Bravo's latest offering "Around the World in 80 Plates" features hosts Curtis Stone and Cat Cara, and a cast of 12 chefs as they travel around the world in a cooking competition. The winner of the game that's a combination of both skill and strategy walks away with $150,000 from Pelligrino and a new Infinity SUV.
The exciting and dramatic new show is really four of the best reality series all rolled into one. Take one part "Top Chef" and add one part "Amazing Race." Blend in a dollop of "Survivor" and mix together with a whole lot of "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations," and you have "Around the World in 80 Plates." In a recent conference call interview hosts Stone and Cara talked about how the best of all of these ingredients combine to make one culinary hit.
One Part 'Amazing Race'
On "Around the World in 80 Plates" contestants travel the world covering over 60,000 miles. They visit five continents and arrive in a new city each week in countries including England, Italy, China, Thailand, Morocco, Spain, France, Uruguay, and more. When they arrive in each destination, they must compete in a culinary race that tests their skills, stamina, and knowledge of food. Along the way they are exposed to the customs and cuisines of each city.
And while the exotic locals seemed to pose more obvious problems for the competitors, the cities that seemed the most banal, like London, in some ways were the most difficult. Cora stated, "The food in England and particularly the gastro pubs, and this new style of food that's happening in London, at least, it's a little bit new to us. It was challenging for them."
But Stone thought the competitors had it the worst in Marrakesh. When he reminded Cora about the monkeys and snakes involved in the challenge, she agreed with him saying, "Trying to dodge cobras and monkeys that jump on your head while you're trying to grab spices, that might be a little more challenging than trying to figure out how to make kidney pie."
One Part 'Top Chef'
After taking part in the first challenge, the contestants then face off in a kitchen test. They must take over a local restaurant and serve the regular diners their customary cuisine, who expect dishes cooked to perfection. The winning team from the earlier challenge gets an "exceptional ingredient" to cook with. And although this is meant to be an advantage, it does not always prove to be so.
Stone noted, "We found times when the contestants didn't use it properly… And occasionally we had the contestants where they were given an exceptional ingredient, and they were not exactly sure how to do it, so [they] just put it to the side and didn't actually utilize it… There are a few twists and turns coming up with the season that the exceptional ingredient isn't always as you may think."
One Part 'Survivor'
After each kitchen test, a winning team is crowned, and someone from the losing team is eliminated. But like some of the more cutthroat reality shows, the judges do not determine who leaves each week. Instead it is up to the players to vote someone off a la "Survivor." This leads to a show that is not just about culinary skills and cultural knowledge, but there is also a measure of strategy involved. Does a player vote for his biggest competition in the kitchen or will he want to keep the guy around who can speak five languages and might be helpful navigating foreign lands?
Stone said, "It's really fascinating to watch these episodes unfold. But through the drama that the contestants have to live with within their own family, they were constantly voting each other off and then getting put back into a team with someone that they were just fighting with the day before and having to work all that out." Cora added, "We definitely witnessed some strategy and definitely some people fighting for it."
One Part 'Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations'
All along the way, contestants and viewers are discovering the local culture and cuisine. This is not about chefs cooking what they're comfortable with, this show challenges them to go to a strange city, explore the customs and cook so the locals like the food.
And both Stone and Cora agreed that you can't truly get a taste for a culture's food without seeing it through the eyes of the people who live there. They advised going to markets to get a sense of the food in a new city and to be able to see what certain ingredients are called in other languages. Cora stated, "I always talk to the locals, whether it's a local driver or someone who's a guide… The hotel concierge is my last choice especially in a lot of foreign countries just because they tend to send tourists to tourist destinations. So it's really talking to people on the street, it's really where I go first."
Watch the premiere of "Around the World in 80 Plates" on Wednesday, May 9 at 10pm EST/9pm CST on Bravo.
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