Top Chef is to most other culinary shows, Hell’s Kitchen for example, as fillet mignon is to hamburger. Airing on the suave Bravo network, home of such self-inflated pap as Inside the Actors Studio and the absurdly patronizing Queer Eye, Top Chef conducts itself with sheen and an air of superiority that suggests they don’t need some angry blond Glaswegian shouting and screaming obscenities.

Gathering together sixteen top culinary professionals, all of whom can cook, no question about that, the show then whittles them down one by one until we crown ourselves a Top Chef. This season features the backdrop of Las Vegas and challenges are themed around things such as gaming, with each quick fire challenge rewarding the victor with a casino chip worth $15,000. Like most high-end fine dining, the show is biased towards Nouvelle Cuisine, with the chefs taking the better part of two hours to prep and serves up dishes that your average person could demolish in two bites.

Several contestants have already been eliminated, sadly those who were most likely to prepare food outside of the traditional French-centric sphere; Ron the Haitian; Hector from Puerto Rico; Jesse the self-taught executive chef. Although in fairness they did also vote off Matin, who was French. Amongst those contestants remaining a few seem vaguely interesting. Ashley, who happens to be gay, expressed great disappointment that the group was assigned a challenge to cater to a wedding party, feeling it most insensitive in light of the gay marriage issue. The following week when they were asked to cater to the military she remained silent, perhaps feeling that this was not the venue and that she was merely ice-skating uphill.

With virtually every member of the ensemble confident and capable, there is little in the way of friction and casual conflict, save for a very tame sibling rivalry between brothers Michael and Bryan, two of competition’s frontrunners. It’s nice not to have to watch egotistical strangers bickering, but there does still need to be some drama. So it’s left to the judges to provide the spice, which Head Judge Tom Colicchio does rather bluntly. Typically adopting a somewhat confrontational posture he is blunt and direct with his assessment, and comically antagonistic to the point where you half expect him to follow a critique the likes of: “Yeah, well your sea urchin was undercooked…” with “…so fuck you.”

This show is very much about food; delicious, exotic, expensive food. But it’s not something you’re going to be able to replicate in your kitchen very easily. Rarely will you walk away from watching it and decide ‘Hmmm, I fancy cooking that.’ Everything looks just divine, but if there is a criticism to be leveled its that its sometimes difficult to frame of reference for your average schmo. So the brunoised gooseberries overpowered the subtleties of the fried quail egg did they? That’s nice…most of us will live our whole lives never having the required pocket change to taste either of those things. In fact, given that the cost of the average Top Chef dinner plate regularly eclipses the average food budget of a family of four for a week. But it’s still a welcome change from a borderline psychotic Gordon Ramsey throwing plates of sub-standard slop at random people, which seem to be what Hell’s kitchen sadly has now devolved into.

Starring: Gail Simmons, Toby Young, Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio

Executive Producer: Dave Serwatka

Network: Bravo

Airtime: Wednesday, 10:00pm EST

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