Culinary Showdown 2: Hell's Kitchen vs. Top Chef
Hell's Kitchen 4 aired its second episode this week, while the cheftestants on Top Chef 4 moved into their fifth. Tensions ran high among the chefs on Top Chef 4, and this week, the show had its own mildly Hell's Kitchen moments as several of them engaged in a Gordon Ramsay-like screaming match.

Other than that, though, once again this week, the challenges the two sets of chefs encountered highlighted another difference between the shows: the element of time.

While Hell's Kitchen does have some timed challenges, and the actual proper cooking of an individual dish is, of course, totally constrained by time, the teams as a whole do have time to make and re-make a dish in order to get it past Ramsay's approval. When he's working the pass, they might be rushed to make a dish, but if it's not good enough, they're going to have to do it again. And again. And again, possibly never getting the chance to send it out at all.

Whereas on Top Chef, much of the tension is generated by that timer counting down to zero. Once it buzzes, and/or Padma Lakshmi tells them “Utensils down; hands up!” there's no more revision and no other chances to get it right.

We saw the impact this can have on a chef, as this week, Richard Blais, the previously strong contender, seemed to be overambitious in his menu planning, and found himself rushing the plating. This led to scales on his salmon, a serious no-no. Had that dish been prepared in Hell's Kitchen, Richard and his team might have had the chance to check and recheck the dishes more thoroughly prior to sending out to a diner. And if they hadn't caught it, Ramsay would have.

And of course, while the Hell's Kitchen chefs are still going to have to feel the wrath of Ramsay for a poorly-prepared dish sent to the pass, they also have the benefit of getting his immediate, albeit occasionally apoplectic, feedback on their efforts. It might be difficult for a chef to learn under those circumstances, but it is a valuable opportunity to capitalize on the knowledge of a world-famous chef.

Some of the Top Chef cheftestants, on the other hand, have complained that if they're not in the top or the bottom, they get no feedback from the judges. It must be a disappointing experience when these big name chefs come in to judge, and you never find out what he or she thought of your dish.

Additionally, since the Top Chef chefs make something different every week, there's no chance to show the development of fundamental skills, since there's no repetition. Of course, Hell's Kitchen's opportunity to show us a chef improving his or her ability to make a flawless risotto is also one of its weak points.

Let's face it: the process of gaining skills through endless repetition isn't really that fascinating. That's why in sports movies, it's always compressed into a montage. So, on Hell's Kitchen, we're left with Ramsay and his screaming, and the sensationalistic men-vs.-women format, ways to add a little pizzazz to what is essentially a season-long extended sports-movie montage.

Top Chef's foray into the world of screaming chefs was an utter disappointment; let's hope they leave the fits to Ramsay and Hell's Kitchen because it's clearly not the Bravo show's forte.

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

(Image courtesy of Bravo and Fox)