EW Staff
March 26, 2010 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Top Chef

It’s hard to say what’s more delicious in Bravo’s hit culinary competition: the food or the drama. Those who’d argue for the former can point to the dazzling haute cuisine dishes — often as hard to pronounce as they would be to cook — whipped up each week. But it took more than just hardcore foodies to make this the top-rated food show on cable. Reality TV fans eat up the hot tempers and relentless ambition of the talented ”cheftestants.” Under the watchful eyes of Lakshmi and chef Colicchio, these kitchen combatants duke it out for a $100,000 prize and the bragging rights of being a ”Top Chef.” Six seasons in, we’re still hungry for more. —Adam Markovitz

Inside Top Chef: Las Vegas

As Bravo gets set to fire up the sixth round of its cooking competition on Aug. 19, EW caught up with cohosts Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio to chat about the upcoming season. —Adam Markovitz

PADMA LAKSHMI: Because it’s in Las Vegas, we’re throwing a few curveballs, just as lady luck does. It’s a little more glitzy.

TOM COLICCHIO: Expect to see showgirls.

PL: They tried to get me in [a headdress], but I refused.

TC: [Laughs] Wasn’t from a lack of trying.

PL: We have some great guest judges. For example, we have Natalie Portman, who’s a friend of mine. She’s a huge, huge fan of the show. She brought all her friends.

TC: This is by far our most talented group of chefs. These are serious chefs who are more focused on putting together great food than doing outrageous things to get noticed. But there’s enough drama there. Whenever you get 17 people living in a house, things happen.

PL: There are personalities that emerge, but it’s a real foodie-insider show.

TC: We are constantly being criticized for keeping people who, because of their personalities, maybe they don’t seem to be as good cooks. It’s not true. We don’t see all the reality stuff. We have no idea what’s going on. It’s about the food.

PL: As hard as Top Chef looks on TV, it is way harder in real life to get through. It’s very physically taxing and mentally grueling. I’m lucky because I have a makeup artist who makes me look halfway decent. I don’t know how these guys do it!

Hell’s Kitchen

A cutting, insightful look at the rhythms, skills, and personalities at work behind the scenes in — oh, who are we kidding? We watch this show only to count how many times Ramsay can holler ”COME ON, YOU DONKEY” in less than an hour. Ostensibly about finding undiscovered cheffing talent, this British import quickly disintegrated into a combination of defamation porn and speed-risotto challenges. But for anyone hooked on humiliation (and the never-ending pleasure of contestants boldly announcing their supremacy to the cameras before heading to the kitchen to burn yet another beef Wellington), Hell has been six straight seasons of loud, messy heaven. —Whitney Pastorek

Barefoot Contessa

Garten’s half-hour tutorials — filmed at her home in East Hampton — have been a mainstay since 2002. Never classically trained, she focuses on the essence of simple flavors instead of mucking up recipes with too many steps. Garten’s a true food seductress, relying on buttery confections rather than come-hither kitchen eyes to make us melt. And if her soothing voice and relatable presence can’t convince viewers they can cook, at least it can send them into a happy trance. —Annie Barrett

Iron Chef America

Cooking as an extreme sport? Sounds like a stretch — until you’ve seen this over-the-top competition, based on the Japanese hit. In each episode, a hopeful contestant enters the glitzy Kitchen Stadium to face off in a 60-minute real-time culinary battle against one of the show’s Iron Chefs, a roster that includes superstars Mario Batali, Masaharu Morimoto, and Bobby Flay (see below). With Alton Brown’s commentary and theatrics from ”The Chairman” (played by martial-arts champ Marc Dacascos), the show has for four years brought high-adrenaline excitement to the sometimes- staid arena of food TV. —Adam Markovitz

America’s Test Kitchen

Watch the dragon of culinary uncertainty get slain by an army of geeks in the enchanted kingdom that is America’s Test Kitchen. Led by bow-tie-clad host Kimball, the ATK crew (and, in particular, soothing-voiced MVPs Julia Collin Davison and Bridget Lancaster) boil down the art of cooking into a research-intensive science. Their trial-and-error approach finds it’s better to brown short ribs in the oven instead of fighting the splatter monster on the stovetop. And better still, ATK features a ”Tasting Lab” and an ”Equipment Corner” — essentially Thunderdomes for packaged foods and cooking equipment. How else would we know a plastic squeeze bottle of Welch’s strawberry jam blows past its organic competitors with froufrou labels on the taste scale? —Michael Slezak

Behind the Scenes: A Day with Iron Chef Bobby Flay

1. ”This is the hardest thing I do on television,” says Bobby Flay, who gave EW a backstage tour of Kitchen Stadium before his last competition of the season. Here, he talks strategy with two sous-chefs pulled from his New York eateries. ”Everybody in my restaurant wants to do it,” says Flay. ”We have to rotate.”

