Jerks at work are a problem. This proposition is not debatable. Just how pervasive the problem is may be subject to some debate. Some say that jerks are everywhere. Others say the jerk population has been reduced (or maybe just quieted) by the economy. Either way, there has been a lot of press about jerk. There's also been an increasing acceptance of the proposition that jerks at work are bad for business.
So I was taken by surprise last night while watching The Next Iron Chef on Food Network. I'm not a major fan of Iron Chef, necessarily, but my husband, a professional chef and restaurateur, likes any show involving chefs, cooking, and competition, so we tuned in. In The Next Iron Chef, contestants battle for the title of Iron Chef. (If you're unfamiliar with the show, it started in Japan, where it became a cult favorite. It was followed by Iron Chef America, which is filmed in the U.S. with Iron Chefs Mario Batali, Morimoto, Cat Cora, Bobby Flay, and the most recent addition, Michael Symon.)
During last night's episode, the first in the newest competition, 10 contestants had to prepare two dishes using an "exotic" ingredient that they'd been assigned. (By "exotic," I mean unlaid eggs, fallopian tube still intact, rooster cockscombs, and similarly appetizing fare.) Of course, this was done under outrageous time restraints in a kitchen in which they'd never worked, with equipment that seemed to fail more often than it worked, etc. Suffice it to say, the conditions were more than difficult.
When the buzzer rang and the host announced, "Knives down!" I nearly clapped I was so proud of the chefs! That pride quickly faded when the chefs were required to critique each others' dishes.
What a terrible way to start the show. For the contestants and for viewers. We could have been riding high, celebrating their first big victory but, instead, had to watch several contests be petty and spiteful, ridiculing other chefs' dishes without regard to professionalism or reciprocity.
But it got worse during the next phase, when the contestants were judged one by one by the show's judges. The panel included two women and one man. Both women gave feedback that was insightful, intelligent, and knowledgeable. The man, on the other hand, just dished out a bunch of garbage. The jerky judge in question, Jeffrey Steingarten, was snarky, contrary, and negative to the point of disgust. It was just unbearable to watch.
I finally asked my husband, "Why do they even have this guy on the show?" To which my husband replied, "Because he's a famous food writer?" Oh, really? Who cares?
I'll never tune in to another program that has Mr. Steingarten as a judge. He's apparently a world-class writer with a pedigree that outshines those of even the most prestigious and acclaimed in the industry. But maybe he should consider sticking to what he does so well--writing--and leave the TV stuff to the pros. Every comment was more angry and hostile than the last, leaving me with a taste so bitter that it ruined the entire experience. He takes the title of food critic a bit too literally, in my opinion.
Lighten up, Mr. Steingarten! Celebrate food once in a while! Didn't you get into the food world to celebrate the magic and glory that such wondrous cookery can produce? Certainly you don't eat for a living because you hate the sight of food! Try to remember the beauty and majesty of it the next time you're given such a unique opportunity to taste the creations of 10 of the country's greatest chefs. It can't really be as bad as you make it--even if you did think the cockscomb (prepared by Philly hometown favorite, Jose Garces), was too rubbery.
Next time, I hope the producers can find someone to serve as judge who falls more on the sweet side, rather than the tart, as Mr. Steingarten is so apt to do.
In short, I hope Food Network wises up and tosses the jerk from their workplace. Jerks have a way for ruining one's appetite.