This summer’s guilty pleasure

Elena Tucker
5 min readAug 24, 2023
Photo by Melanie Lim on Unsplash

I’ve started watching several old television shows, although I am still hoarding a bunch of my beloved British police procedural mysteries. Part of the reason is, naturally, the weather.

It’s too hot. My mysteries call for rain and wind, or at least bluster. You know, blustery cold, pockets of snow still in the shade, naked branches shaking in the bitter wind. Inclemency. My mysteries call for (at least the thought of) warm and fuzzy blankets, sweet, hot teas, fires in the fireplaces — not fires in the prairies. So, I hoard my Vera, my Midsomer Murders, my Death in Paradise. Season two of The Chelsea Detective that drops this week, and is getting put on the back burner, alongside some hearty chili, to be served with a thick slice of Lithuanian bread on a chilly (see what I did there?) evening in December.

August and September are months for light fare. It’s for Murder, She Wrote and Barnaby Jones, both shows I’m enjoying entirely too much even when I am sober and clean. One of these days, I’m going to write about them, but not today. Today it’s about a show that thinks it has a tongue firmly placed in its cheek. But it is sorely mistaken.

The show is called Top Chef, and I started watching these old episodes, starting with its first season (2006). Even then, there were impressive chefs competing for its $100,000 final prize, chefs who were going to be big celebrities in their own right in the coming years. Still, there was no mistaking, from the first, that this show would never, ever replace actual entertainment.

It is a show with a large cruel streak. It is a show that confuses entertainment with humiliation. Or, maybe not confuses as much as substitutes. The judges delight bringing out the worst in the chefs. It’s like the exact negative of the Great British Baking Show. At times, I find it almost painful, and definitely groanful (that isn’t a word, but that’s the most accurate word) to watch. So why? Why subject myself to this? Two reasons.

Reason one: when these chefs cook, they are beautiful. They aren’t just working, they are epitomes of focus and concentration. They are tiny gods in the midst of chaos that is creation in their universes. They are drenched in sweat, their lips are pursed, their foreheads creased, their fingers shaking. They are either barely…

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Elena Tucker

Writer and storyteller, immigrant, wife, mom, knitter, collector of jokes, lover of cheap, sweet wine.