“If it’s griddled and gooey, it must be grilled cheese,” intones Bobby Flay in what strikes me as a rather inauspicious beginning to the episode of Throwdown! with Bobby Flay that I consented to watch so I could review Bobby Flay and thoroughly excoriate him as a human being. Really, Bobby? Must it? Is every sandwich that contains melted cheese a grilled cheese to you, regardless of any other elements of its constitution? This is a pretty innocuous comment he’s made, but it, like every wretched syllable that comes out of his mouth, fills me with a terrible rage. I hate Bobby Flay. I really, really hate him.
The premise of Throwdown! with Bobby Flay is at once deceptively simple and profoundly, unspeakably evil. You know that one restaurant in your town that cooks the absolute dickens out of a single dish? You know that place where, when you have visitors from out of town, you absolutely have to go for a chicken parm or a gyro? Bobby Flay knows about that place, too, and because he is a horrid little Grinch whose shrunken heart has no room for charity or goodness, he is driven by some wicked compulsion to drive to that restaurant and attempt to best that chef at chicken parm or gyros. That’s the ballgame, basically: Bobby Flay comes to your town specifically to pistol-whip some local food celebrity and then hang his defeated carcass in a trophy room in Hell.
Also, because evil isn’t truly evil unless it breaks every conceivable bond of guest-friendship, Bobby Flay doesn’t tell these poor bastards what he’s cooking up in his little rage pot of a heart. That would be far too sporting, to call up a chef in some flyover town and say, “Hey, this is Bobby Flay, I heard you make one hell of a brisket, how about a cook-off?” No: Bobby Flay, being Bobby Flay, tells these chefs that their restaurant is being featured in a Food Network special. He lets them think they’ve hit the big time. Then, upon hanging up the phone, he rubs his crotch on each of his cookbooks in turn and descends into his coffin to rest up before the big day.
The rest is fairly straightforward. As Flay says in the extremely grating intro to the show, “I may win; I may even lose.” Usually the hometown chef wins, sometimes not. There is a bit of banter between Bobby, his sous chefs (he brings two sous chefs with him every time, because apparently he can’t handle whipping up a Throwdown brisket without a tiny army’s worth of backup), and the hometown chefs. The entire town shows up to eat the food from the cookoffs and then on his way out, Flay takes a shit on all of their doorsteps in turn and descends back into the vein of the earth from whence he came. And that’s that.
Am I not making it sound evil enough? I’m trying hard to hold back my outraged swearing and my vomiting. Anyone who’s ever watched this show with me can tell you that I am physically and mentally taxed by its very existence. Every fact relating to this show fills my mouth with foam: did you know that there are 92 episodes? Did you know that he did a pad thai throwdown near my house and I failed to show up to murder him? Did you know that he has a bicycle messenger whose actual job is to deliver Bobby Flay, secret-espionage-style, the details of the various chefs on whom he intends to inflict his throwdowns? I’m convinced he wrote the Throwdown Wikipedia article, because it’s full of neutral-to-positive comments like “[Flay] is usually greeted [by the opposing chef] with surprise and confusion” and “the two chefs…are usually quite complimentary towards one another.” Had this page been edited by a single non-Bobby Flay person, it would be full of hate.
Throwdown! with Bobby Flay represents everything disgusting about the world of food entertainment. The terrible disingenuity…! The fake smiles! As much as I often want to punch Tony Bourdain in the jaw, I’ll say this for him: there’s not one single disingenuous thing there. He may be a mean, foul-mouthed cuss but he’s the same mean, foul-mouthed cuss all the time. Bobby Flay is a sneaky little weasel. Oh, I’m sure the trickery exists only for the sake of good TV, that he warns the hometown chefs about their role on his show before they appear on it (if only for legal reasons), but that doesn’t matter to me: we are led to believe that it’s real, that he really is that deceptive, that he really does sit in one of his own restaurants sipping on Pinot Greezh and waiting for his bicycle boy to hand-deliver him a list of every living chef’s personal fears and weaknesses. We are led to believe in this wretch, and we are led to root for him.
Yes, this is the root of the problem: regardless of who wins any given throwdown, Bobby Flay really wins. Bobby Flay gets rich no matter what. Nothing is at stake for him. Sure, he’s bringing publicity to these small town chefs, but that is a double-edged sword: how many unassuming sandwich dumps do you know that can manage a Food Network-sized crowd of people every day? And if they lose? Who opens up a restaurant thinking “this is going to be great; I can’t wait until Bobby Flay gets wind of my Chicken Kiev recipe and makes all my customers tell him that his is better so that I have to spend the rest of my days reading Yelp reviews that mention the fact that I lost a throwdown to a ferrety little pie-faced fuckwad”?
I’m a fan of small food. I’m a fan of that one shithole you drove past every single day until something told you to go in and order a meatball sandwich—I still believe in that kind of restaurant culture, that mysterious, unknown people can whip up batches of miracle food like you can’t get anywhere else in the world. I suppose that if I were feeling generous, I’d credit Bobby Flay with a role in preserving such a culture, with pointing to these restaurants and saying “look! Even I, Bobby Fucking Flay, can’t make a cheesesteak better than these guys! Look at how much beautiful food there is in the world!” But I don’t believe that. I believe that Bobby Flay is the gingery little menace who ruins the lives of normal chefs everywhere. If he has a problem with that, he’s more than welcome to challenge me to a throwdown.
Art by Jun Joestar.