It may seem to the casual reader that I have a bone to pick with cooking shows, but that’s just because they deserve it so much. I happen to think Bravo’s Top Chef is one of the best reality TV shows going, but even I’m having a hard time swallowing what head judge, Tom Colicchio, has been serving lately. This season, Colicchio’s behavior has gone from endearing to simply annoying. He’s been freaking the contestants out with his tendency to hover in the Top Chef kitchen while they are cooking. His criticisms of their food will go from “that was bad” one moment to “that was the single worst thing I’ve ever eaten” the next. He tends to think that no challenge is unfair, even ones that have little, if anything to do with a restaurant chef’s day to day job. And call me crazy, but any classically trained chef that doesn’t know how to properly hold a knife and fork, has no business telling others how to do their job.
There are large parts of Colicchio, and his participation on the show, that I enjoy. He apparently knows his stuff when it comes to cooking and is not afraid to be blunt with the contestants. If things are going south, he’ll let you know, and generally he’s pretty fair when it comes to who is performing and who is falling behind. His presence “grounds” the show from its inherent affected nature and lends credibility to its production. But at the same time, his level of patience has decreased while his need to critique has skyrocketed. The slightest flaw in the contestant’s cooking now has a tendency to set him off. On last week’s episode CJ’s brocoolini turned out to be the worst thing he’d ever eaten on the show. Never mind the fact that none of the chefs had ever used an oven on a commercial airliner before, or even prepared meals that had certain height requirements (yes, you read that right, height requirements). Colicchio seems to be becoming more and more jaded with each season, and I fear his likeability is suffering. It’s easy to sit in judgement on other people’s creations, and since I’ve never actually seen him cook, I don’t know if he’s just talking out his ass, or he has the truffles to back it up.
I’d like to suggest that Bravo inject a bit of humility into Top Chef by announcing a “Contestant’s Revenge” episode. I propose that for one episode, Colicchio, Padma, Gail and any other guest judges who have the courage, compete in their own mini challenge. They’ll get an impossibly small budget to work with, a miniscule amount of time in which to prepare and compete, and then be forced to serve their concoctions to the Top Chef contestants and a few snotty food critics thrown in for good measure. They say you don’t really know a chef until you’ve sauteed a mile in his pan. How about it Tom, can you take it as well as dish it out? I think we’d all like to see. In the meantime, I know a great place you can go and hone your table manners. I hear they have an opening.