Compared to most dramatic, trashy and pathetically rose-bearing reality television, a culinary program can be a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon in a lineup of double cheeseburgers and fries.
Mondays at 10 p.m.
Bravo, home of arguably the best cooking show on TV, “Top Chef,” now introduces “Chef Academy,” starring French chef Jean Christophe Novelli. “Chef Academy” can’t replace the obsession-producing qualities of “Top Chef” (like underdogs racing against the clock and an obscure set of rules); it also lacks the unnecessary cursing and hellish fear seen in “Hell’s Kitchen,” with Chef Gordon Ramsay single-handedly discouraging anyone from wanting to join the restaurant business. But in its own way, “Chef Academy” still promises entertainment, suspense and high-class food.
“Chef Academy” follows Chef Novelli on his quest to start a culinary school in the United States. He has an accent that could make anything taste good, but ze food iz ze most important part of the show. Dramatic flour explosions and spittle-laiden bouts of criticism don’t take center stage — ze food does, largely because there’s no competition. The candidates can’t win or lose, but they’re sautéing and chopping to stay in the academy.
Chef Novelli embraces his passion for food. Imagine a barista in France, overlooking the water, with a glass of vino and a French accent full of chocolaty thickness, sitting in front of a television. “Chef Academy” is for this person — the sophisticated reality addict. Bravo does a fine job of delivering series that play up tension and catfights, but here the network seems to aim for a new demographic. It’s now possible to see how people improve their cooking instead of watching them get voted off for a lapse in judgment. While “Chef Academy” gives young cooks a chance, it also shows the process of learning to be a fantastic cook instead of people proving they’re fantastic cooks.
“Chef Academy” is an inspiring show that doesn’t attempt to make a chef out of you, but does its best to bring some respect back into the kitchen. It’s refreshing to get a glimpse of the candidates before they make it onto the show. Either Bravo is really great at setting the mood or Chef Novelli actually has a hand in choosing the right people for his academy.
On “Chef Academy,” reality meets respectability and cuisine meets art on a non-competitive level. With these two arguably unexplored aspects of culinary TV brought together, it’s worth a watch even if all it reaps is a passionate love-fest in the kitchen. Wine and burgers for dinner? Well, it’s better than just burgers.