An Idea for Bourdain’s Ultimate Cooking Competition

March 28, 2013

By Karen

I caught Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen one night on Fox while waiting to suffer through another episode of Anthony Bourdain’s recently-wrapped flop, The Taste, on ABC, and I got hooked. That jerk Ramsay’s strangely addictive, and he gave me a flash of inspiration on how Tony could meld formats into a cooking competition I’d watch.

First, limit the herd to 12 cooks so we can actually relate to them and pick a favorite.

Don’t mix home cooks with pros. It’s unfair. Period.

A season’s cast would either be all line cooks who aspire to chefdom, or home cooks, with challenges devised accordingly. Restaurant seasons could feature production cooking with the truffles and pea purées, but home-cooking seasons would be geared to potlucks, family BBQs, school lunches, holiday feasts — stuff “normal” people prepare.

Like Ramsay, Bourdain is head chef and sole judge. He devises each week’s menu to challenge the cooks and, hopefully, delight the diners. The food could be exotic, if he dares.

But instead of managing by berating and screaming obscenities, Bourdain mentors and teaches while trying to whip his crew into a crack team. Their failures are his failures. No lip service to how much judges “suffer.” He’d have skin in the game.

Tony in the kitchen, managing, would have plenty of ops for mayhem, with one-liners and bleeps —delivered with his customary snark or charm, not Ramsayish apoplexy.

Each night’s challenge is to impress a dining room full of chefs, food bloggers, foodie snobs, rubes, kids, some ilk-of-the-week. We’d watch them kvetch, retch, or praise, but their opinions would not determine anybody’s fate.

Instead, they give Tony and his crew feedback to soak in, with all equally accepting the glory, embarrassment, or blame.

Like Ramsay, Tony asks the cooks to pick someone to be eliminated, but he makes the ultimate decision. He might choose the one who’s 1) hopelessly inept, 2) incapable of teamwork,  3) lacking finesse in sabotage (serving justice by kicking out the culinary Omorosas), or for whatever reasons he thinks are important.

The winner is the one Tony would ultimately want in his own kitchen and can recommend “with no reservations” for a restaurant job with one of his chef pals.

Tony’s BFF’s might be invited guests to help him rally the troops in the kitchen, so we could see the likes of Ripert and Andres at work. And they would risk sharing the blame for meals gone wrong.

America could see how these guys earned the celebrity chef laurels they’re now resting on. The tone would be upbeat and instructive. When someone fails, it’s not because they’re being deliberately screwed and humiliated by pros hoping to boost ratings.

Bourdain believes cooking is a mentoring profession, as he says at around minute 15 of this interview at Serious Eats, so this cruelty-free format is a natural fit for him.

We’d be spared dead-weight judges like Brian Malarkey and Padma Lakshmi. Cooks would be assessed on whole meals, not one ridiculous bite. AND Bourdain could renew his “celebrity chef” cred, possibly ushering in the next generation of great chefs — all without slaving over a hot stove himself.

What do you think? (Discuss among yourselves; I bet you can improve on this even more. I’ll be back April 8.)

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UnFoodie’s Take on “The Taste”

January 23, 2013

By Karen

It’s official: Anthony Bourdain is “the Mick Jagger of food.” Just ask Nigella Lawson, who anointed him on their new ABC cooking competition, The Taste.

Eat your heart out, Tom Colicchio.

The 2-hour premiere felt more like 8 after the 567th commercial. It featured many filmed-at-puree-speed montages of hopefuls flaming out and judges’ hands hovering over the NO button. And then judges Bourdain, Lawson, Ludo LeFebvre, and Brian Malarkey each FAILED to pick 4 contestants for their teams.

WTF? There are MORE scenes of soul-crushing rejection to come?

A good many of the hapless saps, thinking this was their shot at fame, said they’d been fired or quit jobs to compete. In fact, one of those cooks unfortunately told the judges she now runs a bakery. After everyone rejected her (Oh, horrors, a PASTRY CHEF!), Tony called her “bleeping delusional” to think she’s a cook.

If she saw her treatment last night, today she may be “bleeping suicidal.”

Another woman with the tragic backstory of a sick husband and a foreclosure made the fatal error of preparing kugel with adobo (whatever that is) and jalapenos. Bourdain shot her down by claiming she lost him because he’s a “traditionalist” on Jewish classics. Nobody else came to her rescue.

At the other end of the bizarro spectrum, Ludo offered a job to one reject. He couldn’t bring himself to mentor her for the brief span of the show, but he’d take her on as a PAID employee after one bite of her food.

Yeah, that makes sense.

One would assume there was much more logic to the judges’ decisions than we saw. Too often, they loved the food but rejected the cook, while claiming they’d kick themselves later.

WTF?

But someone (Ludo?) said something about there being so many more contestants to try, he didn’t want to pick hastily. So did cooks who went last have a better shot?

Bourdain’s team ended up with three women…

  • 26-year-old Mia, a home cook with a crush on him (Ottavia, keep an eye on that one)
  • Diane from NY whom Ludo rejected for putting too much tzatziki (whatever that is) on his spoon
  • 28-year-old Ninamarie, a Bourdain fan from California, who made sea bass with butterscotch (Tony’s penance for booting Dale off Top Chef over butterscotch scallops?)

The question next week is, will Tony pick a guy, or stick with women of his wife’s generation?

In addition to determining cooks’ fates based on blind one-bite tastings, the judges apparently are vying to beat each other by having the last cook standing.

The biggest mistake I saw was cooks (mostly the pros, it seemed) trying to squeeze meat, seafood, AND sides onto one spoon. When they got shot down for muddled or indistinguishable flavors, they had only themselves to blame.

