Cooking competitions chez nous

Ça va chauffer. There are various nuances in the translation of this phrase going from “things will heat up” to “things will get ugly”. It’s also the name of the local version of the Australian show My Kitchen Rules, though with less money and with a different accent.

January is one of those horrible times because it’s cold, the bills are starting to flood in from the excesses of Saturnalia, and Superbowl ensures that the month remains a programming lull with very little (if anything) that is compelling viewing.

I generally don’t watch much French programming, so I guess that watching cooking competitions chez nous is a way for me to support local.

Ça va chauffer is a reworking of the Australian original and is intended to go up against the chez nous iteration of Come Dine With Me (Un Souper Presque Parfait). I have seen episodes of My Kitchen Rules and it’s hilarious. The local adaptation is already well into its 17-episode run on TVA’s “Casa” specialty channel, but I don’t have cable and am getting by with the ITOMA TVA webisode thing. Judging from the initial two episodes I’ve squirmed through, rather than Ça va chauffer, I would have been searching for several creative ways to incorporate “train wreck” into the title.

I do get a kick that one of the sponsors is Desprès Laporte; they’re a really great kitchenware supplier for home cooks and professional kitchens. If you go to the outlet in Laval, ask for Gérald’s assistance.

The Premise?

Transform one’s home into a one-off pop-up restaurant and create a restaurant-quality set meal for 8, which must include a starter, a main and a dessert, on a budget of $500. Hosts are responsible for shopping, cooking, and service. No locavore requirements, but use and showcase local purveyors of one’s choice (essentially neighborhood specialty stores) in a five hour window, then mise en place and prep cooking for three hours, then dinner service.

Each of four couples does this on sequential days, serving their menus to the other three couples and professional chefs Mathieu Cloutier and Jonathan Garnier. Sommelier Patrick Blondin provides the wine pairings, which seems to be limited to having wines for the first two courses only.

Judgement made on a 100-point scale by both competitors (10 points per couple for the overall meal) and chefs (35 points per chef broken down by course). Once the round robin portion of the competition is finished, pack leaders move on and the “finalists” cook in a commercial kitchen (or soundstage – not sure).

The Reward?

Bragging rights of course. It’s all about bragging rights.

The $50,000 prize money is certainly nicer than a $1000 set of cookware, but as with all competitions of this nature, it is nothing to do with the prize and all to do about the opportunity to stand up at the end of the day and say “we’re better than you, and we know it“.

The Hook?

Suspect cooking skills? Questionable plating and service? Couples who are full of themselves and overestimate their abilities and capabilities? Yes, yes and yes. It’s culinary reality television – all that sort of comes with the territory.

Round 1 competitors

Like I said, I’m not watching this on Casa, so TVA’s only half-way through Round 1. And so far, lots of cognac, lots of cheese, lots of piment d’espelette. That’s so… early 90s, right down to the chive sprig and the cheese tuile.

And that sommelier? my supertaster pal Karl is most likely screaming louder than I am with every bottle.

Marilyne and Dominick (concept – “La Maison Blanche”)
A couple in Vaudreuil-Dorion who drew the short straw in going first, but who reconfirm in many, many large and small ways (e.g. the way she says “bonjour”) why I don’t need to live on the West Island much less off-island past the West Island.

Take-home message: if you’ve never cooked rabbit before, the middle of a cooking competition is not the best place to learn how. Ditto slaughtering lobsters.

And, thanks to the power of video, all of your family, friends and acquaintances can see how petty and inept you are. Over, and over, and over, too. Your offspring have to be so proud; I bet they look great going to school with their brown paper bags covering their shame.

Alexandre and Benjamin (concept – “Volver”)
Nice to see the two of them patronize l’Échoppe des fromages, because it’s a good place for specialty items.

