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Science Fiction in the Kitchen?

March 25, 2011

Top Chef fans will usually have the same reaction upon hearing the name “Marcel.”  That reaction would probably include some mild profanity.  Marcel Vigneron, a finalist from the second season of Top Chef who has also appeared on the current Top Chef All-Stars season, is generally thought of as an immature, arrogant jerk. His food has been good at times on the show; he has worked as Executive Sous Chef for Jose Andres’ Bazaar in Beverly Hills, and head chef at Bar 2010.  I realize that reality shows edit things completely out of context and can make people look better or worse than they really are, but even the other chefs seem to feel the same way as the viewing audience.  Top Chef, obviously for ratings purposes, brings him back for reunion shows and such because of the discontent he stirs up.  But the SyFy channel (formerly the Sci-Fi channel) has decided to give Marcel his own show, “Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen.”  Sounds space-age, no?

The show features Marcel and his team being given catering jobs, hired by demanding clients to produce and pull off extraordinary events and celebrations.  The first episode had Marcel and staff catering a gala for the Wildlife Waystation north of L.A., and in trying to pull of a creative theme, he created an edible map to guide patrons through three different rooms at the event, and in each room there were dishes that were created using various gadgets and scientific techniques, such as the dessert which consisted of caramelized rice treats frozen in nitrogen that made the guests’ breath visible.  He did create some interesting dishes, but the show was mainly about trying to get everything done for the event, with hardly any focus on the science behind the cooking.

The MHK has two main issues with this show:  first, the star, Marcel.  People do not like this man.  People are glad when he gets eliminated on Top Chef.  He is not charismatic, he does not play well with others; he is not likeable.  I can only assume the SyFy channel was going with the theory that any publicity is good publicity, and was hoping that people would tune in because they know who Marcel is.  But even though he’s firmly in charge on this show, his personality hasn’t changed, and he’s no more enjoyable to watch than before.  The second issue we have is with the content of the show itself.  A cooking show on the SyFy channel sounds interesting; using strange devices to create a food experience unlike any you can find in mainstream restaurants would be appealing.  But this show is little more than “Dinner: Impossible” combined with a little of Alton Brown’s food science stuff.  I would much rather see Marcel (if it has to be Marcel) simply create imaginative food in his kitchen for a casual group of guests or something, and teach us the details about how and why he gets his food to look the way it does. 

There’s very little science fiction going on here; the focus isn’t on how he’s making the dishes – it’s just on the fact that he’s making them, along with the tired reality show cliche of “Will he finish on time and will the client like it?”  I’m sure there’s a reason Bravo didn’t want to give Marcel his own show (they have reality shows for literally everything else).  I suppose I’ll give it one more shot, but part of me is hoping Padma Lakshmi shows up and tells him to “please pack your knives and go.”

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