You had to feel proud of that little trailer girl from Mississippi, Lauren, who made Nigella’s team with a flourless chocolate cake, the only one who dared to do a dessert.

And Nigella’s a breath of fresh air. Gratuitous cleavage notwithstanding, she’s not trying to swim with the sharks. I don’t think she descended once into foodie snobbism. Ludo was the worst for nitpicking, but he probably thinks it’s expected because he’s French and they have such high standards.

I’m sad to say Bourdain was a close second.

Kudos to the cool head in ABC makeup who kept Tony out of the hair gel for the separately-filmed talking spots. His hair looked great, compared to that spikey wet-dog-with-mange look he usually goes for.

In case you missed it, Grub Street boiled the show down to 91 seconds. I may tape the rest of the season so I can FF through all the Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Olive Garden commercials.

Here’s a review in Time.

The (UK) Telegraph also weighed in.

Digital Spy provided detailed recaps on most of the contestants.


Can’t Wait for a Taste of “The Taste”

January 21, 2013

By Karen

Doesn’t it seem like we’ve been waiting forever for Anthony Bourdain’s new cooking competition, The Taste, to hit the airwaves? Finally, it begins January 22 with a 2-hour premiere on ABC at 8 p.m. I think it runs for 8 weeks.

Bourdain was an executive producer, as well as one of the judges.

One twist to the usual format is that the judges get to sample only one bite and won’t know who cooked what, nor how they prepared it.

But the judges are also supposed to be coaching teams of contestants. I’m wondering how they can do that in any meaningful way without knowing what’s cooking.

On January 15, Tony dropped by Good Morning America to talk about the show.

Eater had an exclusive preview clip featuring our Tony characteristically swimming against the tide to save a nonprofessional cook and recruit her to his team.

Last week, Tony attended some publicity event for the show in Pasadena and an AARP blogger wrote about eating with him.

LA Weekly had an encounter with him at another press event in Burbank, and it sounded like Tony was in top form.

Here’s the official ABC beta site with some video clips.

I gave up cooking competitions some time ago when I had all I could stand of Padma on Top Chef, but I’ll be tuning in to The Taste to see if Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre, and Brian Malarkey really can resuscitate a tired old genre with a fresh slant. If anyone can do it, Tony can.

If you watch it, please come back and let’s compare notes.


Anthony Bourdain to Host Cooking Game Show

June 7, 2012

By Karen

This just in – In addition to his new 2013 show on CNN, Anthony Bourdain is pairing with Nigella Lawson for an as-yet-unnamed “cooking reality show” on ABC.

A few Cats Working readers began discussing it under my previous Bourdain post, so let’s bring it to the fore and see what the rest of you think.

I’m happy for Bourdain to have this opportunity to monetize his culinary experience. But much of the initial reaction on the Web among fans seems to be that he’s selling out. I’ll have to see the show to have an opinion, but I do agree he’s walking a fine line.

Foodies, try to spin it as you will but, basically, Tony’s going to be a game show host. But instead of having Nigella flip letters, they’ll be playing with food.

And let me state that there’s no such thing as a “cooking reality show.” The participants cook in some tricked-out kitchen. They’re usually using a bizarre set of ingredients someone else selected to prepare a dish 99.9% of home cooks wouldn’t touch.

There’s nothing real about any of it.

In the video promo, Bourdain implies the cheftestants will receive “help” preparing for the challenges. This is obviously where all his celebrity chef BFFs come in, scoring more easy TV gigs like some of them did in scenes Tony wrote for HBO’s Treme.

But does that mean viewers will actually learn something about cooking, or will it be like Top Chef, where the footage get so butchered in post-production, you rarely see a recipe a normal person could actually reproduce?

I picked up a few more tidbits about the show from the open call registration info at ABC:

  • The show will be in production for 4 weeks in August or September 2012 (subject to change)
  • It will be shot in various locations
  • All the contestants will be legal U.S. residents

The requirements for the casting call already amount to bullshit if they’re serious about judging cooks based on their cooking…

You MUST bring one prepared dish to be served to the food judges. You will be given a few minutes to plate your dish at the given casting location, but there will not be a kitchen in which to cook or warm the dish, so come prepared!…It is your responsibility to preserve your food to avoid spoilage. We advise transporting your dish in a portable cooler to keep it fresh…You must bring your own utensils including the plate, knives, forks, spoons, etc….You may not bring any equipment (heating or cooling) that needs an outlet. You may bring battery-operated food prep equipment that can heat/cool food.

I’m picturing heaps of potato salad and JELL-O molds, but I’m kind of hoping some idiot brings in sushi and lightly poisons them all.

They’re recruiting cheftestants in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago (Cats Working reader Adele (the human), could this be your chance to showcase your talents?), but no dates have been set yet.

Since they’re recruiting anyone with “the passion and talent for cooking, whether you are a restaurateur, executive chef, sous chef, line cook, culinary student or home cook,” the innate unfairness seems already written on the wall. Will they make any attempt to level the playing field, or use it as a premise for Tony to become the Simon Cowell of cuisine?

And what will a network gig, with its extreme sensitivity to foul language, do to Bourdain’s wit? Will he feel tongue-tied without profanity? Stifled?

Since Travel Channel will probably continue to churn old episodes of No Reservations and The Layover ad nauseum long after he’s gone, with additional shows on CNN and ABC, will channel-surfing viewers get sick of saying, “Oh, hell, not THAT guy again!”

And now that he’s sunk to doing a game show, could a season on Dancing with the Stars be next in the cards for Bourdain?


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