Project Pretty Plate

Bravo's Top Chef is Project Runway's kitchen-bound step-sister. Chefs, professional and not quite so professional, from across the US and one from Ireland, gather in San Francisco to compete for a new kitchen from Kenmore, $100,000 to start their own restaurant and the privilege to be named Top Chef.

In the premiere episode, the contestants are asked to create their signature dish. The challenge started me thinking: what's my signature dish? Most of my favorite foods to cook are either home cooking staples like spaghetti and meatballs or meatloaf and mashed potatoes or inspired by someone else's recipe like the brined chicken from Cook's Illustrated brined chicken, the maple pork loin from Gourmet or Martha's mini meatball sandwiches. I want to design my own signature dish! Does anyone have a story about their signature dish?

The way this show is edited, I couldn't care about the contestants or the food. The winning signature dish was Harold's steamed Thai Snapper. How can there be no herbs in the recipe and no salt or pepper? The poor quality of the recipe and the food photography makes me think that Bravo left their passion on the (Project) Runway.

The show's kitchen set is filled with Kenmore Elite appliances. The illogical amount of identical microwaves is distracting, but since I just re-did my kitchen with a Kenmore Elite electric stove and microwave, I'll admit that I get a little thrill out of seeing my exact appliances on TV (Look mom, my microwave is on Bravo!). Still Kenmore appliances seem out of place in a professional kitchen. Shouldn't they really use Wolf or Viking ranges? They also use strange knives; the handles are covered with black rubber dots, like old-fashioned gardening gloves.

I was hoping that Top Chef would differentiate itself from the cookie cutter cooking reality shows we've suffered so far (Rocco DiSpirito's The Restaurant and Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen) by offering some practical information that would be useful for home cooks. Sadly, this show is setting up to be the least home cook friendly of the bunch. At the start of the competition, the Irish contestant dismisses the nice kitchen of the place where they are staying by calling it a "housewive's kitchen." Later, the guest judge from Fleur de Lys restaurant says that this show isn't really the place for housewife cooking. What kind of obnoxious putdown is that? Don't their realize it's home cooks and housewives and houseguys like me who are buying all those Kenmore Elite microwaves?

I want Tim Gunn! Since this show was built by the Project Runway people, I was expecting this show to be a platform for a lovable dork like Tim Gunn or at least a platform for a superstar like Heidi. Instead, we get this mushy critic from Food & Wine. I don't even remember her name.

In a blatant ploy to drive tune-in
when the show is first broadcast and stop us from Tivoing their show, Bravo will send text messages to tell us what the contestants are really thinking. I've signed up for mobile alerts and will let you know what I think of them. The content can't be more boring than the extra video content they offer on their site (Tom: "a sharp knife is a safe knife", Gail: "thow down some pillows, light some candles, have some great cheeses on hand")

Look out! The Next Food Network Start starts on March 19.
Vote on your favorite plate (and gawk at how ugly their food photography is)
Scan the reviews of Top Chef on Metacritic


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