Anthony Bourdain's Warning About Competitive Cooking Shows

Anthony Bourdain first rose to fame when he penned an essay in 1999 for The New Yorker about the underbelly of the restaurant industry, followed by his bestselling book, "Kitchen Confidential." Bourdain openly discussed his disdain for club sandwiches, ordering fish from restaurants on Mondays, and the public's opinion that pigs were filthy animals (he once called pork his "favorite vegetable" on his travel show, "Parts Unknown"). And then there were his views on Food Network stars, which were often blunt, harsh, and unapologetic. (Ironically, his first television show, "A Cook's Tour," aired on the Food Network from 2002 to 2003.)

But what Bourdain took most issue with in the world of culinary television were the competitive cooking shows. As he explained on Reddit in 2017: "I have mixed emotions about it. I think a lot of these shows, on one hand, have been good for the industry. On the other hand, they've created an entire species of cook, who really doesn't want to work in a restaurant; they just want to be on TV. And that's always worrying."

With that said, Bourdain enjoyed "Top Chef," a show he saw as professional, and one that set the bar for other competitive shows. He went on to say that the best, most enjoyable times he had watching food TV were when he tuned in with his daughter, who had an affinity for "Chopped" and "MasterChef Junior."

Bourdain was a guest host on various cooking shows

Clearly, Anthony Bourdain believed in the integrity of "Top Chef," because he appeared 12 times as a guest judge between 2006 and 2011. The Emmy Award-winning show also featured culinary big-leaguers such as Tom Colicchio, Eric Ripert, Wolfgang Puck, and Emeril Lagasse. Several winners of the show ultimately went on to open their own restaurants, dispelling Bourdain's concerns that cooking competition winners would not pursue careers in the industry.

From 2013 to 2015, Bourdain was a host and judge along with Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre, Brian Malarkey, and Marcus Samuelsson on ABC's "The Taste," a reality cooking show in which contestants were judged based on a single bite of a dish they prepared. The judges chose their teams based on these bites, and contenders were eliminated one by one until a winner was declared. In addition, Bourdain appeared as a guest judge on "MasterChef Australia" in 2011, so despite his doubts about such programs, he occasionally joined in on the fun.

Some show winners stayed in the restaurant industry

Prizes for cooking competition show winners range from money to their own television show to major bragging rights. The Food Network's "The Next Food Network Star" gave winners hosting gigs on the network; perhaps the most notable winner is Guy Fieri, who not only became the super-popular host of "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives," but has also opened several eateries across the country.

Anthony Bourdain's favored show "Top Chef" presents its winners with a lot of cash — up to $250,000, to be exact — which could be the reason why so many winners have gone on to open their own restaurants, many of which have been acclaimed by critics. Season four winner, Stephanie Izard, owns several restaurants in the Chicago area and in Los Angeles, and won a James Beard Foundation Award for "Best Chef: Great Lakes." On an episode of Bourdain's "The Layover," the host met with Izard at her restaurant "Girl & The Goat" and praised the chef for her modern culinary skills.

Bourdain had great respect for the restaurant industry in general, likely because he was part of it for so long. This could explain why he favored those shows that highlighted real gastronomical skill, and not just the charisma and charm that translates well to television viewership. That said, he was part of the game, and people on both sides simply loved the guy.