Watch what you eat
Three chow-themed reality contests return this week.
We can’t stand the heat, but this summer there’s no way we can get out of the kitchen, at least not with The Next Food Network Star, Hell’s Kitchen and Top Chef all coming back. Each show heads into its third season; each has vulnerable, eager-to-please underlings going head-to-head with aggro alpha-cooks; each has a scary master chef doling out painful criticism. How’re you going to keep your taste buds in top form? With our easy-to-follow recipe.
Step 1 Burden yourself with an appetite for agony On the season premiere of Hell’s Kitchen, a 48-year-old male contestant begins weeping uncontrollably, and the camera lingers on his pudgy face for a moment too long before cutting to his fellow chefs’ stunned and ashamed reactions. It’s excruciating.
Step 2 Develop a taste for bitchiness Though Food Network Star’s previous seasons have mostly been love-ins among the contestants, the season premiere is chockablock with catty in-fighting, reminiscent of nothing so much as last season’s Top Chef.
Chef’s note A little bitchy goes a long wayIt’ll be a disaster if Food Network Star were to continue on that trajectory. Food Network Star casts mostly likable, memorable contestants, whose character counts as part of the competition-—the station has a legitimate stake in making sure America loves whomever wins. Hearty Boys? Guy Fieri? Aww, we love them.
Step 3 Simmer for months Weekly elimination shows don’t get good until the season’s almost done—who got booted first on this season of Survivor? Project Runway? American Idol? These things take time to get interesting, and the first three or four episodes are always spent weeding out people who had no chance of winning.
Step 4 Sprinkle with something aged and familiarTop Chef has cast some truly loathsome bastards in the past, and this week’s “all star” special (Bravo’s words, not ours) brings back finalists from the previous two seasons for a charity cook-off: season one’s Harold, Stephen, Tiffani and Dave, and season two’s Ilan, Sam, Elia and Marcel. They’re cooking for the new cast(including Chicagos own Dale Levitski), which is similarly outfitted with outrageous personalities and brewing rivalries.
Step 5 Dust heavily with spiceTop Chef host Padma Lakshmi is a tarted-up zombie, and the challenges have apparently nothing to do with creating a menu or owning a restaurant—if the show didn’t turn its contestants into caricatures, heroes and villains, there wouldn’t be a show.
Step 6 Add a nut Gordon Ramsay’s stunning verbal abuse is Hell’s Kitchen’s only draw. People are cast for the show based on their ability to react to his constant outrage, but Fox would probably get the same big ratings if Ramsay were standing alone on a soundstage ranting. Does anyone remember a single contestant from the previous two seasons of this show? Even while watching an episode, it’s hard to remember who’s who—they’re just knife-wielding straw men in whose ridicule we revel.
Step 7 Or a handful of nuts, if you’re feeling adventurous Top Chef enlisted Bravo relic Ted Allen as a judge for this Miami-set season, and Tom Colicchio (intense) and Gail Simmons (really intense) return to trade hypercritical slams. Food Network Star starts the season off with Bobby Flay and Dinner: Impossible chef Robert Irvine laying the smack down on the wanna-bes, though the infinitely wise and stable Susie Fogelson and Bob Tuschman also reprise their roles as not just judges, but also Food Network executives. Expect appearances from lots of other Food Network hosts in the coming weeks.
Step 8 Slather in cheese and start scarfing We’re partial to the earnestness of Food Network Star, others like the glitz of Top Chef, and some prefer the sadism of Hell’s Kitchen, but one thing’s for certain among all these camps: These aren’t nutritious shows. The only way to enjoy them is to embrace their inherent junkiness and dig in.
New seasons of The Next Food Network Star, Hell’s Kitchen and Top Chef begin Sunday 3 at 8pm on the Food Network, Monday 4 at 8pm on Fox and Wednesday 6 at 9pm on Bravo, respectively.