Last night was the season premiere of Top Chef: Texas, the latest installment of Bravo's excellent cooking competition series, and it was so exciting—mostly because someone was eliminated, like, every three seconds. Obviously the cooking was fun to watch, and host Padma Lakshmi radiates sexy electric pheromones and all that, but to fit the Texas theme of this season, the producers wanted to make everything big for the premiere. (Texas, if you hadn't heard, likes big things: Big state, big hats, big guns, big hairdos on their governors-turned-presidential candidates, etc.) To that end, they had a whopping 29 contestants show up at the beginning of the episode, rather than the traditional sixteen. This does not mean a longer competition, though. What it meant was lots of heartbreaking cuts, coming fast and furious as a Ginsu knife. Amazing!
If you've ever seen the Food Network's series Chopped, in which a group of four chefs per episode are eliminated course by course until there is a winner, you'll know that quick, multiple eliminations aren't exactly a new television idea. But for Top Chef, which typically plods along with one elimination per episode, this was unprecedented. Basically the 29 hopefuls were thrown into the kitchen in groups of nine or so and told to cook for their lives -- or, you know, a chance to be one of the formal 16 contestants. After an hour they brought their meals infront of the terrifying tribunal of chef-judges and their fates were decided. Either they got a magic Top Chef jacket of approval or they were sent out to die in the Texas heat. In all four contestants were dismissed in this first wave, and a lot more were "on the bubble," meaning they'll get one last chance to prove their mettle next week.
How quick and satisfying all of these verdicts came, as one-by-one dreams were held up or viciously crushed. The most gratifying axing, though, happened to one chef before he even got to cook anything. Unimpressed with an overly cocky 22-year-old's meager butchering abilities, head judge Tom "Mr. Clean's Successful Older Brother" Colicchio dispatched him on the spot. The poor fellow had to pack up his knives right there in the middle of cooking, in front of everyone. Cruel, but wonderful.
So here's a spin-off suggestion for Bravo: Top Chef Melee. Keep your elegant original series -- with its deliberate pace and grand dramatic build -- but also add this quicker, more instantly gratifying format. All it would entail is throwing a bunch of competent-ish chefs/cooks into a room, telling them to go at it on some specific kind of ingredient or something, and then sending an esteemed panel of judges out into the frenzy, scanning the water like sharks, picking off the weak as they go. Those that actually get to present their fully realized dishes? Great. Those that don't, too bad. In the end maybe two stand and they have another cook-off and then the winner is declared. It'd be bloody (maybe literally) good fun.