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'TOP CHEF' VS. 'HELL'S KITCHEN'

Smackdown

June 11, 2008

AT THE Envelope and, indeed, the Los Angeles Times, we love television so much that we track its every move. When shows peak and plummet, when they inspire and when they disappoint, we chronicle their progress. We love them all -- dramas, comedies, reality TV . . . ah, reality TV. That's where our passions really flare, and where the arguments can get ugly (in a good way). Here, some of our Show Trackers defend their favorites against the competition in our first Envelope Reality TV Smackdown.

Denise Martin: Why is "Top Chef" better than "Hell's Kitchen"? Because there isn't a screaming lunatic in every episode. Forget that Gordon Ramsay is a Michelin star chef, he -- or, rather, his TV character -- is plain unbearable to watch. He's sort of like the Incredible Hulk without any of those good guy sensibilities. But I guess if you like Jerry Springer. . . .

Rene Lynch: Springer? The Incredible Hulk? You say that like it's a bad thing. But this is precisely why we tune in to "Hell's Kitchen" -- to see who will set Chef Ramsay off like a cheap alarm clock. Because, really, neither of these shows is about cooking. When was the last time you walked away from either one and thought, "I need to bookmark that recipe!" These shows are all about flying off the handle, so to speak. And that's why "Top Chef" will always be sous chef to "Hell's Kitchen."

DM: "Top Chef" isn't about flying off the handle. That's like comparing "American Idol" to "Don't Forget the Lyrics." One is about watching people sing, the other is about watching people get embarrassed while singing. I expect cooking instruction in "Top Chef" about as often as I expect voice lessons from "Idol." I watch to see professional chefs duke it out in a months-long culinary gantlet. There's even your requisite weekly offings and plenty of harsh criticism to go around. Even the barbs on "Top Chef" fly first class. Ramsay should pack his knives and go.

RL: You can portray this as mass versus class all you want. But "Top Chef" is all about creating outlandish challenges and waiting for people who wield knives for a living to break under the pressure. Why else concoct a situation where someone has to stay up all night to create, shop for, cook and present dueling dinner services for a bride-and-groom-to-be? And what about the Kitchen Wars challenge? The only reason to throw a restaurant together in 24 hours is to give someone an opportunity to blow it big time and be humiliated on national TV. "Hell's Kitchen" just takes this same format to the extreme. As well it should. If nothing else, Ramsay earns points for saying his piece to someone's face instead of behind their back. I will grant you this: "Top Chef" does, indeed, bring in the creme de la creme of the food world. And that is one exceptionally good reason to tune in.

DM: Glad you have some sense. Padma Lakshmi welcomes all.

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