Trading Up
Deborah Cassell, managing editor

Remember TLC’s “Trading Spaces?” Yes, I know, it still exists. But do you remember the phenomenon that was “Trading Spaces?” For a time, homeowners (and renters like me) were obsessed with the show. Whole families gathered ‘round their TVs to watch (hunky) host Ty Pennington and teams of ordinary people spackle, paint and accessorize their neighbors’ houses under the direction of (sometimes quirky) designers.
Just five years ago, The Learning Channel, Home & Garden Television and the Discovery Channel ruled Nielsen ratings with home improvement programs such as this. America was addicted.
That was then, this is now. Consumers are trading up, so to speak. The Food Network is the new HGTV. (Goodbye hammer, hello spatula!)
Instead of learning how to DIY a lampshade via TLC, people now tune in to TFN to watch Rachel Ray make “30 Minute Meals” and eat her way around U.S. cities on “$40 a Day.”Foodies with a penchant for science DVR Alton Brown’s “Good Eats,” while motorcycle enthusiasts check out his adventurous “Feasting on Asphalt.” And traditionalists who once admired Julia Child enjoy the timeless cooking style of “Barefoot Contesssa.” (Furthermore, “Unwrapped” goes behind the scenes to reveal how foods are made. Wanna know how they get the cream filling inside the Twinkie? “Unwrapped” has the answer … and the footage.)
Because menus are the inspiration behind many snack foods and baked goods (for example, there’d be no Buffalo Wing- or Baby Back Rib-flavored potato chips and pretzels were it not for their actual predecessors), it’s important to follow restaurant trends. For that reason, we’ve interviewed several celebrity chefs here at Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery, including Dave Lieberman (host of The Food Network’s “Good Deal”), Jamie Oliver (The Food Network’s “Naked Chef” and a proponent of healthier school lunch programs) and Alton Brown (keynote speaker at the American Society of Baking’s 2007 BakingTech).
Most recently, I got the scoop from Chicago’s own Rick Bayless, at whose downtown restaurant (Frontera Grill) I dined a couple weeks back. (For my Q&A with the chef, turn to page TT-8 of SF&WB’s Tortilla Trends.)
I met Bayless briefly at Custer’s Last Stand, a street fair in (my ‘hood) Evanston, Ill. He was there for a daylong demonstration on cooking with peppers such as poblanos — a favorite of the Oklahoma native, as viewers of his PBS program, “Mexico—One Plate at a Time” can attest. On this hot summer day, Bayless led what was essentially a live show (minus the cameras), offering samples of his unique dishes to all in attendance. During the event, he fielded questions from the crowd. Afterward, fans met Bayless, some asking him to autograph copies of his cookbooks.
Like the poblano pepper, celebrity chefs are hot. But once upon a time, furniture designers and interior decorators were, too. Some continue to endure. Ty Pennington left “Trading Spaces” for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” a show that still tugs at audience’s heart strings on Sunday nights. And let’s not forget Oprah’s favorite decorator, Nate Berkus, a regular guest on the media mogul’s daily talk show. Then there’s Martha Stewart, who’s a triple threat. She cooks and crafts by day, and has an extensive furniture collection from Bernhardt to boot.
Yes, home improvement programs remain popular — just not at the level of, say, “Giada’s Weekend Getaways.”
However, I venture to add that none of the aforementioned designers or chefs carry the cache of Rachel Ray, who today stars in some 50 (okay, make that five, but it sure seems like more) on-air TV shows. Like Martha Stewart (minus the jail record), Rachel Ray has become a household name. Even my 6-year-old nephew loves her.
Of course, my colleague Andy Hanacek (former managing editor of Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery) might disagree with this thesis of mine. A fan of HGTV, he recently had his condo redone by the folks from “Designed to Sell.” Although the episode hasn’t hit the small screen yet, Andy’s already traded in his old space for a traditional Chicago-style bungalow. He’s even started entertaining friends in his home’s spacious kitchen, an area often referred to as the hub of familial activity … that is, when no one’s in the living room drooling over what Rachel Ray’s cooking up on TV.