2. Chefs may boil water and stocks in advance; all cooking must be done during the hour-long battle. ”I treat it like an athletic event,” says Flay. ”I run the entire time.”

3. Before the show, Flay checks out the pantry to mentally note the ingredients at his disposal. ”I don’t want to repeat myself. I’ve done 60 to 70 of these. I want to keep it new.”

4. The set’s dazzling lights turn on minutes before filming. ”There are cameras. There’s drama. That’s TV,” says Flay. ”But the core of this show is always cooking.” —Adam Markovitz

30 Minute Meals

No culinary personality is as polarizing as Ray, who has simultaneously delighted and enraged viewers since 30 Minute Meals launched back in 2001. Haters chide her for her teetering-on-ridiculous exuberance, refusal to measure ingredients, and insistence on using funny words such as ”stoup” (a stewy soup or a soupy stew), ”EVOO” (extra virgin olive oil), and ”yum-o.” And her followers love her for exactly the same reasons. Either way, you can’t ignore what the Emmy-winning show has done for cooking: Ray’s made easy, good-tasting (albeit usually calorie-packed) meals stupidly simple for the busy masses, whether she’s serving up herbed quesadillas or grape-apple slushies. ”A great meal,” Ray intones at the end of every episode, ”is never more than 30 minutes away.” And in her world, it’s the cook’s honest truth. —Tanner Stransky

Paula’s Home Cooking

Deen’s seemingly endless arsenal of butter, mayonnaise, and good cheer makes her a consummate Southern-comfort cook, y’all — and she should be: The Emmy winner learned her craft from Grandma, not some fancy chef school. Home Cooking, the constantly rerunning precursor to recent upstart Best Dishes, is all about serving food that makes people happy. (Honestly, her Jamie’s Coconut Cake may rate as one of the most joyful confections on earth.) Sure, calorie counters will blanch, but follow Deen’s lead for Thanksgiving and all will have a reason to be grateful. —Beth Johnson

Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

Fieri is living the dream — for four seasons of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the season 2 winner of The Next Food Network Star has been visiting some of the nation’s favorite greasy spoons in small towns and big cities. The boisterous, spiky-haired Fieri seems just as at home chatting up a camera-shy cook about deep-fried chicken gizzards as he does downing a shot of pungent ”Mad River” syrup with a soda-shop waitress. The only downside: More than any other food show, it’s nearly impossible to watch Triple D without snacking…preferably on something caked in beer batter. —Annie Barrett


One-stop shopping to get a taste of some of the biggest names in the food world, the Today show’s cooking segments have featured the likes of Mario Batali, Mark Bittman, and Gale Gand. The real tune-in factor, though, is watching these stars of the culinary world interact with anchors Matt Lauer and admitted nonchef Meredith Vieira, along with the added pressure of live television and screaming Rockefeller Center crowds. Who says there can be too many cooks in the kitchen? —Tim Stack

No Reservations

We envy Bourdain’s bravery — and digestive system. No Reservations, which is in its fifth season, follows the chef around the globe to eat as the locals do, whether it’s warthog in Namibia or deep-dish in Chicago. Bourdain is a host willing to try anything, but the show isn’t a mere Fear Factor for travel junkies. As his access to renowned chef Ferran Adrià’s kitchen proved, Bourdain can fulfill a gourmand’s dreams. The series also delves into each country’s culture, giving viewers a side of Irish literature with their pint of Guinness. Spectacle, fine cuisine, and travel — we couldn’t think of a more delicious, well-rounded snack. —Archana Ram

Question for a Chef

Does any food shock the man who will eat anything? (Yes!)
Anthony Bourdain responds: ”Deep-fried macaroni and cheese. That shocks me. I mean, are we not getting fat fast enough? Are we not getting type 2 diabetes quickly enough? Also, was it Taco Bell that invented the ‘fourth meal’? I mean, what the f—? [Laughs] The sheer gall is kind of shocking.” —Margaret Lyons

