By Bobby Flay//May 12, 2023
By: Bobby Flay//May 12, 2023
The time has come. Cats and their parents deserve equal representation to their canine counterparts when it comes to variety in their food offerings. For as long as I can remember, cats have been given the unfair moniker of ‘finicky.” In fact, I believe the word was invented to describe cats exclusively. But only a true cat parent can understand the mysteries of the domestic cat.
The bottom line is that too many cat food companies have looked at feeding cats as a headache as opposed to looking deep into their true souls to see what they really want and what they really need. The aspirin to that headache has mostly been formulas and recipes that cats will eat whether it’s healthy or not. If they eat it…mission accomplished. Not quite.
As someone who has helped people all over America and beyond get dinner on their tables every night for the last three decades, I think about food as a life enhancement, not a chore. I think about it as a large part of our happiness and that includes my cats at home.
Let’s face it, feeding time is undeniably one of our cats’ most special moments of the day. Shake that bag of kibble or rip the pouch open of their favorite treat and they know what that sound means; They will be sitting down to their next meal imminently. You see it in their eyes. It’s a moment of their daily ecstasy. Instead of feeding them just “something I know they’ll eat” why not be as thoughtful about your feline’s diet as your own? If you have a cat at home, there is no question that you love that creature as much as you can love anything. Are you sure you’re thrilled with what you’re putting in their bowl each day?
I was met with this exact dilemma just a handful of years ago when my giant orange Maine Coon, Nacho, was fielding offers for endorsements and licensing deals from large pet food companies after his Instagram following topped 200,000 followers. These companies have sharp marketers and research departments and there are many reasons why they are successful. The cat food business certainly hadn’t met its potential so perhaps this seemed like a valuable and quick way in — sign up an Instagram-famous feline who lives with his famous chef dad and voila, we’re in the cat food business in a whole different way.
I was, of course, flattered by the offers and attention that Nacho was receiving but it didn’t feel right. Who would be making the decisions about quality, nutrition and how my handsome kitty would be marketed? Definitely not me.
It was a hard pass, but a gracious one and it did get me thinking. I spend so much of my life feeding people every day, but these cats that live every day next to me are eating whatever I believe is that month’s best attempt at decent cat food. It was time to take on this very important project the way I do everything I endeavor in my career: start it from scratch. Nacho was my inspiration and always will be.
Enter Made by Nacho. To be clear, Nacho is not my only cat. He has a younger sister (not a blood relative) named Stella who is also a Maine Coon. While Nacho tips the scales at 21 pounds and is an orange tabby, Stella is a brown tabby at around 15 pounds. As you can imagine, these cats consume some serious amounts of food.
I set out to create the best possible cat food company with cats in mind first and foremost. The dog food industry has hooked onto the “human-grade” trend to let you know that even you, a parent of a dog, can sit down and enjoy the same meal you’re feeding your dog if you so wish. It’s a very successful way to market dog food and it makes sense for dogs. Their diets are far more varied than the cat diet.
Cats have a narrow range of ingredients that entice them, hence the “finicky” label. To me, that doesn’t make it difficult to feed cats; we just need to be more focused on the two most important categories when it comes to feeding cats: proteins and hydration. These two factors are the pillars of the foundation of Made by Nacho.
I won’t be giving away all of my secret recipe ideas in this column, but I want to share a few important thoughts. Although cats and dogs are often compared — they are our most popular pets by far — their eating habits and dietary needs are very far apart. Cats are carnivores by nature, so they want and need meat. You won’t be seeing a hip and cool vegetarian recipe replete with kale and chickpeas in a Made by Nacho bag anytime soon.
Instead, we lean into carefully sourced proteins like cage free chicken and sustainably caught seafood. I think of creating a cat’s diet like going to a fantastic chop house. Take a look at the menu and decide what you’re in the mood for that night. Poultry, like chicken, duck or quail? Fish, like salmon or cod? These are your cat’s main courses. When I meet a cat parent, I often quiz them about how their cats eat and what they like and dislike. I usually get a response like “he only eats fish” or “chicken is his favorite.” They’re just like people; as long as you have a variety on your menu, everyone should be happy. Cats don’t generally like sweets, but at Made by Nacho we offer single-ingredient treats that have become runaway successes. Freeze dried Ahi Tuna and the duck liver are Nacho’s personal favorites. When he’s hiding somewhere in my house that only a cat could hide, I can always rely on his instinct that if it’s treat time, I’ll find him standing at my feet instantaneously.
Made by Nacho’s signature bone broth is a key component to our recipes. Every cat needs significant hydration on a daily basis. This is not a trend that has a shelf life of relevancy… it’s one the basic requirements for good health and happiness. We surround the meats and other proteins with bone broth, which I borrowed from the human food trend. It has its own protein and some serious palatability. It draws your cat in and he stays for the rest of dinner.
When it comes to trends, cats are not looking for the hottest new restaurant dishes in their cans and pouches or even the newest techniques and technology in cooking. I believe the feline population is more attracted to well-crafted comfort food that contains the ingredients they want and need but is carefully and thoughtfully created by someone who knows his way around a kitchen and, even just as important, has a deep love and appreciation for not only his own fluffy family but cats everywhere. I’m here to be every cat parent’s guide when it’s feeding time.
So, the next time you’re walking down the pet food aisle or surfing online to buy some cat food on your favorite site, ask yourself this… Who’s cooking for your cat?
Bobby Flay is an award-winning chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and media personality. The cat dad to two Maine Coons, Nacho and Stella, he launched Made by Nacho in 2021.