I had a friend who says that all food-related reality shows are exactly the same and that she doesn’t bother to watch any of them because food is high drama enough on its own.
So! In the interest of helping out a friend, enabling more people to watch MasterChef and proclaiming out loud my desire to NEVER EVER go on Cupcake Wars, here is my guide to watching Food Reality TV.DC Cupcakes, Ace of Cakes & Buddy the Elf Cakes (Or Cake Boss, whichever): I don’t think any of these are on television anymore, but I’ll address them anyway. These are cupcakes and cakes you probably won’t make at home. They are ridiculous, may possibly have moving parts and the cakes are normally ENORMOUS. amazing to look at. They make me, as a baker, want to cry with the beauty and the sheer amount of time that goes into something you eat.
Summary: Not on TV anymore. Fuggedaboutit.
Cupcake Wars & Sweet Genius: Competition shows. Cupcake Wars makes me want to cry. I baked 622 cupcakes for an event two years ago and it took me three months to touch another pastry bag. I kind of hated myself a little after that. I cannot IMAGINE going on that show and making three different and AWESOME cupcakes, getting judged to my face and then having to build some giant contraption to display it all. I would die.Sweet Genius is a step up in skill level from Cupcake Wars. A bunch of steps up. This is a show where little chocolate toppers and raspberry coulis is laughed at. The host, Ron Ben Isreal, is a cake god. An incredible artist. And he has no qualms about being snobby all over your piddly spun sugar nest. Trust me.
Basically, Cupcake Wars and Sweet Genius both run a single elimination competition. (Each episode can be treated like a stand-alone, so you don’t need to watch a full season to get the jist.) Each round gets progressively harder and has a theme. Sometimes the themes are all tied together, and sometimes it’s just a hot mess of people and batter running everywhere.
Summary: Frosting up – whisks down. Sugar Genius is a level above Cupcake Wars, but each is pretty sweet. And no, I will not be applying for either show.Chopped: absolutely terrifying. There are four contestants, three judges and one snotty host, who I adore. Like Sweet Genius and Cupcake Wars, they are standalone episodes, which I appreciate very late at night when I catch one and don’t feel the need to stay up until 2am catching up on the rest of the season.
The premise is that four professional chefs come into the Chopped Kitchen ™ and there are three elimination rounds. Appetizer first, main course second, and dessert is the final round. Each round requires a new and mind-blowingly-ridiculous “mystery basket”. Which contains anything from watermelon, canned sardines, pepper jack cheese, zucchini for an appetizer to beets, goat cheese, quick cook oatmeal, crystallized ginger for dessert.
It’s insane to watch, because I know at the level I cook, there is no way in hell I would be a) upright, b) sane and c) not bawling after opening ONE of those boxes. Kudos to any chef on that show, even if they go down (or up, as the case may be) in flames.
Summary: hot crazy culinary mess. And I LOVE IT.
Top Chef: This is like one long season of Chopped, only Tom Colicchio is bald and delicious, Padma is stunningly gorgeous, Gail Simmonds makes me want to kick her, and the “cheftestants” are slowly worn down all season until the last man standing is pretty much the one who was driven least insane by challenges like “cook something delicious and haute cuisine using food from a vending machine!” or “cook a meal while using only one hand and while tied to another cheftestant who is using one hand too.” It’s a freak show of awesome proportions and most of these people are complete geniuses at anything and everything edible. Volt brothers, I’m looking at you, you sexy men.
Each episode contains one “quickfire challenge” and one elimination challenge. The quickfire is judged by any number of people (usually Tom OR Padma and one visiting judge) and the winner gets some sort of advantage for the elimination. The elimination is just that, all three judges (Gail, Padma & Tom) plus a visiting judge taste all of the dishes and then kick someone off (“please pack your knives and go”).
It’s coming to Seattle this season, and I’m stalking some people to try and garner a table at one of the challenges. So if you know someone, you hit me up.
Summary: Like American Idol for chefs. Only less singing. And no Paula. And too much Gail.Next Food Network Star: This is a show I would actually consider applying for, if I knew anything about food trucks. Or cooking under pressure. This is a reality contest, and the prize is your own show on the Food Network. Awesome, right?
