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Monday, August 20, 2007

SFoodie: Top Chef, Hell's Kitchen, No Reservations Analyzed

Posted By on Mon, Aug 20, 2007 at 6:43 AM


ASD's has a bit of a man-crush on the chef from No Reservations. So we're stoked to hear it rises to the level of a mention in ASD Food Editor Meredith Brody's extended piece on her addiction to food shows. Check it out. -d2

Food TV

By Meredith Brody

Even though I’ve been watching it for some time now, I still haven’t quite got the hang of this TV thing.

TiVo has only made things worse by making many, many hours of the stuff available to me (crying out to me, in actuality: Watch Me! Watch Me!) with a click of the accursed TiVo magic wand. I try valiantly to avoid the siren call of the Food Network and its too many chefs, allowing only the seductive

Nigella Lawson, with her paltry one-half-hour a week, to be anointed with the Season Pass. Other food shows sneak on, such as the enjoyable Anthony Bourdain, whose No Reservations is destination viewing; his considerably-less-attractive clone, Andrew Zimmern, whose unattractively-titled show, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, stretches to fulfill its mission (could a global chef and critic really never have tasted huitlacoche before?)

I watch the History Channel’s lively pop-culture clip show American Eats, now in perpetual re-runs. I watch the Fine Living Channel’s Opening Soon, despite its mostly-Canadian content, oy!. They did do episodes on SF’s Town Hall and Salt House, perhaps because one of the co-owners is Canadian, and Michael Mina, whose Canadian connection escapes both me and Google, at least for the moment. Oh, let’s face it – I watch LOTS of food TV.

But, since I haven’t quite got the hang of this TV-watching thing in general, just when I thought my overheated TiVo would be slowing down a bit, at the end of the regular network television season, I found myself forced to watch several more food television shows. Again. These were the competitive, “reality tv” shows:

the third season of Top Chef, the third season of The Next Food Network Star, and the third season of Hell’s Kitchen, starring the telegenically irascible Gordon Ramsay, whose numberless other TV shows originating across the pond (Boiling Point, Beyond Boiling Point, the British Hell’s Kitchen, Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, The F-Word – “f” is for food, not the frequently-seen-though-bleeped expletive Ramsay punctuates seemingly his every breath with) can be seen here on BBC America. (I’ve watched each and every one of those, too, but that’s a subject for another post).

Each of these shows offers a Golden Ticket to stardom (make that “stardom”) and riches. Top Chef, whose contestants seem to be the most professional, capable, and talented, and whose judges the most starry, is the piker when it comes to the award: a feature in Food & Wine magazine, a showcase at the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colorado, a gourmet dream vacation in the French Alps, $100,000, and the title of Top Chef. $100,000 doesn’t go very far towards opening up a place, especially in New York, home to the winners of the first two seasons.

Season 1 winner, Harold Dieterle, just opened his restaurant Perilla in New York City, to mixed reviews. Season 2 winner, Ilan Hall, seems barely to have caught his breath since he won. Season 3 is still going on. The most recent episode, Restaurant Wars, in which two teams of four chefs each ran their own place for a dinner service, resulted in a rare do-over, so there are still eight chefs in competition.

The Next Food Network Star has actually made a genuine Food Network Star of its second-season winner, Northern California restaurateur Guy Fieri. His initial six-episode show, Guy’s Big Bite, was renewed for a second season, and he currently has a second show on the network, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dive. The first-season winners, Chicago-area caterers Dan Smith and Steve McDonough, a couple in real life, also have their own show on the network, now called Party Line with the Hearty Boys.

Hell’s Kitchen’s in its first season promised help in opening a restaurant of their own to the contestants; in a somewhat equivocal move, Ramsay asked winner Michael Wray to work for him in one of his own restaurants. Recently on a Season 3 episode, Wray was introduced with the information that he was about to open his own place in Los Angeles. After the success of the initial show, Las Vegas has provided the prize, the executive-chef title at a casino/resort restaurant, with the resulting incessant advertising and branding of its name every few minutes on the show.

Season 2 winner Heather West was named Senior Chef (not, in point of fact, Executive Chef) of Terra Rossa at the Red Rock Resort Casino and Spa in Las Vegas. Season 3 winner, Rock Harper, has been promised an executive chef position with a salary of $250,000 for a restaurant in the Green Valley Ranch resort and spa in Henderson, Nevada, near Las Vegas.

I feel helplessly ensnared in the web of these three patently unreal reality shows – all of whom are currently casting for their fourth seasons, oy vey. More anon.

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David Downs


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