Monday, March 13, 2006

More Reality

Katie Lee Joel and the cast of Top Chef

And just when I promised myself I'd never get sucked back into the sometimes murky waters of "reality TV" (okay, okay...and HBO series like the Sopranos that also keep me glued to a cable TV channel for sixty valuable minutes when I could be using that time for writing -- and yes, I DID watch the season opener last night. BANG!) the Bravo Network has now debuted the first of its 10 episodes of the one-hour reality competition Top Chef, which offers a window into the competitive, pressure-filled environment of world-class cookery and the restaurant business.

Hosted by Katie Lee Joel, food columnist for Hamptons Magazine and wife of Piano Man, Billy Joel, the series features 12 aspiring chefs (of varied culinary backgrounds) who head to San Francisco for their shot at culinary stardom and the chance to earn the prestigious title of Top Chef.

"Bravo provides a definitive voice and perspective to creative disciplines, and Top Chef delivers a delicious look at the fiercely competitive world of the culinary arts," the network's president Lauren Zalaznick said recently. "We will be introducing some unique and extreme personalities that will not only reveal their dedication and high standards to make it to the top of this intense discipline -- but also will create some truly intense, nail-biting drama."

And each new episode of Top Chef holds two challenges for the chefs: a) The first is a quickfire test of their basic abilities and, b) the second is an elimination challenge designed to test their versatility and invention as they take on culinary trials such as working with unusual and exotic foods or catering for a range of demanding clients. The food will be tasted and evaluated by the host and judges, but will also be served to customers, whether it be patrons at a five-star restaurant or a room full of hungry kids.

On the judges' panel for last week's episode was Hubert Keller, owner and executive chef of the Fleur De Lys Restaurant in San Francisco, and noted author of The Cuisine Of Hubert Keller. What was also quite interesting for me, was to see how one of the contestants stuck his finger in a sauce preparation for a taste-test while showing his abilities at working on the "line," then protested the fact that Chef Keller very politely asked him to leave the line. Hey, come on now... as Chef Keller told you, in his kitchen (and many others -- including mine!) that's just plain old nasty, dude. It's also what they make spoon utensils for. And, it's regardless of whether or not Chef Keller would have actually been prepared to dump the entire pot of already-made sauce after your wee little digit was dunked in there -- the point you proceeded to repeatedly *question* him on, afterward.

In any event, the "winning" chef left standing after all others have been sent packing (chef knives in tow)in this 10-week odyssey will receive $100,000 in seed money to help encourage their culinary career, be featured in Food & Wine magazine, appear at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen in June 2006, and earn the title of Top Chef.

And simply judging from the first episode, and sans all the maniacal rantings and rave-a-thons(for added effect, no doubt) in a similar series competition about a year or so ago called "Hell's Kitchen," I think Top Chef will be giving us a slightly more realistic look into the inner workings of restaurant kitchens, making the competitiveness among these contestants far more...intriguing.

So check your local listings – and do check this one out whenever you can.

Good Monday, all. Peace.

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