Which brings us to the first cooking challenge. Each of the teams is taking over a gastropub, where they’ll need to create five dishes that will be judged by regular customers. Two they can pick; the other three are the very foods that they wolfed down earlier that day. The winning team from earlier gets to use the exceptional ingredient, which in this case seems absolutely essential — potatoes. If you’re a fan of Top Chef’s stress-filled “Restaurant Wars” episodes, then you’re already familiar with the drama that ensues, compounded here by the fact that these people barely know one another and are cooking under very strict parameters for a knowledgeable crowd. Among the new things we learned: It’s apparently really bad luck to change the name of a pub, and if you’re serving chips, they better not look like McDonald’s fries.
In the end, the diners pick their winner, and the losing team has to decide who among them has to go home. It’s the Survivor-style game playing in this deliberation portion of the show that makes 80 Plates different than any of the other reality TV cooking competitions, and a welcome addition to our DVR. As one of the chefs explains, “My strategy is to admit that [my dish] was bad. I want to get them talking about how bad it was, and as we get to the end of the time, I want to shift the focus off of me, and shift it on to someone else.” How devious! While we’ve seen a good amount of backstabbing on the various incarnations of Top Chef, if this first episode is any indication, 80 Plates promises to offer up the kind of alliances and manipulation that makes for incredibly exciting TV. Will the most “talented” chef be the person who takes home the big $150K prize? Probably not. But we’ll certainly enjoy playing armchair traveler and watching them try.