HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >


I simply don't get food as competition

I don't get it. From the beginning Iron Chef seemed staged and rigged. Even if something were intended to be an honest competition how does forcing someone outside of their niche enlighten or allow us to appreciate what it is they have to offer?

Besides, how it misrepresents what individuals are doing, what does making the format competitive accomplish? You don't get the focus on what's happening in prep to learn anything. Meanwhile, the quality of food product has never been about who's photogenic or even likable. But that doesn't stop the competition shows from nearly taking over the shows with instructive or reflective content.

So what's the attraction I'm missing?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Entertainment.

    Forcing someone out of their comfort zone, in theory, shows their mastery of the particular skill. I buy into that theory.

    1. I don't get the judges who judge these things. Especially chopped. "I've prepared chive covered dragon fruit in a pool of sweat with a side of croutons to soak up the sweat." Why oh why do they force the judges to eat sweat? Can they not afford AC in the kitchen or force contestants to wear sweat absorbing headgear to keep it off the food?????

      18 Replies
      1. re: Bellachefa

        Are you a chef or cook? I don't think there are many kitchens with AC. Sweat happens, if you don't want any in your food I think you should cook for yourself.

        1. re: melo7

          Even when there is AC, it doesn't really help that much when you are standing over the grill or fryer or gas burners with the salamander above at scalp level. I wouldn't want the AC counteracting the really high heat I'm trying to get in my pan.

          1. re: Sooeygun

            Not to mention what the AC would do to the food once plated and waiting to go into the dining room.

            1. re: Sooeygun

              Are studio lights still bright and hot? Or has increased camera sensitivity reduced the need from that strong light?

              1. re: paulj

                They're still pretty hot, but nothing compared to a working kitchen.

              2. re: Sooeygun

                True to all of those....the ole adage..."If you can't stand the heat.....get out of the kitchen" applies here.

              3. re: melo7

                Are you a chef or a cook? I am. And yes there are certainly many kitchens with ac to keep a temp control below the days when 110 temps were a normal kitchen temp and a health hazard to the cooks. I once took a chef's temp on one hot summer night and he was cooking with a dangerous body temp that would have been lethal to anyone not used to the severe conditions. Yet he had headgear and wasn't sweating into the food.

                1. re: Bellachefa

                  People can get used to lethal temps?! Good to know. How do you train for this and how did you learn how to stop sweating from the rest of your face when wearing headgear? I mean the rest of us not as well trained as you and your brethren have sweat dripping off our noses and chins.

                  1. re: melo7

                    i think there are a lot of things pro chefs do to cope with the conditions in very hot kitchens, or very hot stations in otherwise reasonable kitchens. but yes, having your brain function at ambient 116 degrees is something you can get better at with training/experience.

                    1. re: soupkitten

                      I agree you can "get used" to heat but lethal conditions for chefs would be lethal conditions for others.

                2. re: melo7

                  I suspect it has more to do with the TV lighting than a lack of AC. Not positive. But those studio lights are intense.

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    I worked as a barback for a bit in a restaurant and the ice machine and dish washer was in the kitchen. I've also worked at Oxygen network and the studios were nearby. The lights in the studio were hot but they weren't so hot that the on air staff would sweat so hard you could see. In a kitchen it's not just the heat but the humidity from the dish washer and the pots of stock and water for pasta etc. It's tropics hot in the kitchen and no one cares what you look like.

                    1. re: melo7

                      I've been in many commercial kitchens. Plenty are hot, but some are well air conditioned, even with the grill and the dish washer and the stock pots simmering. There's no hard, fast rule about how hot a professional kitchen is.

                      I've never been under studio lights that weren't pretty intense. But I haven't been in anywhere near as many studios as I have kitchens.

                      At any rate, it's TV - if the producers didn't want the viewer to see the contestants sweating, we wouldn't. The similarity to a professional kitchen or lack thereof is sort of moot when you have makeup artists and selective editing, etc.

                3. re: Bellachefa

                  "I've prepared chive covered dragon fruit in a pool of sweat with a side of croutons to soak up the sweat."
                  That made me laugh :-). I suppose if one could obtain and market bonafide celebrity chef-sweat in crystalized form (mmm, Giada sweat, etc.), and sold it in customized ramekins, instead of 'sea salt', one could have 'she salt' or 'he salt'.

