Each week, we take a quick, cautious look at what's going on with food TV. This week, Master Chef, a one-hour show chronicling one home cook's descent into delusion and madness (Tali), Mondays at 9 p.m. on Fox.
When I review food TV shows I usually watch them once, because of Mystery Diners, Trisha Country Kitchen, Sweet Genius, and Have Cake, Will Travel.
But I have been watching the ever-loving shit out of Master Chef. And after watching the judges taste an endless number of dishes during the vicious and cruel judging segments, I've come to understand one thing above all else: Professional chefs really know how to use a knife and fork. Watching Lord Gordon Ramsay, Chef Graham Elliot, and Restauranteur Joe Bastianich use their utensils is the best part of the show -- BAR NONE.
Ramsey's utensil-work is fidgety, fussy, twitchy. He grabs the utensils nosily. His hands are jittery, fluttery, wriggly -- unquiet? troubled? uneasy? -- as he shuffles around someone's soul plated in sauce, skittering around the dish for anything halfway edible, especially if Tali made the food.
But, my God, I have never seen a table knife brought onto the battlefield with such dexterity as Ramsey's table knife. Sugarbear, he calls it. Sugarbear ferrets out raisins and catapults them off-plate, it corrals and averts and buffers and attacks. The fork often sits motionless, ashamed, as Sugarbear neatly hauls food upon it. Last up is often a lick of sauce, which Lord Ramsay lays smartly on the assembled troops awaiting transport to the mouth.
Transport to the mouth is smooth and untroubled, always.
The utensils are then forgotten, flung onto the table with hardly a glance. They are useless now.
Chef Graham Elliot
When it comes to eating food with utensils, Graham Elliot is slow, deliberate, and precise, like a doctor going in with a scalpel and fork. Watching Chef cut into a piece of fish is like watching the royal slicer bisect the Queen's strawberry -- the weight of the realm is on that cut.
Then, hunched over, Chef will plate his fork. Chef plates his fork. It's honor to watch chef plate his fork, except if he is eating food made by Tali.
Finally, in a sort of one-two movement, Chef will lean over, cock his elbow out, and with his wrist firm and the fork in his paw (there is really no other way to describe his hand at this moment, for he is a big man), he will pilot the food into his mouth with the steadiness of a captain bringing his zeppelin into a hangar.
With all this action taking place face-front, you might not have noticed Chef's other hand. Chef's other hand is not screwing around, it is not taking the off-time to fuck off near his pocket, it is not leaning on his stomach and chatting with his bellybutton. Chef eats with his whole body. Chef's other hand is underneath, in a cupping formation -- for every bite, a cupping formation -- preventing any food from falling from his fork to the ground and ruining the sonata.
As if food would ever fall from Chef's fork!
Restauranteur Joe Bastianich
I have never seen someone hold a fork of food at face-level as long as Restauranteur. He inspects it like a jeweler, turning the morsel around and around, looking for imperfections, especially if Tali made it.
Every bite is a conversation, but it is the conversation of the dragon to the innkeeper he is going to eat. "Do you respect yourself enough to taste good?" he seems to be asking his bite of tortellini. "Or are you wasting my time?" If Tali made the food, the food is wasting his time.
Restauranteur is very precise, and thin, almost skeletal.
When it is time to eat, he extends his neck, pulls back his lips, exposes his teeth up to the second molars, and closes his teeth sharply on the fork -- ting! He then scrapes his teeth down the tines, sparks flying, splinters of tooth enamel shooting off and embedding themselves into Tali's face. It is a violent, disapproving, alien way to eat.
Understand that Restauranteur often holds the fork upside down, with the tips of the fork pointing down instead of up -- a rakish, devil-may-care act that makes him look sort of assholish.
Everything Restauranteur does is a reaction to Lord Ramsay.
If Restauranteur knows in advance that he will dislike the food tremendously -- Tali -- he will approach like he's checking for cockroaches in a sock drawer, shuffling through the food but keeping his distance. Then he'll quickly slide a fork through some sauce, fling it near his mouth, walk Tali's dish over to a trashcan, and throw it inside.
None of these professional chefs, after cutting a piece of food, set the knife down, transfer the fork to the knife hand, stab the food, eat the food, transfer the fork to the other hand, and pick up the knife, like I do.
I eat like a barbarian.
Michael Leaverton has watched and made fun of a whole host of food TV shows. We used to list them all right here, but that list grew too goddamn long. Click here to check 'em out.