So, “Top Chef” returns tonight for an 11th season, this time very slightly tweaked. If you got a chance to watch the web series “Padma’s Picks,” you probably already know one of the first twists. Padma Lakshmi, having traveled around New Orleans (where the show is based this season), has already hosted a mini version of the show, in which ten of the city’s best chefs have battled to get a slot on the TV series. It’s a small twist, however, and after so many seasons, the question isn’t whether this twist will add something to the existing series — it’s whether the existing series needed a bigger revamp.
Granted, “Top Chef” is a competition show and, as such, can’t be changed too much. In past seasons, some of the more ridiculous challenges (Shoot a target! Ski! Cook!) have only served to irritate fans and, in some cases, caused talented and creative competitors to go home.
But, like any show that becomes familiar in a viewing universe jam-packed with shows, it’s hard not to think that “Top Chef” couldn’t use a makeover. How the show should change, and if it should at all, is the question.
Personally, I’m okay with fewer twists if that means the chefs get an opportunity to be truly creative — something that hasn’t always been the case in past seasons. I don’t care if the chefs cook well while wearing oven mitts, or using the contents of the snack kitchen on a ferry, or while yelling at someone through a partition (all of which have happened). I want to see what they can really do given a variety of proteins and vegetables and seasonings at their disposal.
Maybe that’s not as interesting, of course, and there’s definitely a reason for the wacky stuff — it causes stress, stress causes arguments, arguments cause drama, and voila! We have a perfect recipe for reality TV! But I’m not sure the chefs appearing on this show need a big push to stress out. There’s a lot at stake, they never know where they’re going to be, and, geez, they’re on television.
I’ll be watching in any case, but I’ll understand if some fans are tuning out, too. After ten seasons, this might feel like more of the same.
Will you be watching “Top Chef”?