Tuesday, July 28, 2009

'Top Chef' ruining American restaurants?

Posted By on Tue, Jul 28, 2009 at 8:13 PM

This morning on the Village Voice's Fork in the Road blog, Voice critic Robert Sietsema asks whether "Top Chef" is ruining cooking in America. His post suggests that flashy cooking is what's rewarded on the show - and the photo chosen to run alongside the post is one of Richard Blais. Sietsema doesn't call Blais' cooking out in the text, but the context would have us believe that the kind of "garish" cooking he's talking about is represented by Blais.

I'm not sure I agree with the basic premise of Sietsema's post - inventiveness has certainly been rewarded on the show, but so has straightforward, unpretentious presentations. Both styles represent major movements in American cooking. Last season's Stephan nearly won with totally straightforward European cooking. And Hosea...what did he cook again? I can't remember. Not tofu marinated in beef fat, that's for sure. So, yeah, maybe Blais-ian nuttiness is what we remember from the show. But it's not always what wins.

As to Sietsema's point, that we can't actually taste what's on the plate, well yes, that is the major flaw of all food TV. But we watch for the same reason we read great food writing. Good food TV should be evocative, descriptive. Can we trust the judges? As much as we decide we can or can't trust a critic like Robert Seitsema (or me, for that matter).

And in Atlanta this season, we are in the very lucky position of being able to go out and taste three of the contestant's cooking, if we want to.

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