The Food Network, lately, has been on a sort of campaign to incorporate new kinds of shows into its programming. It seems as though it looks at different relatively successful series on other channels and just finds a way to fit food into them somehow. It’s almost like the aisle of perfumes that suggest off-brand fragrances that smell sort of like Calvin Klein’s One. Like Millionaire Matchmaker? You might want to try Chef Hunter. Can’t get enough Kitchen Nightmares? Give Kitchen: Impossible a watch. Guy v. Rachael: Celebrity Cook-Off is some combination of Celebrity Fit Camp and I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!, only with Aaron Carter and some disastrous macaroni salad. And Food Network’s latest offering, Fat Chef, is basically Intervention, only for food.
It was bound to happen. There are only so many times you can watch someone on Cupcake Wars dunk a cake in cheese and then chocolate and then frosting or Giada DeLaurentiis whip in another carton of cream to her pasta sauce before wondering what, exactly, the real consequences of eating like that every day would be. Apparently, it’s everything you would expect: The subjects of Fat Chef suffer from sleep apnea, diabetes, and morbid obesity thanks to the constant tasting of delectable food that’s more or less part of their job. Each week, the show puts two overweight chefs through the diet-and-exercise wringer, trying to correct years of munching on croissants and fried chicken. But, as chef Michael Mignano reminds us in the first episode, it’s pretty much “like an alcoholic working in a liquor store.”
Michael, who owns a bakery in Long Island, and soul food chef Melba Wilson, who owns a restaurant in Harlem, are the two inaugural makeover candidates on the show. Neither of them got to their ballooned weights solely through tastings of bacon and cupcakes, however, but through not making enough time in their days to eat. Michael snacks through the day without sitting down to eat, while Melba goes all day without eating and then gorges on ice cream and subways at the end of the day. Both are instructed to lose 25 percent of their body weight in sixteen weeks with the help of chipper but firm nutritionists, regular small meals of lean proteins and leafy greens, and regular exercise.
Sound familiar? That’s because if you’ve ever seen an episode of The Biggest Loser or, heck, even MTV’s Made you already know the drill. Shots of the chefs at their peak weight spin slowly towards the camera as a monotone voice reads out the health problems that stem from massive weight gain, always culminating in early death. Black and white clips show Melba and Michael confronting their trainers about breaking their diets, skipping a workout, or resisting the sound advice of their loved ones. You see both chefs sweating through workouts and grimacing in pain, eschewing goodies in favor of tofu and salad, and fluctuations in the numbers on the scale. It’s a makeover reality show, and it hews to all the stereotypes in production of makeover reality shows in the last decade.
By the end of the sixteen weeks, both chefs have had their setbacks. Michael reverted back to his two-dinner-a-day habit before getting back on the straight and narrow, and Melba snuck some tastes at a catering event that she judged to add about 500 extra calories to her day, though they actually amounted to about 2,000. Michael went from over five hundred pounds to just over four hundred, a fairly impressive weight loss but one that still left him a long ways to go. Melba’s failure to stick to her workout plan—plus her brief firing and then rehiring of her trainer—meant that her weight loss was less dramatic, thirty-three pounds.
In the end it seems like the kind of noble effort that actually amounts to little but an empty gesture. I’m glad that Food Network is addressing the whole obesity problem that it secretly feeds into (See: Paula Deen), but Fat Chef doesn’t have the zip of Chopped or the personality of The Next Iron Chef. In fact, as the program drew to a close, a small box popped up in the corner reminding the viewers that a new Cupcake Wars was on next. That, I might stick around for.
I guess that eating breakfast every day thing is for real, huh? (Sighs. Buys some yogurt.)
Chef Michael’s sons were actually adorable. As when the older one said, ‘My dad lost one of me and one of my brother!’ Aww.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I think to myself: Neither was my ass.” Amen.