Well, this season got progressively more awesome, as Giada De Laurentiis, Bobby Flay and Alton Brown are competing too. They each picked a “dream team” and whichever of these contestants wins, the respective Food Network Star who mentored them will also produce their show for Food Network. I would be down with Alton Brown, for sure. (Call me, Alton)
I think this is a fun show. A little more accessible than Top Chef; some of the recipes you can even attempt at home. The added bonus is that you get to see what things look like behind the scenes of a cooking show and how hard it is to stand up there and talk about your food and make it sound delicious in a short amount of time.
Summary: some things you can do at home, if you have television cameras and Giada.Iron Chef: I freaking love this show. I love the American version, (Bobby Flay & Cat Cora FTW) but the Japanese version is absolutely my favorite. Yelling Japanese men, people in ridiculous outfits, sweating everywhere, the host (who is no Alton Brown…I’m serious Alton, call me…but is amazeballs with his facial expressions) and the judges are always somebody I have no idea who they are but know more about food than anyone I’ve ever met.
It’s a bit like Chopped. But these people are serious business. MEGA serious business. Two chefs (one challenger and one Iron Chef) in a single elimination. You win or you lose. Kitchen Stadium is no joke, people. 60 minutes to cook (with the assistance of one or two sous, depending on the season you watch), incorporating a single secret ingredient (usually something crazy expensive and exotic) as many dishes as you can. Usually four. Record is apparently eight (nice job, Kenji Kaji).
All of the judges (usually three) and the host (I think Alton does too?) taste the dishes, then vote who the winner is.
Summary: Sort of like Chopped. But only one round. And one secret ingredient.Hell’s Kitchen is no freaking joke. This is the show that Gordon Ramsay is most famous for, in my humble opinion. There’s tons of screaming. Lots of cursing. So much angry people….cannot be good for the food. (Chef and I agree on one point in this show: anger + food does not = delicious.)
Chef has explicitly said he will not go on this show. Ever. I’m still voting for him to go on Top Chef.
This was apparently a show in the UK first, and I cannot believe I did not know that, as I LOVE LOVE LOVE all things British. Especially Gordon Ramsay. (But he’s Scottish.)
Basically, there is a cooking skills test (last night was digging scallops out of a pile of ice and then cleaning and preparing them to standards), and the winning team gets some crazy awesome reward (trips to wine tastings, shopping, helicopter rides, etc) and the losing team gets to eat tripe. No seriously, they eat something disgusting or clean something disgusting. It’s sad, really.
Then there’s dinner service. When the season starts out, it’s normally boys vs girls. Boys prepare meals for a certain number of tables, and girls do the same. It’s not as much a creative skills test like Top Chef or Chopped, but more of a “cook to Chef Ramsay’s standards” test. Which hardly anyone ever does. Chef kicks people out, screams, throws plates, and most of the time, the dining room doesn’t get completely fed. (I’m thinking most of the people who come to these dinners do not expect to actually receive food.)
Summary: There’s a good reason that Chuck calls this “Yelling Kitchen”.
MasterChef: OMG, MasterChef. I am MILDLY OBSESSED with this show. Mildly. (But mostly obsessed with Gordon Ramsay. For serious.) This was also apparently a UK show first…we steal a lot of their stuff, I’m seeing. It’s also aired in 35 countries worldwide.
These people are home cooks. None of them have received formal culinary training (it’s a requirement) and yet they all cook like pros. Well, most of them anyway.
This has the same set up as Top Chef, only a little bit less intense and a lot less yelling. First challenge is a “mystery box challenge” (like Chopped), and whoever wins that goes on to have a big advantage in the off-site team challenge.
The off-site team challenge can be any number of things. From cooking breakfast for room service in one of the busiest hotels in the nation to cooking for a couple hundred soliders in the field, it’s guaranteed that none of them have cooked in that volume, under that pressure or with a team before.
Then, the losing team goes into a “pressure test”. In a finite amount of time, each member of the losing team cooks (or bakes) a specific dish. Joe Bastianich, Graham Elliot and Chef Ramsay taste all the dishes and then send someone home.
Summary: Watch this one. And this season, keep your eye on Christine. My money is on her.
I know I’ve probably left out one or two….what’s your favorite food reality show?