MTV's House of Food premiered last night. It's Top Chef meets The Real World. It's Jersey Shore, with BLTs instead of GTLs. It's the most important Los Angeles food TV show since Eat Drink Love and it will finally put the L.A. culinary scene on the map. The show features seven strangers in their early twenties sharing a mansion in Los Angeles, but instead of getting teens pregnant or drinking on a shore, they're learning how to cook from top L.A. chefs while competing with one another to win an apprenticeship.
When the cast members have all arrived, thrown their suitcases onto plush Miami Vice chairs, and have given an obligatory squeal at the sight of the underground pool, they are ready for their first challenge. Greeted by “culinary coach,” Chris Nirschel (former chef for Diddy and founder of Bad Boy Productions catering company), they begin their first self-explanatory challenge: Personality on a Plate.
Challenge: Personality on a Plate
Though judgmental, the judges are instead called “instructors,” and they sparkle with the gleam of ten thousand Michelin stars. Chef Brendan Collins of Waterloo & City, chef Brooke Williamson of Hudson House (and runner-up on Top Chef Seattle), and chef Casey Lane of The Tasting Kitchen all sit in front of the cast members ready to taste food they haven't eaten since their six-year-old niece Sophie played “kitchen mish-mash” last July. Cue: The Meat Muffin.
Amanda, the rocker girl from Pittsburgh, makes a meat cupcake which the instructors said showed a “lack of enthusiasm” but I think would do really well on Pinterest. It's basically pre-made biscuit dough smashed in a muffin tin, filled with BBQ meat, topped with cheese and baked in the oven. It's like her because it's odd and she is odd.
Jake the homestyle country boy from Kansas makes a “bend me over burrito,” filled with steak, fries, ranch dressing, and salsa, because he's from Kansas and so is steak. “It doesn't taste terrible,” they say. No one bent over.
Lorena from Long Beach makes chicken stuffed with spinach, tomato, garlic and onion. But the chicken is raw and she didn't wash the spinach so basically it's just a bunch of potentially sickening and life-threatening bacteria on a plate.
Will from Boston from makes fancy seared salmon over white bean puree. It represents him because he's big on knowing where his ingredients come from, except this time when he has no idea where it came from.
Suki, who is from West Africa and now lives in Portland, makes peanut butter stew and it's like her because they both have “a lot of flavor, personality and attitude.”
Brian, from Korea then England then Michigan, makes an Asian-style marinated steak with jasmine rice and pickled cucumbers because it's ambitious, just like him. The dish was unlike him because it didn't wear sunglasses while it cooked.
Gillian the farm girl from Oakley, California, makes a s'mores cupcake that shows her personality because her personality likes s'mores on the beach. Conceptually, the dish is the instructors' favorite thing so far though they can't fathom why she didn't make her own marshmallows since she made the cupcake from scratch and she had enough time. Viewers weren't aware how much time they had to cook (thirty minutes or three hours?) so popping on a pre-made cylindrical confection didn't seem like a huge offense.
First Lesson: Perfect Pasta
After a night of post-challenge gossip, chef Collins comes to the house to give the students their first lesson: Perfect Pasta. It's a slick, quick montage where he beautifully demonstrates how to make tortellini from scratch, corn filling, and a pan sauce – though no one was taking notes.
Where were their iPads? Their Moleskins? Their CVS stenos? Shouldn't these novice chefs with zero professional skills and a huge passion to learn be writing a few things down? Even on their hand? I took notes on How A Bill Becomes a Law in fourth grade for crying out loud. Not to mention, they have to recreate the exact dish for the instructors the next day and the winner gets to be acting executive chef at Waterloo and City and shadow Collins for the night. It's as if they're only here to be on television and not to learn how to cook.
After a little bit of pasta practice everyone heads out to Olvera Street to “find all their Mexican needs.” Suki offends Brian with some Asian jokes and no one else cares because L.A. tacos are the best and nothing else is happening in the world when you eat them. Later that night, after delicious al pastor and with the pressure to win mounting, the first “shut the fuck up” happens.
I would imagine this is a record for an MTV reality show. The cast shuns Suki to her master bedroom. Actually, she went on her own because she's pretty and everyone else is ugly and like, whatever. Will joins her because they had a nice bonding gossip session the night before that will for sure happen again after this confrontation.
Test: Prepare White Corn Tortellini
The cast members put on pristine white chef uniforms to cook their pristine white corn tortellini at Waterloo & City. After a whirlwind spree of torn pasta, sweat, broken sauce and too many almonds, they crown the winner.
To the rest of the cast's dismay (except Will) the instructors choose Suki to lead the kitchen that night. She chooses her kitchen crew fairly, with the exception of assigning baker Gillian to be the dishwasher instead of the pastry chef, because once you sass to Princess Suki you're thrown into the dungeon of soap, hot water and garbage bins.
So how did the cast like working in a professional kitchen? They didn't think it would be so hot and fast-paced. Really.
The final nail-biting ending: Amanda (meat cupcake genius) admits she doesn't really want to be a chef. She simply wants to cook for her family and friends and chef Collins is not about to waste his time on someone who doesn't want this as a career. She has a choice: Will she see her potential and return next week to carry out the rest of the season or will she head back to Pittsburgh, disappointing her father?
Tune in next week to see the dramatic – wait. The previews show some new “hot” guy is there, so maybe Amanda doesn't come back. Tune in next week if you are sick and the channel is stuck on MTV and you can't find your remote.
Jacy Wojcik wrote a weekly column on the food TV series Eat Drink Love. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.