Secret Chef

Secret Chef: Season 1

Secret Chef
Genre: Reality Competition
Service: Hulu
Creator: David Chang
Release Year: 2023
Watch: Hulu

Here I go again with my cooking competitions. They are my new background noise that quickly reminds me that I am not good at background noise. So rather than do important stuff with this babbling in the distance, it becomes the main focus and I get nothing done. Which in some cases is cool. But with things like Secret Chef, it is to the detriment of important things and probably my mental state. Because this is not a good show. Not at all.

Which brings me to a question. Why is this series not called David Chang’s Secret Chef? After all, David Chang is the show’s Executive Producer. He is a name brand. People who know and care about food know the dude and appreciate his no-nonsense attitude when talking about himself, the industry and food. He’s an entertaining guy with real cache. But Hulu is like “Nah, we’ll just throw this random show up on the service and maybe someone will find it. Sure, we have a very popular name attached to it, but why take advantage of that?” And the only thing I can think is that Chang knew that Secret Chef kinda sucks. That it’s essentially a slightly different — and marginally better — version of Netflix’s equally drab 2023 product, Pressure Cooker. And he asked to not be so publicly associated. Until he showed up as a surprise guest in the last episode. At which point we’d watched so much mediocre grub come out, and been so ho-hummed by the gameplay that even his energy couldn’t reinvigorate this flat-ass competition.

The gist here is that there is a group of ten chefs. Some are home cooks, some are “professionals.” There’s one dude who worked at multiple [unnamed] Michelin star restaurants, and another who apparently “trained at twelve different restaurants in twelve years.” Which, to me, sounds like he got fired a lot for being bad at cooking. And then there are some “private chefs” and a couple folks who either cater or own a small shop. The rest are home chefs. So it’s like Chopped meets MasterChef, with some low-level pros and some people who just like to cook for their families and friends. There are no Top Chef level folks here. And it shows. Each chef is given a food-related alias and they cook these dumb challenges in their own individual kitchens and then judge each others’ food anonymously. Sort of. The thing is, the food is just not good looking. And the whole guessing game works for maybe the first three of the ten episodes, but after that people pretty much figure out who’s who. And probably much to the producers’ chagrin, none of the contestants use inside knowledge to their advantage. There is absolutely no gamesmanship. This is not Survivor. It’s a group of seemingly nice people not wanting to do anything that makes them look bad or mean, even with $100k on the line. They leave any kind of edge (though a seriously PG one) to the anthropomorphic cartoon chef’s hat named “Chefy” who narrates and hosts the show. Though even she is pretty pleasant and more goofy than sarcastic.

So, after the game part becomes kind of a slog, we are left to marvel at the food. And in the entire season, there are maybe two dishes served that look like a pro chef made them. Otherwise the plating is sloppy and just kinda meh. None of the dishes sound particularly well-planned or overly inventive. In every challenge (some of which were admittedly absurdly difficult) the majority of the chefs said they wanted to “play it safe.” You know what doesn’t make for good food TV? Forty percent of the contestants making essentially the same exact safe egg dish. A person in the semi-finals making a fucking tuna melt! One of the finalists making a tiny slice of toasted French bread with a chocolate sauce and some whipped cream as his final dish in the final cook of the season. It all felt anemic. And weirdly toast heavy. Toast! This is just not a foody’s food show. It’s a food show for lobotomized The Great British Bake Off fans who just want some background noise sans the accents.