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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Top Chef Top This

Posted By on Tue, Apr 1, 2008 at 1:44 PM

I was glad to see the end of Project Runway's rather dull season so that finally Top Chef could fire up again. This Bravo hit that pits chef-against-chef-against-clock has been pretty tasty. One thing I've learned: Kitchen wizards have proven to be a lot more temperamental than even fashion designers or wannabe models.

But three episodes into Top Chef: Chicago -- where hoagies nestle up against haute cuisine -- and I'm a little worried that the cooking contest may have fallen victim to the same affliction as Runway: success.

With success comes increased credibility, and that opens the door for professionals to compete. I'm all for promoting hard-won skills, but both shows were more entertaining when there was a wide range of contestants, many of them self-taught, deluded, panicked or otherwise prone to making horrible mistakes on air for our amusement. 

Where are the cafeteria ladies, the home cooks, the goobers from flyover states, the nutty chefs with fringe culinary politics? History has shown that some of these unlikely sorts actually do quite well -- and those that don't -- well, that's the fun part. Fox's Hell's Kitchen is the phoniest of these shows (and back soon!), but, rigged or not, that show saw a short-order cook from Waffle House make the finals.

Top Chef: Chicago is made up of currently employed chefs from high-end joints in a couple big cities. Presumably, their worst failures are behind them. Thus, the dishes proffered have seemed competent and yummy (if over-designed), but where is the horror?! Last week, a chef got reamed out for bland pasta salad -- even the judges struggled to make that a compelling crime. 

At best, I'm holding out for personal drama. The her-her team of lesbian chefs from Frisco might end in heartbreak and U-hauls. Or, perhaps a battle royale between faux-hawks will break out. If nothing else, there's calculated craziness from the manic Andrew.

On a side note, lemme just add that aspiring and hapless cooks are what keeps the sizzle in the relatively slow-motion Last Restaurant Standing still squeaking along over on BBC America. Highlights from last week's show include prison chef Martin asking if asparagus wasn't "a bit gay"; also, Martin cooking 50 steaks with one standard size frying pan; at a banquet for Asians, the requested halal lamb was served "English-style" (i.e. dripping with blood!); and a gourmet veggie entrée that amounted to beans and carrots imprisoned in a greasy bit of paper.

I say Top Chef needs more bumbling cooks for me to identify with. What do other food-and-drama folks playing along with the TV reckon?

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