Our 10 Best: Reasons to Hate ‘Top Chef’


Here’s why we thought this was going to be the Season of the Beard, and that excessive tattoos would be banished forever. Were we ever wrong!

Yes, we watch Top Chef obsessively. We can’t help it. But we hate ourselves the next morning, and here are the reasons why, in reverse order. Please tell us if there are reasons we’ve forgotten to mention.

The condemned stand before the Death Panel in episode three. The slaughter of female chefs is about to recommence…

10. Tom Colicchio. This once-great chef has seemingly abandoned his toque entirely, spending his time searching for new and more humiliating ways to exploit his fame. He shilled for American Express, and now he demonstrates a profound lack of taste by flogging Diet Coke, in a context that seems to lampoon the sorts of weird-o recipes that constitute Top Chef’s stock-in-trade.

9. Talking Haircuts. Early on, some crazy art director decided that the contestants were too dull-looking, and the freaky-deaky haircut as the show’s guiding principal was born. No mohawk or mullet is too absurd, no quantity of mousse too great. Sometimes the ‘do is just greased anarchy, but the hair does the talking before the contestants even open their mouths.

8. Cruel Treatment of the Contestants. As in all reality-TV shows, contestants are forced to live in total isolation in a dormitory setting like maximum security prisoners, so they can be monitored and recorded 24 hours a day, going slightly crazy in the process. Assembling the program is dependent on having the maximum amount of raw (and we do mean raw) footage. Human rights authorities should be notified.

7. Padma Lakshmi. Yes, she’s beautiful. That, and the fact that she married Salman Rushdie and published a low-fat cookbook in the late 1990s (plus a couple of lackluster Food Network appearances) seem to be her only qualifications as a goddess in the foodist pantheon. Like Tom, she’s willing to do anything to make a buck, including a ridiculous commercial in which she goes down on a something called a Western Bacon Thickburger that must have been basted in Enzite. Watch your back, Padma: Kelly Choi, whose head might fall off from the sheer weight of her makeup, is sharpening her knives.

6. Fakey Emotions. The coaxing of fake emotions out of the contestants is an awful thing to behold–tears rolling down the cheeks of the eliminated, the inane braggadocio of the winners, the nagging self-doubts you’d rather not hear annunciated, but they do so again and again. And again.

Episode three left us retching from the repetitive patriotic speeches, though kudos to Brooklyn homeboy Ash for introducing the topic of opposition to the Iraq War.

5. Smart-Ass Talking Heads. The techniques of the reality-TV show haven’t changed much in the decade since Real World established its ironclad principals. Seemingly unrehearsed events are interspersed with heads endlessly rehashing and interpreting the action and, as the song says, these heads have “Feelings, woe, oh, oh, feelings.” Really, Mr. or Ms. Contestant, we don’t care what the directors have told you to feel–you’re boring the piss out of us.

4. Product Placement. Have you ever stopped to think that each episode of Top Chef is really just one long, multifarious commercial message? A minute rarely goes by without our seeing sponsor products flashed, logos flaunted, and brand names tediously mentioned in what pretends to be spontaneous dialogue. Ridiculous but utterly typical: Bryan V. in the second episode of season six exclaims, “It’s gotta be in Gladware and ready to go.” Just more plastic in the landfill, dude!

3. Panning Cameras. The camera operators must be smoking meth, they’re so nervous. A camera never pauses for a second to let us examine anything, prep steps or finished food included, in a technique borrowed from Iron Chef. What with frenetic sweeps, rapid cuts, and dizzying zooming in and out, everyone could be standing motionless and the camera would still supply the action. Give me a Dramamine so I can keep watching, I feel sick.

2. Tattoos. Collectively, the six seasons have exhausted the visual possibilities of tattoos and piercings, which, like the haircuts, are intended to distract you from the utter lack of star quality in most contestants. In season six, Jen established a new low by being so covered with tattoos and piercings, she elicited an audible gasp from us when she was first introduced. Her early departure might have marked the end of the tattoo era–except that soon thereafter we were treated to a vast display of hairy, pimply tattooed flesh as the boys jumped into the pool. Are contestants forced to get hideous tatts as a pre-condition of being on the show?

1. The Food Itself. If you really like food, the recipes created on the show will often revolt you. Garish squirted sauces, lakes of fake balsamic, extraneous and incongruous ingredients thrown into abstract culinary compositions–Is this really the way you want to eat? Anyone for a salmon and gouda panini on a sun-dried tomato roll, or crab cakes Benedict with mango cream sauce? Both were winning recipes. Yuck! Or maybe some seared Chilean sea bass? (Things like seafood sustainability, humanely raised animals, and locavorism mean nothing to this retrograde crew. Top Chef is truly the world according to Glad.)

Poor Padma! She didn’t quite make it into the top five reasons we hate Top Chef.