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Food Network's Brooke Johnson Shares Secrets, Plan

BRONXVILLE, N.Y. – Weaving humor and facts, former Bronxville resident Brooke Johnson spilled secrets about the Food Network – its shows, celebrity chefs and plans –  to about 125 attendees at a Concordia College business program Wednesday night.

As president of the cooking and dining channel for the past eight years, she had many insider anecdotes to share with the audience.

“I know zero about food, but I know good television,” Johnson said as her opening statement, eliciting laughter. She said it would be a big mistake to ask her to recommend a restaurant or order for a group just because of her affiliation with the Food Network.

“Food makes you feel good all the time,” Johnson said, explaining the popularity of her channel that she said now ranks in the top 10 among cable channels. “At the bottom of it, we do get people to cook.”

Johnson lived on Summit Avenue in Bronxville for 10 years, sending her two children to local schools and taking piano lessons at Concordia College.  Her ties to the college lead to an invitation to speak at the last of the school’s six series business breakfasts that was held at night to accommodate her schedule, according to Ellen de Saint Phalle, director of community relations at Concordia.

Sponsored by BNY Mellon Wealth Management, the community outreach program features leaders in business, government, media and the sciences who discuss current trends and policies, de Saint Phalle said.

Johnson shared that like many others she initially thought that a channel focused on food was a terrible idea, but quickly changed her mind upon witnessing the passion people had for Food Network.  Viewer loyalty to a celebrity chef carries over to other shows on the channel, she said, that provides a range of programs for adults and families.

Business decisions Johnson said she pushed for at the network included giving Rachel Ray a daytime show with “$40 a Day,” introducing the English-version of “Iron Chef” and the addition of the currently popular show “Chopped.”  She revealed that the top tier chefs on “Iron Chef America” do get a few clues to their ingredients before they have to cook, but said the rising stars on “Chopped” create their dishes within 30-minutes from just-revealed components.

The downside of working for a food channel, Johnson said, is being tempted by delicious dishes all day, with viewers sending her their favorite dishes.

Dealing with agents who represent celebrity chefs, negotiating with cable companies and planning future growth in a digital world are all part of the negatives of her job, Johnson said.

“Chefs are just great people and super fun to be around, but when they become stars, they need more nurturing,” she added, prompting chuckles from the audience. “Working with the talent is a mixed blessing.”

Attendees learned that the channel’s international presence was limited by language barriers and recipe measurements. She said branded products, such as Food Network kitchenware, Entwine line of wines and an expanded digital presence, are all growth areas for the company.

“She was so insightful and we got the behind the scenes scoop,” said Marguerite Frederick of Mt. Vernon, who attended with her sister, Katherine Frederick. “We came because we love the Food Network and many of its shows, and it’s a fun experience.”

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