There is no denying that reality TV cooking competitions are here to stay, for better or for worse. What started with "Iron Chef" in Japan has evolved and blossomed into something usually entertaining and sometimes infuriating. Some cooking competitions focus mostly on the food, others on the contestants themselves and some (the worst ones) focus on the proposed celebrity of the judges and hosts for most of the show. There are even cooking competition shows that have launched the careers of celebrity chefs -- some of whom we are probably stuck with forever now.
Like everything, there's a hierarchy at play. Some of these are just better conceived than others. Some are more perfectly executed. And some are such ridiculous ideas that they end up scoring some points, just for being so much idiotic fun. Below, you'll find my ranking of reality TV cooking competitions, ranked in order from absolute worst to undeniable best. Which one's your favorite?
Throwdown! With Bobby FlayFood Network
Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-OffFood Network
The Next Food Network StarFood Network
The Worst Cooks In AmericaFood Network
The Next Iron ChefFood Network
Iron Chef America
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New York City-based chef Eddie Huang has been controversial since he first gained acclaim for his bao eatery, BaoHaus. The marijuana-loving, fouth-mouthed chef has slagged fellow toques the likes of <a href="http://eater.com/archives/2012/06/25/eddie-huang-calls-marcus-samuelssons-new-memoir-an-embarrassing-exercise-in-condescension.php">Marcus Samuelsson</a> and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/24/fashion/eddie-huang-defies-description.html?_r=0">David Chang</a>, and his recent book, "Fresh Off the Boat," is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/24/fashion/eddie-huang-defies-description.html">already turning heads</a>. On the positive side, at least Huang can <a href="http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkintheroad/2010/10/eddie_huang_res.php">take a bad review</a> from Sam Sifton, even if he did say reading it <a href="http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkintheroad/2010/10/eddie_huang_che.php">felt like being yelled at by his dad</a>.
Everything we could say about Anthony Bourdain, you've likely heard already. The drug-addict-turned-executive-chef-turned-television-star has a sharp tongue when it comes to his likes and dislikes, the latter which often include <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/26/anthony-bourdain-paula-deen_n_937908.html">other celebrity chefs</a>. His antics have gained him a fervent following, but a good share of criticism, as well -- some people are <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/10/anthony-bourdain-food-too-macho.html">getting tired of his shtick</a>.
Oh, Gordon Ramsay. These days, you're the chef everyone loves to hate. Ramsay's <a href="http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2173601/Gordon-Ramsay-screamed-f----black-b----claims-US-chef-Controversial-claim-racist-phone-rant-published-major-new-autobiography.html">in-your-face and often controversial personality</a> is the prime appeal of television programs in which he stars, "Hell's Kitchen" and "Kitchen Nightmares," and has earned Ramsay a fearsome reputation worldwide.
Need we remind you of New York Times critic <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/14/dining/reviews/restaurant-review-guys-american-kitchen-bar-in-times-square.html">Pete Wells's epic takedown of Guy Fieri's recently opened restaurant</a> in Times Square? We thought not. Fieri is a popular target of scorn for foodies, but his restaurant is still in business -- you do the math. He still landed on <a href="http://www.gq.com/entertainment/celebrities/201212/least-influential-people-2012#slide=11">GQ's list of least influential people for 2012</a>, though.
Rachael Ray's cutesy catchphrases like "yum-o!" and "delish!" are ripe for mockery -- <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/gossip/anthony-bourdain-stirs-trouble-rachael-ray-article-1.368815">Anthony Bourdain knows what we're talking about</a> -- but the Food Network star remains one of the channel's most popular draws.
Paula Deen needs no introduction. The butter-loving Southern cook stirred up controversy when she announced her diagnosis of diabetes -- just as she revealed an <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/17/paula-deen-diabetes_n_1210049.html#s617801&title=7_Ribs_Casserole">endorsement deal for a diabetes drug</a>. Throw in a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/05/paula-deen-brother-sued-sexual-harassment_n_1321679.html">sexual harassment lawsuit</a>, and you've got one polarizing chef. Despite all, she still has a devoted fan base.
Marco Pierre White
Marco Pierre White was once called the first <em>enfant terrible</em> of the food world -- in his first moments of celebrity chefdom, White developed a reputation for <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/3334070/Marco-Pierre-White-I-will-never-speak-to-Gordon-Ramsay-again.html">ejecting customers from his restaurants when they asked for salt or pepper</a>. Granted, he's calmed down quite a bit in recent years -- he even shells for <a href="http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/restaurants/knorr-stock-cube-is-secret-to-marcos-success-7220156.html">Knorr boullion</a> now.
Sandra Lee may be the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/03/sandra-lee-food-network-s_n_778273.html">first girlfriend of New York state</a> and a Food Network star to boot, but not everyone is a fan of Lee's semi-homemade brand of cookery. Anthony Bourdain once called her Kwanzaa cake -- a frosted angel food cake with a can of apple-pie filling in the center garnished with corn nuts and pumpkin seeds -- a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/magazine/you-cant-ruffle-sandra-lee.html">“crime against humanity.”</a> We won't go that far, but one does have to wonder what she was thinking.
Nadia Giosia, the namesake and host of "Nadia G's Bitchin' Kitchen," takes a punk approach to cooking -- but not everyone is on board. Nadia boasts a rabid fan base, but some are <a href="http://foodnetworkhumor.com/2011/12/nadia-gs-christmas-video/">turned off by her pseudo hardcore shtick</a>.
Todd English has enjoyed celebrity chef status since arriving on the scene in the late 1980s. He's been lauded for several of his restaurants -- and named in <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/09/todd-english-lawsuit_n_2101390.html">numerous lawsuits</a>. He's also landed in the tabloids thanks to his <a href="http://gawker.com/5379312/todd-englishs-cold-feet-wedding-scandal-prenups-press-plays-and-domestic-abuse">rocky personal life</a>, and he recently was accused of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/15/tully-wilson-chef-wanted-todd-english_n_2131917.html">failing to deliver on a promise to a reality show contestant on Food Network program "Chef Wanted."</a>
Jamie Oliver's bid for healthier school lunches has <a href="http://www.caterersearch.com/Articles/01/07/2010/334134/jamie-oliver-regains-top-spot-in-the-caterersearch.com-100.htm">earned him praise</a> as well as <a href="http://eater.com/archives/2012/12/21/gordon-ramsay-slams-jamie-oliver-says-he-needs-a-fucking-good-wash.php">criticism</a>. At least he has a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/22/epic-meal-time-kidnaps-jamie-oliver_n_2528483.html">sense of humor</a> about it.