I have to admit that I’m a huge fan of the Food Network. It’s no secret that I love to cook, I always have, and I’ve learned a lot about food and cooking from watching guys like Alton Brown, Bobby Flay and Aarón Sanchez. I really love the creativity that comes out of the challenge type shows like Chopped. I’ve watched several seasons of The Next Food Network Star over the last few years, but this year was different. For one, this was the first time seasoned Food Network pros were brought in as Mentors and the contestants competed as teams. Also different this year was my perspective, for the first time I was watching The Next Food Network Star as a blogger.
It occurred to me that the critiques and advice that these Food Network hopefuls were getting from their mentors and the judges made a lot of sense in the blogging world as well as TV. Each time the contestants got in front of that camera and gave their presentation, they were offering a sample of themselves and what they had to offer. They had to prove that they could be informative, entertaining, charming and establish a real connection with their audience. All of those are qualities most of us strive for in writing our articles. In fact, many food bloggers have made the leap to television because of the similarities between blogging and TV shows like those on the Food Network.
So as I watched this season of The Next Food Network Star I paid attention to why some contestants failed while others excelled. And as, one by one, they narrowed the field I took away lessons that could be applied to my writing. In true blogging style, I have broken it down in to five main lessons…
Lessons Learned from The Food Network Star-
1. Have a POV
This was one of the biggest questions through the entire show. What’s your point of view? What is your focus? What makes you different from everyone else out there doing what you do? Some people have a POV built-in from the start and others struggle to find their focus. It’s important for your audience to know what your passion is and be drawn in by it. If one day you’re talking about horticulture and the next day scrap booking, there better be an underlying theme that connects the two or you are just confusing your audience. The most successful bloggers find their niche, their unique perspective in a broader category. Your audience will come back again and again because they value your point of view.
2. Tell a story
One of the strongest contestants this season was eliminated, finally, because she failed to be able to connect a personal story to her presentation. Over and over again she was coached to “tell us a story” and create some unique personal connection to her recipes. She would get so caught up in delivering the information that she failed to make it personal. The point is, if all you can do is deliver raw information to your audience they will have no real reason to come back. Most casual readers/viewers want to be entertained, they want to be told a story. Even when writing something as seemingly dry as a gear review it’s important to give it context and bring the story of the review to the reader.
3. Give your audience something they can take away
This is a personal lesson I took to heart. I feel like I can tell a story, and I write my gear reviews and trail reports from a personal perspective of sharing the journey with my readers. What I’ve been weak on is offering tips, or tricks that my readers can walk away with after taking the time to read my blog. As I watched several of the Next Food Network Star contestants receive criticism for not offering a cooking tip along with their presentation I realized that I am guilty of that as well. Adding a little piece of trail advice, a gear suggestion or a simple tip or trick relevant to the article should be an easy thing to accomplish with a little thought and effort. This is something I plan to work on.
4. Be consistent
To have a show on the Food Network (or any channel for that matter) you’ve got to be able to deliver. A network can’t build an audience around a personality that changes every week. When it comes down to it, they are creating a BRAND that has to be able to deliver every time the cameras turn on. Just like any brand in any market, product inconsistency will fracture and damage your brand’s reputation. Some contestants were eliminated from the show because they could not offer a consistent personality or smooth delivery in front of the camera. As a writer I feel it is important to have a consistent personality, POV and writing style as a basic foundation for your blog’s “brand”. If the foundation is solid, you can be as creative as you want with the rest of your content.
5. Take chances
This season’s The Next Food Network Star winner was Justin Warner. Justin is a young Chef and restaurant owner from New York who is always thinking outside the box. His creations on the show this season were always surprising, edgy, creative and different. With nearly every recipe he put together to present to the judges he took chances with unexpected ingredients and flavor combinations. What he proved was that he was smart about how food works and could be creative in it’s execution. He consistently offered something the judges had never seen before and it paid off. Now, it’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel or make every endeavor an exercise in stretching the imagination. However, Justin proved that taking risks and delivering the unexpected once in a while can really pay off.
The bonus lesson, which got a few people eliminated this season, is simply be genuine. Don’t try to be a character, or salesman. Ultimately, people will recognize when you are not being yourself and they will tire of the deception quickly.
So be yourself, find your voice, tell us a story and every once in a while…give us something we never expected.
For me, the Food Network was an unexpected place to find lessons I could apply to writing my blog. What unexpected sources have given you some of your most valuable lessons?