Give Them Props: Secrets of a Food Network Set Designer

Food Network's resident set designer has a collection of kitchen gadgets you won't believe...
Food Network Prop Manager Wendy Waxman

Food Network Prop Manager Wendy Waxman

Photo by: Mark Peterson ©Mark Peterson no use of pictures without permission from photographer or agent

Mark Peterson, Mark Peterson no use of pictures without permission from photographer or agent

About 20,000 people walk through New York City's Chelsea Market every day, and while some of them know that Food Network's studios are a few floors above, few of them know what lies beneath. In the basement of the sprawling old Nabisco factory–turned–food market is a treasure trove of Food Network artifacts. Two decades' worth of props are stacked floor to ceiling: cutting boards, cocktail shakers, pepper mills, coffee cups and thousands of other gadgets and tchotchkes that have had their 15 minutes of fame on one show or another. Walking the aisles, you might happen upon a giant salt shaker that once starred on Emeril Live, Mario Batali's favorite copper pots or a tangle of antlers that displayed meat for Iron Chef America's "Battle: Elk."

The place is like a museum of food TV, except that no one, aside from a few Food Network staff members, ever walks through it. And the props are still up for grabs; any of them can be called into action for a new show. The collection would be completely overwhelming if it didn't come with a resident historian, Wendy Waxman, an obsessive collector and Food Network's design director since the network launched in 1993. If you're curious about the former life of a clock or a set of tea cups, she can tell you every last detail about anything on any shelf. In fact, if you didn't know Waxman's job title, you'd think she was a fanatical Food Network viewer: She often says things like "Guy isn't afraid of pink" or "Anne loves antique seafood forks." It's her business to know Guy Fieri's feelings about pink and Anne Burrell's love of vintage Americana because it's up to her to make each set look and function like a real kitchen, and to make the stars feel at home.

In the kitchens you see on Food Network shows, nothing is random. A trivet on Sunny Anderson's Cooking for Real set, for example, comes from Germany, where Sunny spent some of her childhood. And if there isn't a real story behind a prop, Waxman makes one up: The pottery that sits on Ten Dollar Dinners host Melissa d'Arabian's top shelf is meant to be a wedding present from Melissa's French mother-in-law. (It wasn't, actually, but the French mother-in-law is legit.) "I internalize the chefs," Waxman says. "I get in their heads." And this basement serves as her private department store, where she can stash all of her great eBay finds—without ever throwing anything away. Click the photos tab for an insider tour.

Secrets of a Food Network Set Designer

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Food Network Prop Manager Wendy Waxman

Wendy Waxman, Food Network's design director, has been propping shows since 1993.

Photo By: Mark Peterson ©Mark Peterson

Food Network Prop Manager Wendy Waxman

Food Network has a huge collection of canisters: They're the simplest way to give a kitchen a new look.

Photo By: Mark Peterson ©Mark Peterson

Food Network Prop Manager Wendy Waxman

These orange canisters, from 30 Minute Meals, are some of design director Wendy Waxman's favorites. "Saturated colors hold up well under the lights," she says.

Photo By: Mark Peterson ©Mark Peterson

Food Network Prop Manager Wendy Waxman

"Alton Brown loves lab glass," Wendy says. "Good Eats is so scientific." This collection of beakers has also shown up on countless Halloween shows, including an episode of Emeril Live. Emeril Lagasse liked to do a mad-scientist shtick for the holiday.

Photo By: Mark Peterson ©Mark Peterson

Food Network Prop Manager Wendy Waxman

This appeared on Too Hot Tamales.

Photo By: Mark Peterson ©Mark Peterson

Food Network Prop Manager Wendy Waxman

These phones don't work, but Wendy loves their cheerful, retro look. She has used them to brighten up a side table on the 30 Minute Meals set.

Photo By: Mark Peterson ©Mark Peterson

Food Network Prop Manager Wendy Waxman

These are props for an Iron Chef shoot.

Photo By: Mark Peterson ©Mark Peterson

Food Network Prop Manager Wendy Waxman

"Chefs love copper," Wendy says. "It goes with any kitchen style. It's such a classic."

Photo By: Mark Peterson ©Mark Peterson

Food Network Prop Manager Wendy Waxman

These appeared on Tyler's Ultimate. Kitchens on Mario Batali's Molto Mario and Michael Symon's Cook Like an Iron Chef also featured many of these copper pots.

Photo By: Mark Peterson ©Mark Peterson

Food Network Prop Manager Wendy Waxman

Food Network goes through a lot of drinking glasses: "No matter how hard you try, they break!" Wendy says. Some of the biggest demands come from Guy's Big Bite — he uses a lot of barware.

Photo By: Mark Peterson ©Mark Peterson

Food Network Prop Manager Wendy Waxman

What's a tuba doing here? The set of Emeril Live featured a wall of musical instruments, including this one. The books are for filling shelves — you can see some in the office off Anne Burrell's kitchen.

Photo By: Mark Peterson ©Mark Peterson

Anne Burrell's Secrets of a Restaurant Chef set is decorated just the way she likes it: with pastel colors and plenty of vintage pieces.

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Antique chocolate molds hang on one of Anne's walls. She loves vintage American cooking gear.

Photo By: Marko Metzinger/Studio D ©Hearst Communications Inc., 2011

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Wendy chose this colorful vase for Anne's set because the quirky design reminded her of Anne's clothing style.

Photo By: Marko Metzinger/Studio D ©Hearst Communications Inc., 2011

Melissa d'Arabian's Ten Dollar Dinners set is meant to look kid-friendly and big enough to accommodate her family of six.

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The wooden frames of these botanical prints echo the color of the hardwood floor.

Photo By: Marko Metzinger/Studio D ©Hearst Communications Inc., 2011

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Wendy imagines this 1950s French pottery could have been a wedding present from Melissa's mother-in-law.

Photo By: Marko Metzinger/Studio D ©Hearst Communications Inc., 2011

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This ceramic chicken plays up Melissa's family-friendly sensibility. Wendy thinks Melissa's daughters would find it funny.

Photo By: Marko Metzinger/Studio D ©Hearst Communications Inc., 2011

Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals set was upgraded five years ago and features plenty of Rachael's favorite color, orange.

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Rachael's clock is always set to 1:50. "It's a TV thing," Wendy says. "For some reason, 10 of 2 looks best."

Photo By: Marko Metzinger/Studio D ©Hearst Communications Inc., 2011

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This vase adds pop and color to the top of Rachael's cabinets. "It's spunky, young and bright, like her," Wendy says.

Photo By: Marko Metzinger/Studio D ©Hearst Communications Inc., 2011

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