She Said: Around The World in 80 Plates
(Note this article contains spoilers!)
I love food shows. I love travel shows, too. What could possibly be better than a marriage of these two ideas? In my dream world it would be a fascinating show where we learned about the culture and were drawn to find ways to engage with foods similar to what we see on the show.
That’s my ideal show. But, as yet no one has ever made my ideal show to fit in any as advertised mold.
What the audience does get with Bravo’s new show Around the World in 80 Plates is a sort of Top Chef (with a heavy dose of The Restaurant Wars elements) meets The Amazing Race meets Big Brother resulting in a show I refer to Amazing Top Big Restaurant Wars. I think my title is better because frankly I can’t figure out where the 80 plates come from? I know it’s a Jules Verne reference for Around the World in 80 Days, but I thought the 80 plates would have some actual significance. It doesn’t! This show is only a vaguely appealing mish mash of rules and customs from each of the aforementioned reality paragons of success. The show has some really weird rules (I still don’t really get the exceptional ingredient).
The show is like Top Chef because it’s a Bravo cooking show! No, I’m just kidding. It feels like Top Chef because every week the chefs take over a restaurant somewhere in the world and face off in an almost restaurant wars like battle. The chefs don’t have to worry about décor and concept like in restaurant wars but they are responsible for service and the menu (which in some part is always dictated to them). I like this part of the show. I always like to see how kitchens work and I love the menu creation element. And of course I love the opportunities for the judges and guest to critique the food (it’s probably not shocking at all that I like critiques).
The Amazing Race element of the show is that the chefs are given traveling challenges. This gives the show a chance to have the bonehead driving moments from the contestants and the shifting advantage due to travel speed within the first round of challenges. I don’t like this part of the show. I really want to see chefs and cooks competing in food or food related challenges. I don’t want to judge someone on how well they run or drive. I know I wouldn’t want to go on America’s Next Best Actress and compete on my driving abilities!
The most unfortunate reality show that Around the World in 80 Plates borrows from is Big Brother. I used to be a fan but it’s so smutty and the rules have gotten so confusing! The Big Brother part of the show is that the chefs nominate and eliminate each other. I don’t like that at all. I didn’t agree with who went home at all the first week because it wasn’t about the food it was about mind games. I hate that! If it’s a competition show then I want it to be about the actual abilities and products the show is supposed to be about.
Curtis Stone and Cat Cora are both the hosts and two of the judges for the show. I have no idea why this show has two hosts. They don’t do anything! They introduce the challenge; the diners decide the winner and the chefs handle the elimination. You only need one host for a duty roster like that. Cat Cora by herself would have been a fine judge/host. I’m not crazy about Curtis because seems really pompous, but I like Cat.
The first week’s episode was okay for me. I would love to go to London so it was neat to learn about the food. I really was upset that Nookie (whom I can’t stand) got Clara sent home. I thought the bubble and squeak looked interesting while Nookie’s steak and kidney pie looked gross and dry. He admitted he had the worst dish and manipulated people to send Clara home. Not cool!
This week’s episode took place in Lyon, France, which is another dream destination of mine. I was excited to see this episode because I’ve done a lot of reading about Lyonnais cuisine. I was really disappointed that there wasn’t more education and experience about the food given to the audience. I was really glad Sai went home because I was annoyed at her showing her trampy chef photos last week (hello, Big Brother, again). And I was glad she went home because her dish seemed really simple and not that well executed. I was also bothered that she kept complaining every time she wasn’t able to use Asian ingredients. I like chefs who can cook with a diverse group of ingredients and aren’t only able to cook in one style.
I’m not a really big fan of this show. I want to like it but it seems really poorly put together. We’re supposed to go around the world in 80 plates but we haven’t left Western Europe after 3 episodes (Barcelona is next week)? I don’t like anyone on the show from a cooking or personality perspective so it’s hard to care about the outcome. I’m interested in learning more about global cuisine so I may stick it out for the hope or acquiring knowledge but my commitment may be short lived.
He Said: Around the World in 80 Plates
When I first heard about this show, I really wanted to like it. Once I saw the first episode, I was a little jarred, and had some problems with the format. There are still problems, but it feels like it’s starting to hit its stride. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the idea is a culinary world tour where chefs (and viewers) are educated about the cuisine of a country and then take over famous restaurants and compete as teams (just the chefs this time, not the viewers). The losing teams vote to send one of their own home. It’s like Amazing Race meets Hell’s Kitchen without the yelling, or sadly, Phil’s deadpan reactions.
There are still things I don’t like. I don’t understand why it has two culinary hosts that have no say in who gets eliminated. Since they help pick the winner, I get one, but two? I’m getting used to the idea that the dinners pick the winners, but I don’t like that the losing team votes off a member. I prefer professional competitions to be judged by judges, and not by your fellow contestants. This creates a different kind of drama where the worst dish doesn’t always go home, and in the first episode led to a darn good chef (Clara) being eliminated due to the machinations of Nookie, who admits he had the worst dish.
The show is divided into two sections: “the course” and “the takeover.” Your team wins “the course,” you get an exceptional (actually essential) ingredient that is useful in “the takeover.” The problem is that this ingredient isn’t (or at least hasn’t been so far) one to make the dish better, but one you need to make the traditional version of the dish. Episode 1 saw the chefs in London, having to do a pub-crawl and eat pub food as fast as they can to win the right to use potatoes in their dishes. Somehow, the team that won the course lost that week. The second episode got a little more Amazing Race and had the teams pick the six sheep’s cheeses out of a table of 30, actually herd some sheep into a pen, and then pair wines with their ingredients. This time the prize was a cooking lesson with a master French chef to get taught a recipe they were going to have to use in “the takeover.” Sounds pretty essential to me.
It’s still hard to find someone to root for. I initially wanted to cheer on Chaz, because I had liked his food on Top Chef: Dallas, and thought he was wrongly eliminated. But you know what? It turns out Chaz is an attention hog that wants to take credit for everything his team does (he’s pulled this in both rounds of judging so far), he doesn’t know what the proper portion of chicken looks like, and he cries in a corner if things aren’t perfect for him. I wanted to like Nookie, the underdog chef that works for the Boston Red Sox, but he epitomizes the gamesmanship I hate about the voting process. Turns out I like him more when he’s on the winning side, but if that’s the case, I can’t really support him can I? Keven “Cheven” Lee is pretty bad on this show. First of all, there’s the nickname he wants everyone to call him. Cheven is a mashup of “Chef Keven.” Get it? Isn’t it clever? Doesn’t it separate him from the pack? Yeah, I don’t think so either. He’s a pretty good chef, but when it comes to “the course” he’s “as worthless as a fart in a spacesuit” as Nookie points out. He’s already gotten his team lost twice, and screwed up two challenges for them. Chef Sai, who thankfully got eliminated this week, seems to think her provocative photos are more important than good cooking, unless it’s Thai cooking. Avery stepped up this episode and won for her team, but is pretty forgettable. There are some other people too, but I don’t know them yet.
I’ll give this show another few weeks, but if I can’t find someone to cheer to victory soon, I’m going to have to cash out.