TV2’s new Top Chef challenger The Sharpest Knife The Chopping Block has all the right ingredients – including this fantastic specimen – but somehow the end result is less than compelling.
EDIT – When I wrote this I was under the retarded impression that this show was called The Sharpest Knife. Despite watching it three times. Muppet. Rather than just correct it with quick find & replace I thought I’d leave my massive journalistic screw up in full view, to remind me and the world of what an idiot I am. So whenever you see The Sharpest Knife below, just rememeber I’m talking about The Chopping Block, TV2, Tuesdays, 7.30pm. Anyway, as I was saying before…
Apparently it’s been pulled after three episodes in the US (tonight’s was the third to screen in New Zealand, I have to presume they’ll allow it to run to its conclusion here), but it’s kinda frustrating, because at its core there’s enough drama for it to work as a show, but due to a series of pretty amateur errors, it falls, and falls hard.
The concept is simple, and pretty decent. There’s a bunch of chefs and other chef-y type people (waiters, maitre d’s etc), divided into two teams, each of whom have a restaurant in NYC that opens to the public for a night at a time. The twist being that they’re all couples of some description – sometimes romantically linked, sometimes cousins, or, in the case of Anapol (above), a homeless man and his minder. At least that’s what it looks like.
They have their own version of a quickfire, where they cook something for judge/host/big swinging dick Marco Pierre White, who then gives one crew an advantage based on which one wins.Then the two teams open for a night, create a menu based on certain limitations implied by the prior (quickfire-ish) element, and a critic judges them.
So why doesn’t it work? Maybe it’s best to look at what does work first. Full credit to the producers for getting Anapol on the show. Not only does he look like he’s been living rough since coming back from ‘Nam in ’68, he also has the most repugnant beard I’ve ever seen on a human. The above image really doesn’t capture just how grotesque this malignant tuft of pubic hair thrusting from his chin really is. There’s only eight or so strands to it, but the very idea of it being within a stray gust’s distance of any food, let alone my own, makes me want to give up eating altogether.
But his companions are such freaks that he ends up being the voice of reason. There’s the token black couple, Mike and Panya, the latter of whom goes to war on this girl Vanessa, and waits all of a minute at elimination before playing trying to start a race war. She and Mike, who seemed like an eminently reasonable sort of guy, got the gong pretty sharply.
The other team’s fruitiest loop is Dean, who managed to cut his hand towards the end of the night, which for some reason (let’s call it a doomed grab for ratings) required an ambulance. He’s got this weird, squirmy, recovering-alcoholic, I-once-killed-a-man-drunk-driving-and-never-got-caught kinda vibe, forcing jollity to mask the epic, unquenchable sadness at his core. He’s pretty fun.
Marco Pierre White, on the other hand, is anything but. Because G-Ram’s taken the shriekin’ and swearin’ spot in modern celeb chefery, Pierre White’s gone for simmering, glowering menace. Which is a great, intimidating prospect in person, but doesn’t play well either on TV (where it can’t leap out of the LCD and shrink your testicles) or to Americans (who need yelling to be aware of emotion). He does have one cool trick, which he put to use particularly well on Dean, of tearing slow and deliberate strips off of each team’s menu which contravene the rules of engagement.
Imagine seeing your lovingly scrawled creations (cf: the sample above) torn asunder by a large, impassive Englishman! Dean didn’t like it one bit. Looked close to tears, or at least a return to the bottle from whence he crawled.
So it has a few things on its side, mostly personel (Pierre White also does a neat line in philosophising, Art of War-style, from a chair in his study), but, like the John Mitchell-era All Blacks, The Sharpest Knife royally screws up the set pieces.
The eliminations, the dramatic ejaculation of a show like this, are so perfunctory that you could easily miss them. Where is the thunderous music, the intense stares… Where is the iconic phrase? “Go home” just doesn’t cut it, unfortunately. The lack of a supporting cast also murders the show. the reason Top Chef works so well is the way the judges interact; Pierre White has to handle it all, be the Colicchio and the Lakshmi… It’s too much for any man to handle. And this show falls as a result.
Henry’s an Iron Chef America man, and while I can see the attraction of the Kitchen Stadium (and particularly its perfect resonance for a blog covering sports and reality TV), for me Top Chef is one of the great triumphs of the Bravo era. The Sharpest Knife’s failing’s are chiefly a result of not paying close enough attention to TC‘s key principles, most notably the drama of elimination, the harsh words, the pressure cooker of the house and the interplay between the judges. So it was with great anticipation I read of the creation of two new Top Chef spinoffs.
Top Chef: Juniors could be anything. Hopefully it is to Top Chef what S Club Juniors were to S Club 7. “Contestants in their early teens”… I guess it’s either going to be as brainfryingly brilliant as the national Spelling Bee (I intended to write on this… Kyle Mou was a fuckin gangsta) or like an extended food fight. Judges, as per, are key. But Top Chef: Masters, by virtue of having high end chefs, and even bigger egos involved, should be totally killer.
All of which is by way of saying the The Sharpest Knife is probably only worth watching for hardcore competitive cooking freaks. I’m myskying it, but it’s teetering on the brink.
DB rating (this may or may not become part of the general DeadBall landscape, but I’m trying it on for size): 5/10.