Thursday, June 03, 2010

Turning-on the television, and firing-up the stove ...

With one annual exception, I rarely spend much time watching reality shows on television. That exception has arrived this month, as I feast upon a slew of food- and cooking-themed programs.

Two programs that I follow are already well under way - the new season of
Iron Chef America on Food Network, and the new season of Top Chef Masters, which serves-up its finale this month on Bravo TV.

To that line-up, I now add the new season of
The Next Food Network Star, which debuts this weekend on Food Network. This reality television series is seeking contestant who are not only talented cooks, but also appealing on-air personalities, awarding the winner his or her own series on the Food Network. It's that added, on-air angle that appeals to the old television producer in me, as I follow the show's judges in their critique of not only the contestants' skills in the kitchen, but also their abilities in a television program setting.

Kicking-off later this month (and parking me in front of the tube for an additional hour each week), is the seventh-season premiere of
Top Chef on Bravo. In this reality television series, up-and-coming chefs (or "cheftestants") compete against each other in culinary challenges. They are judged by a panel of professional chefs and other notables from the food and wine industry with one or more contestants eliminated in each episode. In many respects, this is the series that gave a jump-start to so many of the "cooking contest" shows that fill the primetime slots on cooking channels (as opposed to the more traditional demonstration shows (in the tradition of Julia Child, Graham Kerr, etc.) that fill the daytime hours. In fact, many cooking channel celebrities now do both kinds of shows ... Bobby Flay, for example, and Paula Dean, Giada De Laurentiis and more.

Top Chef also has a nice feature of setting each season in a different city, which is a great way of introducing variety into the show from one season to the next, and for spotlighting that community, its culture, and especially its food. This season, its Washington, D.C.

An added bonus to this new season of Top Chef - they gave judge
Toby Young the heave-ho! This guy seemed more fixated on demonstrating his wit (or lack thereof) with ridiculous quips, than he was with seriously critiquing the food. Pundit Young will be replaced this season by master chef (and former TC guest judge) Eric Ripert, and I am thrilled with the change ... they are definitely trading-up!

In my case, the conduct of the judges can make a lot of difference in the show's appeal. I recently started tuning-out
Chopped on Food Network. I like the show's premise, where contestants have to prepare courses from "mystery baskets" of diverse ingredients (including one that seems totally unrelated to the rest. And I really like the host, Ted Allen, who I first started following on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (I've also enjoyed his appearances on Top Chef, Food Detectives and Iron Chef America). But the judges ... I swear they gathered together some of snarkiest personalities for that panel, and I just don't enjoy sitting through their critiques anymore.

Anyway, I'll be spending a couple extra hours each watching some more television ... and I'm hoping to add a recipe or two to my box of index cards, for cooking, serving and enjoying ... the kind of repeats of which I never grow tired!

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