TVA chose to describe them as “co-locataires” (roommates) in the intro. Why aren’t they allowed to say they’re a gay couple? Ontarians aren’t watching this show and I don’t think anyone in Rimouski or Hérouxville is going to care (well, maybe someone in Hérouxville might because they’re you know, frustrated). And would it kill you to just admit that you like the Penélope Cruz film rather than give that flah-flah about the importance of the word in Spanish?

Take-home message: if you’re going to complain that someone else’s plating isn’t up to your standards, don’t present the ugliest plating to date as an example of what you’re capable of. And boasting about getting fresh skate wing and then having it go off because you don’t take the care to transport it on ice and then leave it in the open for the klieg lights to heat up and spoil further is your own damn fault. Hang your heads in shame for ruining not just a product, but a protein and one that originates in a species that’s not fished sustainably. You deserve every bit of the extended criticism for ruining that beautiful skate wing.

Collette and Grace (concept – “La Raffinoise”)
Two “Montréal” foodie friends, both of whom apparently work as beauty school instructors (wow – throwback to Grease).

Haven’t seen the episode yet, but I suspect the Montréal connection is quite the stretch since they apparently shopped around the Marché de l’ouest (that fishmonger? brr…).

UPDATE: I did finally see this episode. They’re West Islanders (the split level suggests it’s somewhere in Dollard), one of them owns a Thermador gas range, and they know how to rest proteins.

Take-home message: family favorites are not necessarily the best choice for a competition menu, and your “nice” competitors are actually immature troglodytes. Like suddenly slipping while flaunting one’s moves alongside a samba dancer, this episode shows why one should really be careful over what one says or does in front of a videocam. Recordings never go away, and what’s on there will always come back to bite you in the a$$, regardless of whether it’s an unjustified and mean-spirited score or a red “string”.

Pierre-Emmanuel and Hélène (concept – “Hiatus”)
Haven’t seen this episode either, but this is a couple in Chambly who successfully make me look humble (yow!).

By the way the comment about “vrais amateurs de cuisine” not using chemicals when cooking? Ignorance all the way. Salt? It’s a chemical (NaCl). Aromatics from herbs and spices? Chemical compounds. The physical process of cooking? Application of means such as heat to modify the chemical state of the food, including the denaturation of protein, the transformation of state (rendering fat from adipocytes) and the generation of new chemical compounds which make up the Maillard reaction.

Comments like those from the Chambly-ites really makes me cranky, but dumbasses are what you’re surrounded with when you don’t invest in education and teaching science and math in school.

 

But why, Ivan? Why?

Because I need some form of background noise to keep my head from smacking my keyboard while I’m attempting to review 35,000-word dossiers and doing document compare.

And the schadenfreude. One must never forget the schadenfreude.

Would you?

Compete? No… though $50K would go a long way to buying a bank of Julabo circulating water baths and a Brinkmann micro-evaporator. It’s not that I don’t doubt my cooking and presentation skills or my ability to function in front of a camera. Poke around this site for the former, and you can look up some old episodes of Reach for the Top from the CBC archives – I’m the only one on my team who didn’t sit there drooling when the red light went on. It’s that I have a delightfully lemony outlook that’s too lemony for a chez nous production, which significantly impedes my ability to clear the casting call. They likes ’em pink they does.

Better than other cooking programs? Well, nothing beats the original Iron Chef, and Dotchi no Ryōri Shō is in a class by itself. The original Top Chef feels like it’s jumping the shark, though I find the Masters spin-off entertaining (where else does one see an established chef send out flaming coconuts?). And Dinner Party Wars? I still haven’t seen this though I’ve been told that it’s strangely satisfying watching denizens of the Centre of the Universe locked in mortal culinary combat over pots and pans that they don’t need.

Finish the series? I’m not sure. So far, it’s been a lot like roadkill – you know it’s coming up, you know you shouldn’t look, but you do anyway and then you’re sorry, and tell yourself you shouldn’t have looked in the first place.

And when you watch something, you can’t unwatch it.

 

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