For the most part, there are two kinds of TV cooking shows: Those that teach you techniques — the ones that are all about entertaining and fun with food — and competition shows, where chefs demonstrate their skills in the hopes of winning something (money, a job, bragging rights). Rocco’s Dinner Party, which debuts tonight on Bravo, splits the difference.
The premise — three promising chefs compete to put on a dinner party for Rocco’s guests (including, in the first episode, gay actor Bryan Batt from Mad Men), and the one who presents the best meal, including the decor and style, gets $20,000, with the first of the three eliminated after the first challenge — combines Chopped, Top Chef and Top Design with Martha Stewart Living.
It’s not a wholly successful mashup. The host, Rocco DiSpirito, has been better known for the last decade as a celebrity than as a cook, with reality shows like The Restaurant, as well as for writing cookbooks. He seems more interested in bullying the contestants and demonstrating his own superior knowledge about cooking than actually teaching (or learning) anything. He’s such an annoying smartypants (frankly, he has been every time I’ve seen him on TV), you kinda want his dinner party to fail. And the now-annoying habit of waiting until the challenge is half-way over before the show throws a wrench into the plans (surprise! your guests have dietary restrictions we didn’t tell you about before you went shopping!) has infected the entire genre with its false drama and predictability.
As the Bravo style of shows go, there are far worse out there, and if Rocco tones down his snippiness (who would want to attend a dinner party with him?) it could grow on me. Until then, I’ll stick to take-out.