I initially resisted cooking shows — I never saw the point in a show that revolved around food, not when you couldn’t actually smell or taste it. What’s the point? How can a viewer at home possibly make assessments along with other food critics and judges? But that was before Padma suckered me into “Top Chef” with her wily ways, the same wiles - I presume - that she abused poor Salman Rushdie with. Dude survived a Fatwa, but couldn’t keep a ring on Padma. Poor bastard.
“Top Chef” was my first cooking-show love, and it still sits not just at the pinnacle of cooking shows, but of reality shows in general. The British version of Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmare’s” also pulled me in for a while (before it became tediously repetitive) but there was a reason beyond food for that - Chef Ramsey is a foul-mouthed, charming motherfucker. He is the reincarnated spirit of Al Swearingen, pulled from a 19th century saloon and dropped into a British kitchen.
Chef Marco Pierre White - star of the British version of “Hell’s Kitchen” and the host of the new reality show, “The Chopping Block,” is the spit on the chin of Chef Ramsey. I don’t care if the man did train Ramsey - he’s got all the personality of a flaccid penis and the charm of a dung beetle. Worst still, he’s a vile, disgusting creature - he has the face of hammertoe and the hair of Krusty the Clown if he’d mated with Christopher Lloyd in a windstorm. I don’t care how talented the man purportedly is, he makes my skin crawl; I couldn’t fathom eating his food - the thought of him handling my Chicken Marsalis makes my stomach roil.
But beyond the fact that he looks like a Nick Nolte mug shot photo after it’s been in the wash, his show is miserable - boring, overproduced, and insufferable. There’s a compelling underlying premise here, even if it is borrowed from “Top Chef” and “Survivor.” It’s a variation on “Top Chef’s” restaurant wars (usually the stand-out episode of the competition), only with couples. Two teams of four couples each (brothers, sisters, spouses, and friends) open up a restaurant apiece, and during each episode, they have to conduct a dinner service for a roomful of customers and a mystery food critic, who does the judging. Chef White guides them through the process, largely by staring the contestants down with his black, Satanic eyes and wild hair before delivering heavily scripted clichés with all the inspirational fervor of passed gas chasing a mouse out of its hole. At the end of each show, he eliminates one couple, though in the pilot episode, a too-nice Asian couple bow out before elimination, insisting that the incessant bickering, the whining, and blaming of the other contestants was not what they signed up for. But even their resignation speech feels (and most probably is) heavily scripted and, like the rest of the show, edited to within an inch of is miserable goddamn existence.
There are less than a handful of reality competitions even worth bothering to watch, and those that are (“Survivor,” “Amazing Race”) rely heavily on their hosts and on the brilliant work of their casting directors. The host here is hideous and unlikable, made more apparent by the flashiness of the FOX-type production (it’s an NBC show, but it feels like a FOX one). You can be a complete asshole and still manage to come off as winsome - Ramsey does it well, and Simon Cowell had his moments before he became a cliché of his own making. Chef White, however, has zero charisma, and the only thing intimidating about him is what’s sure to be his garlic and onion breath. He’s supposed to be terrible (the promos advertise that he once made Ramsey cry), but the motherfucker can’t even bother to yell and curse, preferring instead of pass out looks of quiet disapproval.
Worse still is the casting — the couples are whiny, unbearable, and completely incapable of spewing anything other than well-worn reality competition clichés (“We’re not here to make friends,” “I gave it a 150 percent”), which they deliver with all the zest of a Sour Patch kid dropped into a toilet bowl. They have no personalities - they’re all just cookie-cutter reality contestants who weren’t attractive, young, or charismatic enough to get on a better reality show. They’re not even contemptible or annoyingly loathsome - like the show, they’re just annoying. Hell, Chef White doesn’t even have a cool, signature elimination quip, but here’s one he can borrow: “Go commit a murder suicide.”
Catchy, isn’t it?