Last week, I was watching an episode of Beat Bobby Flay on the Food Network. Flay lost to the challenger, which got me thinking, “Is it really that difficult to beat Bobby Flay?”
Food Network and the chef himself continue to pass along the idea that Flay is some deity within the chef world, and he might be, but that doesn’t mean he’s great at competition shows. Just like how Gordon Ramsay isn’t a restaurant soothsayer, Flay, much to his dismay, isn’t flawless on his competition shows. But is Flay even good enough that he deserves the pedestal Food Network has given him?
Before I dive into this non-scientific study, I should explain my limitations, which include the lack of a database for Flay’s record on Beat Bobby Flay. That said, Wikipedia, the world’s most trustworthy source™, has data for both Throwdown! with Bobby Flay and Iron Chef America. For that reason, along with the fact that Flay’s record on Beat Bobby Flay is subject to change, this article will focus solely on Flay’s results with the two aforementioned cooking shows whose first runs have ended.
Throwdown! with Bobby Flay
Throwdown! is Flay’s equivalent of road games for multiple reasons. First, he must cook a challenger’s big specialty (clam chowder, jambalaya, fried chicken, etc.). While the challenger tapes a mock Food Network show, Flay (along with sous chefs Stephanie Banyas and Miriam Garron) practices making the dish in the FN test kitchen. At the end of the episode, the final battle occurs with Flay invading a party-like event for the challenger and then beginning the throwdown. Then, two judges (usually local food critics or VIPs) rate the dishes in a blind taste test before coming to a verdict.
So Flay not only had to cook someone else’s dish, he had to do it on their turf and have it judged by inherently biased subjects. That setup stacks the deck well against Bobby Flay.
Throwdown! originally ran on the Food Network from 2006-2010, with a total of 92 episodes airing across eight seasons. Seasons ranged from 12 to 15 episodes, with Flay never winning more than five times in a single season. Clearly, the road disadvantage had an effect on Flay, with his final record being 32-68-1.
Counting a tie as both half a win and half a loss, Flay’s win percentage on Throwdown! is .322. That would be the equivalent of 2.6 NFL road wins, 13.2 NBA road wins, and 26.1 MLB toad wins. This isn’t exactly 1899 Cleveland Spiders, 2012 Charlotte Bobcats, or 2008 Detroit Lions territory, but it is far from good, or even average. That said, teams tend to struggle more on the road than at home, and Iron Chef America was Flay’s first home field.
Iron Chef America
The Food Network’s adaptation of a popular Japanese cooking competition show started out with great ratings and an impressive set of Iron Chefs. As ratings began to slide, some competition changes were implemented, including a 20-minute first course time limit and a culinary curveball. These changes didn’t have an effect on ratings, as the show has since gone on an indefinite hiatus without any comment from the Food Network or the chefs themselves, aside from Michael Symon in passing on The Chew a couple months back.
ICA is Flay’s equivalent of home games, as he knows the stadium and the competition format better than any of his challengers. Not to mention, he doesn’t have to cook anyone else’s specialty, while the challenger and Iron Chef must both deal with the same surprise secret ingredient. Home field is clearly important in Iron Chef, as every single pro on ICA has at least a .500 record, with Iron Chef Symon’s .821 percentage best in show.
Though his percentage is not as high, Flay does hold the record for most wins and most battles, with 43 and 61, respectively. Overall, his 43-16-2 record equates to a .721 winning percentage. That’s 5.8 NFL home wins, 29.6 NBA home wins, and 58.4 MLB home wins, respectable totals for a home schedule. It might even make up for his embarrassing percentage on Throwdown!.
Conclusion: Is Bobby Flay really that good?
At this point, you’re probably wondering why I made the sports comparisons. It’s a simple way to quantify and compare Flay’s success.
Adding up his win totals, Flay earns 8.4 NFL wins, 42.8 NBA wins, and 84.5 MLB wins over the course of a season. Compared to last season’s standings, Flay would have missed the MLB and NFL playoffs, but would have been the sixth-best team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Flay likely doesn’t make it out of the first round because of his good (not great) home record and his awful (not just bad) road record. Maybe that’s why Throwdown! came to an end and Beat Bobby Flay replaced it.
On Beat Bobby Flay, there is also a significant home field advantage. First, two challengers must compete against each other while working with a secret ingredient of Flay’s choosing. Then two judges choose a winner, who goes against Flay in the final round. The challenger chooses the dish that both chefs must cook. At the end of the round, the dishes are taste-tested blindly by three different judges. A winner is chosen, and from the episodes I’ve seen, it seems like Bobby Flay isn’t beaten nearly as often as in Throwdown!. It seems like the home locale and the extra cooking for competitors makes a difference, though I could not find any statistics to back this up.
Overall, Bobby Flay is better, but not significantly, than his competitors. On Iron Chef America, he showed that he could defeat competitors pretty well over 61 battles, though 101 throwdowns also showed the difference home turf has made for the Food Network star. And as much as the Food Network wants viewers to believe he dominates in this format, he really doesn’t. He gets a nice home boost, but on a playing field that sways against him, he folds like an apple turnover.
If Flay was truly a force to be reckoned with, he’d have a better record to back up his talk, regardless of situation and circumstance. The mysterious bicycle guy should have just kept on peddling.