How Would You Design a Cooking Show?

I enjoy cooking, and I also enjoy cooking shows like Top Chef, Final Table, and–most recently–The Great British Baking Show.

As entertaining as all of those shows are, they all have a few common elements that bug me. So I thought I’d try to improve upon the cooking show formula with a few tweaks.

Issue #1: Food Critics

This is by far my top gripe about cooking shows: As a critic is dissecting a chef’s hard work, I can’t help but think, “Could you really do any better?” It’s not an entirely valid question, as critiquing is a skill, just as cooking is a skill, but it degrades my trust in the process.

Sometimes the critics are chefs, but even then, they aren’t cooking in the competition. They get to go back to their restaurant and give commands to their sous chef. Even with them I wonder if they could do better given the circumstances.

My Solution: Get rid of the critics and let the contestants blindly judge each other’s dishes. This is the big twist, a cooking show where the contestants are the judges (kind of like Survivor, but anonymous). Each chef would cook simultaneously but in secret, and their dishes would be presented, tasted, and ranked in secret. Measures would be taken to prevent any amount of favoritism between contestants.

Issue #2: One Mistake and You’re Done

Top Chef has somewhat rectified this with Last Chance Kitchen, but the overall issue is that with all of these shows, the contestants are judged purely on their performance in each episode. So you might be the best chef all season, and if you mess up your red wine reduction in episode 10, you’re out. That makes no sense to me if you’re searching for the best chef.

My Solution: Make scores cumulative and don’t eliminate contestants, rewarding players with cash prizes based on points at the end of the season (as well as having a clear winner). Sure, you’ll have some contestants who race ahead and others who fall behind, but they’re all competing for a payout, and the producers could still throw in little challenges as needed to ensure some level of parity.

Issue #3: Too Many Random Dishes

This is just a minor issue, and sometimes it’s not an issue at all. It’s fun to watch chefs cook with unfamiliar ingredients and restraints. At the same time, though, sometimes I just want to see them make something they’re really good at–I think sometimes producers forget that we’ve never seen these people in their element before, and it’s fun to watch someone do what they do best. No one forces Usain Bolt to swim 5 laps–we want to watch him run!

My Solution: Make the majority of challenges about small twists to dishes selected by the contestants. For example, make any appetizer, but it must be at least 8 inches tall (or be blue or use a weird ingredient).

A few others:

  • I sometimes suspect that these cooking shows limit their contestant pool because of the length of the commitment (I’m guessing it’s typically around 3 weeks). I bet they could get it down to 1 week if they really tried.
  • Top Chef notoriously has chefs cook for hundreds of people. They’re more like catering challenges than cooking challenges. With my first suggestion above, they would only be cooking for about 10 people (and possibly not even 10 total dishes–people can share), which I think is more reasonable.

This is just my opinion, of course. What are some of your pet peeves about cooking shows, and how would you fix them? Would you be interested in a cooking show featuring any of these ideas? What’s your favorite cooking show and why?


6 Responses to “How Would You Design a Cooking Show?”

  1. Baker Mitchell says:

    My favorite cooking show is America’s Test Kitchen. When they break down a recipe and try it several different ways to get it just right is great. I enjoy how they try to incorporate food science and chemistry into showing why some things work and some don’t.

    Now if they could add an educational/ food science angle to some of the “ cooking contest shows”. I think that would great… maybe a “ try this at home” segment… get the viewer involved.

    Btw, The Great British Baking show is very enjoyable. I tried to make English muffins after that episode…. much trickier than it looks.

  2. emmalouklues says:

    There are two cooking shows that do not take themselves seriously and I tend to enjoy those more. One is Nailed It on Netflix and the other is Knife Fight. Nailed It is silly and everyone is set up to fail at baking. It’s a little cheesy but I enjoy the ridiculous. Knife Fight is a little more grounded, it’s just two people facing off at a restaurant after hours. People are drinking and cheering, they each get a hilarious no-frills prize, it’s really only about the glory, and at least the one I watched, one of the judges was a fellow chef. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urusUPq4_2M

  3. esotericfulcrum says:

    The only two cooking shows I like, follow the same formula of taking good home cooks, and trying to make them better. The Great British Bake Off (Baking Show, I think in the U.S.) and Masterchef. The temperament of the contestants in these two shows, is just nice, with everyone reallying supporting each other. It’s not uncommon to see the cooks on these shows help each other out to finish a challenge. Reminds me of the Board Game community.

  4. TMac says:

    Those ideas are awesome! I love the idea that the chefs are tasting one another’s food rather than critics. The one challenge I see is that some competitive people would be apt to rate all other’s food poorly to increase their own odds of winning. If we could solve for that, it’d be awesome. Perhaps each chef would (1) not be allowed to rate/taste his/her own food and (2) have to rank the dishes 1-10, and each dish would be assigned points based on its ranking. What do you think?

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Trev: I agree, and I should have been more specific, as that’s exactly what I was thinking. Like, if there are 11 dishes, the chef would have cards numbered 1-10, and they would put a card next to each dish (except their own).

  5. Joseph E. Pilkus III says:

    I’m a long-time fan of Iron Chef…both the original from Japan and the one here in the U.S. hosted by Alton Brown. I’m enamored by the idea of “cumulative scores” because any chef (or anyone at all for that matter) can have a bad day, make one mistake and it should not be a reflection of their overall abilities.

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