The basic idea here is that the fundamental story in life is as a contest. Everything is a competition, and every competition has a single winner. The intrigue in observing such a story is the level of character brought to the context. We are supposed to glorify the effort if we judge it worthy, comforting 'good losers' as they affirm the honor of having competed.
With this notion, you can bring the idea of competition to the basics of life. So it was no surprise to me on a visit to Australian TeeVee to discover a contest brought to one of the most basic gifts in life: the ability to enhance the human encounter by preparing food. Yes, I know there is a distance when the process is industrialized, where the chef is a paid craftsman producing for anonymous eaters in another room. But even then, the values are to serve the experience of the people consciously gathering to share one of the three most intimate encounters we have.
What we have is a setup that shoehorns cooking into a competition. I understand these shows are popular worldwide, so that fundamental story of life a contest trumps all. We have exotic locations and challenges. We have a self-important 'food critic, ' carrying an obnoxious, superior attitude as if we could really trust him. His authority is shored up by real celebrated Australian chefs who are fine with the additional celebration and the role as winners in a higher level contest. The one I saw is someone whose food I have eaten.
This comment is on season three, episodes 11 and 12. In the first of these, contestants are flown to New York's Harlem to compete in cooking 'soul food.' For international readers who don't know, the role this food plays is identical to food in any other ethnic community; it binds tribes with the only metric being how 'genuine' it is. It has to be prepared by black Americans using cheap, usually unhealthy, ingredients. Intuition and tradition are supposed to guide the cook, removing this food from any notion in a fine chef's world. In the same way that it is 'genuinely black' to rely on folk wisdom instead of a college eduction, cooking soul food is something like teaching an elite physicist to dance. A soul food restaurant is supposed to simply be a wise old woman's kitchen.
So that show was weird, especially our bumpfy judge sitting amongst the now dead wise old woman's family, judging the food.
But that was tame stuff compared to the show that followed. The competitors were to present meals to the Dalai Lama for his judgment!
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