chat about our favorite memories in our own kitchens and why many of the best and most meaningful recipes often stem from mistakes.
Highlights from the Transcript
- On the ‘why:’ “When there is so much content out there it’s really important to not only have the ‘how to do it’ but why you might want to.”
- On talent: “There isn’t a formula to knowing whether someone’s going to become a household name or how to create a viral video. I think there are certain characteristics I really look for working with talent, such as whether they have a differentiated point of view, how they’re engaging with their audience, how they’re adding to the conversation, and what is unique about them. I’m thinking about whether I want to sit down and have a beer with them. Do they seem interesting? What’s their story? Why are they doing what they are doing? Why is he going to that place in the South? Where is his family from? What did his mom make growing up? Once you start looking at someone as potential talent and you want to know more about them, break bread and learn from them, that is the first sign. Then, we date a little bit with short form or we invite them to the kitchen. We’re talking with each other to decide whether there is chemistry…For people who are trying to break in, you have to be enthusiastic. You have to show a passion. You can’t want to be a star or successful for stardom or success’ sake. You have to want to embrace the work that goes along with it and the journey.”
- On the digital ecosystem: “For a long time, people thought digital was an on ramp to TV. The goal was to land on TV some day. There is still a lot of that but now you see a lot of folks who are on TV and want to make sure that they are expanding their digital presence because they want to have a direct conversation with their fans…It’s not a one way street. It is an ecosystem now. The discussions and considerations are much more holistic. We are looking at all of the ways a particular story can be told.”
- On peeking in: “I’ve always been interested in the voyeuristic part of food. Peeking in is a nice way of thinking about the stories we tell. You really want a glimpse of the food that people are eating, the conversation they’re having while eating it and what they are planning. People don’t live in verticals. As much as we talk about food, your interest is also in what their kitchen looks like and what flowers they might have on the table. It’s about how you make that food into an experience. There are associations with the seasons and time shifting. It’s about the memories of cooking with your parents or your siblings or your fiancé, and building on those experiences that then become stories that inspire others.”
- On savoring: “Time in the kitchen and time at the dinner table with your family is a time to disconnect. At our house, we don’t use screens at the table. Having an unplugged moment in your day when there is so much happening and just connecting with each other while you are having a meal is even more important than it has been in the past. As much as technology has made food easier for people to enjoy by making it more accessible, there is also a new respect for quality, taking a little bit of time away, taking a deep breath and enjoying both the food that you are making, serving, or even ordering in and savoring each other’s company as well.”
- On catering to unique cooking styles: “One of the things that is beautiful about the Food Network family is that whether you are the person who is super precise and scientific in your cooking or you’re just going to wing it and try new things, there’s something for you. Creatively, it’s really lovely to be able to say: What are we going to do next? What are we going to do differently? How are we going to make that super anal cook happy? And, at the same time, how are we going to make sure that we are spontaneous enough to give our fans some surprises?”
- On whoopie pies with dad: “My extended family is from Maine. When we moved to Connecticut we brought this whoopie pie recipe with us. Being a kid and cooking with my dad while my mom was at work was this unconventional thing at the time and yet my fondest memories are spreading the cream between the two chocolate cakes and then having to wait a little bit until we could enjoy them…I was one of six kids and my mom had to be very regimented as to what dinner might look like throughout the course of the week. So, I also learned this level of predictability, efficiency, and embracing particular home recipes over and over. My mom makes this macaroni dish that is just ground beef, macaroni and onions. Super cheap but all of us ask her to make it when we go home. We call it her macaroni. Macaroni doesn’t represent anything particular. But, it’s something that helped get our family around the table and we all have really fond memories of it. I try to have a little bit of that with my three sons and my husband so down the road the oldest, whose going off to college soon, will say: ‘Mom, when I come home I’m going to bake that banana bread.’ He loves baking banana bread. It’s become a ritual. If I’m able to bring that to the people I work with and they’re able to bring their stories to me, I feel like the food on our plate is so much more exciting and fun. It allows us to reach new ideas and really delicious foods pretty easily.”
- On the seeds of the best recipes: “Some the best things you have ever eaten have been born out of things you thought were mistakes. Allowing yourself to say: ‘That wasn’t a mistake. It came out really good. I want to do it again.’ We love hearing that form our fans.”
- On diving in deeper: “I try to always have an open mind when I am talking to people about their ideas and ask them open-ended questions like: If you were making the decision, what would you want to do? When someone does something that they love you can hear it in their voice and it brings the story to life.”