I've grown weary of the cooking shows that are competitions between well known chefs. Really, how many times can you watch Bobby Flay race against a stopwatch to prepare some dishes that will taste better than Mario Battali's creations? Emeril has overstayed his visit to television where he repeats his song and dance over and over, 5 days a week, and Rachael Ray is on the same treadmill. Further, I hope The Worst Cook in America doesn't start a new trend showing us what bad food looks like...there are plenty of worse things to cry about than not knowing how to cook and it appears the contestants are such sad sacks they don't know how to read, let alone understand, a simple recipe. To make matters worse, instead of learning some basics, they are taught to prepare a sophisticated dish with expensive ingredients that they likely will not make ever again. There's a reason why TV networks don't broadcast Little League or biddy basketball games - we'd rather watch things being done well by the pros.
Thankfully, Chef Academy is a departure from the droning competition shows and is a more realistic teaching experience. While it's obvious the "students" may never reach the upper echelons of running a 5-star restaurant kitchen or may never work as a professional cook, they do have some cooking skills that they want to hone and they have an appreciation for good food well prepared. The real treat is Chef Novelli, who gives us a fly-on-the-wall peek at what true culinary training is like. Serious chefs like Novelli take pride and glory in the perfectly cooked lamb chop or the complexity of flavors blended into a silky sauce. A great chef's greatest pleasure is giving diners a memorable meal and it's interesting to watch Novelli try to instill the joy of cooking in his students while teaching them the mechanics. Unlike Gordon Ramsay, Novelli can be caustically critical without ranting 4-letter words and he has an energy that is palpable on-screen. He also has that off-beat French sense of humor that sometimes leaves the American viewer bewildered but, nonetheless, entertained. All in all, Chef Academy and Novelli are a fresh take on the cooking show format, a format that is in danger of growing stale.
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