Mitchell A. Davis ’91, executive director of the James Beard Foundation, moderated a Cornell Entrepreneur Network event on “The Business of Food Media,” February 6, at the Gotham West Market in Manhattan. Joining him to share an insider’s view of cooking, health, and broadcasting were Kit Sigety ’44, who was the food editor of NBC’s “Home” in the early 1950s, Ellie Krieger ’88, host of “Ellie Krieger’s Real Good Food” on PBS, and Amy Riolo ’95, host of the nationally syndicated “Culture of Cuisine.”
“We are witnessing an explosion of food television and interest in food across all media,” said Davis, opening the discussion. Here is the meat of their conversation.
Food TV pioneers
Sigety broke into food broadcasting at the very beginning of television. In an audition for WOR-TV’s “Sally Smart’s Kitchen” in 1951, she was supposed to do a food demonstration on camera even though she’d never done one in her life. Luckily, the producers had given her a book on cooking demos to study over the weekend—she did and got the job. All television was live in those days, so when a popcorn demonstration literally blew up during one broadcast, “I went straight into a commercial so they could clean me up.”
Riolo majored in apparel and textile management at Cornell, but food was an important part of her growing up. During an extended period of illness when she took time off from her spreadsheet-heavy job as fashion director and stayed with relatives in Italy, she came to a realization. “I really wanted to cook and write,” she said, which, after a long process of finding her niche in the food media world, led to her own show.
Riolo said her first cookbook, Arabian Delights, got 50 rejections, but she finally published it, and her second, Nile Style, won the World Gourmand Award for “Best Arab Cuisine Book” in 2009. “Cookbooks are a labor of love—but, if you believe it, go for it,” she said to aspiring authors. “Think about the unique story you want to tell.”
The current market for food media and publishing is competitive, said Krieger, so writing and publishing a cookbook is an exercise in tenacity.
On food and health
Krieger’s mission is to find the sweet spot where health meets delicious.
Although she’s a Cornell-trained nutritionist, diets frighten her, she said, because they could cut down on the joy of sharing a meal.
“Let’s not lose the communal aspect of eating, because that’s important to health, too,” she said. “Let’s take a collective big breath and just enjoy food.”
If you want to stay healthy, said Riolo, go ahead and think about food all the time! Plan menus ahead, anticipate good meals, and think of food as a friend, not an enemy. Good food TV can help you know where to start in your own kitchen with your own family and friends.
“What TV does best is inspire,” said Krieger.
The Business of Food Media” was presented by Cornell Entrepreneur Network (CEN), Cornell University Northeast Corridor Alumni Affairs, and the College of Human Ecology. For more on future CEN events, visit cen.cornell.edu.