It probably started with the Swedish Chef, if I'm being honest. I'm pretty sure I even did my own impressions of him.
However, soon after, I made the switch to real cooking shows, and watched them whenever I could catch them on PBS. I loved Jeff Smith on the Frugal Gourmet, and remember when I found out he was a United Methodist minister it seemed so appropriate, because boy, could he deliver a moving sermon on food.*
When I was in fifth grade, and my class was studying China, my best friend and I staged a cooking demonstration show, complete with a cardboard cutout of a television screen. We called the show "A Wok Through China." I think this may have been a rip off of another PBS show, maybe a special by the guy from Yan Can Cook? Sadly, my debut as a food network star was cut short by a disaster that involved tripping over the cord of the electric skillet we were using as our wok -- hot oil everywhere. Luckily, only some carpet squares were harmed.
In the mid nineties, I met and fell in love with the programming at young upstart channel Food Network. I loved the Two Hot Tamales, and Bobby Flay's first show "Grillin' and Chillin'" where he and his buddy in overalls cheerfully debated the benefits of gas vs. charcoal. (Bobby wasn't as much of an ass back then.) I continue to love the Food Network and keep it on as background noise a lot of the time. I adore Alton Brown, enjoy the Barefoot Contessa, and will defend Rachael against naysayers anyday. I get sucked into the Food Network Star every season, even though I say I won't. I wish the Food Network would go back to its roots of instructional cooking, because it seems like each new celebrity they try to launch is a little less about the actual FOOD, but I can't deny the power of those personalities at Charm City Bakery.
Which is to say, that my love of Top Chef, which is right up there at the pinnacle of reality television, is not surprising. It's a perfect mix of food knowledge, execution of cooking skills, and enough drama and personality to make me feel like these chefs could be my friends if I only could get out to dinner more often. In fact, I'm just now realizing that it takes the premise of another of my favorites from the early days of Food Network, Ready Set, Cook, (the game show where the contestants got a very small budget to shop, and something like 20 minutes to prepare a meal) and raises it to a whole other level. Not only am I fascinated about how in the world they will ever feed 200 people from a toaster oven! for gosh sakes, but I get to care about somone like Richard Blais from week to week, and really want him not to blow it.
So, this is my plug, that if you're not watching Top Chef yet, I think you should be. This season is in Las Vegas, and while I can't say from the first episode that the personalities are going to be all that endearing, perhaps that's just because I got so spoiled during the very recent run of Top Chef Masters. I mean really, who can compete with Rick Bayless?? Ever. We had a little Rick Bayless tribute dinner on Monday, fajitas that of course were not anything like authentic, but we had some really great fresh guacamole, and Frontera chips and salsa on the table.
I'm hoping for a better season than last one, but maybe that's just because I'm still bitter about Hosea earning the win. Did he really belong at that table with Stephanie and Harold during the last episode of Masters? I don't think so. Okay. Go watch, or at least catch up on one of the million times Bravo will replay the episode.
*I know his career ended in scandal, but there seems to be so little information about what the truth was, and he was never actually charged. I truly hope the accusations were not true. No matter what, it's sad that someone with so much love for food does not have an untainted legacy.