Friday, April 21, 2006


Existential Friday: "Pack your knives ... and go."

It's no Project Runway, but I've been enjoying its late-season replacement, Top Chef, enough that I have a regular date to watch the broadcast on Wednesday nights.

Top Chef takes the Runway concept and applies it to cooking. The contestants, whittled down from an original 12 chefs, are given creative cooking challenges with sharp budgetary and time limits. One chef is sent packing each week.

There's definitely stuff to criticize about the show. They surprisingly don't show that much footage of actual food preparation -- which would be fascinating -- instead spending lots of time on the backbiting interviews and the final presentation of everybody's dish.

They don't have a good tag line, to match Tim Gunn's "make it work, people!" The closest we get to that is the judge's self righteous mantra, "it's about the food."

The guy in the Tim Gunn role, Chef Tom Colicchio, is smart and likeable, and exudes competence and authority. But he is also one of the judges, and doesn't do Gunn's critical mother hen routine, to which he's probably not temperamentally suited. And Colicchio isn't (or doesn't show) funny.

In fact, the climax of the show -- the dismissal of the loser -- is flat and depressing, like a corporate firing. It's just a characterless "pack your knives and go," without any of the sassy irony of Heidi Klum's auf weidersehen.

And yet there's something strangely compelling about it. I like most of the chef contestants, and find it almost -- almost -- touching how they mostly bond with each other despite the tensely competitive environment.

And what's that about? Top Chef, after all, is just another "reality" show (a bizarre use of the term "reality" that is oddly fitting in the George w Bush era). And every last one of these reality shows, as far as I can tell, is premised on eliminating contestants one-by-one until only the winner is left standing.

What's so real about that? And even if we know it's not real, what's so entertaining, so hypnotically alluring about the elimination format? Who is trying to sell us the idea that life is a zero-sum, winner-take-all game? And why?

You mean life isn't a zero-sum, winner-take-all game? To me, these are all variants of the film "Highlander" and it's catch phrase: "There can be only one!"

(and you should tell that Exxon CEO who retired with 114-something-thousand per day that life isn't a zero-sum game... apparently there are folks out there who think it is.)


zxcmeu - (zee-eks-see-meu) a new sports car from Mazda, designed for cats.
this show is hardly fit competition to the best over-the-top cooking reality show, Iron Chef, from Japan (not to be confused with Iron Chef America, which just doesn't work without the hilarious English-dubbing of the original). what's especially lovely are the moments of true cultural exchange, such as the show where they couldn't get over the fact that the Japanese challenger was a (get ready for it) WOMAN! and as they talked about her, the best thing they could say was that she was married to a really famous baseball player.

oscar, try the food network's Iron Chef -- i can't wait to read your blog about it.

HaHa - I love that you also watch Top Chef! I've found myself getting into the show! Although, it's hard to be on the other side of the TV, trying to judge the dishes - unlike with Project Runway. And, I agree - they should show more of the food prep. At least I'd learn something!
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