American Idols

I had a pleasant surprise watching the Food Network last night. An episode of their reality/competition show Food Network Challenge came on, this time pitting five teams of cake decorators against each other to create a winning multi-tier “celebration cake” in just eight hours.

Now I tend to be pretty skeptical of the whole “reality show” format, in which some sadistic producer lures innocent people into an impossibly stressful situation, then dubs the ensuing hour of backbiting, recrimination and emotional breakdowns “good television”. But Celebration Cakes was really very good. Unlike say, America’s Next Top Model, where physically starved and emotionally stunted teens melt down in the face of the mildest real-world stressors, the decorators were for the most part very professional, and acquitted themselves well (professional kitchens, let’s face it, are pretty darn stressful places…even the sickest TV producer would have a hard time replicating the circumstances).

The results of the competition were stunning. Coming from a pretty conventional cake-making background, I’m fascinated by wacky, asymmetrical cake designs and love watching them come together. Also, since I’m a total loss when it comes to traditional French tip techniques, I’m gratified by the fact that they’re almost totally out of vogue now, and that top designers are mostly working with pieces of brightly colored fondant (it makes me feel smug about my ignorance).

So I have to say the whole thing was a pleasure to watch, with the possible exception of the antics of one egomaniacal decorator. I pitied her amiable partner, and admired her restraint, since I probably would have spent my competition time with my hands curled around the woman’s windpipe. I’d have lost the competition of course, but it would have made great TV.

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