The Sport of Cooking

Food has become a sport. Personally, I blame Guy Fieri.

There are plenty of cooking competitions these days – and eating competitions, too, which make me feel queasy just watching them, so I don’t.

But recently, sporting events for chefs seem to have taken over the streaming channels. And they come with all the unwelcome accouterments of regular sports competitions.

There are some, such as Chopped, that avoid the worst of sports talk, other than the inspirational “I want to teach my children that they can go for their dreams” and “If you try your best, you haven’t really lost” and “Either you win or you learn something,” which, now that I think of it, are more common in parents watching or coaching kids’ sports than in adult sports.

What Guy Fieri has done, though, is to infuse cooking competitions with the worst aspects of sports. I suppose it could have been done by the powers that be at The Food Network, but the examples all seem to have his personal stamp on them.

The most sports-like is Tournament of Champions, which has just completed its fourth season and is already gearing up for a fifth.

Just from the title, you can tell it’s based on sports. Then there’s the format. The competition is based on brackets like a basketball tournament, with seed rankings like a tennis tournament (or Robot Wars, which does not feature cooking robots but does have the format of a cage match. But I digress.) (Beat Bobby Flay also somewhat resembles a cage match, but that’s not emphasized. I keep digressing.)

As a host, Guy Fieri projects a pro wrestling vibe. He bellows the names of the contestants as they enter from opposite sides of the arena, and he has nicknames for everyone – The Jetster for Jet Tila, Bee-Dub for Brooke Williamson, and Superchef for Darnell Ferguson (about whom more in a moment). There are even commentators, who also have nicknames – Justin Warner (Wolfman (or Wild Card)) and Simon Majumdar (Scoop). Guy’s son Hunter interviews the contestants after the match is over. It’s clear that Hunter is the heir apparent to Guy’s Food Network empire.

It’s also clear that Guy is grooming Darnell “Superchef” Ferguson for Fieri-style success. Ferguson was a frequent contestant (and frequent winner) on Guy’s Grocery Games and now has his own show, Superchef Grudge Match. It’s structured as a boxing match, only without the nicknames for competitors. It’s kind of a junior Tournament of Champions. The contestants compete for prize money and bragging rights, but the winner also gets the loser’s favorite chef’s knife. (There is lots of trash talk and sometimes even side bets involving social media accolades, monogrammed aprons, and, in one memorable case, a tattoo of the winner’s name. But I digress yet again.)

For myself, I don’t do competitive cooking – or eating. (Once, when I was a kid, I had dinner at a friend’s house. Hers was a large family, and when the food was served, everyone competed to get their food, serving spoons and forks flying. I was stunned. In our house, dining was much calmer. But with so many people trying to get a fair share, it was normal for them. But I digress even more.) Sometimes, it’s all I can do to put together something edible. Trying to do it with a time constraint and an audience is simply beyond me.

I’ve got to admit, though, that I love watching someone else doing it. It’s appalling and fascinating at the same time. With actual sports, other than the Olympics, I just don’t get the fascination. Maybe if they had to prepare a dinner to celebrate their wins or console themselves for their losses, with medals for the best dishes…now that, I’d watch!

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