One Dish Too Many

After a long series of promos, the second season of "Knife Fight" (based on "Iron Chef") will air on Channel 10 tomorrow night. Italian chef Alfredo Russo from Turin, who was awarded a Michelin star and named best young Italian chef in 2004, will compete against Israeli chefs. He will alternate with Chef Stephane Froidevaux, who appeared in the previous season and beat nearly all of the Israeli contenders.

Starting on March 10, Channel 2 will broadcast "The Kitchen," hosted by Ezra Kedem, the chef at Jerusalem's Arcadia restaurant. "The Kitchen" is Keshet's version of the British program "Hell's Kitchen," hosted by British chef Gordon Ramsey.

Chef Stephane Froidevaux has stayed on for another season of "Knife Fight"; producers say Froidevaux is enthusiastic about the Israeli style of cooking and available ingredients and is particularly fond of walking around markets. Winning contestants from the previous season are also slated to return. As in the first season, the tasters consist mainly of people involved in the food business or who are associated with it, such as chefs Mika Sharon, Haim Cohen, Eyal Shani and Frank Azoulay, as well as Hila Alpert, Guy Pines and Amir Kaminar.

Top Israeli chefs are divided into two groups: those who see "Knife Fight" as a harmless show worth participating in for the fun and publicity, and those who oppose the idea altogether. In other words, those who have something to lose.

Although Catit, winning chef Meir Adoni's restaurant, has doubled its clientele since Adoni's victory in the first season, Victor Gluger of Chloely, Eran Shroitman of Orca, Yoram Nitzan of Mul Yam and Rafi Cohen of Raphael, have yet to be persuaded. The top-tier chefs in Israel are avoiding television shows. Their restaurants are well respected, and taking part in television competitions can only damage their reputations. "I very much commend anyone who wants to participate; after all it's a program that entertains a lot of people, but I don't see myself on such a show," says Gluger. "Getting a fish at the start of the program and also preparing a dessert from it is not for me."

Rafi Cohen is even more determined: "I call it yellow culinary art. There is no serious treatment of food and it deepens the Americanization of the field. People are interested in chefs' uniforms, the brands of the knives. As far as I'm concerned, it's as if they were to take medical interns and after three months allow the winner to run a hospital. It's not serious."

Cohen refers here to the prize awarded on "The Kitchen": running the restaurant at Herod's Palace Hotel in Eilat for one year.

And so, if in the first season contestants included Adoni, Aviv Moshe (of Messa), Daniel Zach (of Carmella B'nahala), Ronen Dovrat Bloch and pastry maker Eran Schwarzbard, the current season will feature Eli Mizrahi, who was Adoni's partner at Catit, and returned to Kfar Ruth to open the bistro restaurant, Masik; Yossi Sheetrit, the chef of the Violet in Moshav Udim; Assaf Granit of the Adom, Colony and Lavan restaurants in Jerusalem; Shahaf Shabtai of Mina Tomei; Antonio Mensa of Eli Ulay and Haim Tibi of Moscat. Moshe and Adoni, who beat Froidevaux in the previous season, will return to compete again.

He's no Gordon Ramsey

"Knife Fight" producers are proud to say "the atmosphere is positive" on the show. At "The Kitchen," they are trying to create the opposite impression: Kedem steps into the role of Gordon Ramsey, who constantly taunts and vilifies contestants and personifies the nightmare of every budding chef in a big kitchen. But like on "A Star is Born," here too, Zvika Pik is not Simon Cowell, and Ezra Kedem is not Gordon Ramsey.

Zvika Hadar has already said that in Israel "they are not looking to insult across the board," and it seems that Keshet is proceeding in this spirit as well at "The Kitchen." When you watch Kedem's show, you get the impression that his reprimands are justified. In the first show, one of the contestants explains that she cooked potatoes in a microwave to use them to make gnocchi in 45 minutes. Another contestant's risotto stuck to the pan and yet another contestant forgets to prepare the sauce for the first course and doesn't even remember this option until the dish is served.

Kedem is not Ramsey, and this is obvious. Raphael's Rafi Cohen (who turned down an offer to host the show) trained under Kedem as did chefs Alona Cohen, Menachem Katz, Yaron Shilo of Toto who pleaded to work there at age 14 and Adoni. Adoni still serves dishes at Catit that Kedem taught him to make and even gives him credit for them on the menu - a very rare thing for chefs.

Kedem is a veteran and esteemed chef. He perhaps looks a bit threatening, but doesn't approach Ramsey's level of taunting. To his credit, it should be said that on his show they probably won't serve Ramsey-style dishes; Israeli viewers would not welcome mashed potatoes with white chocolate.

Another different Israeli angle on "The Kitchen" is the tasters. The show is filmed on the set of a restaurant where two competing teams prepare dishes for diners: people from the community who have come to take part. Their complaints about the delay in preparing the dishes reaches the viewers' living rooms, including such comments as "is it impossible to get anything around here?"

One diner approached Yaron Winkler, Kedem's assistant, and complained, "it seems that he [Kedem] throws the food at them all the time, what's going to happen?" The concern on his face is genuine. Kedem knows the people at work here: when he decides "to close the kitchen" and not to serve any dishes because of their inferior quality, he hands out vouchers for restaurants in Abu Ghosh to the crowd.

Contestants on "The Kitchen" are amateur and semi-professional cooks including a career officer in the air force and the owner of a catering company for small events. But the show also features a working chef who manages a rather professional kitchen, such as Sahar Rafael of the Kramim restaurant, who will probably make it to a top spot in the finals. He is a prominent contestant: If Kedem scolds him, it is because he is helping other contestants more than he should be.

Again, as on "A Star is Born," it may be presumed that Keshet wanted to plant some stronger contestants on the show who would "move the production forward."

Did we already mention that this is a reality show?