My Thoughts On The New Age Of Chef Reality TV Shows

August 6, 2010

My first recollection of watching my first television show that involved chefs was the original Iron Chef on PBS. I loved the frenetic pace the show had. The subtitles and English voice overs were hysterical and the judges panel were always full of characters including the Chairman Takeshi Kaga. I found that there was an innocence to the way they approached the show and the chefs. I would say I watched almost all 300 episodes that aired from 1993 till 1999. America took over and everything changed.

I have on occasion watched the U.S. version of Iron Chef but at the time I still enjoyed the original version because the new one seemed more macho and well, American which, in my opinion, tarnished what the original producers tried to create. I do admit that it is growing on me. I also enjoyed for a number of seasons Top Chef on Bravo. I thought it was a great concept that gave executive chefs as well as line cooks the chance to showcase their talents and gave people who never stepped foot in a kitchen a small glimpse into the lives of folks like me who have been doing it for years. I loved what they did with the food and how they would have to come up with enticing dishes in less than thirty minutes. After about three seasons, I grew tired of the direction the producers were going with the show. It took on more of a sensational tone making the chefs do humiliating jobs like cooking for two hundred people on their knees only using hibatchi grills and making dishes out of repugnant ingredients. I also found that the judges became more mean-spirited and I found Tom Colicchio to be an over bearing douchebag. The judges would actually drink glass after glass of wine and then tear into the contestants like they’ve never ran a kitchen before. Padma would actually be slurring her words on network television. My love affair with Top Chef quickly faded away.

I never got into the more abrasive reality shows like Hell’s Kitchen. I watched one episode and as soon as Gordon Ramsey threw a half cooked steak at one of the contestants hitting him square in the chest, I switched the channel. This is not a fair or even remotely accurate example of how our industry behaves. Everyone has their moments but what he does to his staff borderline on assault. Ironic though is his show Kitchen Nightmares, he takes on a mentoring role with flair of course but he sincerely tries to save failing restaurants. Again, producers of reality shows I think have no souls. The humiliation is free, cheap and plentiful. There is never a short supply of people who would not hesitate for a second to stand in front of some self-absorbed megalomanic and have spittle flying all over them. I’m the exception to the rule. My wife always tries to get me to audition for Top Chef when they have open casting in San Francisco and frankly, I’d rather eat glass…with truffle oil of course.

I think the point I’m trying to convey is STOP! Stop making mind numbing chef reality television series! No more Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen’s, Rocco whatever his last name was, Master Chef, Chef Masters, it’s getting ridiculous. It is time to jump the proverbial shark. The homogenization of my beloved industry has reduced is to basically swatches, Iphones or those fuzzy boots women unfortunately brought back from the 70’s but the networks have done a great disservice to the folks who man those stoves everyday. Man vs. Food? The guy ate eleven cheese steaks! Andrew Zimmern? Who travels to Africa on a quest to eat the testicles of water buffalo? He’s recognized by the James Beard association. For what? A GL tract that even scientists can’t figure out what’s growing down there? We have been so desensitized to this stuff that they aren’t even chefs anymore. It’s acrobatic tv and even Anthony Bourdain has gotten stale. They guy smokes three packs of cigarettes a day. How can he taste anything? I stopped watching anything remotely to this genre except for an occasional America’s Test Kitchen or BBC’s hysterical Chef!

I love my industry. The aches, the pains, the gratification of finalizing a menu and the executing of it, all of this industry I embrace and have enjoyed for over thirty years. I just had to learn to turn the channel once in a while.

One Response to “My Thoughts On The New Age Of Chef Reality TV Shows”

  1. Scott said

    A-freaking-men Kevin. Amen. I can’t stand the humiliation aspect of any of the reality shows. It’s just a sad commentary on the state of TV in this country. Out of all of those shows, the only one I can stomach is Anthony Bourdain but that’s only because it’s a travel show about food… and then only in small quantities. Who the hell wants to watch some bald fat guy eat camel brain in a Moroccan market? I’ve got a scab I’d rather peel off instead.

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