                  1. re: silence9

                    LOL, only problem there is the celebrity chefs never really sweat. The kitchen on Iron Chef is definately kept at a working temp, while shows like Chopped have the thermostat turned way up. Many of them sweat so much they could sub as a fire sprinkler system.

                    1. re: Bellachefa

                      You're not watching Iron Chef very carefully if you don't see the contestants sweating.

                      1. re: Bellachefa

                        'Get that man a towel' is a catch phrase from Iron Chef Japan. And for some reason certain posters like to highlight Jose Garces' sweat on ICA.

                    2. re: Bellachefa

                      Some people are just profuse sweaters. :/

                    3. I kind of half agree and half disagree with you....respectively of course.

                      On the Agree half lets say someone has studied an art for 20 years. be it Sushi or Interpretive Dance. "Now go and cook BBQ" "Now go and do Tap" Does not work.

                      On the other side someone with inate talent should be able to adapt to a point.

                      OK changed my mind I agree with you 3/4 the last 4th is it's American TV.

                      1. No attraction. The concept is worn completely through, showing just how little imagination resides among TV programmers. I'm ready for a show where contestants race the clock to corner-stun-skin-gut-butcher-cook and serve serve a hapless Angus steer or Berkshire pig. OK, maybe a fryer would do.

                        Whatever happens, there's sure to be FN equivalent of the greedy slugs bidding on storage lockers to show they're also near the bottom of the idea bin.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Kagemusha

                          FN has shown a few episodes of Extreme Chef that approximate your steer example. Most of the challenges are quite contrived. However one was rather funny. In the middle of preparing a main coarse, they had to go milk a cow to get some milk for dessert. One of the contestants almost got kicked, and refused to go further with that challenge. Instead he made a dessert without milk, and lost that stage.

                        2. I don't get it. Chowhounds repeatedly decry the prevalence of competitions and dearth of instructional shows, but what do they discuss on this board? Chopped, NFNS, and Food Truck Race? Where are the discussions about the 2 daily hours of instruction on CreateTV? The morning and afternoon instructional shows on FN? The cooking shows on Cooking Channel?

                          I don't think the problem is the lack of instructional shows, but rather the growing pickiness of viewers like you and me. A couple of decades ago, when the only cooking shows were on PBS Saturday afternoons, we lapped up everything - whether Julia, Jacques, Jeff Smith or Yan. Now we want something that we don't already know. But you know different things than I do, so we can't agree on what is a good instructional show.

                          Also when instructional shows are discussed, the focus is on the personality and voice of the cook. Look at discussions on Pioneer Woman or Bitchin Kitchen for examples. Few of us can get past the style of the cook to pay attention to the recipes or food.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: paulj

                            What'll it be? Diversion or instruction? I know what I want but spewing media geysers like FN are programmed to make sure I don't get it.

                            1. re: paulj

                              First off you are right.
                              Second thing is If I want to learn how to cook the perfect "insert item here" I (or you) can go to You Tube and sift through Hundreds of options.

                              The food show is dead IMO.

                              I can access
                              hundreds of recipes on-line from actually some of the best Chefs in the world that are at my finger tips anytime I want.

                            2. I find I can learn more from a competition show (especially varying format competitions like Top Chef) than I can from most instructional shows on TV today. Generally speaking, instructional shows have gotten (or perhaps stayed) very basic, very repetitive - much more concerned with touting up their philosophy and walking novices and beginners through some basic recipes than with exploring obscure techniques/tricks/ingredients. There's nothing wrong with that in isolation, and sure there are very rare exceptions. But most instructional shows have little to offer more experienced cooks.

                              Beyond just the added drama inherent to the format, competition shows also offer ostensibly skilled professional cooks trying their damnedest to impress and delight and surprise. These shows generally don't walk you through exactly what they're doing, but if you have a decent eye for it, there is a lot you can pick up from watching them. Often you'll see a little trick or hear a term and have to go look it up because the show breezes right past it, but I personally prefer that to watching the same few things being explained to me in detail over and over again.

                              Also, I appreciate the honest criticism in competition shows. Whereas instructional shows would generally always lead you to believe that whatever they made is perfect and always amazing. It rubs me just a little wrong - like a hard pitch from a used car salesman. In competition shows (most of em anyway), execution and details matter in a way that I just find more appealing and real and honest.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                "Beyond just the added drama inherent to the format, competition shows also offer ostensibly skilled professional cooks trying their damnedest to impress and delight and surprise... I personally prefer that to watching the same few things being explained to me in detail..."

