REVIEW: ‘Around the World in 80 Plates’

The Bravo channel should really consider changing its name to the Watch What Real Top Chefs Are Making Over Now channel: They’ve hit a rut. If we’re not watching housewives spit bile at one another, we’re watching cooks talk about raspberry foam and justifying why their cheese doodle casserole was not the worst.

But if you have to be in a rut, at least be in a good one, to wit: Well-produced reality shows that, if they have come to feel about the same at least look polished and entertain.

The tweak of Around the World in 80 Plates, which debuts tonight, is that it combines The Amazing Race with Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations with Top Chef with its “secret ingredient” — hunky Aussie host Curtis Stone, who I’d watch if he was just sitting across from me eating soup. In fact, I’d prefer it.

The concept is pretty simple: Take a dozen or so up-and-coming chefs, give them passports and fly them around the globe where they eat local cuisine (in the debut episode, airing tonight at 9 p.m., it’s England with its steak and kidney pie and black pudding) and then have to recreate the dishes. They are divided in teams, and there’s an advantage to winning the food-eating portion … then again, go too fast and you might not soak up the techniques and flavors that you have to reproduce for the natives, who judge the winning team. You can pretty much guess what happens then.

80 Plates has the look and feel of the on-the-road episodes of Top Chef with pacing of Race, but as with all reality shows, it rises (or falls) on the personalities of its contestants. In the debut, I didn’t form too many strong attachments (likes or dislikes) to them, though I tended to root most for Gary, the gay priviate chef, pictured, and the Texan, a Thai cook from San Antonio. The trick is getting audiences to tune in for a second helping.

I’ll do it. It’s in the Top Chef time slot, and it satisfies a craving … even if that is just a sweet tooth for that eye candy Curtis Stone. Hey, there are worse things I could gorge on.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones