The Cook-off: 'Hell's Kitchen' vs 'Top Chef'
Last night, the cooking gods conspired to bring TV viewers something truly special, Hell's Kitchen and Top Chef on the same night. It was an interesting experience, watching the two shows back-to-back and it got me thinking. So today, I present to you, Hell's Kitchen vs Top Chef, a side-by-side look at what makes this two culinary competition shows so totally different.

The Contestants: All Over the Map vs Top of Their Game

When it comes to choosing the contestants for Hell's Kitchen, the producers seem to prefer a mix of levels and education putting line cooks in with executive chefs. They also lean toward private chefs and those that work in non-restaurant settings such a camps, hospitals and corporate offices.

Top Chef, on the other hand, hones in on up and coming chefs who either already have a restaurant of their own or have worked under some of the top names in the biz.

The Hosts and Judges: Gordon Ramsay vs Padma and Tom

On Hell's Kitchen, it's Gordon Ramsay, and Ramsay alone who decides the final fate of the contestants each week. Sure, he brings in guest judges for the morning challenges and sometimes he lets the diners cast a vote, but the peer-nomination system, combined with Ramsay's ability to override their decision makes Hell's Kitchen more about personality than talent.

Over on Top Chef, who goes home is primarily based on technique and taste. Though it took a little while to warm up to her, Padma Lakshmi brings a style and elegance to Top Chef that you don't get on Hell's Kitchen. Then there's Tom Colicchio who can be either the benevolent tyrant or the father figure in the kitchen. When it comes time for elimination, Top Chef takes the comments of the diners aka judges into consideration so this is less of a strategic game and more about talent.

The Nameless Morning Challenge vs The Quickfire

Both Hell's Kitchen and Top Chef begin each episode with a short, timed challenge that pushes the chefs to create a dish off the top of their head. That dish is then tasted by the host and guests and each is judged on its own merit. Sometimes it's not about taste and it's about skill, like when they must identify foods or do a prep relay race.

But in TV, theme is everything and yet Hell's Kitchen has no name for their short challenge. On Top Chef it's the "Quickfire" which denotes the fast and feisty nature of the beast.  It's a shame that Top Chef uses the word because it would have been perfect for Hell's Kitchen, but barring that, how about the Devilish Dish or the Fast Flame? Next season Hell's Kitchen.Give your morning challenge a name!

Punishment vs Reward

Though both shows have a morning challenge, the outcome has very different results. On Hell's Kitchen, Gordon Ramsay shows his affinity for behavioral modification by not only rewarding the winners but by punishing the losers. On Top Chef, it's reward and losing is punishment enough.

The rewards also vary. Ramsay generally butters up his winners with fancy lunches, spa treatments and shopping sprees. On Top Chef, the winner usually gets immunity from elimination or a leg up on the next challenge. Recently, Top Chef has added cash bonuses to the pot, offering Quickfire winners up to $10,000 for twenty minutes of work. Can't beat that with a wooden spoon.

Overall: Hell's Kitchen vs Top Chef

Gordon Ramsay may represent fine dining but Hell's Kitchen doesn't come close to the class and elegance of Top Chef. Top Chef really does strive to find the best of the best. They encourage creativity and technique where Hell's Kitchen is about discipline and standards. It's art school vs military school and each has its merits. If you want it to be all about the food, Top Chef is your show, but if you prefer the taste of drama in your competition show, Hell's Kitchen can't be beat.

Which culinary competition show is your favorite and why?

Photos by:
Myles Aronowitz/Bravo
Brian Bowen Smith/FOX