The great thing about Top Chef is that, unlike other “reality” contestant shows, the people who perform on the show are actually pretty good at what they do. These guys, though, they go balls to the wall for their food. Normally I don’t get to go to high end food places all that much, so Top Chef helps keep me on top of culinary trends.
It’s also a great way to see how the chefs involved solve problems. The show’s structure has two segments – a quickfire and an elimination challenge. The Quickfire is a short exercise usually centered upon a gimmick ingredient or technique. Elimination challenges, on the other hand, are much longer and could require making several dishes, and these are the real meat of the show. Winning Quickfire usually gets you immunity or some other advantage for the elimination. After the elimination challenge, the top and bottom performers are sequestered and put before a panel of judges consisting of Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons, (sometimes) Toby Young, and guest judges. The winner of an elimination challenge gets a W in their column and a prize, and the loser gets the boot. It’s a formula, but it’s a pretty good one.
The show takes a lot of direction from Colicchio, who sets the tone. The Judge’s Table discussions may be harsh, but as one chef recently put it, it hurts because they’re right. As an artist, I enjoy seeing good work and good critique, and this show has it in spades. It also makes you pretty hungry, so don’t watch it if you haven’t eaten for a while.
While I could write about Top Chef, there’s a guy out there who already does a great job at it. Dominic Armato, better known as the voice of Guybrush Threepwood, has a great blog called Skillet Doux that does post-mortems of each episodes and a power ranking every week. While Dom is not a real chef (and doesn’t play one on TV), he is pretty knowledgeable about food (much more so than I) and has great commentary. If you like food or Top Chef, you should check out his blog.