The Power List: No. 8 Brooke Johnson

The Power List: No. 8 Brooke Johnson

Part of the annual NRN 50 special report, The Power List profiles the 50 most powerful people who are leading and shaping change in the restaurant industry, as chosen by Nation’s Restaurant News.

More than 500,000 people ages 25 to 54 are watching television’s Food Network at any given minute, making it one of the top 20 ad-supported cable networks in the country.

It’s available in nearly 100 million American homes, getting its audience excited about food with competition shows like “Chopped” and the new “Cutthroat Kitchen.” It’s taking the fear out of cooking with programs such as “30 Minute Meals” and “Ten Dollar Dinners.” It’s enchanting potential restaurant customers with episodes of “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives” and “Restaurant: Impossible.” It counts among its stars food populist Rachael Ray, food geek Alton Brown and food glamorizer Giada De Laurentiis.

Heading the network since May 2003 is Brooke Johnson. Under her command, the Food Network has spawned a sister product, the Cooking Channel. It has magnified the celebrity of already well-known chefs, popularized cooking competitions and provided an outlet to an American population hungry for more knowledge about food.

Johnson and the Food Network put cooking and restaurants at the front of the national consciousness with personalities like Rachael Ray, left, and Guy Fieri, right.
Johnson and the Food Network put cooking and restaurants at the front of the national consciousness with personalities like Rachael Ray, left, and Guy Fieri, right.

On Ray’s “30 Minute Meals,” viewers can learn to cook coconut-ginger rice with chickpeas and chiles, curry-topped black cod with cumin-scented slaw, wasabi broiled black cod, and soba salad. On the “Barefoot Contessa,” Ina Garten shows home cooks how to make dishes ranging from Szechuan noodles with chicken and broccoli to lobster corn chowder.

No wonder consumers are more willing than ever to try dishes such as TGI Fridays Thai Pork Tacos and First Watch’s Quinoa Power Bowl with lemon chicken and basil pesto sauce.

A journalist at heart, Johnson, who has a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, has had a long and productive career in broadcasting.

After working in several positions at ABC’s Chicago affiliate, WLS-TV, she relocated to become program director for New York affiliate WABC-TV. In that capacity she launched, first locally and then nationally, “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee.”

In 1989, she was named senior vice president for programming for what at the time was a little-known specialty cable channel focusing on arts and entertainment. She ended up tripling A&E’s ratings and making it one of the top 10 networks in terms of both ratings and brand awareness. She went on to launch the History Channel, the Biography Channel and 16 overseas channels before joining the Food Network.

The network’s programming has continued to evolve alongside consumer tastes. Cooking education shows were kicked up a notch with strong personalities like Emeril “Bam!” Lagasse. Lagasse gave way to chefs such as Bobby Flay, who appeared on popular cooking shows  “Iron Chef” and “Throwdown with Bobby Flay.” And Guy Fieri brings national attention to out-of-the-way restaurants in “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.”

Food shows have proliferated on other networks,  and Johnson’s flagship channel has seen its ratings drop recently with last year’s departure amid scandal of Paula Deen, but the Food Network continues to inform its audience about all of the possibilities in food, which in turn influences their expectations in restaurants.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] [5].
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary [6]