I had just read Marco Pierre White’s autobiography, The Devil in the Kitchen, so I was very interested to find out about the notorious chef’s new TV show, Chopping Block. Despite its typical “one team get’s voted off the show” theme, at least it’s got the foodie angle, which is our weakness.
Each team was put in a restaurant space and had the responsibility of creating menus and re-decorating the spaces, which were somewhat shabby. Marco imparts his words of wisdom with a gravitas that wouldn’t be out of place in a top English actor. Yet, in some ways this may be a disadvantage. His tone is so serious and unremittingly grim that it’s tough to take after awhile. The inevitable meltdowns that occur in a high-pressure kitchen would go down much easier with a touch of humor. To me, the shenanigans that result under a restaurant’s high pressure environment are just insane, and could provide fertile ground for some laughs. Among chefs, practical jokes are almost compulsory, and in his book Marco describes taking a friend’s cellphone, using its camera to take a picture of his junk, making this photo the wallpaper on the phone, and quietly returning the phone. This particular prank couldn’t make it onto TV, but please, somebody tell a joke!
We have been fans of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, in which Ramsay is brought in to rescue failing restaurants. One can’t help but compare the two shows, especially as the chefs worked together in England, with White being Ramsay’s mentor. Gordon does his share of yelling, swearing, and reaming out laggards, but he also can have a more sympathetic touch when getting personal with someone, and there are also many funny moments. White’s pronouncements don’t really waver from telling them that this is war, you have to fight for what you want, and if you don’t shape up, you’re out. Maybe they decided that they had to differentiate his show from Ramsay’s, so they strive for the style of inevitable doom. But that’s not always that fun, despite the interesting drama. This may be a generational thing – I notice that there are other shows like this that just keep piling on the stress, and they’re quite popular. I guess people don’t have enough troubles with the crummy economy, and just want more misery. I should add that Gordon’s other show, Hell’s Kitchen, also strikes me as excessively hostile and unpleasant.
IMHO, Chopping Block also doesn’t give its teams enough time to prepare for their huge events, usually including celebrities being invited to dine. Anything to increase the pressure and drama, I guess.
The other main fault, at least to me, is the idea of having couples on the show. I’m sure the producers felt that this would be interesting drama. The problem is that in a kitchen this forms factions – one result is that if anyone criticizes someone, the partner of the person criticized reflexively defends their mate, even if the criticism is justified. What follows is that each team forms a little army against the rest of the team, communication breaks down, and it’s all downhill. Classic group dynamics. It also didn’t help that, to me, few of the couples are likable people. It’s not good when you aren’t rooting for either team, and you start to root for the food critic and chef to fire both teams. I’m not sure if I’ll watch subsequent episodes, despite my admiration for Marco. But if I’m feeling in the mood for viewing a train wreck, who knows? I may relent.
Anybody out there disagree? I’d like to hear your thoughts on the show.