‘Next Level Chef’ — A cooking competition in three dimensions

Fox competition series has its ups and downs

Gordon Ramsay

As cooking competition series go, Fox’s “Next Level Chef” certainly takes the prize for originality, both in its concept and its set. And the one-of-a-kind set also gets points for most cubic feet occupied.

The brainchild of Gordon Ramsay, the hourlong series that premieres Sunday, Jan. 2, pits a wide array of competitors — everything from line cooks and home chefs to social media stars and food truck owners — on a gleaming three-story set, each containing a kitchen with a different level of equipment and ingredients. So while the top level has the best of everything, the middle will have somewhat less and the bottom pretty spartan.

Mentoring the contestants through this gauntlet in which they move up and down based on performance will be Ramsay and fellow chefs Nyesha Arrington and Richard Blais, who will each try to bring out the best from their team of competitors.

“It’s really like the retelling of my career or Nyesha’s or Richard’s,” explains Ramsay, who is also an executive producer here. “We all started at the bottom working in a lousy kitchen before we could make it to the top. So it’s a condensed version of any chef’s journey but with a twist, thanks to the ingredients platform. That to me makes this competition unique, because you never know what protein may make it to the basement on that platform.”

So while a chef upstairs might get a cut of Wagyu beef for their dish, the basement dweller would get ground pork. But that’s where the fun begins. Faced with having less at their disposal, the chefs downstairs will have to pull even more tricks out of their hat to compete with those at the top. And that’s where the outside-the-box thinking kicks into high gear, according to Arrington.

“I’m in the bottom kitchen so I know that there’s not a peeler in this kitchen …,” she says. “(So) when you’re grabbing ingredients, you might grab the baby carrots because you know that if you just give those a light scrub they’re going to be perfect and you don’t have to necessarily go and peel away those older layers of the carrot and you can still bring those to life. So I think something like that is very cool to see the ingenuity behind what they were creating.”

In the end, impressive dishes came out of all three levels, both chefs say. But the moral of the story is a real chef can make a delicious meal no matter what they have to work with.

“The bottom level is really about ingenuity and spirit, bringing the spirit of a dish to life …,” Arrington says. “It brought so much emotion out of me just to see the grit and the perseverance that these chefs are bringing to the table. … You feel like you’re on the journey with them.”

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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