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Obviously cooking gameshows aren't real, but how not real...

I looked through this board, well as far back as my ADD would allow me to go, and I didn't see any discussions on how real these shows are or aren't. I am specifically wondering about hell's kitchen, top chef, and iron chef. If you could either point me to the right discussions, or give me your thoughts, experiences (if you've been on a show).

I am specifically wondering how they work.

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  1. Not sure "gameshow" would be the right term...maybe competition?
    On the Iron Chef the chairman isn't a real person but actor's (Japan an US) and the Iron Chef competing is pre-determined as well as the "theme" ingredient. Is the judging "fixed"....probably.

    8 Replies
    1. re: monku

      Why do you think the judging is "fixed"?

      1. re: ipsedixit

        The Iron Chef's win a very high percentage of the time and sometimes it's by a point or two.

        1. re: monku

          Ok. But how, or why, does that make the judging "fixed"?

          I would think if it was "fixed" by FN, they would make the results more 50/50 so as to keep the audience guessing and to keep guest judges interested in participating.

          Maybe I'm naive, but I think the ICs are generally better than most of the challengers and the ICs have an inherent advantage that they've done it before.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            I think the original Japanese Iron Chef was a fictional cooking show for entertainment and not a real contest type of show.
            Back in those days the only way to become an Honorary Iron Chef was to defeat two different Iron Chefs and there were very few who were given the opportunity, so that practice was discontinued.

            I think the dead giveaway is you never see the judges score sheets, just a summary at the end.

            At least on Throwdown with Bobby Flay you get to see the score sheet sometimes....is that show fixed? I think Flay tries not to win by going overboard on his dish....sometimes he embarassingly wins because the judges thinks his is better. The other downside I see in the judging is it isn't a blind tasting, the judges basically know who's dish is who's.

            1. re: monku

              "The other downside I see in the judging is it isn't a blind tasting, the judges basically know who's dish is who's."

              My thoughts exactly.
              From a previous sub-thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7297...

              1. re: ipsedixit

                Right...you would assume blind tasting would be unbiased and the proper way to judge a competition.

        2. re: ipsedixit

          If it weren't fixed you might be able to bet on it in Las Vegas.

      2. I got a behind-the-scenes perspective on Project Runway (through a friend who was a contestant on the show), and if that is any indication of how Top Chef is run, then the answer to your question is "very not real". Which is to say, the product was real (in her case, the clothes and in Top Chef's case, the food) but the commentary and footage was not only highly edited in order to create a narrative that didn't actually exist, they were actually fed lines to read on-camera for the confessional material. I knew it wasn't real, but I was disappointed to learn this nonetheless...

        1 Reply
        1. re: aching

          It's obvious that some lines read in the confessional are scripted (or prompted) -- usually the comments about the guest judge and repeating the description of the challenge. I assume it's just a way provide the necessary expository information to the audience without having an intrusive narrator. The personal comments I think are unscripted, but they're certainly prompted, that is, when you hear them discussing their competitors it's in response to a question like "what do you think of X's cooking technique?" Or "who are you surprised is still in the competition?"

        2. You have to remember, this is HOLLYWOOD. Nothing is real. Magic of editting.

          1. On Iron Chef, the contestants get told the "secret" ingredient way in advance - providing the Chefs with ample time to prepare their menus and train their sous chefs in creating their meal in one hour.

            11 Replies
            1. re: brooklynkoshereater

              Can you cite a source? From what I understand they're given a list of possible secret ingredients, but they actually find out that day.

              1. re: joonjoon

                From the Village Voice

                Also I believe from episode #IANS05 Making of Iron Chef America

                1. re: monku


                  The VV article was outstanding and confirmed what jfood suspected (duh, not a tough putt) that it is a very staged event. He always wondered how ice cream stayed frozen for 15 minutes under the hot lights of the stage.

                  1. re: jfood

                    I wouldn't call it a staged event. The writer of that article only guesses that the chefs must already know what the ingredients, but has no way of knowing for sure. From what I've read, the way it works is that the chefs are given 6 or so possible secret ingreditents, so while it's not a complete surprise, they have an idea of what the secret ingredient may be and have time to prep accordingly.

