Pressure Cooker's Reality TV Recipe Is A Hit

I GET IT; I rolled my eyes too: Yet another reality television competition cooking show to binge? And we’ve had our fill of them. Or more accurately, we’ve sampled the extensive buffet spread on offer and get our fix on the tried-and-tested offerings. What is this marching to the beat of your own drummer business and introducing something new to the menu, excuse me? 

 But Netflix’s Pressure Cooker manages to still serve us something fresh sans spicy hostess. Hear me out: Have you ever met someone with mismatched earrings or socks or print-on-print-on-print? There’s something chatpata about them – a funny frisson, a certain charm. You’re drawn forward, you’re driven back, you’ll never make up your mind either way. And this show achieves this cannot-stop-at-just-one-spoon flavour by mixing together reality television show formats we’ve seen countless times but in well-thought out measures. (I’m sure the market research teams who cracked these perfect proportions of the mix are getting pickled at the shiniest rooftop bar in the world somewhere.) Pressure Cooker is a fistful of Big Brother, a generous glug of Survivor and swiftness stirred with the sharpness of Top Chef and the contemporary cutthroat aesthetics of reality television. (There's a villain! Hi Jeana Marie Pecha! There’s a “couple” with an ugly portmanteau nickname. Hi Sergei Nicholas Simonov! Hi Caroline Gutierrez! Hi Sergeline?) These familiar ingredients coming together results in a show that sizzles, and is more than the sum of its many parts. 

Here’s the premise of Pressure Cooker. Eleven chefs from diverse culinary and cultural backgrounds compete to be the best. There’s no host. There’s no judging panel of celebrity chefs and food writers. There’s no quick runs to a specialty supermarket. There’s a ticket machine that prints out the challenge details and an automated voice that delivers the instructions. They live together. The twist: They vote each other out of the house. Voted out chefs — or even those chefs left out of the team challenges — return to become the judges for the same/other challenges. 

The choice to let the 11 chefs direct the actions and face the consequences of those decisions adds a delicious layer to the competition. We learn pretty quickly that like all professional spaces, it isn’t just skill or experience that matters. And it certainly isn’t all that objective scaffolding that HR departments and headhunters depict to us as being essential to get (and keep) our jobs. It is being awkwardly human that actually greases those wheels for much much longer. It is being bumbling that brings home the bacon. 

Through these eight episodes, we witness alliances form, and alliances break. Initially, the 11 chefs think they will judge the prettily plated food through the lens of fine dining – the chef’s talent, techniques and tutelage. Eventually, their sharp critical eye trips over navigating the friendships formed on the show. These growing bonds between them are reflected through the chefs they choose to cook with or against, and who they decide acts as a blind taster and judge through the challenges. However, I did wish to see more of the friendships being built, in order to have the spectatorial insight into the decisions that were made. 

While I did devour the debut outing of this reality television show in a single sitting, I’m not so sure of the possibilities for the second season. The winner of this first season perfectly reflects the rising wave of change in the Food & Beverage industry. René Redzepi's Noma is shutting down because fine dining is “unsustainable”. Sebastien Bras' Le Suquet has returned its Michelin three-star rating after 18 years because he no longer wanted to cook under the “huge pressure” of being assessed by its inspectors. Chefs are quitting their prestigious top jobs to run street-side ramen carts while others have stormed off because they’ve been asked to cook “pub grub”. And so, Pressure Cooker’s first winner of $100,000 is a cook-with-the-heart chef-owner who makes food that reminds the nine eliminated chefs “of home” and beats the highly-trained chef who likes to make “fancy food” and uses tweezers for the plating. 

It seems after the initial weeks of lockdown where we tried to make Instagrammable food, we just want good-old, maa ke haath ka khana now. Listing out the various precious ingredients sourced from all over the world that go into a bite of food doesn’t cut mustard anymore. We want second helpings and are willing to make room for dessert too. Netflix’s Pressure Cooker seems to indicate that TV and the powers-that-be agree with this change in the F&B industry. Being a lot of things from the old-world isn’t cool (and for good reason), but Pressure Cooker indicates that being nice will always hit the spot. 

Pressure Cooker is now streaming on Netflix.