Do you like food? Do you like the world? If you’re like me, you do! But here’s the most important question, reader: Do you like plates? I think plates are pretty cool — I like big circular plates covered with leafy greens and pork chops and mashed potatoes and other such delights. I’m also fond of oval platters suffocating under the weight of extreme nachos. I’ll confess to hating rectangular and triangular plates of the type you find at certain restaurants who take as their motto “Let’s confound diners’ expectations about the most basic shit in the universe,” but overall I guess you could call me a fan of plates. Anyway, there’s a new show made for people just like you and me: Around the World in 80 Plates is Bravo’s celebration of travel and cuisine and arguing and all that stuff we’ve come to expect from reality TV (and reality itself).
The show — hereafter: AW80P — is hosted by Cat Cora (not a manga character) and Curtis Stone, whom I fell in love with while recapping America’s Next Great Restaurant. Here’s how it works: Our contestants, accomplished chefs one and all, fly around the world sampling regional cuisines and then taking over local restaurants where they must impress “the toughest critics of all”: the local customers.
It’s “a game of skill and strategy,” the likes of which haven’t been seen since the West’s latest colonialist folly, and the winner of the show goes home with $150,000 thanks to Sam Pelligeroni(sp?), the fine bubbly water that reminds me of drinking really, really boring olive oil.
Other corporate sponsors include Infiniti cars and something called Chase Sapphire Reserve, which I assume is an ultra-exclusive credit card available only to Jay-Z, or people who have as much money as Jay-Z, or anybody who has heard of Jay-Z.
We’re introduced to our contestants in a frenzy of video snippets and sassy comments addressed to camera. Of note: A chef named Sai is introduced via sultry photos of her posing provocatively while she asks, “Who do you think people would rather fuck: (a) Paula Deen; (b) Rachael Ray; or (c) Chef Sai?” (Actual quote! Though Bravo bleeped the F-word.)
Gary used to be a private chef at a sorority house, while Steve a.k.a. “Nookie” is an executive chef for the Boston Red Sox, cooking for team owners and bigwigs and other people I probably don’t have much in common with.
Liz, who cooks at a place called the Foundry on Melrose, which sounds like a Game of Thrones-themed restaurant, thinks people will underestimate her because she looks young. Sure enough, when Liz meets Nookie he makes fun of how young she looks. Boom! There’s our proof that people underestimate Liz because of how young she looks.
Clara, a chef at Local Harvest, has the best hair. Meanwhile John works for a famous chef and has cooked for two presidents! Cheven, “a rising-star chef” works for all the “famous celebrities.” That name is a combo of "chef" and "Keven."
The chefs are dumped in the back of a transport plane with bags over their heads and flown to London. There they are greeted by Cat and Curtis, the latter of whom still possesses the rakish style I have come to adore. The chefs are sorted into two teams: Red Team and Black Team.
The teams must go on a good ol’ fashioned pub crawl, sampling famous British pub food and pub drinks. It’s a race, of course, and the first team to finish will get to use the Exceptional Ingredient when planning their own gastropub meal.
Here the show reveals its dark genius: Because the pub crawl is a race, our American chefs don’t have time to savor the food — they just shovel it into their mouths when they’re not slamming back drinks. What was billed as a celebration of international culinary traditions becomes instead an orgy of overclocked consumption.
Black-pudding hash, steak-and-kidney pie, fish and chips: All are dumped into the gaping maws of our friends, like hay into horses.
Red Team finishes first because they took taxis from pub to pub while Black Team ran around like a bunch of blind drunks. How will Black Team work together in the kitchen?
Our teams must prepare five dishes of authentic gastropub food. Red Team has earned this week’s Exceptional Ingredient: the humble potato. Black Team can’t use potatoes in their gastropub food! Imagine fish and chips with no chips! (Reminder: What British people call chips are actually French fries.)
Both teams debate whether to make a dessert. Nookie thinks Jenna wants to make dessert because she’s drunk and “super-annoying.” Clara wants to include a vegetarian dish because good veggie dishes are hard to come by in London. (Indeed, there is no word for “vegetarian” in British English.)
Black Team is running the Duke of Cambridge and having trouble with the stove. Red Team is running the Drapers Arms and having trouble converting Fahrenheit to Celsius. (Remember: For every five degrees of Fahrenheit, add two points to your Celsius at 9.5 percent APR and you’ll get the right temperature.)
After the standard food-show shots of people running around in the kitchen and banging pots and pans and yelling at each other, the pubs open and the British customers rush in to eat their favorite pub foods!
There’s a special guest among the rabble: Sexy chef Nigella Lawson, the amazing talent who could make eating wilted celery leaves look pornographic.
Black Team serves fish with polenta chips instead of potato-based chips. Nigella Lawson smears the polenta chips all over her chin, turns to the camera and whispers, “Do you like what you see?” (JOKE). Next out of the kitchen is steak-and-kidney pie, which Nigella Lawson pours down the front of her blouse while chanting, “Bad little girl make a naughty mess!” (JOKE). As for the halibut, Nigella Lawson ties it to a bedpost and flogs it à la Fifty Shades of Grey (JOKE.) There’s also bread pudding, which is so gross you can’t even make a joke about eroticizing it — though you are welcome to try in the comments section. The judges are impressed.
Over at the Drapers Arms, Red Team announces they have temporarily changed the name of the pub to British Love, American Pride (!?!). The British patrons, to their credit, are openly furious.
Red Team brings out their food, which is just crappy British pub food fancied up with little green odds-and-ends sticking out every which way, and weird orange spices dribbled around the sides of the plate. You know the deal, ladies and gentlemen: This is how a grilled-cheese sandwich becomes something you pay $12 for.
Nigella talks to the diners. All the British people talk about which pub’s food they like better but I get confused about which pub’s food they liked better. I guess so that I’ll be surprised at the end of the show.
Cheven starts saying bad things about other team members so he can manipulate their emotions and conquer the show. He’s the bad guy.
Red Team and Black Team are assembled before Curtis and Cat for interrogation. Nookie is called out for his steak-and-kidney pie: “The diners in your pub didn’t like your steak-and-kidney pie.” And also? The black-pudding hash “sucked major donkey balls.” (Not an exact quote.)
Black Team praises Chaz for his excellent communication and leadership skills. This burns Cheven. And Cheven gets even more burned when Chaz takes credit for dessert, which was Cheven’s idea! Can you believe the madness and subterfuge we are witnessing here?
The judges make their decision: Black Team wins! Their delicious dessert has conquered London and brought England to its knees. Chaz wins immunity for the next city, which means he can do whatever he wants. Time to start racking up speeding tickets!
Red Team sits and stews. Which of their fellows will they eliminate? They discuss how sucky their food was. Nookie tries to convince everyone that they should eliminate Clara because his dish was more difficult than hers so that’s why it’s okay that it sucked.
Nookie’s strategimatizin’ works: Clara is VOTED OUT. Red Team hugs each other in the wake of their agonizing decision.
So London is finished — reduced to a smoldering mountain of rubble — and our culinary marauders set their sights on the next target: Lyon, France!
See you next week!
David Rees is an artisanal pencil sharpener.