“The Chopping Block” stirs in ingredients from so many reality shows it’s a wonder this gruel has any flavor at all. Marco Pierre White hosted “Hell’s Kitchen” in the U.K., and we’re told he trained fellow celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay and Mario Batali. Mostly, though, this is just “The Amazing Race” meets “The Restaurant,” as two teams consisting of couples try to start competing Manhattan bistros, with the winning duo earning $250,000 to open their own eatery. Unfortunately, the show faces a double whammy familiar to both TV and foodies — serving a bland dish in a rotten location.
“Fight for what you want in life,” White tells his charges, during a series of taped interludes in which he dispenses restaurant/career/life advice. All that’s missing from these gauzy scenes, really, is a pipe and smoking jacket.
The eight couples fit into the usual mixed bag of stereotypes, but other than their potty mouths (there’s a lot of bleeping in the first hour), they’re an undistinguished bunch, although helpfully prone to tears and squabbling. Frankly, none of them registered except for a pair of brothers who go by the names Zan and Than, which is the kind of thing that really should only happen in reality TV.
The most notable flourish is that each episode concludes with a mystery food critic attending events at each restaurant, with that verdict determining who wins. This would be a helpful referendum on the importance and value of critics (“The critic actually holds your fate in his hands,” White tells them), except that in the second face-off one team instantly identifies the writer as Vogue’s Jeffrey Steingarten, which means he’s not really much of a mystery, is he?
Ramsay has certainly found enough acceptance in America to prove that boorish, food-throwing prima donnas have their place in this genre, but the glowering White — with his brooding eyes, tennis shoes and Three Stooges’ Larry Fine haircut — is more pretentious and irritating than most.
“They do not know how hard it’s going to be,” he warns, later dishing out the following pearls of wisdom: “When you eat someone’s food, you know who they are” and, “Sort out your issues. Sort out your egos.”
Of course, White’s own ego might take a mild drubbing if his big U.S. debut not only lags behind Ramsay’s programs but can’t even improve on the performance of “Knight Rider,” which seems likely. That’s not a pleasant thought, but if you can’t stand the heat, well, given his penchant for cliches he probably knows the rest.