Give Them Props: Secrets of a Food Network Set Designer
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.