Ace of Cakes

Pastry chef Goldman may run the shop at his Baltimore kitchen Charm City Cakes, but Cakes, now in its eighth season, would be nowhere without the hilariously deadpan executive sous-chef Geof and the wry manager Mary Alice. And let’s not forget the decorators — like Anna, Mary, and Elena — who match their winning personalities with truly spectacular artistry, from a massive Hogwarts cake for a Harry Potter premiere to a fortune-cookie cake used as a marriage proposal. Indeed, while most culinary TV shows spotlight a single celeb chef, Cakes stands out as a true ensemble, not unlike Lost, which celebrated its 100th episode with, yep, a cake decorated by the Charm City crew. —Adam B. Vary

Good Eats

Take one part cooking show, a big dash of high school chemistry, sprinkle in some goofy community theater, and — voilà! — you have Good Eats. Brown specializes in the nuts and bolts of cooking — why chopping onions makes us cry, how to make a perfect piecrust (helpfully documented with in-oven cameras), and why gadgets from the toolbox are preferable to expensive kitchen gizmos. Brown can fill an entire episode on popcorn, teaching you how to MacGyver a nifty, cheap popper (hint: a stainless-steel bowl and some perforated foil). Good stuff, and yes, good eats. —Beth Johnson

Lidia’s Italy

Whether she’s bustling about a Tuscan market or her own kitchen, Bastianich makes it clear she loves to eat — sampling fruit, dipping her spoon into bubbling sauces, nipping bits of fresh pasta. In the latest incarnation of her show, Lidia’s Italy, cooking is once again about nourishing the soul as well as the body, featuring Italian comfort food at its best: fritters, soups, stuffed pastas. Like Julia Child, Bastianich can reduce complicated recipes to a series of simple instructions. And like Child, she is given to gentle scolding (regular viewers know that they must never use a garlic mincer, but simply whack cloves with the flat blade of a knife to release the juices). At the end of each show, Bastianich pours a hefty glass of wine and sits down to tuck into the mouthwatering dishes she’s just prepared. We’ll mangiamo to that! —Tina Jordan

The Martha Stewart Show

Since its 2005 launch, Martha has been the GPS guiding viewers to the intersection of domestic excellence and absurdist comedy. What other show has served up bucatini with bottarga while also painting the vivid picture of its host sucking the head off a crawfish as a bewildered Ben Vereen and Liza Minnelli wrangled a bowl of the squirming crustaceans? Sure, Stewart struggles to interact with Hollywood types — watch in fascination as she incorrectly guesses Grey’s Anatomy star T.R. Knight’s grandmother was Japanese because of her penchant for adding sugar to her scrambled eggs! — but after you’ve road-tested one of the show’s consistently high-quality recipes, you’ll learn to love the air of chilly superiority she brings to the kitchen. —Michael Slezak

Giada at Home

They say never trust a skinny chef, but it’s hard not to believe in the beauty and talent of De Laurentiis. The granddaughter of legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis trained at Le Cordon Bleu, and first whetted appetites with 2003’s Everyday Italian, where she’d whip up treats like shrimp fra diavolo. Her current series focuses on entertaining with more accessible dishes flavored with touches of her native cuisine (see: waffles with fresh pancetta). The main reason to tune in, however, is the obvious passion Giada pours into cooking, enticing viewers to join in. Her sultry authentic Italian pronunciations don’t hurt either. —Tim Stack

*Times are Eastern Daylight and subject to change. For shows airing at various times, check listings.

Giada’s Pop Culture Menu

Frozen TV dinners? Not for the Food Network chef, who shares her go-to entertainment and food pairings fit for a (couch potato) king. —Archana Ram

”I think of the guys, Queens, and Italian food,” she says. Her comfortfood spread: cold beer, fried zucchini, and a huge antipasto platter, including salami, parmesan, marinated artichokes, and Sicilian olives.

30 Rock
De Laurentiis pairs different paninis — caprese; butter-raspberry; and fontina, prosciutto, and salami — with a side of Liz Lemon for her Thursday nights. ”They’re simple, light, and happy, just like 30 Rock.”

The Godfather
For her annual viewing, the chef uses leftovers for a ”baked” caprese salad: tomato, mozzarella, and basil on a crostini. ”It’s street food in southern Italy, where it’s a tradition to re-create meals out of what you already have.”

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