Television Review: Marcel's Quantum Kitchen - Episode 1
by Jeff Ritter
Published: March 22, 2011
The Syfy television network seems to have misplaced its identity. The original name of the network was "SciFi" and it featured exactly that: science fiction television reruns and movies. They've scored successes with some original series, such as the excellent Battlestar Galactica remake, the fun and quirky Warehouse 13 and the Stephen King inspired Haven. They've also featured some questionable programming such as WWE wrestling, which doesn't fit into the perception of the network at all. Falling somewhere in between is the new science-based cooking show, Marcel's Quantum Kitchen.
The show features 30 year old chef Marcel Vigneron, a veteran of another reality cooking show, Bravo's Top Chef. His specialty is molecular gastronomy--a culinary style that weds science with cooking. He's joined by his handpicked crew: the mutli-talented Jarrid Masse, cocktail expert Devon Espinosa and novice cook Robyn Wilson, who makes up for her lack of high-tension kitchen skills with a strong background in catering, making her something of a liaison between Marcel and the event planners who hire his team.
For the first episode, "Walk on the Wild Side," the Los Angeles-based crew is tasked with preparing several courses for a wildlife refuge fundraiser. Marcel and Jarrid tour the refuge for inspiration. They then brainstorm menu ideas with the whole crew before diving in to experiment with their concepts. The menu for this event featured apple-based edible maps of the event (think fruit roll-up), a fried potato bird's nest with a jello-like tomato foam, crispy pork skin made to resemble shed snake skin accompanied by peculiar meat log made of a beef tenderloin encased in short rib pieces, and a funky rice desert made with liquid nitrogen so that the guests would blow smoke out of their mouths much as white tigers might on a cold Himalayan night.
If it sounds fancier than your typical Friday night dinner before soccer practice, you're right. Not too many folks have a thermal immersion circulator in their kitchens, nor a supply of liquid nitrogen. The science involved in Marcel's menu is interesting, but it's science fact, not science fiction. I know the Syfy honchos would prefer to be seen as appealing to a wider audience, but there's no reason this show couldn't be on Food Network, the Cooking Channel or Discovery.
The show appears destined to follow the typical food show contrivances. The staff will screw stuff up, the client will be dissatisfied with early attempts, the event planners will be in over their heads or raging control freaks--or both. Chester, the affable event planner for the wildlife refuge dinner, gives off an air of, "What, me worry?" until the day of the event, when he's forced to enlist Robyn's aid in getting the venue prepared.
I tend to shun reality television, and one of my main problems with shows like this is that they seldom, if ever, fail. Despite dishes catching on fire, machines malfunctioning, near firing of staff members and food concepts still not quite right even just a few scant hours before the event, things always seem to end up fine. The lack of real failure seems more like fiction than scripted shows do. At least this show isn't a competition--there's no forced drama for weepy contestant eliminations. In that respect, it feels a bit like Ace of Cakes where they stress over the cake over several days before making everyone happy at the end.
However, if you're one of the multitudes who generally like programs like this, you'll probably find Marcel fairly engaging and less of a wound-up jerk than he himself admits to being on Top Chef. Robyn's predictably nervous about the high-stress of cooking large quantities of intricate food in short time, but she's pleasantly "real" and easy on the eyes. Jarrid shows well too, as Marcel's go-to guy. Devon can cook but his expertise in mixology doesn't really get much time in the spotlight. As the series continues, the crew should hopefully will continue to gel and be enjoyable to watch, as long as they don't sink to the screaming jerk head chef lording over his minions formula other networks seem to think that people enjoy.
Marcel's Quantum Kitchen airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET, beginning March 22.