Chef In Your Ear! My new favorite television show! My new source of culinary schadenfreude!
I’ve watched the now-cancelled Dinner Party Wars which was a larf in itself, but Chef In Your Ear cranks up the schadenfreude to 11.
The premise is pretty simple: you have a professional chef bark orders over an earpiece to a novice cook who has to execute a dish with just spoken orders over the course of an hour. At no time does the chef actually go to the kitchen and they are limited by audio feedback from the novice partner, and the limited angle of view by what can be provided by the solitary single-camera cameraman. A guest who knows the dish in question then gets press-ganged into being a judge, taste both offerings and then declares a “winner”.
Doesn’t sound like much, so where’s the schadenfreude? I’ll get to that in a minute.
The chefs compete for the chance to make their fellow competitors do something unpleasant, like cap/tail/pickle bushels of beans, peel garbanzos, and various other miserable mise en place chores at their respective eateries. The novice cooks? I have to say this about Toronto – its denizens are going out of their way for their 5 minutes of fame, because apart from an appearance as a contestant, the return appears to be effectively nothing. Dinner Party Wars gave their contestants the chance to win a cheesy trophy and $1000 worth of cookware in exchange for potentially ending each couple’s relationship over the stress of attempting to host strangers, but Chef In Your Ear saves that particular expenditure and only offers the
There is a chez nous variant called “Un chef a l’oreille”, which is hosted by Ricardo, the food writer and media baron (whose recipes never quite seem to work) formerly known as Ricardo Larrivée, who now speaks of himself as a single name and in the third-person. Similar premise, but takes itself way too seriously. I can’t get into that, but I can get into this version highlighting culinary train wrecks at the Centre of the Universe.
The Chef-testants from left to right: Rob Rossi, Devin Connell, Craig Harding, Jordan Andino and Cory Vitiello.
Rossi came in second on the inaugural season of Top Chef Canada and owns Bestellen. Connell writes cookbooks, owns and operates Delica Kitchen, and is participating in the series while expecting (that kid’s going to learn some interesting vocabulary through the womb-o-phone). Harding owns and operates Campagnolo, one of the Italian “in” spots in Toronto, Andino is a hyperactive hotshot working in New York, and Vitiello is attempting to channel pre-vegetable Passard at Flock.
So how evil is Chef In Your Ear? The first couple of episodes were innocuous, with the novice cooks all having limited palates and a general lack of knowledge of ingredients and understanding about cooking techniques. Then there was the competition that was Season 01, Episode 11 (watch here; the website will block playback if you do not have a Canadian IP address).
Think fish and chips as a cooking challenge.
Okay, that’s fine. There is some significant technique required to successfully deep fry so that the end result is light and crispy as opposed to dense, soggy and oily. And fish can be a bit of a challenge to properly portion and cook as overcooked fish is awful. But that’s not evil.
For a contestant, pick a man who describes himself as a self-employed artist who is also the drive-thru king. He doesn’t like to touch fish or eggs. That’s relatively common – there is a whole whack of people in North America who think the natural form of fish is boxed individually-portioned frozen squares with optional breading. As for the egg part, he dislikes them because of the texture, but not the texture from eating them – the texture from actually touching raw eggs.
So limited palate, limited skills, some weird personality quirks. That’s a challenge, but that’s not evil either.
Now they bring out the evil: the man is color-blind. His chef only finds out when she’s finished describing her multi-colored concept to him at the start of competition.
This is where Vincent Price is supposed to do his signature laugh.