This is a golden age of food TV, with opulent, big-budget shows such as chef's table, ugly delicious and salt, fat, acid, heat offering feasts for the eyes as well as the taste buds, any hungry person with a Netflix subscription will tell about that.
Many are the work of new media upstarts such as Vice Media’s Munchies, First We Feast and Thrillist, whose main show, Really Dough, investigates outlandish pizza variations across New York’s five boroughs, including crusts made out of cauliflower, pancake-bases smothered with kimchi and gold-topped pizzas priced at $2,000.
But over on YouTube, a slew of pretenders to the throne are making a virtue of more modest budgets, like canny food-truck chefs giving Michelin-starred restaurants a run for their money. They can’t boast the exotic locations or multicamera setups of Netflix’s shows, but thanks to their wit, charisma, and concepts, that doesn’t really matter.
The concept is strong, but the show’s true attraction is the interplay between hosts Scott Wiener – a pizza obsessive famous for his day job hosting tours of the city’s pizzerias and his record-breaking collection of pizza boxes (1,300 and counting) – and Mark Iacono, a hard-nosed Brooklyn pizza chef whose renowned joint, Lucali, boasts Beyoncé and Gwyneth Paltrow as fans. The success of these shows has given the presenters unexpected online fame, with Saffitz in particular inspiring plenty of internet fan art.
“It’s a strange, though wonderful, experience,” says Saffitz, who admits she is “an introvert and a little shy”. Nevertheless, Gourmet Makes’ success helped secure Saffitz a baking book with Random House’s Carson Potter imprint. Wiener, meanwhile, wears his stardom a little easier, laughing that he “was always being recognized in pizzerias anyway”.
Rea’s forearm bears a tattoo of a carving fork, a sign of his absolute commitment to the show. In the show’s early days, he bought the utensil for $80 on his credit card, despite being broke, so he could present his pasta Aglio E Olio exactly as Jon Favreau had in Chef. When Favreau later guested on Binging to make Chef’s infamous Chocolate Lava Cakes, he presented Rea with the carving fork from the movie. “It was far and away the best moment of my life,” Rea grins.