                    Also from what I understand there's a 15 minute or so period for the chefs to discuss and get ready between the unveiling of the secret ingredient and the actual start of cooking.

                    And as far as service, that's done completely separate from the competition itself. The 60 minute portion of the competition is basically a requirement to show that all courses presented can be prepped in 60 minutes, it's obvious that those dishes aren't what get served to the judges - if you just watch the show you see that when the 60 minute mark is up, they've only plated ONE dish for each course. I mean there's really no other way to do a competition like this because if you have to prep and plate everything before service, then some dishes will be sitting for hours before it gets served.

                    I don't think any of this necessarily makes the competitive aspect of the show fake or staged, it's just the terms of the contest.

                    1. re: joonjoon

                      No biggie but you and jfood have a different definition of staged. Now jfood still likes the show.

                      - Tthe article does confirm that the ingredient is not a "secret ingredient" but it would be less fun if Alton were to say and "The ingredient from the list of six already presented to the chefs is..."
                      - Having body doubles with the Iron Chef pre-chosen is absolutely staged, but at least it is respectful of the other chefs' times.
                      - And jfood has watched the show for years and the chefs absolutely prepare ~4 plates per course.
                      - The service is done completely away from the competition so the judges are not eating ANY of the food prepared in the 60 minute show. So Bobby can dump half gallon of hot sauce into the dish during the show and it is an "oops, only kidding." He gets, or should jfood say, his sous get to fix the dish under a no-time pressure environment and then serve it.

                      So lets see, the chef's have a meu already prepared for several "secret" items and it is just a matter of which one, the iron chef is pre-determined, the food prepared during the competition is not used in the judging; the food in the judging is prepared under a no time constraint environment by the sous chefs and your conclusion is that it is not staged. Sorry jj but that is not a conclusion supported by the facts. It's entertainment pure and simple.

                      1. re: jfood

                        I've never seen a show where they do more than one plate of each course that I can remember- so I always wondered where the others magically came from.

                        1. re: BubblyOne

                          jfood is sitting watching the Batali v Liu event and can report the following:

                          - several of the prep dishes included up to 5 separate plates of the same item for future plating
                          - the end was each chef prepared 1 final complete plate of the dish

                          BTW - the judge who sat in Steingarten's seat with the lime green jacket was even a bigger that Steingarten and totally detracted from the food aspect of the judging. jfood hopes he is on Wipe Out next week.

                        2. re: jfood

                          I thought I read in one of those 'behind the scenes' articles, that they had an hour (not taped) in which to finish preparing the plates for judging. It can't be unlimited time because the studio crew and judges' time is valuable. My guess is also that many components prepared in the first hour can be used in the final plating. For example stocks and stews made in the pressure cooker. Ice cream as well.

                          There is probably an expectation that the judging servings match the prototype. The chefs - both sides - are professionals. And so are the FN production crew.

                          One of the Next Iron Chef episodes was taped in Germany, and camera men were getting in the way of the cooks. Clearly they weren't as experienced with this as FN's own.

                          1. re: paulj

                            thanks P

                            so with all the components ready and it is a matter of preparing 5*4 dishes in an hour is the challenge...which is fine since jfood still likes the show, butit does not move away from "staged."

                  2. re: joonjoon

                    <From what I understand they're given a list of possible secret ingredients, but they actually find out that day.>

                    I know people who have been challengers on ICA, and that is indeed the case. They are given three "Possible" secret ingredients, several weeks ahead, which gives them plenty of time to create a competition menu for each ingredient, and to make sure they can execute all 5 dishes within the allotted time period.

                    1. re: joonjoon

                      I can't cite by name the chef that told me but he was supposed to be a sous chef on an Iron Chef competition and dropped out because he couldn't commit to the hours of practice the Iron Chef challenger wanted him to put in for the menu. I don't want to out him in case he decides in the future to join the show, but he knew the "secret" ingredient weeks before the show was taped.

