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Archive for Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Food industry reaching out to men

Male interest in cooking changes approach in print, television formats

March 21, 2007

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A meat, potatoes and pasta upbringing in a family that gave little thought to food made Jason Weber an unlikely foodie candidate.

Yet when he went to college, he found himself glued to the Food Network, drawn in by Iron Chef's kitchen battles and eagerly trying his hand at the bold Creole creations of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.

He's hardly unique. Unlike so many of their fathers and grandfathers, men such as Weber are embracing not just an affection for food, but a gusto for making it and a willingness to spend big chunks of disposable income on the toys to do so.

"When I think about my friends, there is huge cross-section of us who are interested in the culinary arts and food," Weber, 31, a technology salesman, said recently as he headed to a Philadelphia gastropub to satisfy a craving for a gourmet cheeseburger and double-dipped Belgian fries.

Gone are the days when "man food" meant beer, grilling and Hungry-Man frozen dinners.

That's partly because young men are an attractive demographic, and the food world - from media to the makers of appliances big and small - has worked hard to make time in the kitchen appeal to them. It seems to be working.

Though the Food Network was launched mostly for women, network executives say men quickly tuned in and now account for half of all viewers. And at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., men represent half of students in the school's amateur classes.

It's a case of pop culture - and especially television - making cooking cool, even manly, said celebrity chef Rachael Ray.

"They just sort of sexed it up," she said. "You see a lot more men on TV with food, with good food."

Of course, professional kitchens always have been male-dominated. And nationally only 20 percent of chefs are women, according to the National Restaurant Association. But this trend is fueled by guys like Weber, men who cook for fun.

Ad campaigns aimed at this group once featured heat-and-eat packaged meals, but today they showcase pricey espresso machines, NASCAR-themed cookbooks and industrial-style kitchen goods.

Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine, said men are particularly drawn to big projects.

"Men are very surprising in the kitchen," she said. "The real cooks, the passionate cooks, the ones who are going to do that pig roast, going to go find the pig and the box to cook it in and dig the pit, are usually men."

It's not just the food world that's pandering to this interest in edibles.

Ten years ago at Men's Health magazine - a publication known for workout routines, sex advice and cover shots of buff guys - recipes were among the least-read stories, and sometimes were left out entirely.

"Now recipes are the most-read stories in our magazine," said David Zinczenko, the magazine's editor-in-chief, noting that space given to food and nutrition has expanded from a tenth of the magazine to more than a quarter.

In fact, the magazine's March issue will include profiles of celebrity chefs Mario Batali, Alton Brown, Bobby Flay and Tyler Florence.

"They are seeing it as an energy source and a seduction agent," Zinczenko said of men's interest in cooking. "Simple meals that you can cook for her is something they want, because women constantly rank cooking as one of the things that women look for in a man."

Even the testosterone-fueled pages of Playboy are in on the trend. The latest issue includes spreads on drink recipes. And Maxim magazine, known for photos of scantily clad women and racy advice columns, is launching a line of salsa and barbecue sauces.

Jack Bishop, editorial director of America's Test Kitchen, publisher of Cook's Illustrated magazine, said audiences at his book signings are usually half men. "It used to surprise me in the early years, though it doesn't surprise me anymore," he said.

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