Pat Clark: Viewers hungry for food competition shows

01/08/2014 1:51 PM

01/08/2014 1:53 PM

Last week, I wrote about returning and new shows in January, a month that’s become more and more September-like in TV land.

But there was an omission from the list of returning programs: ABC’s food competition/reality show “The Taste,” which returned to the air Sunday. To be honest, the biggest reason to watch this show is co-host/mentor Anthony Bourdain, one of the greatest chef commentators in the foodie world. I love the guy, his acid tongue and his brutal honesty.

And I miss him horribly as a judge in his former gig on “Top Chef.”

“The Taste” is just one in a long and ever-growing line of food competition shows that have started a television revolution. There are a lot – a lot! – of food-fed contests to be found across the airwaves. Viewers are – forgive the obvious – eating them up.

There’s just something fascinating about watching people cook and then others judge their culinary creations. Which, really, is totally ridiculous if you think about it. As viewers, we can’t taste what’s being judged. So what do we care? The whole concept is a bit of a passive take on the typical reality/competition genre. When contestants are vying against one another in one of the myriad vocal competition shows, we can hear and assess along with those on the stage and decide if the judges are correct or are totally daft. Ditto with fashion, home or other design-based competition shows. We can see the creations and know if we think they’re heavenly or hideous.

But with food competitions, all we have is a visual and the word of the judges doing the eating.

Kind of weird, right?

Except the real draw of any competition show on television is the personalities who make it up and the interest level of the challenges that put those personalities through their paces. So we don’t have to taste Carrie’s fish fritter to understand that she was sent home last week from “Top Chef” because she missed the mark on the challenge – to highlight the seafood. But we can be frustrated because she was one of our favorite people to watch on the show. (Mostly because she was really, really sweet).

I was kind of amazed to check the list of food competition shows that I record and watch. It’s long. And it’s going to get longer.

For absolutely no good reason, I’ve never watched “Master Chef” on Fox. But that’s going to change when season five begins in June. “Master Chef” will join the following on my DVR. It’s a wonder there’s room for regular dramas and comedies.

“Top Chef” – OK, there’s not much more I can say about this Bravo network show because I’ve overly waxed poetic about my love affair with it. Suffice to say, it’s simply the best.

“Top Chef Masters” – See above; simply the second best.

“Chopped” – This Food Network show crowns a winner each week. No weekly eliminations. But the premise is fascinating: put totally disparate food items in a basket and make chefs create a cohesive dish from them.

“Iron Chef America” – In a perennial favorite on Food Network, one of the in-house “Iron Chefs” wages battle against the week’s secret ingredient, the clock and a competing chef. The Iron Chef usually wins, but not always.

“The Next Iron Chef” – A group of accomplished chefs vie for one of the coveted titles to compete in the above-mentioned show.

“Food Network Star” – Aspiring food television hosts compete for their own show on the premier food channel. Some of their shows actually last: Guy Fieri won the first season and the rest is history.

“Cutthroat Kitchen” – The newest addition to my DVR is hosted by Food Network mega-star Alton Brown, who puts four chefs through the rigors of cooking specific dishes in an allotted time, then allows them to bid on ways to sabotage one another.

“Worst Cooks in America” – Two Food Network chefs (lately Anne Burrell and Bobby Flay) take teams of really bad cooks and compete against each other to see who can create a really good cook out of one of them.

“Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell” – Above-mentioned Burrell helps restaurants seeking new executive chefs find them while putting four competitors through their cooking paces on this Food Network show.

“Supermarket Superstar” – Turlock native and Napa celebrity chef Michael Chiarello is one of three mentors who help aspiring food purveyors get their products launched and produced for sale in a national market chain on this Lifetime show.

“The Taste” – Four mentors take teams made up of both professional chefs and home cooks and compete against one another to see who’s got the best cook in the bunch.

“The Great Food Truck Race” – Food Network’s Tyler Florence gives teams of four their own food trucks and sends them off across the country in sort of an “Amazing Race”/“Top Chef” hybrid.

“Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off” – Goofy, yes. But it’s still great entertainment to see the typical “celebrities” reduced to doing reality TV compete in kitchen challenges. Some actually can cook, too.

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