The Next Food Network Star, headed by that network’s grill guru, Bobby Flay, has been moving along since June and is now down to six contenders. FOX’s MasterChef, headed by Scottish food genius Gordon Ramsay is down to nine contenders. This past week, another Ramsay vehicle, Hell’s Kitchen, premiered on FOX.
I scratch my head and ponder this plethora of food reality shows bombarding us from our television screens this summer so much as to overwhelm even my reality-show-loving, cooking-show-aficionado self.
Well, except for Hell’s Kitchen, and let’s start here. Interestingly, this rather vapid and very predictable cooking show has been around the longest of the three and here, in its ninth season, a semi-regular viewer can close their eyes and predict the drama, order, and outcome of each episode.
Ramsay will begin with a simple cooking challenge, which he will referee. The winning team then embarks on some sort of joyous trip with Ramsay where everyone is friendly, including the volatile Ramsay. The losing team is assigned some demeaning task for having lost.
Later that night, the two teams will go at it again, this time in cooking and preparing a service for Hell’s Kitchen, a restaurant in New York somewhere. This is when the cussing begins and the F-word is thrown around so much that almost the entire service is bleeped out. I’m not at all sure why all the cussing and what it brings to the contest, but it gets old.
It’s not even like the food prepared is unique, original, mouth-watering or somehow appealing. We always have a risotto and a Beef Wellington. The home viewer is not really privy to how the dishes are made, or even enough of a peek to rev up our appetites. The people, you understand, must cuss and scream at each other and from that we must learn how to cook.
The reward for winning Hell’s Kitchen is a position as head chef at some Ramsay restaurant somewhere in America. This year the contender who survives all the screaming and cussing will be head chef at Manhattan restaurant BLT Steak.
The Next Food Network Star, on the other hand, gives its winner their own show on the vaunted Food Network. This show is now in its seventh season and has been quite successful. By its nature, Food Network features cooking shows geared to the home cook, who will tune in to learn how to prepare a great meatloaf taught by a cook with the on-screen talent to make even the most amateur amongst us get it right. Thus The Next Food Network Star has its emphasis on the camera talent of the contenders, as well as their cooking skills.
The series is down to six remaining contenders and it has been interesting to watch. Recently, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck was featured as a judge and contenders prepared appetizers, side dishes, main courses, and desserts to gain Puck’s approval. One contender apparently gained Puck’s disapproval, preparing a risotto that caused the famous chef to get up from his dining chair and go back to the kitchen to teach her how to properly prepare a risotto.
As an aside, I have no idea what a risotto is, how to prepare such a thing, or even what’s in this dish. Further, if I told my family we were having risotto tonight they’d no doubt squint eyes and regard me shrewdly and with suspicion. Risotto is, however, as I glean, a very important dish in the world of chefs, enough to cause Wolfgang Puck to leave his seat that those who cook it so wrong get it right.
Another contender submitted another chef staple which seems to be featured often on food reality TV, specifically, a gazpacho, in this case in the form of a salad rather than the usual cold soup.The gazpacho was praised as the best dish prepared for that challenge. By me, the degraded risotto looks pretty much like the gazpacho salad, but there you have it.
I’ll let you figure out which is which.
And for those dying to make their own risotto, Wolfgang Puck shows how it’s done:
In an earlier review of The Next Food Network Star, I predicted that tattooed contender Vic seemed to be coming up from behind. Before that I mused that the all-American Mary Beth seemed the best choice. For now I’m sticking with Vic if he can get his camera skills under control.
Finally, MasterChef, now in its second season and with Ramsay at the helm, is an interesting entry to the cooking contest shows. This show differs from The Next Food Network Star in that the contenders are more of the home grown variety and are competing for a $250,000 prize.
This season I’ve seen some of the most home grown “chefs” that would never get a spot on Food Network. One contender on MasterChef, indeed, has two piercings on his mouth and frankly I find it a complete turnoff. Another contender, now long gone, actually was proud to admit he often prepared cooked possum.
Which is not to say the contenders on MasterChef are mediocre cooks. Just recently, in a cooking challenge to beat them all, the top ten had to prepare a complete meal for the three judges’ mothers. They scored quite well too, and in another challenge, the contenders had to prepare a meal using $300/lb black truffles. The dishes with truffles were very exotic and most were found by Ramsay et al to be done to perfection.
I’m still rooting for Alejandra because she followed me on Twitter - hello, Alejandra! I’d softly suggest that Jennifer might be nipping at your heels.
The Next Food Network Star airs on the Food Network, Sundays at 9:00 p.m. MasterChef airs on Monday and/or Tuesdays on FOX at 9:00 p.m. Hell’s Kitchen airs on FOX, Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m.