WND – Confession & Celebration

May 7, 2009


I have a confession. I watch Top Chef. More than that, I enjoy Top Chef.

Let me explain. I really don’t get the appeal of reality TV. Half the time it’s so contrived it might as well be scripted, and the other half of the time people are competing for what seem like wildly pointless reasons. I’m also choosing the blame it for the fact that shows I love like Kings and Jericho fail dismally. This is not particularly fair, because while I suspect there is an argument that can be made for networks favoring reality TV over well written scripted TV because of the price difference in producing them, I don’t think you can actually blame American Idol for Kings’ dismal ratings.

However, many moons ago Project Runway started airing on Wednesday and we were left with a dilemma. We could either watch Project Runway after Dinner, or we could lose everyone directly after Dinner so they’d be home in time to watch Project Runway. We opted to watch it at our house, because communal TV watching is always entertaining even when you aren’t invested in the show. That was three seasons of Project Runway ago. This then segued into Top Chef, which also airs on Wednesday nights and we watch for much the same reason.

While I enjoy Project Runway for its sheer insanity – make a dress out of recycled materials! Make a pant suit out of flowers! I enjoy Top Chef because I (a) like most cooking shows, and (b) like to try and figure out what I’d make for the challenges. It’s not that I would be able to make it through even half a challenge – I’m not that good a cook, and more importantly I’m not that kind of cook. I like fussy food that looks beautiful on the plate. It’s why I go to restaurants. I don’t make it at home, nor am I likely to start, however, imaging dishes for Top Chef challenges is like a stretching exercise for my brain and I enjoy that.

That being said, Top Chef, like Project Runway, is full of highly contrived situations. A real chef is probably never going to be required to make an appetizer using oatmeal as the theme ingredient, or make a meal whose theme is blue. It makes for entertaining TV, but not for a lot of realism. This is why I was amused by a recent column in the New York Times suggesting a contest show that had more to do with the daily reality of the people watching it: Top Chef: Home Cooks!

The show would include challenges like snacks for your 15-year-old and the five friends he unexpectedly brought home after basketball practice, and box lunches for the family (self, spouse, teenager, ‘tween and toddler). Or, a dinner party for 10, one of whom is vegetarian and one of whom doesn’t eat carbs, or cooking boneless, skinless chicken breasts in five different ways.
(full article: On This Cooking Challenge, Reality Bites)
This is a show I’d watch. This, frankly, is a show I’d be good at, particularly the one about boneless skinless chicken breasts. Also, I’d love to see a cooking show that required chefs to find a way to feed people who had allergies. It’s like the entire food tv world exists in a place where everyone can eat everything, which is in fairly shrill contrast to the world that I live in where more and more people are allergic to something. I’d also love to see chefs have to deal with people who aren’t food critics. I want them to have to cook for people who have food preferences, or just plain don’t like certain ingredients – like mushrooms, or cooked onions, or lamb. I want a show where the contestants have to do what everyone who’s a home cook does on a weekly basis.

To be fair, the Food Network has tried to do this. Not as a contest show, but they have taken a variety of runs at series that showcase economical meals, or how to use leftovers in creative ways. They’ve never really been successful shows. I suspect this is partly because the hosts are always the kind of perky omni-competent people who have a full time job, run the PTA, attend every soccer match, make homemade brownies for the bake sale of the week and still make dinner every night, and those people are just exhausting to watch and make you feel depressed about how little you accomplish during your day. I also suspect they don’t succeed because the Food Network is really about that fine line between fantasy food you’d never make in a million years, and something you’d be willing to try at home. You don’t want to watch someone make chicken tacos that look like the chicken tacos you already make. You want to watch Giada de Laurentis make “Italian” chicken tacos with the glossy food porn shot of oozing cheese at the end of the episode.

I think this is why a contest/challenge show would actually work. It’d be a step above what you might normally make at home, but not so far out of range that you couldn’t see yourself spicing up your menu with some of the dishes. Also, the personality conflicts and the challenges would add the drama that week night meals tend to lack. The article says that there is a show like this in production, but I’m not holding my breath that their version of home cooking/week night meals will look anything like what I associate with getting home at 7pm and having dinner on the table before 8pm meals looking like.

Chicken Fingers
Corn Pudding
Green Beans


Tonight we celebrate, for tomorrow we dine in Hell! Or, perhaps not. At any rate, we celebrated two members of Dinner getting into grad school with champagne.

Chicken Fingers
Some people celebrate with caviar, I celebrate with chicken fingers.

Recipe previously given: Corn Pudding & Other Gateway Drugs


Corn Pudding
I doesn’t matter how many times I make corn pudding, every time I do I’m treated like a conquering hero.

Recipe previously given: Corn Pudding & Other Gateway Drugs



One comment

  1. […] a whole series of pet peeves about cooking shows. I’ve talked before about how they exist in this vacuum where nobody has food dislikes or food allergies, more than once in fact. These are two not new exactly, but recently reinforced pet peeves courtesy […]

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