Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How the Food Network is Messing Up My Internal Editor

There’s a show called Chopped on the Food Network. Four up-and-coming chefs compete for $10,000 by cooking a three-course meal. In the beginning of each course, the chefs open up a basket of ingredients.  They have 30 minutes to use all the ingredients in a single dish.  The basket is always filled with a crazy combination of food like strawberries, turkey and gummy bears or coconut, calamari and doughnuts.  Yet somehow the chefs manage to take the odd combo and create a flavorful dish.
Three celebrity chef judges make comments while they cook (and of course they judge their work at the end).  After each course one of the chefs is chopped from the competition (It’s not as gruesome as it sounds. There are no knives involved. Instead, they uncover a tray. The chef whose dish is on the tray is asked to leave. Tim Allen, the host, says “You’ve been chopped.”).
It’s amazing how a really nice incentive (a chance to show off their talents to the TV viewing world not to mention the ten grand), a tight deadline (they have 30 minutes) and a very odd framework (those weird mystery ingredients) inspires them to come up with some pretty fancy meals.  I’m not sure exactly, but there’s some sort of inspirational recipe hidden in this incentive/deadline/framework mixture. Get it right and you can cook up all sorts of creative things (Sorry for the bad puns).
I’m not thrilled with the judges. Sure, it’s a competition. Three get chopped. One can win.  But they rarely say nice things. And they could. When a chef is able to combine tofu, blueberries and oysters and yet still remain true to his Caribbean roots, they could say something positive. Or how about a “hey, good job” when a chef makes the 30 minute deadline even after she messes up her first attempt and has to prepare the whole dish over again.
Instead they make comments like, “Look at him! He’s walking away from the calamari! It will turn to rubber if it’s overcooked!”  “This plate is a mess.  Did you see these drips on the side?” or my favorite nasty comment that one particular judge is fond of saying after the tasting “This food is not pleasing to me. I’m finding it inedible.”
I watch this show so much that now when I cook, I imagine the Chopped judges doing a commentary.
“Look at how uneven those pepper slices are.”
“Doesn’t she know how to plate a dish?  This food is a mess.”
And even though I know that this is taking conversations I have with myself to an amazing new level, sometimes I answer back.
“It’s 8:00pm on a Wednesday night. I’m making real food. And we are not eating popcorn for dinner.”
Recently I’ve begun to hear the Chopped voices when I write.   “This sentence is a mess.  Did you see these dangling modifiers?” or  “This paragraph is not pleasing to me. I’m finding it unreadable.”
Great. So now my internal editor sounds like the one of the judges on Chopped.
It’s time to turn off the TV or, at the very least, it’s time to watch a new show. Does anyone know what time Paula Deen is on?


Anna Staniszewski said...

I've seen that show and I know exactly what you mean! While I understand that criticism makes for good television, it often feels so cruel! Maybe this is the writer in me, but I believe feedback should be both positive and negative so that you know what you're doing right as well as wrong. But maybe writers are more fragile than chefs...

nanmarino said...

Hey Anna, maybe we should tell those foodie judges about the critique sandwich :)

Anonymous said...

I usually listen to music when I write, and even when I turn it off I can still hear the lyrics. It's not as problematic as what you're describing, though.

cleemckenzie said...

Oh no. Not more criticism. I'm not sure I could take having my prose "chopped" any finer than it already is by that editor who stomps around inside my head.

However, I might have to take a peek at this show, just to see other creative types take it in the shorts.

nanmarino said...

Lee, Medeia, Anna,
I just found out that chef in the restaurant across from the library where I work was on the show Chopped. His name is Erik Weatherspool. His restaurant is Bistro 44. The show has already aired but it's on again tomorrow April 9 at 8 p.m. (In case you watch it, I won't tell you how it ends.) Isn't that weird?