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Has competitive cooking jumped the shark?


Fat Guy
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Setting aside that jumping the shark may have jumped the shark, may we focus for a moment on competitive cooking on television?

It seems the progression from Iron Chef to Top Chef was a healthy one: both shows are entertaining and interesting. But a show like Chopped, which is pretty bad and lamely derivative, combined with all the other lame competitive-cooking shows (remember the horrible Chopping Block?) seems to indicate that we've crossed the shark-jumping threshold.

I can see the appeal of these shows to network execs: the competition aspect provides the element of dramatic tension that many will tell you is a necessary ingredient for a successful show. They follow the Survivor/reality mold and that's a recipe for ratings. But the shows are kind of starting to suck.

I'm also wondering when we'll start seeing the fallout from these shows, if we haven't already, when consumers armed with a little off-base knowledge start being pains in restaurants.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Maybe..really all Chopped is a Black Box. I had t do one to pass my final practical at school. They just over do it a bit..

Never saw Chopping Block..

Some of the best competitions are the ones that aren't on TV. ACF does it all the time. I was a member of our ACF Jr hot food team at school. Won state, and got blown out at the Western Regional's.

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Good point, Timm: it may be more true to say that competitive cooking **on TV** has "jumped the shark." I think cooking competitions as a sport (or as a test, job interview, etc.) will always be with us: BBQ contests aren't going anywhere, for example. Then again, I'm no TV network exec: I have no idea what sells to the general public.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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It is my impression, based on a huge sample of three, that many viewers are watching for the competitive aspect and the cooking parts are not important to them. My ex and another couple (none of whom care about food or cooking in the least) get together every week for Hell's Kitchen. This same bunch also is addicted to American Idol and one of the dancing ones.

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They've pretty much jumped it for me as a tv thing. I watch Top Chef but the last season had me right on the edge of giving it up. Iron Chef America, if I'm not doing anything else at the moment I sometimes try to catch the tasting portion just to see what the chefs came up with but I've grown pretty tired of it otherwise. I'll only sit through an entire episode if there's a chef I'm specifically interested in seeing compete. I've never watched those others you mentioned and I refuse to watch Next Foodnetwork Star under any circumstances.

Edited by Tri2Cook (log)

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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I don't think it's gone far enough. I'm looking for something where competitive cooking meets survivorman meets fear factor meets joanie loves chachi. Like you put somebody in a survival situation and make them cook fancy pants haute cuisine in the wild. Or a cooking competition where they throw in some questionable ingredients like in fear factor. Or where the cooks are given ingredients that are potentially poisonous or spoiled and the winner is the one who avoids getting anyone sick while at the same time serves the most delicious fare. Or a show where people compete to either make out with or open a restaurant with Flavor Flave, and when the show is over, America gets to choose.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I liked the original Iron Chef partly for it's over-the-top kitschy take on fine dining and high society. It was also fun seeing the defenders of classical Japanese cuisine face off against the modernists.

The American show lacks a lot of the pageantry and theatrics of the original, as well as lacking ongoing rivalries. (apparently, America has no 'Prince of Salt') I was bored with it before reading about how it's really staged -once I read about it, I was un-hooked for good.

Top Chef has been entertaining for the most part, but, like all of these challenge shows, the challenges often have little to do with real cheffing skills or creative talent. I expected more from Top Chef Masters, but, after seeing the win in episode one with a plate comprised of dishes from Pastry 101 for Culinary Students I became pretty disillusioned.

The other shows are pretty disappointing because the challenges rarely reflect anything anyone would ever do in the real world. Or, are downright mean -like last night's Next Food Network Star switcheroo hijiniks in the middle of people trying to get a dish on the menu of a national chain. Do people walk up in the middle of the taping of a Bobby Flay grilling show and take his ingredients away and tell him to soldier onwards??? Of course not, if he is doing a show on over-seasoned, corn encrusted fish, that's what gets made that episode. It was simply a ridiculous challenge.

I like the ACF competitions. They cover a wide range of skills and creativity. (Ethics Disclaimer: Hopefully, I'll be competing in one in a couple of months.) The items being judged have real-world applications. And, not every competition category is timed -which, IMO, is important since I don't think that great food is developed in 15 minutes with 4 ingredients and a group of people sabotaging your every move.

If I had money, I'd produce a series about various ACF competitions and the people preparing for them.

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