Food TV: Cooking Competition Shows We Crave

in Potpourri by

With the success of shows like Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model, competition television has become a staple in our modern viewing experience. And while I’m happy to watch people sew and pose as much as the next fashionista, my heart will always belong to one competition genre in particular: the cooking show. There’s something so addicting about watching chefs baste, frost, and freak out over the perfect dish.

Sure, I can’t exactly eat the food they make, but that’s not really the point. I’m in it for the meltdowns, the triumphs, and the mouthwatering dishes I can almost taste from my living room. For all the rest of you television foodies out there, here are three shows — and one book! — you should be bingeing if you love eating and watching people fight it out over the perfect soufflé:

Top Chef


There’s a reason that Top Chef is the gold standard of cooking competition shows. Not only does it feature drool-worthy recipes (and some epic culinary disasters), it’s cutthroat and usually filled with drama. Unlike most episodic cooking competition shows, this one lasts weeks, with competitors living and working together through it all. Some fight, some make out, and we’re always on the edge of our seats. The chefs have to participate in different challenges each week as they slowly get eliminated. At this point, the Bravo show is entering its 13th season with no signs of slowing down. Every season of this show is gold — from the first to the last, the drama and the food makes them all bingeworthy.

Iron Chef

iron chef photo

Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about the flashy, rebooted Iron Chef that appeared on Food Network. No, I’m recommending the old school, ‘90s Japanese version, where everything is dubbed in English and the chefs have to cook with crazy ingredients I’ve never heard of, like dried ear shell. The premise is fairly simple: a professional chef challenges an Iron Chef for respect — and sometimes his title. They each have to create an entire meal in a short amount of time, featuring a random secret ingredient. They get two assistants (who can sometimes be more trouble than they’re worth) and are judged by a panel of D-list Japanese stars. Everyone is yelling, rushing around, throwing things and freaking out. It’s awesome. Binge this classic cooking show anytime you want to be both amazed and a little horrified by what the chefs can do with a giant eel.

Cupcake Wars

Sweets meet competition in this popular Food Network show that ran from 2009-2013. Each episode features four new teams battling it out for $10,000. There are three rounds with eliminations, bizarre ingredients and an increasing number of cupcakes — they have to make 1,000 by the end of it. Each team also has to make their cupcakes around a theme and get judged on presentation as well as taste. This show is fun, quick, and it makes me crave baked goods, which is never a bad thing.

The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook: Sweet Treats for the Geek in All of Us by Rosanna Pansino (Atria Books; November 3, 2015)

the-nerdy-nummies-rosanna-pansino-coverAny cooking video fan has heard of Nerdy Nummies, a YouTube channel where the bubbly Pansino tackles all kinds of nerd-inspired sweets. From superhero cakes to videogame cookies, her recipes are fun, creative and look absolutely scrumptious. Now you can make your own with her new cookbook highlighting some of Pansino’s best nerdy creations. Just be sure and send me some of those Minecraft Rice Krispie Treats, OK?



Rachel Carter grew up surrounded by trees and snow and mountains. She graduated from the University of Vermont and Columbia University, where she received her MFA in nonfiction writing. She is the author of the So Close to You series with Harperteen. These days you can find her working on her next novel in the woods of Vermont.

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