FYI’s latest culinary contest entry Late Nite Chef Fight balances the ingredients of a fun cooking competition with a mostly solid presentation.
If there is one thing to learn from the cornucopia of televised cooking competitions it is that a successful dish is a combination of ingredients and presentation. Some shows have nailed down this formula: Top Chef and Chopped immediately jump to mind (which is why their formats are often imitated by newcomers). Less successful entries slip up when it comes to the components (ingredients) of the game (House of Food) while others louse up the presentation (Midnight Feast). FYI has rebounded nicely from Midnight Feast with its new competition series Late Nite Chef Fight.
This competition features two chefs competing in three different challenges in a parking lot outside a Las Vegas casino. The first “advantage challenge” has the chefs sharing a work station to create a pre-determined high quality appetizer in five minutes. Though ingredients are provided, some key ingredients are missing. In the first episode, which aired this past Saturday, the competitors had to make guacamole, but no cilantro or lemon juice was readily available. The winner of this challenge gets to choose one of two food trucks, each with its own pros and cons. Both have a paltry pantry of supplies and not all elements of the truck are functional (none of this information is provided to the contestants). The second challenge gives the contestants 20 minutes to create a dish highlight a secret ingredient, all while acclimating to their respective food trucks. The winner of this challenge gets the option of swapping trucks or getting a bonus ingredient to use in the final challenge, which features two mystery ingredients. At stake: a trophy rivaling the Dancing with the Stars Mirror Ball Trophy’s extreme tackiness and a dinner prepared by the loser.
The structure of the competition is solid and is based on a concept developed by Jolene Mannina. The judging for the first two rounds features two culinary personalities from the basic cable universe (judges this season include Casey Lane from House of Food and Spike Mendelsohn from Top Chef / Midnight Feast / Bar Rescue), while members of the audience are a third vote in the final round. The contestants are from the Vegas restaurant industry, so there are built-in camaraderies/rivalries in what is essentially a bragging rights competition.
The weakness of Late Nite Chef Fight is in the television aspect of the proceedings. The show has two hosts: Laila Ali and Vic Vegas (a runner-up from the 2013 edition of Food Network Star). While Vic knows his way around a kitchen, he still lacks the charisma of a television presenter. Laila’s problem is the opposite: she has enough presenting skill to draw a viewer in1 but does not seem to know much about cooking. The competition is not complex enough or large enough to require two hosts, which means there is a lot of plugging both hosts into doing things that 1) are not that interesting and 2) are outside their comfort zones. This may improve as the series continues, and if the judging panels feature women. In the pilot, the panel was two guys and I can understand the choice of having Laila trying to talk shop with them to avoid the creation of a brodown.
Late Nite Chef Fight can be a little Vegas-y, in that there is a lot of glitz and filler, but overall the show is a fun competition highlighting the problem-solving skills of talented chefs.
- Let’s pour one out for American Gladiators, y’all. ↵