                                This is generally why I like cooking competitions too. I love watching the intense creativity that comes out in that kind of high-pressure situation, the combinations of flavours that I have never thought of, the unique treatments of things and how much can get done with restrictions on time, budget, and ingredients. (Thinking of Top Chef and Iron Chef, mostly.) Personally I suppose I am more entertained by the creative ideas than I am by step-by-step shows: "here are 10 possibly crazy things you could do with celery" vs. "here is how to make this one amazing celery thing". Not to say that they don't have their place too, it's just that they don't entertain me in the same way.

                                1. re: cowboyardee

                                  I'm with you on this. I find I learn much more about cooking and get a lot more inspiration from shows like Top Chef and Iron Chef than watching most cooking shows whether they be FN, CC or PBS...

                                  I like the shows where the contest is actually a measure of your skill in the kitchen.

                                  1. re: inaplasticcup

                                    Ditto. Actual cooking skills and technique on TV seem to be a dying art.

                                    I've participated in a few cooking competitions and have learned a LOT. Great fun. But then I am a creative competitive person who thrives on constantly learning new things and enjoy being pushed outside my comfort zone. What you can create in a specific time frame can be interesting and surprising!

                                2. I like them.

                                  It's all about watching noteworthy people fail.

                                  Seeing them utterly disrobed and embarrassed. Is. Kind. Of. Cool.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    Ahh, yes, Schadenfreude as entertainment. You are 100% correct, I'd say.

                                    That's the theme underlying the entire Reality TV juggernaut.

                                    Are we THAT insecure and resentful as a culture?!?

                                  2. I don't like the competition shows, but they seem very popular, so somebody likes them. I like the instructional shows; perhaps because I'm not a very experienced cook, and I learn a lot of interesting stuff from them. I also like sports, so I watch them if I'm in the mood for watching a competition, but I've never thought of food in terms of head to head competition.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Shann

                                      There are a lot of instructional shows, especially ones aimed at beginners. But they don't play during prime time. The couple of hours just before prime on FN are nearly always instructional.

                                    2. Anyone can make something beautiful and delicious given enough time and every ingredient in perfect condition. Limit time or ingredients and you start separating the men from the boys. Or the creative and driven from the lacksadaisical recipe followers.

                                      Chefs need these skills when people with multiple allergies and tickets to the opera come in for dinner. There are those who can successfully pull a vegan gluten free tasting menu out of a hat, and those who fail.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: babette feasts

                                        So I agree with you 80%. By your statement lets say you are someone with allergies or diet restrictions. You have booked a dinner at a restaurant (I would let them know that in advance). Here's how the call would go "Hi I would like a 7pm reservation Me and my wife who has a shellfish allergy would love your tasting menu can you guys deal with that....great ...also we are seeing Wicked at 9pm so bit of a time stretch... would that be a problem? No? Awesome thanks so much.

                                        A-hole way show up and drop them on that on the time of seating.

                                        I understand that one is reality TV "You have a Chicken a hot car engine and 28 min. and all your guests are vegan." and the other is reality

                                        These are two of my favorite quotes ever regarding restaurant customers. Both are from the show "WHITES"
                                        "one of the customers wants an eggless omeltte"
                                        "Someone is complaining about the lack of Vegetarian options." "Then maybe she should go chow down on her own self importance"

                                      2. Having just participated in my first BBQ competition I can say from a contestants point of view it was very entertaining. And Stressfull. You are cooking in front of what are basically strangers and you have to cook your food in a makeshift kitchen in a parking lot and have it ready to turn into the judges by 10 minute window. BBQ can take anywhere from 2 to 10 hours and to hit a 10 minute window is no easy trick.

                                        Some of the cometition shows are full of extraneous drama and yelling, "You could have killed someone you DONKEY!" While other are more about the food and techinque. I prefer the latter and agree with cowboy those can be educational, inspirational and entertaining.


                                        1. Obviously, in OP's title "food" = way too much of Food Network/Cooking Channel's programming

                                          Their competition programs combine the ubiquitous cornerstones of most of cable TV today, no matter what the genre - personalities and conflict produced relatively cheaply.

