MFA Alum Sam Ashworth on the First Reality TV Chef

Here are the opening paragraphs from MFA alum Sam Ashworth's essay for Eater on the first reality TV chef:

At the At the turn of the century, the television executives of America made a discovery: People would do literally anything to be on television, and they would do it for free. Where with actors there were considerations like union rules and human rights, ordinary people were only too happy to be marooned on a desert island, locked in a house with total strangers, or compete to be a trophy wife — Survivor, Big Brother, and Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? all launched in the year 2000. The more dehumanizing the concept, it seemed, the higher the ratings. So it was only a matter of time before the executives decided to set one of these reality shows in a New York City restaurant.

Around the same time, the best young chef in New York was a man named Rocco DiSpirito; he was tall and beautiful, and his food was exquisitely refined, French with an Asian accent. In 1998, Ruth Reichl’s New York Times review of Union Pacific, where DiSpirito was the executive chef, began with an image of the woman at the table next to her moaning in ecstasy, and ended with three stars. Two years later, Gourmet, which rarely put chefs on the cover, put the 34-year-old DiSpirito on the cover. So when NBC decided to make a restaurant reality show, DiSpirito was a natural fit. “I knew he was the guy,” says Ben Silverman, the show’s co-creator.

Read the full essay here.