Bravo Knifes Andrea Strong
August 26, 2007

It's good to know that even after Sorkin, character assassination of Internet writers is still alive and well.

Putting aside my disagreement with her criticisms of the two restaurants, I really have to ask, just what the hell was Top Chef trying to accomplish when they brought "food blogger" Andrea Strong onto the "Restaurant Wars" episode?

She was introduced on the show simply as "a food blogger, Andrea Strong...her blog is The Strong Buzz." Did Tom or Padma or Ted mention that Strong's worked in restaurants, written for The New York Times, New York Magazine and the New York Post? No. Why didn't they? I'm not sure. I'm totally and completely confused why Top Chef didn't accord Andrea Strong the same friggin' respect and culinary genuflecting they give to every Tom, Dick, and Anthony they bring on the show to perform as guest judges.

When Suzanne Goin or Daniel Boulud or even Rocco DiSpirito show up to slather their words of harsh criticism and high praise all over the cheftestants, we KNOW they're "qualified" to hold those opinions. HOW do we know? Because Top Chef TELLS us, "he has a book," "he has a restaurant," "she has a James Beard Award." All Andrea Strong got was, "Yeah, she's this food blogger and she ate your food and this is what she thought." They exposed just enough of her to foster the predictable and understandable viewer vitriol that amounted to such comments as "Who does she think she is?" and "What sort of food background does she even have?"

Well, what sort of background does Ted Allen even have? He's written food articles for Esquire and got a few cookbooks out there and he was on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy as "the guy that makes all the fish." Yet Top Chef has him as a recurring judge. I'm not trying to take anything away from Ted, mind you, I just don't understand why his opinions get accorded more respect than Strong's. Wait, yes I do! He gets to sit at the table! He gets enough face-time to dole out both criticism and praise! He was on another Bravo show!

(On the other hand, it was mighty big of Bravo to give Andrea Strong a chance to defend herself and leave her forced to spell out her own credentials. After the fact. The whole attitude of "we don't no nothin' about startin' no mud slingin'" expressed by "Padma" in her intro to Strong's response is, at best, insincere.)

Now, could those same viewers could have done the research I did and discovered exactly who Andrea Strong is and where she came from? Of course. But why should they need to? I mean, honestly? Episode after episode, Top Chef has been damn sure to serve up their guests' credentials on a silver platter, training the viewers to assume that were such credentials to be found, the show would have spoon-fed them. Furthermore, 99.9% of people don't do that sort of research on their own, and Top Chef knows it. They count on it.

For half a second, I wondered if Top Chef -- in their rather tardy rush to be "hip" and "now" by including this strange species of character known as foodis bloggerus in the show -- even realized they were undermining Strong by simply calling her "a food blogger" without telling us anything more about her. However, then the realist in me took over: Top Chef knew exactly what they were doing. They were using "food blogger" as a dirty word. The bane of chefs everywhere. More to the point, Top Chef, in their reality show way, decided that for these two episodes Andrea Strong has been cast as The Villain.

Consider the sound effects when Colicchio broke it to the cheftestants that they had a food blogger in their midst that night. It's that same squealing, metallic noise -- a knife dragged on a chalkboard? -- that has become Top Chef's equivalent of a record scratch. It means: Beware! Something unexpected and unpleasant has just happened and a food blogger, that rough beast, slouches to Bethlehem to blog!

Now think about how Strong never had a real voice in this episode. All the viewers got were snippets from her write-up and even these were read aloud -- not by her -- but by Colicchio, Padma, or Ted. (To fog the issue even more, compare those snippets to what Strong then published up on the Bravo site as her actual write-up. There's no Billy Idol mention and no "get thee some Right Guard." What's that about, Top Chef?)

Next, we have Christopher Ciccone, who came across as quite the bitch himself, but who also was basically given a redemption arc in the next episode. After his comments about metallic lamb and monkey medleys, Ciccone appears the following week as who he really is: a restaurant interior designer. Presented to the cheftestants by Top Chef, Ciccone's role in the episode is to improve both Restaurant April and The Garage's decor and concept. He still came off as a bitch, but at least he was given the chance to appear as himself. What did Strong get? She got her restaurant write-ups slipped furtively under the cheftestants' dorm door -- because a mere food blogger doesn't deserve any better.

All of these things filled out the character of Andrea Strong, "the food blogger" as a sneaky, surreptitious, nasty character you wouldn't want to meet in a dark pantry. Is it fair? Decidedly not, but I don't blame Strong, I blame Top Chef.

Photo of Vice Versa Voodoo Knife Block Set from Home Couture.

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