Posted by: A Part of the Solution | January 8, 2013

Slow Food + Top Chef

I love cooking shows. I love Top Chef. It’s fun to watch seasoned pros deal with tight timelines, weird ingredients and horrible conditions. It brings a certain edge to the fine art of cooking at the top of one’s game.

But what if a movement like Slow Food were tossed in the mix. What if the chefs took a year-long challenge. The show could follow them on a month-to-month basis, and snowball into a grand finale which would be just that: grand.

The initial stage of the competition would involve chefs making contact and contracts with farmers in a specific watershed. The chefs would start in January, talking with the farmers about the crops they would need sown and grown–from wheat and corn to cows and pigs and chickens, or even ducks and bees and mushrooms.

As the harvests came out of the fields, the chefs would can, dry, cure and ferment those foods to bring them into their optimal conditions for the menu planned. The recipes might be modern versions of old school traditions, or ancient receipts recovered through research and testing.

Month to month, dedicated viewers could have a first hand look at what it takes to make a seasonal feast from a culmination of year’s worth of planning. But the chefs would be constrained to work with only those ingredients they could arrange through their chosen farmers in the agreed upon region.

And the chefs would work with natural agricultural limitations: drought, late and early frosts, too much rain, pest infestations. If the melons all got taken by blight, then melons would be off the menu. If the region were too far north to provide citrus, then citrus would be a no-no.

The chefs would make their own vinegar, find local mills to finish their grains, participate in the slaughter of their contracted livestock, and generally get down and dirty in the ultimate farm-to-table smackdown. This is the kind of challenge I envision. This would test chefs beyond working from a pre-stocked, standard commercial kitchen. This competition would call on chefs to be true masters of their culinary aspirations.

Likely, the show would air on PBS with support from the BBC. I don’t believe the cable giants have the patience to see an odyssey like the one I propose through from start to finish. Most of those executives aren’t capable of watching someone roast bones and seethe them slowly until a stock of startling clarity and body is produced. Most of them aren’t able to comprehend the joy of home fermented sauerkraut or homemade preserves.

But I believe the growing locavore movement is ready to watch dedicated professionals stretch themselves to create and shepherd real food, from great traditions, using heirloom varietals and heritage breeds, into a glowing finished culmination.

If only there were somewhere we could start a petition. If only there were someone ready to offer big prize money for the challenge. Does anybody out there know of a team we could call to make this pitch?



  1. There were audiences for the programs like “Frontier House”, and “Colonial House”, which took 4-6 month just for the filming.

    I could see it being done kind of like that model, with the documentary style filming during the year, or growing season, or whathaveyou.

    • It could even be a fundraiser with the chef’s prize money going to save the unborn orphan whales or what have you.

  2. “farm-to-table smackdown”. I like that.

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