                                          THE PROBLEM w/ Food Network/Cooking Channel is that the competition shows + the constant repetition of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and the multitude of similar knock off shows have replaced "the shows with instructive or reflective content." *

                                          For Chowhounds who enjoy cooking shows - Thank God for PBS.

                                          * I invented a drinking game - do a shot every time I tuned to Food Network and D,D & D or Iron Chef was on, but my liver vetoed playing.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: ilikefood

                                            What instructive shows has FN shown during primetime hours in the past? I can't think of many.

                                            New episodes of Good Eats play in these hours, but in the best of years that was only 26 episodes per year. And Alton recently admitted that GE was a loss leader for his production company. He made up for it with books and speaking fees.

                                            Emeril Live - instruction with added bells and whistles (audience, band, bam)

                                            Mario's tour of Italy - with a wacky sidekick. I never saw his pure instructional show during prime time.

                                            Anything else?

                                            1. re: paulj

                                              The premise that Food Network is somehow supposed to provide instructive programming is misplaced.

                                              It's the "Food Network" not the "How to Cook Channel".

                                              The programming is supposed to be about food -- in all aspects.

                                              Just like Chowhound is not just about where to find good chow, but about everything tertiary related to eating good chow.

                                          2. I've watched Iron Chef America a few times. I can't stand the original Iron Chef. Weird and obviously fake. At least Iron Chef America isn't as weird. But really, the show grows tiresome after a few episodes. I do think Alton Brown adds a lot to ICA though. But I haven't watched in several years. the thing is, where there is testosterone, there will be competitions. And where there will be testosterone fueled competitions, there will be money and TV. Imagine if quilters had a quilt throwdown!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: sueatmo

                                              >>I've watched Iron Chef America a few times. I can't stand the original Iron Chef. Weird and obviously fake.<<

                                              I don't know how one determines aspects of the original Iron Chef are fake. The cast of Iron Chefs in the original are quite prideful, and to see one go down to a challenger is not taken lightly. However, after seeing just about every episode of the original from Japan, I can't watch the American version. I think the chefs on both are pretty amazing. I just can't stand the commentary in ICA. It probably helps that I understand Japanese and pick up on the nuances in the spoken from the original that aren't conveyed in the subtitles.

                                            2. I'm happy so many good books got published in the past year. Who needs these dog and pony shows?

                                              1. They are ridiculous, stupid, and misleading. That is all there is to it. People like to watch ridiculous, stupid, and mind-numbing things. Stupid = entertainment and success. They will make you dumber and dumber until your brain shrinks to the size of a pea. Nobody over the age of 14 should be watching this. You are being stupidified. Add to that the double insult that the viewer can't even taste the food - oh, this BS ladled on top of BS. At least with Miss America you can judge for yourself! Can all these viewers really have nothing better to do? Have all books been destroyed like in a Ray Bradbury story? You will learn more about nature by watching Yogi Bear reruns then you will learn anything watching these shows.

                                                Get out before before you need a 12-step program.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Steve

                                                  Steve, whatever you have been watching or reading is making you very angry. Look into it please, before you hurt someone.

                                                  I meant to type up a long and equally impassioned rant to counter yours, but my pea-sized brain is getting tired, and it's getting hard to type with my drool rapidly pooling on the keyboard.

                                                  "Add to that the double insult that the viewer can't even taste the food."
                                                  I too used to be insulted by this. Deeply and doubly insulted, just as you are. Seems the very least Mr Colicchio could do is FedEx me his leftovers, since I'm such a loyal viewer. But then I tried licking the screen. And it's not half bad - there's a pleasant tingle of static electricity. It's even better if you spread a little peanut butter on there first.

                                                2. It seems to fulfill some basic, incomprehensible human need- contests for everything. Food contests (particularly weird, since you have no way of knowing what the food tastes like), music contests, altruism contests- people are really very peculiar. I suspect that the main attraction is the desire to see someone blow it completely.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: oldunc

                                                    >>I suspect that the main attraction is the desire to see someone blow it completely.<<

                                                    That's never been the case for me. I'm just amazed at the skill and creativity these folks have. To distill oftentimes amazing dishes in such a short time has always impressed me.

                                                    I also can relate to this theme in a very basic way, and I'd think many could relate. I'm in an Iron Chef contest pretty regularly against myself, with the leftovers and other basic ingredients in my kitchen as what I have to work with, and the span of time I have between getting home and getting dinner ready by the time the natives start to get restless.