                  3. much the same with those Challenge shows and other cake challenges. The competitors come with premade cake shapes so they must know in advance what the challenge is going to be and have a plan for their cake or sculpture even though they sketch it as if they had just been presented with the theme. They also have premolded forms. Do they really make those cakes in 8 hours? They surely stop for a break or 2?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: smartie

                      I don't think the cake competitions have ever presented the theme as a surprise (except for the occasional "mystery client" cake). Almost every episode has had some controversy over the number of pre-made elements on a cake with the judges acknowledging that some elements must be made ahead of time. The interview segments always show the decorators talking about their plan before the competition, and they often show the decorator at home preparing for the competition. As for breaks and timing, I don't know. I think the time crunch is what makes it a competition. They have had decorators pass out due to heat/dehydration/fatigue, which makes the 8 hour time frame a bit more believable. I'm sure they take brief breaks, but never the decorator and assistant at the same time, and probably no longer than 15 minutes at a time.

                    2. Anyone know the backstroy of CHOPPED?

                      - are they told ahead of time what's in the pantry and fridge?
                      - do they know what equipment will be in the kitchen (e.g. ice cream maker)?
                      - do they have any inkling of what will be in the boxes?
                      - do they get mulligans? I mean at least one contestant had to have had a total metldown and not come up with any dish right?

                      Enquiring minds want to know ...

                      12 Replies
                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        I think the Chopped participants are very "expendable" and the show isn't fixed or scripted to any extent which would benefit anyone.
                        The entertainment value of the show is from the surprise ingredients. They may get extra time for plating, but I think that's the only slack they get.

                        1. re: monku

                          You don't think there was ever a contestant who totally failed to plate a dish?

                          What are the odds of that.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Do you watch the show? They fail to plate all the time, or leave out an ingredient, and lose for it.

                            1. re: PSZaas

                              Yeah it happens pretty often. IIRC one contestant on Iron Chef failed to plate.

                              1. re: joonjoon

                                joonjoon: Not talking about Iron Chef, wondering about Chopped.

                                PSZaas: Yes, some of the contestants fail to plate for all the judges, or leave ingredients off. I'm talking a complete meltdown where the contestant completely fails to finish her dish. No plating, not even partially.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  It's pretty frequent for a contestant to fail to plate one judge's plate, very common to leave off a component. But it has happened that contestants failed to plate anything at all. The judges' deliberation is obviously edited down, but the cooking happens in real time. (In episode 1.8, Chef LePape failed to plate any appetizer at all, and was sent packing; in episode 3.3, Chef Dobias plated no dessert, although he was willing to let the judges taste raw batter; he won anyway. Those are the only two episodes I can find where a contestant plated nothing.) I don't see any indication that the contestants are warned beforehand about what the ingredients are, or given extra time to plate.

                                  1. re: PSZaas

                                    Thanks, that's interesting to know.

                                    Even if the contestants were given a clue about the ingredients, I'm not sure FN would show that ... in the same way that ICA does not tell its viewers that the chefs are provided three possible "secret ingredients".

                                  2. re: ipsedixit

                                    Sorry if I wasn't clear - I was saying that failure to plate happens often on Chopped. As far as I know it has only happened once on Iron Chef.

                                  3. re: joonjoon

                                    Roberto Dona failed to complete all 5 (4?) dishes. They showed in one of the 'behind the scenes' shows that he practiced intensively and came back for a 2nd try.

                                    For me who wins isn't that interesting. I'm more interested in how close the scores were. But more than that, I watch to learn, about ingredients, methods, and novel ways of using them.

                                    I credit the Japanese show for introducing me to nato and koniyaku.

                                    1. re: paulj

                                      Sorry, but I can't watch chopped. IMHO, it is the WORST SHOW EVAR!!! Just my opinion though.

                                      1. re: jameshig

                                        The problem with Chopped, for me, is that I wouldn't want to eat most of what they make. The ingredients don't really go together, and forcing a dish from them is unappetizing.

                                        1. re: jeanmarieok

                                          Sometimes they end up with some interesting dishes and the show has definately inspired me to combine ingredients in ways I might have otherwise never tried.

                          2. Here's some 'food for thought'. While watching the credits roll on Top Chef last night, I noticed that one of the sponsers is S.C. Johnson. Interestingly enough, here in NJ, the Johnson family owns a little restaurant called Rat's. Rat's is the restaurant that contestant Kevin is the head chef at. In my opinion, he seems talented enough, and has done some very nice things. I'm just adding this to the conversation.