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What I Learned from TV: Top Chef 

Photo Credit: Matthias Clamer/Bravo

Sometimes watching TV can educate you in ways you never thought possible.  Maybe you didn’t realize you had an interest in something until you saw it on TV. Top Chef changed the way I think and talk about food.

I don’t really remember when Top Chef launched on Bravo because at the time I’m sure my nose was up on the air about “reality” television. Even though Top Chef is technically considered that, I put it in a different class with shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and Project Runway. They are reality, elevated. These are shows that have taught me something about their subjects – food, dance, and fashion – and whoever comes out on top (they’re not necessarily the best or the most popular) gets a cash prize and some acclaim. That’s what I love about competition shows. Yes, there is drama. Yes, all that footage gets edited down to make it more entertaining. And I have no problem with that. I want them to put on a good show while they’re educating me.

I didn’t realize just how much my thinking – or my actions – have changed about food until I start talking about food. I use words like savory and heat and presentation. These are words I’ve never used when describing food before. When I’m preparing meals at home, sometimes I’ll think about presentation and food combinations. What would complement my fish? What flavor combinations will make me really excited to eat it? What can I do a little differently to make it pop in my mouth? The best advice I ever received about cooking was from Richard Blais himself. After season 4, he was on a cooking tour and I went to sample his wares with some friends. He told me not to be afraid to experiment. And I took that advice to heart and I’ve come up with some interesting dishes.

When I go out to restaurants with friends my behavior has changed there as well. While I used to find one thing on the menu I loved and order it repeatedly, now I make myself try something new. I also used to go to the same places over and over again. Now I look at all the items on the menu and I listen to the specials. I also try new restaurants. I read reviews in newspapers and magazines as well as online to see what new chefs to try and which new restaurants deserve some support. I also take pictures of food and share them, usually on twitter. If something looks worthy, I make everyone at the table pause before eating so I can take pictures. My friends don’t mind because they’re enjoying the experience too. They want to share . It’s become a sort of communal experience. And I wouldn’t be experiencing it without Top Chef or my TV.

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