Food for Thought: Midnight Feast

Three chefs run through Chelsea Market on FYI's Midnight Feast
Midnight Feast (Photo: FYI)

Is FYI’s Midnight Feast a tasty treat or a cause for heartburn?

The culinary competition Midnight Feast, debuting Thursday at 10pm on FYI, is an apt representation of its network home. FYI launched this summer as an upscale lifestyle network to replace the celebrity ghost stories of the A&E spinoff Bio network. So far FYI has had one bonafide hit in the relationship experiment Married at First Sight, and minor noteworthy programs Tiny House Nation and Epic Meal Empire.1 “Upscale lifestyle” seems to encompass renovations, bridal wear, and expensive ingredients for cooking.

Midnight Feast focuses on the last item of that list. Three chefs are brought to New York City’s Chelsea Market for after-hours culinary experiments. Each contestant has $500 to use over two rounds. Round one has the contestants making an appetizer and cocktail around a given theme for the episode, incorporating one of three high-end ingredients (offered at a discount). One contestant is eliminated after the round and has to pay for her/his ingredients (more on that in a bit). The second round completes the feast with an entree and a dessert. Each chef acquires an “interference ingredient” that their opponent must incorporate into their dishes. The winning chef wins ten times the amount of money spent on ingredients (up to $5,000) while the losing chef has to pay for all of her/his ingredients from both rounds.

As a culinary competition, the concept behind Midnight Feast is great. Wouldn’t you love to have free reign in an upscale grocery store to make tastiness for a nice cash prize? However, not every contest makes for compelling television—there’s a reason why 5k races and MathCounts aren’t regularly televised events: they are super boring.2 Here are the beats for a given episode:

  • Top Chef alumnus Spike Mendelsohn describes the challenge.
  • Three chefs with no prior relationship or animosity (aside from generalized trash talking) go grocery shopping.
  • Three chefs make dishes that the viewer can’t taste.
  • Time runs out.
  • The panel tastes dishes and offer an equal balance of positive and negative comments.
  • The panel gives a full recap of the episode to this point before each panelist writes the name of the chef s/he wants to eliminate on restaurant tickets as if this is Survivor. The panel is three people.
  • A chef is eliminated, symbolized by Spike using a ticket spike to skewer the tickets. This is the kiss-off. The eliminated chef then pays for the ingredients.
  • Round two described.
  • More grocery shopping.
  • More cooking, still no real relationship between any of the participants.
  • Time runs out.
  • The panel tastes dishes and offer an equal balance of positive and negative comments.
  • The panel gives ANOTHER full recap before doing another vote.
  • Results, skewer, payment. Hooray for the winner.

Aside from the plodding pace of the series, the stakes seem particularly forced. We are led to believe that each contestant has put up $500 of her/his own money to compete, as shown by the payment for ingredients at the end of each round. The execution of this is clumsy and contrived. There is the incentive to spend as much as possible to maximize the prize if a chef wins, but that never entered the calculus of menu planning as shown through the narration interviews.

Midnight Feast would be tastier as a documentary about these kind of competitions (if they exist?), but as an over-produced reality show does nothing for the appetite.

  1. My beloved Rowhouse Showdown was pretty much abandoned by the network at the jump.  
  2. And in the case of MathCounts: not all that telegenic. I say that as a former Mathlete and as someone who saw ESPN2’s coverage several years back.  

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About Mike McComb 656 Articles
Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it "TV Camp." After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: mike@whatelseison.tv