If you think I'm about to blog about cooking shows being lame or turning the channel when they're on, you'd be wrong! Those of you who know me know there are some key shows I do get into big time and those same people know I don't even cook!
Vegetarian for 20 years but hardly into (vegetarian) cooking, I admit to eating a lot of processed food (Amy's Organic lines etc) or things like cheese and pretzels (I said I'm vegetarian, not vegan before any of you try to correct me!) Yet I find there are a few shows which absolutely hold my attention and make me keep coming back (or record for future viewing with the thanks to technology). But note, I'm not talking about Emeril Lagosi shows, I'm not into the "...and here's one I prepared earlier..." type shows - but ones with narration, suspense and excellent photography so you really get a sense of the food.
Here are my top shows (in order of preference):
1. Top Chef - this is my favorite. Hands down. I'm fascinated by these experts and their skills, their personalities and the challenges the contestants (professional chefs in their own lives) do. It is not an overly dramatic show (in terms of drama within the personalities) but rather focuses on them as chefs and how they perform. a Bravo show (Watch What Happens!) the chefs, I believe it starts with 16 a season, always have 2 distinct tasks in each episode. One is a Quickfire challenge, often with either immunity from elimination or a leg up on the next challenge as the reward for winning. I get a kick out of these, these seem really hard. It's like going for a job interview and the interviewer says, "Sell me this pen" except he hands you a ruler instead. It's that kind of difficulty! And sometimes the product placement is so blatant that you have to kind of say "Bravo!" (no pun intended) because why hide it, instead show 2 dozen shots of Diet Dr Pepper when you're doing the Quickfire challenge regarding Superbowl. Immediately after that, it's time for the elimination challenge and these are hard core.
They have their normal panel of judges (oh Tom Cilicchio - hubba hubba hubba), Padma (she's hot too, I can admit that and also the ex-wife of Salmon Rushdie) and the new British guy Toby Young. They usually have a guest judge who is a big name in culinary circles and has a new book to advertise! Thanks to iTunes, I've been able to keep up to date with this show, and the finale is coming up. Oh and by the way, I wouldn't eat most of the things they cook, but I LOVE hearing about them, watching the ingredients and dishes I've never heard of (ceviche is made all the time, note to self: wikipedia that again, I can't seem to remember!) and the plating is art itself. I give two thumbs and eight fingers up (meaning I'm ALLLLLL for this show!)
Iron Chef (the original, NOT the American one) - This one is just fascination combined with comedy. Watching a chef (contestant) go up against one of the fierce and mighty Iron Chefs (pronounced Ironnnn Chef-Ahh) who does Chinese, French or Japanese cuisine PLUS a main ingredient - all to cook several courses in one hour is a trip! What's the comedy you ask? So hard to explain it but if you've ever seen Godzilla and how it's dubbed in English...well that's how it is. It is a genuine Japanese cooking contest show but we hear it 100% dubbed in English. And the actors obviously emulate the passion and inferences the original participants had. Their host is such a Queen! With big hair and such theatrics (and not a little make up), he's also hilarious. By the way, the main ingredient, the "mystery" ingredient is never anything I've ever eaten or seen. They eat all sorts of things over there - I am impressed by it but most of the dishes look gross to me, but the entire experience is good fun.
MasterChef - this is a new find. It's been on here on BBC since 1990 but I never watched it in my first life in England, who could stand Lloyd Grossman, after all. But I've gotten into it this time 'round, thanks largely to the BBC iPlayer - so I can download them and watch them all at once. It's kind of like Top Chef but only amateur cooks, who've NEVER cooked for a wage or in a kitchen and are hoping to make career changes and cook for a living. It's just 1/2 hour and easy to watch. They whittle down the contestants from 6 down to 1 (from 6 to 3 then to 1) each show. They have an "invention" test which is where they have to create a dish in 50 minutes from ingredients randomly chosen - this gets contestants from 6 to 3. Then they have the "pressure" test which is working in a restaurant for a shift (and often really high end, posh places in London). This, as far as I can see, doesn't seem to really have an effect on the final judging but it's fun to see how they each cope with the fast pace, high standards and surprisingly restrained (and sober) chefs (you know they're soooooo much harder on their regular staff). The next day these same 3 get an hour and 10 minutes (I think) to cook a 2 course meal of their own design. The judges aren't that interesting, though they're very positive and honest with the dishes. I always fast forward through their deliberations (yawn). So this is Mon-Thurs, bringing about 1 person each show who gets through to the next round. The next round (which also is on Thursday) is kind of like the entire thing all over again but they have to do two consecutive shifts (an 18 hour day) in 2 restaurants. These 4 get narrowed down to 3 by (I think) a lame test of their palettes or somehow having to "sell" their passion and skills verbally to the judges. These are not all A-type personalities, they come from all walks of life, I feel for them being so close to the cook-off but getting eliminated after this weird process. Finally, they do a 3 course meal. And this brings about 1 winner who then goes on to the semi-final. Lather, rinse and repeat. I haven't finished the current season, I believe we're about to see the semis. But I download them and Thursday night watch them all in a row on my laptop (which is why Thursdays have now been dubbed "Masterchef Thurdays").
Hell's Kitchen - okay, I'm not a serious fan of this show (I wouldn't pay for it and download it) but it has been entertainment for sure when I've watched it. The chefs cook the same thing every night in Hell's Kitchen (pea risotto doens't come across well on camera, I must say) but of course Gordon Ramsay makes the show watchable (in the UK it's called "The F Word" because that's every other word out of his mouth), in the States, the same show has a LOT of bleeping!
I wanted to have a top 5 list, but I'm done, can't get past 4. I don't like Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (same story, different restaurant every single show) nor any other show that comes to mind. But I'm open so if, after reading what I like about these, you have any to suggest - please do let me know!