Wednesday, October 31, 2012 / 12:25 PM
Clearly, Cody Utzman understands the benefits of acting like a jerk. Every reality show has an Omarosa or two, and Utzman is the Machiavellian, love-to-hate-him, alpha jerk on “Chef Race: U.K. vs. U.S.”
“Chef Race,” executive-produced by Chef Jamie Oliver (left), pits two teams against one another in cooking as well as food-sales challenges. In each episode, the chefs must work their way through a portion of a 4,000 mile journey across the U.S. from L.A.to NYC, selling their own hand-crafted barbecue sauce, pizza, etc. In the show that aired last night, filmed partially in St. Louis (and partially in Memphis), Utzman refuses to work with the team when his idea for a barbecue sauce is abandoned in favor of another team member’s recipe. He sulks, and later, while his teammates go door-to-door, desperately attempting to sell barbecue sauce to restaurants in the Memphis area in the sweltering, 100-degree heat of the Midwest summer we just endured, he sits in an air-conditioned SUV, goldbricking and chilling.
What Utzman understands, though, is that his natural tendency to act like a jerk pays dividends on a reality-show competition, a la Richard Hatch on “Survivor.” Utzman gets extra screen time with every scowl, and he manipulates his teammates like they’re sheep. It’s kinda sad, actually.
In the new episode, the U.K. team cooks up and attempts to sell “Bad Ass BBQ Sauce,” complete with a donkey on the label (below right); the U.S. team attempts to sell “Uncle Sammy’s BBQ Sauce,” which offers an obnoxious list of ingredients on the label that includes “patriotism.” Each team tries to sell 1,000 bottles during a three-day journey from Memphis to St. Louis.
The U.K. team has quite an odyssey in these parts, cooking up a sauced pork dish in the kitchen at PM BBQ, and convincing co-owner Mark Ruck to buy four cases of the sauce. The owner of Smoki O’s says, quite reasonably, that he makes his own sauce, so he buys just one bottle out of curiosity. In desperation, one of the ladies on the team stands on the roof of her car in the Laclede’s Landing area, and begs a group of al fresco diners for sales.
Things start looking up for them when they manage to sell a few cases to a manager at Sappington Farmers Market (RIP). Then, they cut an amazing deal -- Surdyke Motorsports of Festus agrees to become their “exclusive distributor” (which makes no sense – they’ve already sold bottles to a bunch of other retailers) and buys hundreds of bottles of “Bad Ass” to sell to motorcycle-riding types. Surdyke’s owner admits that “half the reason [for his purchase] is they’re [the British women] are cute, with accents.”
Meanwhile, the American team is having an odyssey of its own. After they finally make it to St. Louis, they have modest success hawking the sauce at Pridefest in Tower Grove Park – until they’re kicked out for not having a license to sell there.
The final team-vs.-team showdown goes down at Straub’s of Clayton. The chefs are instructed to scour the store for ingredients to cook up a snack featuring their bbq sauce. Store scion Trip Straub judges the results, and promises to buy 100 bottles from the winning team. The Brits make a variety of meats and sandwiches. The Americans, inexplicably, make baked beans only. (We won’t reveal the winner here.)
The climactic announcement of which team sold the most bottles over the three days occurs directly under the Arch. Then, three of the teammates on the losing squad must endure a final-elimination cooking battle at what show co-host Claire Robinson calls the “best barbecue place in town,” Bogart’s Smokehouse.
The chefs prepare an array of smoked meats and sides, using Bogart's smokers liberally. Bogart’s owner Skip Steele serves as co-judge. One competitor, Stan Frazier (who also happens to be the drummer for pop band Sugar Ray) produces a smoked mac and cheese that somehow manages to simultaneously impress and disgust the judges. Another competitor’s pork-steak sandwich impresses Steele, who pronounces it a St. Louis delicacy.
Finally, judges Steele, Robinson, and Irish chef Richard Corrigan reveal who goes home and who stays. It’s the unkindest cut.
It may be premature, but it seems the show’s biggest winner is Utzman (above). He plays his fellow chefs like junk-shop proprietor Leland Gaunt in Stephen King’s Needful Things. The show is, arguably, less about food and cooking than about the subtext of all reality shows: getting a group of people to provoke and gradually loathe one another. It’s not really so hard to do.
“Chef Race: U.K. vs. U.S.”
Episode Six, “Hot Sauce Hustle”
Re-airs Nov. 3, 11 a.m., on BBC America Network
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