Sporting a tousled mop of hair and Pepe LePew accent, Frenchmen Jean-Christophe Novelli is billed as having been voted the “world’s sexiest chef,” which makes you wonder whether Florida or Ohio election officials were involved in the process. Novelli descends on L.A. with his pregnant girlfriend in tow to open a culinary academy, screening applicants who have “ze love, ze art and ze passion for cooking.” “Chef Academy” has a few things modestly going for it, but love, art and passion aren’t among them.
As with talent-competition judges, chefs seem to receive an extra leg up by being of European extraction, but beyond that, it’s difficult to see off-hand what Novelli’s gimmick is supposed to be. In the premiere, he never throws food at anyone; heck, the meanest thing he does is tell one hopeful, “If you cry, that’s it.” (Said hopeful is a buxom blond from Orange County showing ample cleavage, so anybody thinking that she might not be admitted to the academy clearly doesn’t watch enough of Bravo.)
Novelli recruits a British chef as his trusty sidekick (think Dr. Watson) as he goes about putting candidates through the cooking paces. Unfortunately, there’s not much suspense about how their “signature dishes” are going to turn out, and other than a moment when somebody cuts a finger and drips blood all over, there’s not a whole lot of drama either, since this isn’t a competition: People might crap out, but nobody is voted out.
Bravo has its mitts in every aspect of fashion, cooking and design, but “Chef Academy” represents a bland addition to that menu — yielding that fleeting glimpse of blood, perhaps, but not much in the way of sweat and tears.
Even those with “ze passion” for ze TV about cooking might be tempted to flip ze dial.