Let's see, there are Top Chef, Hell's Kitchen and Chopped, where professional chefs compete for prizes, fame and notoriety. There is Next Food Network Star, where cooks of varying — and sometimes questionable — skills compete to become, well, exactly what the show's name implies. There are Man vs. Food and Bizarre Foods where hosts compete seemingly against their stomachs, or gag reflexes, in audacious eating adventures.
Just when it seemed that every plausible food angle had been covered in a reality television show, Fox debuts MasterChef on Tuesday (9 p.m., WTVT-Ch. 13). Here, home cooks are put through their paces by notorious chef Gordon Ramsay, who dressed down contestants on Hell's Kitchen and several British shows before that. The early word on MasterChef was that it would be a kinder, gentler Ramsay here, taking the ranked amateurs under his wing and elevating them in a feel-good series of challenges.
If that is the case, it will be only after taking a hard turn from the yelling, berating and, well, spitting that come in the first 15 minutes of the debut.
"Basically it's 'Chef Idol,' " Ramsay said, "searching the country for the most amazing amateur chefs, and more importantly putting them under immense pressure and turning them into something unique. That's MasterChef."
The first episodes in fact do shape up to look more like American Idol than Top Chef, with Ramsay and his co-curmudgeonly judge and restaurateur Joe Bastianich joined by Chicago chef Graham Elliot Bowles in tasting the wares of the wanna-bes, then doling out the thumbs-ups or thumbs-downs. Two positives earn one of 30 aprons and momentary elation. Be sure that elation will be fleeting by the time the next challenge rolls around.
"I don't care if your roommate tells you you're a good cook, your kids, we're going to tell you how it really is." Bastianich said.
The pool of contestants was chosen from a series of nationwide casting calls and video submissions. Three of the top 50 contestants are from Florida, but none are from the Tampa Bay area. The winner gets $250,000 and a cookbook deal.
Jim Webster can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8746.