Gumbo. That’s the word Michael Smith likes to use when he describes the United States. And not just because he is the SVP/GM of Cooking Channel. “In Gumbo,” explains Smith, “ingredients work together, with everything keeping its special flavors and qualities.” So the term “melting pot” has been replaced with “gumbo”.
What type of food does Michael Smith, SVP/GM Cooking Channel prefer? “I like sweet and spicy flavors of Southwestern cuisine” he says. But then he quickly adds Italian, French and Spanish. Actually, he says, he enjoys it all. It’s easy to see he is a “foodie,” the term embraced by passionate Cooking Channel viewers. That’s why working at the Cooking Channel is a natural fit for Smith. “I represent today’s food lover. It’s great when your job involves something you are already passionate about.”
Smith was born in Canada to Jamaican parents and he grew up in Canada, Jamaica, and all across America, and his career has included a stint in Asia. So multiculturalism came early. Today, living in New York makes access to great food easy so he can always find new cuisines to explore.
Food is the fastest connection between people and cultures. Michael Smith reminds us, one of the most common business greetings is “Let’s have lunch.”
“We no longer feel we have to Americanize every flavor,” says Smith. Today people are more likely to live in a multi-cultural neighborhood. Grocery store aisles include unusual vegetables, exotic spices and new ingredients. Restaurants feature cuisines from Moroccan, to Caribbean, to Indian and Vietnamese. People are more curious about food and want to explore more.
Food Network, another Scripps Networks Interactive (SNI) brand, was already the dominant leader in food category programming when SNI launched Cooking Channel in May, 2010. The new network’s programming philosophy synced with the country’s growing diversity. Smith explains: “Food Network only has 24 hours in a day and their programming targets a more general audience.” Cooking Channel can be much more targeted. “We’re able to take a deeper dive into cuisines, ingredients and cooking methods.”
Food is inherently diverse and Cooking Channel represents a full range of cuisines and cultures. Viewers also want to see themselves represented on television. Frequently the chef and the cuisine share a cultural heritage. Easy Chinese: San Francisco is hosted by Ching-He Huang while Luke Nguyen shares his cultural heritage on Luke’s Vietnam. G. Garvin introduces viewers to Southern cuisine on Road Trip. But that isn’t always the case. Cooking Channel also features the series Man, Fire, Food, with Caribbean-Canadian host, Roger Mooking, exploring the range of ways different cultures cook with fire. Also Mo Rocco learns about diverse cuisines and rich cultural histories in My Grandmother’s Ravioli.
The multi-cultural programming on Cooking Channel reflects American’s growing adventure with food. As the diverse population expands, sales of ethnic foods in the US are projected to continue to grow with the largest increase in Mexican food followed by Asian and Indian.
And the media is playing a part. As many as 26% of ethnic food lovers say they were introduced to cuisine by TV programs newspaper or magazines. (Source: Mintel; Ethnic Foods-US Report)
At Cooking Channel there is also an effort to bring diverse producers into the mix. Two popular series, Unique Eats and Unique Sweets are both produced by IW Productions owned by Irene Wong. Road Trip with G. Garvin is produced by African-American producer Rochelle Brown.
“We are always looking for great new production companies,” says Smith. He particularly recognized the efforts of the Walter Kaitz Foundation and their continuing work to develop and promote producers, directors and writers of color.
While Smith says diverse producers add a unique perspective, he believes diversity is shared by everyone. This is why the Hollywood Creative Forum has become such an important venue for companies like Scripps to mine for talent. Scripps further recognized this value when they become a founding sponsor of the event which is now in its fifth year.
“Diversity is a mindset,” says Smith. “It’s based on curiosity and interest. How you think, act and what you say. You can’t assume the color of someone’s skin makes them more interested in diversity.”