I tend to watch Food Network and generally like most of their non-cooking shows. (I'm okay with the cooking shows up to a point, but they're so out of my league, and just looking at moving pictures of food doesn't do a whole lot for me.) But there's one program they have that I want to like, but every time I try, the thing is so teeth-gnashing. It's Chef Wanted, where a real restaurant is looking to hire an executive chef, and they have to go through challenges.
Part of the problem is the host, Anne Burrell. I find her the equally annoying female-equivalent of the network's egocentric Tyler Florence, less smarmy, but more snide. But at least she's lively and can be watchable, spiky platinum hair and all.
The bigger problem is that the premise of the show begins with a real-world issue, but it's done as a game show. After all, the restaurants actually, literally, truly are trying to hire a very real executive chef to run their kitchen. But if chefs don't "win" at each round of the game, they're out. Is that how you'd hire someone that important to the life of your business??
I gave the show another shot this week, and this same issue played itself out in full force. In one of the rounds, the four "contestants" had 60 minutes to prepare a specific meal, and one of them didn't get her sauce on the plate in time -- she had the sauce pan in her hand when the time ran out. That was a "major flaw" during the judging, and her food was too dry. Well, yeah, ya think?! And so, she got eliminated. Now, mind you, she might have been a brilliant chef, someone who could have run the kitchen magnificently and brought the restaurant great success, who maybe took a touch extra time to make her food magnificent -- but because she missed getting her sauce on the plate by 10 seconds, she was out.
Again, seriously, is that how you would want to hire someone so important to your livelihood?
I'm sure the show's producers would say that this test demonstrates how someone works under the pressure of a time constraint. But a) it doesn't, because b) it's a false constraint. There aren't such time constraints in a restaurant's kitchen. Does anyone honestly think that any chef would intentionally send out a dish without it being completed because they didn't have enough time? Of course not, they'd take the extra 10 seconds and...ladle on the freaking sauce.
One day, I'd like to see an owner tell the host, "Y'know, I'm aware the chef missed the deadline, but this is my business. All my money is tied up in this place. I want to taste the food. Put the sauce on the plate, now, and let me make an informed judgment on how it actually tastes and see what the chef can actually do. This isn't a game. I'm hiring an executive chef. Let me do so."
I will continue watch every once in a while, because aspects of the show are actually interesting, like when the final two chefs get to run the restaurant for a night. (Though even that has a slightly false core for an owner deciding who to hire. But it's not unreasonable.) But too much of the show is gallingly frustrating, turning something truly important into a game. Maybe one day they'll tweak and fix this, to make it quite fascinating and valid. There has to be a better way -- give the owner a "lifeline" or a save, or a second-chance challenge for all those eliminated...or something that allows for flexibility. Chef Wanted doesn't have to be a pure game, since this is -- in truth -- a real-world job hire. When the program is able transcend that, it can rise to substantive. But until then, it only gets my periodic attention as being quaint.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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