The Daily Stream: Rise Like Bread Dough In Next Level Chef

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Series: "Next Level Chef"

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: I write about many cooking shows for The Daily Stream. They're perfect reality competitions for me. This isn't about dating or sabotaging each other. These people with real-life skills (which I do not possess) are trying their hardest to create fleeting art designed to make people happy. I'm sure there are tricks here and things we don't see, but the talents these contestants have and the things they learn on the show can actually be used for a real career. The latest of these entries is "Next Level Chef," from one of my favorite hosts, Gordon Ramsay. Sure, he's got this reputation for being a jerk, but he's not. He wants these contestants to do their best and only gets annoyed when someone doesn't try. 

The concept for this series, which just recently premiered its second season on Fox (streaming the next day on Hulu), is that three teams are competing for not only $250,000 but also a year-long mentorship with all three judge/mentors. The money sounds lovely, but a mentorship with three chefs at the top of their fields could change their lives forever.

In addition to Ramsay, who is the de facto host of the show, we have Nyesha Arrington, who is a tough mentor but clearly feels connected to her team in the loveliest way, and Richard Blais, who is the best cheerleader of the bunch. During the competition, the contestants get feedback and are allowed to ask questions from their mentors. There is another thing that makes this show stand out, though; the cooking levels. 

Why it's essential viewing

As you can see in the picture above, the chefs cook on one of three platforms. The top kitchen has state-of-the-art equipment. There are sous vide machines, shiny counters, and any tool a chef could dream up. The middle kitchen is what you'd find in your average commercial kitchen. It's better than what you have at home, but nothing like the dream world of the one above it. The bottom kitchen looks like the back of a dive bar around 3:00 a.m. in the 1970s, right down to the brown decor. Everything is crappy down there, so if you create a winning dish while assigned to this place, your bragging rights go way up. 

Though details like team choice have changed a bit since season 1, each mentor has a team of chefs. The first cooking challenge sees each team randomly assigned to a level. The mentor/judges taste each dish and decide the overall winner between them. That team not only gets immunity from elimination but is immediately assigned to the top kitchen for the next challenge. 

Then the mentors for each team that doesn't have immunity have to choose one of their own for the elimination challenge. The two chefs (it's usually two, but not always) are sent to the top kitchen. They are given an ingredient to feature, with access to the best equipment and ingredients available throughout the entire cook. The winning team's chef oversees them while the other two judge the dishes blind. If there is a tie, the winning team's judge is the tie-breaker. The loser leaves the game. The best part of this all, however, is the moving platform. 

Rise and fall on your skills, wit, and speed

The platform is full of ingredients that the chefs only see as they appear, first on the top level, where the lucky cooks get to pick the best ones. Then it drops to the middle kitchen, then to the bottom. You only have 30 seconds to decide what you're grabbing before it goes away, and you must be faster than the other chefs on your level. Sometimes when it gets to the bottom, you're left with the scraps. (One bottom-level chef got cow tongue and actually blew the judges away with it, despite the bad equipment and the fact that she'd never used it before.)

I cannot fathom how anyone can come up with a dish while scrambling for ingredients and hoping you're not left with crap, but it's impressive. It's even crazier watching as the platform rises up from the bottom as each chef has 30 seconds to deposit their finished dish. Let's just say that it doesn't always go well, and food often falls off the platform down to the floor or even down to another level. 

It might sound gimmicky, but it's so much fun to watch! There are a lot of cooking competitions out there (which I know because I've seen most of them), so it's nice to change it up a bit. I also love that these are not longtime professional chefs. They have some experience, but this isn't "Top Chef" (which I also love). These cooks really need the mentoring — flashy lights, and moving platforms aside, they really do get it. 

Dammit, now I'm hungry.