TV Land

Was Chopping Block Better Than Top Chef, and Was MPW Better Than Gordon Ramsay?

Last summer when Marco Pierre White wrapped filming of The Chopping Block on the Bowery (in the Continental and Kelly & Ping spaces), he told us that he had been subject to some “horrific” and “painful” dishes. So we knew that when the show finally aired last night, we were in for a treat. And what a treat. First off, there’s not much new here — the conceit of couples (husbands and wives, brothers, exes, etc.) competing for a restaurant is new to Americans only if they haven’t seen The Restaurant (a spinoff of Last Restaurant Standing) on BBC America. And of course we’ve seen the antisocial chef-mentor before. So how did Marco Pierre White stack up against Gordon Ramsay?

Ramsay vs. White
Understandably, the show took pains to introduce MPW to an audience that had never heard of him before, dropping his protégés’ names (Batali! Ramsay!) and running a Today show clip. But it might’ve been a little much when one contestant said, “He’s like a god,” and another informed, “It’s like, he invented food, almost!”

As expected, White is much more of a seether to Gordon Ramsay’s screamer. Nowhere near as many F-bombs, but plenty of cut-downs: “It’s a bit bland. What it tells me about her is that she’s bland,” and “If I came down to your house tonight and I got this, I’d be very happy. If I went to a restaurant and got this, I’d be pissed off.”

White definitely gets points for style — especially those Rebel Without a Cause–style walks down the Bowery in checkered Vans.

The Contestants vs. the Cheftestants
At first we worried that the contestants were a little too plain-Jane and wet behind the ears (only one mohawk in the bunch, lots of shaky hands, instructions to “keep it clean” instead of swearing). And indeed, in the end, one couple couldn’t take the heat and literally got out of the kitchen. (Lame.) But as the show went on, the a-holes came out — in particular Lisa, who snipped at other chefs (“don’t you be touching my food”) and at a waitress (“I don’t want you coming back here”). Also look for flare-ups from Angela, who’s sort of like Ariane but with attitude. And we see tool potential in Zan and Than.

The Judges
One great part of the show: A food critic judges the teams every week. Their faces are blurred during the preview (we can only assume those were Jeffrey Steingarten’s silver locks), but this week’s judge, Corby Kummer of the Atlantic, was totally recognizable (of course Kummer, a former New York critic, is more of a food writer these days). Hopefully the rest of the critics will be this sour — “It’s claret — not claré,” he corrects a waiter, and sounds obnoxious even when he orders water: “N.Y. tap with no ice, please.”

The Food
Sadly the dishes looked even more unappetizing than the ones on Top Chef, and less creative. The real highway wreck: The “dog’s dinner” that Sean cooks for MPW: “It’s quite violent — a lot of bones, a lot of blood. Maybe I should blindfold myself.” And then there was the undercooked and underseasoned chicken — “too translucent and too bloody,” says Kummer. Yum. When Marco Pierre White picks a veal chop as a challenge winner simply because diners tend to order veal chop, it’s apparent that cuisine might not be the primary concern, and that Marco may be there mostly to teach the cooks how to run a business, Apprentice-style. Either way, MPW did tell us that the dishes improved by the end of the show, so maybe there’s hope.

Will We Watch Again?
Sigh. Maybe — but only for Marco-worship purposes, and if the guest judge puts on a show (meaning we’ll be there for Steingarten). But much as we appreciated the dramatic string music and sexy shots of the Bowery, we’d probably pick Hell’s Kitchen over this. After all, it’s the original show where everyone freaks out when the lights go off. What’d you think?

Was Chopping Block Better Than Top Chef, and Was MPW Better Than