Originally an American reality TV show, the Middle Eastern version of Top Chef has become a sensation on MBC! In its fourth season, 17 chefs compete against each other in culinary challenges to prove who is the most skilled. Every week, judges Siham Tueni and Joe Barza make the final call as to which chefs deserve to stay in the competition, and which chef should be eliminated.
Each episode is broken down into two challenges: the quickfire challenge and the elimination challenge. During the quickfire, contestants must prepare a dish that fulfills certain requirements in under an hour. Then, a guest judge will pick the challenge winner.
When it comes to the elimination challenge, one or more dishes have to be prepared in accordance with given specifications. Some of these challenges are individual, and others are team-based, and the contestants are given anywhere from a few hours to a few days to plan their dishes. They then are given access to the Top Chef pantry, where they must gather their ingredients during a timed and budgeted shopping session. Once their dishes are prepared, the guest judge weighs in on the decision, and the four judges ultimately decide who has prepared the best and the worst dishes.
Upon elimination, losing contestants are instructed to “please pack your knives and go.” The viewers then follow them to their living quarters, where they pack up their belongings and discuss their experiences in the competition.
The winners are rewarded with a cash prize. Every season, that amount increases, and prizes have gone from $100,000 to $125,000 and then to $200,000. And, depending on the season, a contestant might be considered a “fan favorite” and win an additional $10,000.
Of course, the Arabic rendition of Top Chef would not exist without the original American version, which launched in 2006. It was produced by Magical Elves Productions, which also created the competitive fashion show, Project Runway. Other spin-offs include Top Chef Masters with award-winning chefs, Top Chef: Just Desserts, and Top Chef Juniors.
The format of the show was designed to immerse contestants in the competition. Instead of returning to their permanent residences at the end of filming each day, they all live in a studio-provided house or apartment, and have limited communication with the outside world. The competition is also held in a city recognized for its unique cuisine — and the challenges usually require cuisine to reflect the city’s flavors. At the end of each season, however the few remaining contestants relocate and finish off the competition elsewhere. To double the intensity of the final rounds, round winners begin receiving advantages, such as becoming leaders during a team challenges or getting to pick ingredients first. Sometimes, they earn prizes instead, like knives or cash.
Contestants are often chosen to reflect the whole of the Arab world in their diversity, serving to highlight “the pressure chefs throughout the world experience on a daily basis,” as renowned chef Maroun Chedid once asserted at his cooking academy.
Once appearing on the show, Chef Bobby Chinn remarked, “Lebanon has always been on my bucket list. It has always had one thing or another happening and therefore presents an alluring destination to visit. When it comes to filming, there is greater energy than anywhere else I’ve been to. The contestants appeared to have a wide range of skills, which helps in the production of a better show. Shooting in many different locations was exciting. The current contestants have higher culinary skills than those competing in the first two seasons. In other words, every show is a surprise.”
Saudi chef and presenter Mona Mosly praised the show for shooting its scenes so beautifully and talked about how she was in love with the wonderful filming locations.
Whether you tune in to pick up a few cooking tips or simply to get in on the excitement, don’t miss the Arab version of Top Chef on MBC when you subscribe to the Arabic mosaic pack on Sling TV!