The story of how professional chef and TV host Danny Boome made it onto the small screen is the kind that seems to only exist in screenplays. A chance discovery by an agent while the naturally ebullient Boome was on the job as a private chef led to a contract for his first Food Network Canada show a mere three weeks later. And from that first show, TV is where Boome knew he wanted to stay.
During the past decade, Boome’s work in food television has taken him across three continents as host, correspondent and food fixer for the culinarily challenged on shows such as Food Network’s Rescue Chef, ABC’s The Chew and Recipe Rehab. Although he transferred his culinary skills to television, Boome lives by the idea that he’s “never not a chef.” In each of his on-screen roles, Boome has used his professional training to “interpret” and transform recipes and techniques for the “everychef.” This time around, however, what Boome discovered while producing his current show, Good Food America on Z Living, is how it would transform him.
Boome spoke with Mediabistro about the state of food programming, what he’s learned doing food TV and why his new show makes him so passionate.
Name: Danny Boome
Position: Host of Good Food America on Z Living
Resume: Worked as a chef in the UK for restaurant Asia de Cuba. Became resident chef for the Sultan of Oman and McLaren Formula 1. Food journalist and television host for the past 12 years on shows including Rescue Chef (Food Network) and Donut Showdown (Cooking Channel). Correspondent and co-host of ABC’s The Chew, and then host of the network’s Recipe Rehab. Currently host of Z Living’s Good Food America.
Birthday: February 14
Hometown: Peterborough in Cambridgeshire, England
Education: “I’m self-taught in everything I’ve ever done in my life. I tried college, but I’m just not academic enough, and that’s basically why I became a chef.”
Marital status: Married with one child
Media mentors: Chefs Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich; blogger/podcaster Steve Dangle
Best career advice received: From Bob Monkhouse, “Television is 98 percent you and 2 percent performance.” And, from Richard Branson, “Take the chance. Say you can do it and learn while you’re doing it, because then you’ll become a richer person and also more of an expert than the actual person telling you or thinking they can do it.”
Guilty pleasure: Toronto Maple Leafs NHL hockey
Last book read: Islands in the Stream, by Ernest Hemingway
Twitter handle: @DannyBoome
How did you go from chef to TV host?
I think my personality was a bit too big for the kitchen. Though food is a great vehicle, working in a kitchen actually bored me. And when you’re dealing with high-end restaurants, it’s very repetitive. I wanted to be more creative, and so I got out of the kitchen and went to work as a private chef. During that time, I met a lady at a party that we hosted and she said, ‘You know, you’re a character. Have you ever thought about being on television?’ [I’d] been concentrating so much on learning my craft that I never thought of stepping outside of that. This woman was an agent and she said to me, ‘You’ve really got something different, and I think I could introduce you to the TV world.” And then, believe it or not, three weeks later I signed a contract for a Food Network show.
What was your first show like?
My first show was with Food Network Canada and a network over in the UK called Good Food. I got the opportunity to travel through Canada and meet purveyors and cook dishes — I mean, literally, I went out one day and caught scallops in the Atlantic, brought them back and cooked them on the boat, and that was my life mission after that. I want to travel, I want to eat, I want to tell people great stories and I want to teach them about where their food comes from.
On Rescue Chef, you helped people prepare meals in their own kitchen. What were the production challenges related to that?
We had to adopt a philosophy from day one about what America wanted from the show. If you can’t boil water or you want to recreate a recipe or you have a problem making roast beef, it’s an easy fix, but what is my message through that? What did America perceive as easy and healthy or what did America perceive as a challenge? It was my job to decode that and then basically reinterpret the recipe and build the confidence up within the room about that issue.
I hope one day [my crew] can do something like that again because we met some amazing people. And when you go into someone’s home and you go into their kitchen, it’s sometimes more daunting for me than them, but it was a lot of fun.
What did you learn when you started on TV and what has changed since?
We’re sometimes too [focused on the] ‘lights and camera and action’ and pizzazz, but we forget the fabric of why we’re there, and I think one thing I’ve learned is to dial it back a little bit and let people have their voice. I’m just a vehicle for them to tell their story or their recipe.
When I started I didn’t really have the maturity. There’s no training for it. No one teaches you how to read the teleprompt, no one teaches you how to throw to the camera, no one teaches you how to manipulate the camera and also take a beat for the editor. There [are] technical production angles that take time. I didn’t realize what vehicle I was driving, and now over those 10 years, my knowledge base has grown. My maturity has grown. I think probably the last five years have been the best years of my television career. When I came to America, I was polished and Food Network really groomed me well. I more or less became a journalist working for ABC on The Chew, but then [for] Recipe Rehab, I became a game-show host. I basically went to the university of food media in the last eight years being in the States. And it’s made me a way better host, a way better speaker, a more informative chef, a more passionate person about the food.
Having worked in America and Canada and the UK, how do you change your approach or choices depending on what country you’re in?
The strange thing is, you don’t. The story’s the same; the scenery’s different. I think sometimes the language you have to use — you have to be a bit more cautious. There’s an identity with food that people have [in different countries]. In Europe or the UK, it’s more comfort food. In Canada and America, it’s more about the progression of food. And that’s why Good Food America was so important, because it actually plots the progression of where we’re going with food culture in America right now. And that’s where as a television host or a chef you want to be — you want to be in the most progressive frontier you can to challenge yourself.
It seems food TV is a huge part of that progression of food culture, and it continues to expand. Do you think we’ll reach an oversaturation point?
I think the honest question is what we’re actually gaining. The sad thing is that in many ways food TV is becoming oversaturated, but it’s a particular genre of programming. I call Good Food America the healthy Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, because that’s exactly what we are. It’s not about how much you can eat and what T-shirt you’re going to win for eating a 10-pound pizza. It’s the same format, but we’re actually highlighting quality over quantity, and I think that’s a beautiful thing. I think sometimes the networks get a little bit nervous and they try and pander to a demographic. Z Living has got one food show that is driving the education message across but with entertainment, and I think that’s what we miss. I think we miss good, entertaining educational programming, and that’s my personal passion to create.
It seems every generation has a formative food movement. The Joy of Cooking reintroduced the idea of people cooking for themselves. Mastering the Art of French Cooking opened up the repertoire of home chefs. Do we have a defining moment now?
There [have] been lots of food fads around, but [what] we are all becoming aware of is the truth behind the food. And you just can’t hide from it. The last six to eight years has been this awakening of what the dirty secrets are in food and that we don’t eat well. We have an obesity problem. We have a heart disease problem in America. People are turning to changing their diet to change their lifestyle.
Today there [are] more people pushing, more chefs pushing, more restaurants pushing, more people at home pushing for truth behind their food and that’s what we want. The food deserts are still there and the problem about how to make good food accessible to high-poverty areas. But in the general sense, I think we’re getting back to basics with our food. We’re actually understanding how to balance, how to prepare, how to shop, how to eat and where to eat, and that’s what we want to highlight on Z Living.
What advice would you give to people looking to break into food TV or food journalism?
I think we are all food journalists now. We’re all food blogging and Instagraming and Facebooking pictures. Social media is integrated in our life so much now that I don’t think people realize they’re already doing it. The one [piece of advice] I would give anybody who’s a food blogger or wants to become a food journalist is don’t take yourself so seriously because people see through that, and keep the quality of your content high. Really, really work on your videos, work on your images, and work on the story because the story is everything. That’s the journey you’re taking people on. You’re the driver and you want to take them along a well-crafted story; don’t cheat.
Corinne Grinapol is an editorial intern at Mediabistro. Follow her at @corinneavital.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.