Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Chef Un-Wanted

Anne Burrell Show That Finds New Executive Chefs Cooks Up Wrong Version of Reality

I'm not sure if I want to peel off the lid on some of the shows on Food Network and see what's really cooking. After all, the shows are generally well-produced. And that's the problem.

All those pithy comments you see from diners bitching about their dishes on shows like "Restaurant Stakeout?" Well, let's not forget those utterances are within close proximity of cameras and producers, who just might--and often do--coach those at table five to complain on cue once they get the shot straight. OK, so we've long known that the reality in reality TV is often an adjective and nothing more. Still.

On exhibit now is Chef Wanted, a Food Network show starring Anne Burrell, she of the honking voice and spiky blond hair that would get any kitchen flunked by the Health Department for going without a net. The premise is that a restaurant of some renown, for whatever reason, needs a new executive chef. Burrell brings in four cheftestants to cook their hearts out. One of them is weeded out in each of the first two rounds. Then the last two get a chance to run a dinner service for a night.

Invariably, what we see are gradations of chaos, flop sweat, Burrell alternating between unbearable screaming and tough love, and nervous owners watching their livelihoods go up in flames. Eventually, each episode ends with one of the finalists being crowned the winner, given a chef's coat and subject to effusive hugs from the restaurant staff. Happy ending, right, especially after all of the chefs have told us in the beginning that they "need this job," or that working at Fill in the Blank Bistro and Grill would be their dream. Not so.

Viewers can track on a Food Network blog what's happened since each episode was filmed. It features a recap and video with the winner. And with few exceptions, none of them wind up taking the job or leave soon afterwards. Some just had a change of heart. For others, their current employer showed them some love. Two, who competed for spots at New York eateries, turned thumbs-down--one for family reasons, the other determined that the salary would be eaten up by the cost-of-living. Better to stay an executive sous chef in Philadelphia.

Put aside, for the moment, that this is a horrible way for a restaurant to pick the leader of the kitchen. And, that some of the cheftestants have appeared on other cooking shows, like FN's Chopped and Fox's Hell's Kitchen, whose season 3 winner Rock Harper, won on Chef Wanted, but walked away from a chance to run upscale eatery in Cincinnati to stay at a D.C. nonprofit that trains disadvantaged kids in the culinary arts. Given his less-than-satisfactory, though lucrative experience in the kitchen post-Hell's Kitchen, maybe Harper knew better.

Unsurprisingly, blog readers have been whining about this discrepancy. Many feel the restaurants aren't serious about the premise and just want free publicity. Others rant about how there's no communication about salary, benefits, etc. until afterwards. That leaves many a chef with a way to say thanks, but no thanks.

And while all of this tumult has been occurring on a network-hosted blog, Food Network and Burrell have been quiet about these kerfuffles. Ditto for these racy accusations from a chef who claimed to be a contestant from the first season. As I said, peeling off the lid may not be pretty. Or, just leave the lid on and watch what happens, regardless if it really happened. Even the anonymous chef waxed philosophical about his purported experience:

It was a total cluster fuck and shit show to say the least. The editing blew and the show still pretty much blows as far as I am concerned. However, I had a blast doing it. I won, so I can't bitch about that, and now I have a little "appeared on Food Network cooking show" blurb for my resume.

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