Friday, February 15
Ultimate Recipe Showdown is like Iron Chef for regular folks… if you strip out the excitement of a secret ingredient, cooking in real-time, world class chefs, and the eccentric, campy charm of the original Japanese show and instead replace that all with a non-secret ingredient cooked by too many challengers per episode, jerkily edited cooking segments that barely hold your interest, regular home cooks, and the forced, witless humor of none other than Guy Fieri. Throw in the do-no-wrong credibility-infusing Marc Summers, and you still have a pretty weak show. In short, I didn’t love it.
Each of the six episodes of this limited series features nine challengers—three per each of the three rounds—competing for the chance to win $25,000 and the honor of having his or her recipe appear nationwide on T.G.I. Friday’s menu. You got that? 6 + 9 + 3 + 25,000 = Friday’s … or something like that.
The premiere episode, chicken, is divided up into the three rounds: fried, soups & stews, and whole roasted chicken recipes. Competitors are judged by Katherine Alford (Director, Food Network Test Kitchen), Kerry Simon (chef and partner at SIMON LA, Simon at Palms Place and CatHouse at the Luxor) and Russ Parsons (Food Columnist, The Los Angeles Times) and scored on creativity, appearance, ease of execution and taste.
The competitors take the stage in what’s billed as the “Kitchen Stadium-like” URS Arena and quickly prepare their various dishes—that is if they have much of anything left to prepare. There’s apparently no time limit and URS allows competitors to cook portions of their dish in advance if “extended preparation” is needed. I’m not a fan of this, as timed cooking is one of the few ways shows like these can effectively even the playing field. If a competitor is allowed to do heavy preparation in advance, that doesn’t bode well for another competitor who may try to shorten or eliminate steps in a recipe just to cook in a reasonable amount of time on TV. These types of changes could potentially diminish creativity, appearance, execution and taste—all of the categories upon which they are being judged.
While the dishes themselves are interesting and somewhat-exotic, you barely notice them over all of the cut-aways to both contestant interviews and commentators Marc Summers and Guy Fieri, whose stories and attempt at amusing banter is severely lacking when compared to Alton Brown’s expert commentary on Iron Chef America.
After a winner is chosen from each of the three categories, the three finalists join Marc and Guy on the “grand prize stage” (yet another needless game show term) to hear their scores. In a very anti-climactic reading of the scores, we find out the winner.
The whole spectacle just has too much of everything—too many hosts, too many challengers, too many dramatic pauses (there seems to be a horrible battle within reality competitions to see who can hold the longest dramatic pause), too many lights and lasers and sound effects… just too much hype. I found myself bored throughout my various attempts to get through the episode, hoping that something would eventually grab my attention. Nothing ever did.
In a television world in which nothing is ever overdone (Lie detector game show? Sure. America’s Sexiest Fetus? Absolutely.), the producers just seemed to throw a little bit of everything into URS in the hopes that something would work.
Food Network’s attempt to present “the best” from its viewers is admirable. There's a lot of talent in the audience and many willing to show us what they've got. Unfortunately, this lackluster Iron Chef wannabe just isn't the place.
Ultimate Recipe Showdown premieres Sunday, Feb. 17 at 9pm ET on Food Network.