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Television review: 'No Kitchen Required' travels far, feels too close

Chefs on this BBC America reality competition travel to new places, gather ingredients and cook under primitive conditions. Interesting, yet the show feels old.

April 03, 2012|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Contestants prepare a meal under primitive conditions in "No Kitchen Required."
Contestants prepare a meal under primitive conditions in "No Kitchen… (Tim Calver, BBC AMERICA )

"No Kitchen Required" is a new show from BBC America in which three chefs from three corners of the English-speaking world travel to remote locations to have their way with the native cuisine, and vice versa. If the words"Top Chef" and"Survivor" were not uttered in the same sentence at some time while this series was being pitched, I will eat my own cooking.

All the chefs have appeared on reality TV, but in the 21st century that is just what chefs do.

Michelin-starred Michael Psilakis has been on "Iron Chef"; probably not coincidentally, he is an executive producer of this show. Though he's the least colorful of the three, his clothes remain impressively unwrinkled under difficult conditions.

Madison Cowan, whose own website describes him as a "former street resident with roots in London, Detroit and Jamaica," was a "grand champion" on Food Network's"Chopped." Long-haired, tribal-tatted New Zealander Kayne Raymond, a "Private Executive Chef" (capitalization theirs) has also appeared on "Chopped," which comes from the same production company as "No Kitchen Required."

Tuesday's premiere is set on the Caribbean island of Dominica. We meet the contestants as they rappel down a seaside cliff to a beach to meet host Shini Somara, whose bio runs in part: "By the age of 25, Somara had completed her doctoral thesis while working full-time as a mechanical engineer. Yet, she still found time to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and dabble in the world of fashion as a model. Somara also has a degree in classical ballet from the Royal Academy of Dance."

The biggest twist here is that the chefs have to gather the ingredients themselves, from the land or the sea, then clean it and cook it under "primitive" conditions. I'm not keen on the hunting and fishing aspects of the show — what did that poor little opossum ever do to you, Madison Cowan, except remind you that you hate rats, to which they are not related? But there is a longer discussion for us to have about that, some late night after class in the commons room.

Beyond bragging rights and symbolic souvenirs, there is nothing to win, and without the possibility of elimination, the contestants stay fist-bumping friendly. "Michael is really sticking to his Mediterranean roots; I don't know how this is going to work out for him," is about as trashy as the trash talk gets.

I like the noncompetitive flavor; some viewers, I imagine, will miss the tension. In most ways, however, the show too closely resembles its many predecessors, with the result that it feels old right out of the box, exotic locations and traditionally garbed hosts notwithstanding. Between edits too fast to let you take anything in and the constant cutaways to contestants telling you what just happened, you don't get a substantial sense of the place or, more crucial, of the food.

But the attitude is respectful and, stagy as the production is, the curiosity at least feels honest.

No Kitchen Required'

Where: BBC America

When: 7 and 10 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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