Top Chef judges 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As an armchair enthusiast, I love to watch competitions on TV. Be it The Amazing
Race, American Idol, The X Factor, America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway,
Design Star, The Arrangement, Celebrity Apprentice or The Weakest Link, I love
to see how people use their skills and their wits to strategize and be the last
one standing. It’s also interesting to see how the competitors fall short and to
hear from the judges where and why they went wrong.
It’s all food for
thought – especially the shows that are cooking competitions. After I had
enjoyably digested two seasons of the Israeli Master Chef on Channel 2, I was
delighted to see that the American show Top Chef has returned to Channel 3 (HOT
3) for its fifth season. Now in its fourth week, the competition is heating up
as the relatively young professional chefs vie with each other in the Quickfire
Challenge and the Elimination Challenge to make it through to another week. By
the end of the season, the chef that has ultimately avoided elimination wins
$100,000 to further his or her culinary career, gets a feature article in Food
and Wine magazine and, of course, earns the coveted title of Top
One of the chefs that has been eliminated was a young woman who
used an ostrich egg in her dish to wow the judges. She had never cooked one of
those huge eggs before and had no idea what its consistency was like. She used
it to make a quiche with some garnish. Besides the fact that the judges
thought that her quiche tasted like glue, her real undoing was the fact that she
had used such an exotic ingredient in such a mundane manner. “If you’re going to
use an ostrich egg,” said head judge chef Tom Colicchio, “then use it in an
interesting and original way” – and she was gently told by the lovely Padma
Lakshmi to “Please pack your knives and go.”
What is especially
challenging is that they are always cooking under an imposed time limit. So no
matter how creative or tasty their dish might be, if it’s not ready and
artistically plated by the time Lakshmi calls “Time’s up! Utensils down!”.
they’re basically minced meat. Talk about pressure cooking.
culinary show that gets the adrenalin going is 24 Hour Restaurant Battle
Good Life Channel (HOT 41). Here, two pairs of amateur cooks compete with each
other for the prize of $10,000 to jump-start their dream of opening their own
restaurant. Within 24 hours, each pair has to furnish and design an empty
room as their restaurant (the fully equipped kitchen is already there), come up
with a name, create a full menu and cook for the 75-100 people who come there to
eat. They are given $4,000 to spend on ingredients and decor. They are
also given cooking assistants and servers, and the clientele is supplied for
them as well. Among the patrons is a team of four judges, headed by New York
chef and restaurant owner Scott Conant. The drama here is to see how the two
teams stand up the challenge of designing, cooking, serving and hosting – all
within 24 hours. Based on the style and cuisine of their restaurant, it is
fascinating to see what dishes they create for their menu and how well they can
keep up the pace. At the end of the evening, after all the diners have left,
Conant declares the winner.
One of the dishes I especially liked in this
series was the meat loaf cupcake (before you start gagging, let me finish). As a
main dish, one team made mini meat loaves in muffin tins and topped each one
with a little mound of mashed potatoes. Not only was it a very clever concept,
but according to the judges the dish was delicious.
And speaking of
cupcakes, another cooking competition I like to sink my teeth into is Cupcake
on the Food Channel (HOT 32) and sometimes on the Good Life Channel. Here,
pitted against each other are pairs of professionals who own bakeries or cupcake
shops in the US. Three judges give them all kinds of bizarre baking challenges
to accomplish in a very short space of time, and it is simply amazing to see how
varied and innovative a little cupcake can be. But the real icing on the cake is
the final round, where the last two challengers battle it out by creating a
thematic display they have to build to accommodate the 1,000 cupcakes they have
to bake – all within a relatively short time. The winning team receives the
grand prize of $10,000.
For people who like to cook or, better yet, for
people who like to watch other people cook, these shows nourish the imagination
and stir up a lot of excitement.