Every eater is an opinionator, which is why Voracious is featuring a new column devoted to the food-based disagreements that might forever divide us if they weren't such great fodder for dinnertime conversations. Tabletop Wrestling is where our contributors will take up the food world's hornet's nests and sacred cows, with each side passionately argued by a writer who cares deeply about the topic. In this installment, Daniel Person and Hanna Raskin debate the benefits of Top Chef coming to town.
Bring it on.
When I was a kid growing up in Helena, Mont., the FBI raided a tiny cabin north of town and arrested Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. For about a week, I gawked at the crush of TV vans surrounding the courthouse a few blocks from my house and watched television in awe as images of my hood were flashed across CNN's vaunted broadcast.
Were we Helenans proud that a murderous Luddite had found his refuge for God knows how long in our backyard? No. Did we get a kick out of a little national exposure? I know I did.
Which brings me to Top Chef in Seattle. Call it childish, but have no doubt that when the world watches some poor hack fresh off of Carnival Cruise Lines try to prepare a geoduck to Padma's tastes... well, it'll be pride, not Rainier Beer, lifting my spirits that night.
Not to mention that after all the Seattle chef-testants have packed up their knives and gone, at least episode two will have some local color beyond whatever car dealership ads are slated to run that night.
And when else are you going to get to kick back and scoff to your cat about factual and pronunciation errors made by Tom Colicchio."Mittens! He said Alkeeee!"
I'll give you this: Seattle spurning Top Chef on account of perceived slights and a what's-our-take outlook would be in perfect keeping with this city's history of pissing on it's own parade. It was Seattle, after all, that over-thought itself out of the NBA.
But I propose we buck a trend this year and give into the wiles of prime-time exposure on Bravo TV and have some fun for once - learn to stop worrying and love the bomb. So to speak. -- DANIEL PERSON
Who needs it?
Lots of cities will benefit from Top Chef's Pacific Northwest stay. Seattle is unlikely to be one of them.
If past seasons are any guide, the show's most distinguished contestants are likely to parlay their on-screen successes into investor bait; With financial backing from starstruck food lovers, imaginative chefs can open the fabulous restaurants they've always wanted in their hometowns. That storyline has played out in Chicago, where Stephanie Izard's forthcoming Little Goat is among the year's most anticipated openings, and Atlanta, where Richard Blais recently added The Spence to his portfolio.
But how are things in San Juan, where Izard and Blais competed for the Season Four title? Have you booked your ticket to eat pork shoulder there yet? Did you even remember where the finale was filmed?
Top Chef is television, so hopscotching across the country in order to showcase different landscapes and handsome guest judges makes good visual sense. But the show's producers are notoriously uninterested in the true culinary character of the cities they feature, and even less interested in engaging the people who live in those places. Top Chef treats its shooting locales like motel rooms serviceable for a one-night stand.
Last month, I tried to help alleviate fan frustration surrounding the show's closed Seattle shoots by giving the show's spokesperson a chance to explain the secrecy. Pitching softballs as reliably as a batting cage machine, I asked whether Top Chef might host a thank-you viewing party for locals when the season debuted. Tory Brody smirked audibly in response: "The show's concentration is the show," she explained. I hope she had a drip pan to catch all the condescension coming off her voice.
Brody ventured that the city might want to stage its own celebrations, but the show's latest season suggests there may not be much to celebrate. Although Texas ponied up $400,000 for the privilege of serving as a Top Chef host, the state which viewers saw was a goofy caricature that was unlikely to lure anyone to the Lone Star State. The impression created by Top Chef was that Texans ride horses and eat beef in unbearable heat. The show didn't touch on the state's vibrant coastal cuisine or the global mash-ups that make Houston an incredible dining destination. ("No one in Houston really cared about the show," Kathaine Shilcutt, my counterpart at the Houston Press, e-mails. "In fact, most people I know actively boycotted watching it because they were so furious at being overlooked.")
This may be the last time I write about Top Chef. After my last post, Brody vowed Top Chef would never "work with" the Weekly again (read: take my calls), because -- as she told me in a frantic 7 a.m. call -- real reporters know instinctively to never publish a spokesperson's name. When she failed to scare me or my editor into removing her name from damning quotes like "typically, the finale is different than the majority of the show," she had a Top Chef judge ring me up to plead her case. The whole experience was unnecessarily unpleasant, which may turn out to be a fair description of the show's Seattle sojourn. -- HANNA RASKIN