Halloween is sweet-tooth season, and Marc Summers, longtime host of the Food Network’s Unwrapped, knows sugary stuff inside out. For ten years, he’s taken viewers to the source of some of America’s best-loved foods—including plenty of candy and snack factories—on “the show for everyone who’s ever worn a pair of wax lips,” as the Food Network puts it. Summers has been a fixture on-screen since the 1980s, hosting Nickelodeon’s popular children’s game show Double Dare (remember obstacle courses and slime?) and a variety of other programs on ABC, Lifetime, and the History Channel. He now divides his time between leading insider tours on Unwrapped and serving as executive producer of the Food Network’s Dinner: Impossible and Restaurant: Impossible, devising ever zanier culinary challenges and restaurant rescues for dauntless chef Robert Irvine.
Gourmet Live: As host of the Food Network’s Unwrapped, you’ve had access to countless test kitchens and factories across the United States. Is there a food or product featured on Unwrapped that surprised you the most once you got inside the factory?
Marc Summers: There’s no one product that stands out as to how it’s made. However, the thing that amazes me the most is the machinery—which is, in my opinion, why half the people watch the program. In some factories, these machines are so old and have been running for so long, nobody remembers how they were created and how to improve upon them. The other problem is trying to find parts.
GL: Based on what you know now, if you could have only one candy for the rest of your life, what would it be?
MS: It’s a toss-up between the old-school Mars bar, which doesn’t taste the same anymore, or a Hershey’s with Almonds.
GL: What would be your dream episode of Unwrapped? Which foods would you feature, and why?
MS: My dream episode would include potato chips, pizza, any kind of chocolate, and a Petite Syrah from any vineyard in northern California—all examples of my favorite foods.
GL: What has been your favorite candy to see being made behind the scenes? And your least favorite?
MS: No doubt: Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy. It was my favorite candy as a kid, and was off the market for many years. It has recently been brought back to the American public, and in fact, I was the keynote speaker at the Sweets & Snacks Expo about a year ago when it was brought out. It tastes the same, looks the same, and brings back tremendous childhood memories. I don’t have a least favorite. They’re like my children—I love them all equally.
GL: Going back to the days of Nickelodeon and Double Dare, can you divulge what that signature slime was made of? Was it edible?
MS: Absolutely! The base was vanilla pudding, applesauce, oatmeal, green food coloring, and by the third day, anything else that was on the obstacle course. Was it edible? For the first hour or so.
GL: Are there any foods you won’t eat?
MS: I used to hate Brussels sprouts, until Michael Symon deep-fried them for me and they were fantastic. However, I am not a fan of organ meats, eyeballs, snouts, tails, or tongues.
GL: You recently expanded your production duties at the Food Network with the launch this year of Restaurant: Impossible. How does this sort of show compare with Unwrapped?
MS: They differ greatly. Unwrapped is pop culture and Restaurant: Impossible is reality. I feel that the audience for Unwrapped is 6 to 96, simply because we cover today’s items, things in the future, and nostalgia foods. Everybody can relate to something. Reality audiences generally skew younger, but for Restaurant: Impossible, it seems the show’s reach goes a bit younger and a bit older, both male and female, than many similar programs in this genre.
GL: What prompted you to get into producing food shows, given all your expertise as a host?
MS: The mortgage payment, college tuition, car payments, and the fact that I like to take a vacation every now and then. But seriously, it was a natural progression. I feel that because of all the years I’ve spent on camera, I’m a better producer because I’ve experienced what the host needs to know and go through, and I feel I am able to share my knowledge and experience to make the program the best that it can be.
GL: What’s been the biggest surprise of your TV career?
MS: The biggest surprise is that I’ve been on for 25 years consecutively, and that I’m still working.
GL: Finally, as a food TV pro, what does Halloween mean to you, on-screen and off?
MS: We always do Halloween specials for Unwrapped featuring trick-or-treat favorites. And what does Halloween mean to me? Great memories of being a kid in Indiana, and hoping nobody gives me candy corn.