Now that virtually each main sports activities league on the planet has been canceled for the following few months, there’s a determined want for competitors on TV. Whereas I like TV present, there’s one thing concerning the emotional highs and lows of sports activities that you simply simply can’t get out of most TV. And most reality-competition exhibits don’t characteristic the sort of top-level efficiency that you simply get from the world’s greatest athletes. Fortunately, one actuality present can successfully fill that void: Prime Chef.

The opponents on Prime Chef are one of the best athletes on TV proper now, and the present’s latest season is about as shut as we are able to get to sports activities for the time being.

My Prime Chef journey began only a week and a half in the past. On a whim, having by no means seen the present earlier than, I binge-watched season 16 earlier than the season 17 premiere on Thursday, March 19. So I’m not a Prime Chef knowledgeable. Principally, I’m a sports activities fan who’s determined to observe specialists in a subject compete for top stakes in a tense atmosphere, now that each main sports activities league on the planet has canceled its video games for the following few months. And it seems, Prime Chef completely satisfies my longing for competitors.

The solid of Prime Chef season 16
Picture: Michael Hickey/Bravo

For individuals like me who haven’t been watching all alongside: Prime Chef is a actuality cooking competitors present. In nearly each episode, there’s a Quickfire Problem, a brief themed competitors that begins the episode and offers the winner a bonus in a while, and an extended, extra elaborate Elimination Problem that can ship one competitor packing. The final chef standing positive aspects the prize and the title of Prime Chef, together with a money prize and some high-profile occasion appearances.

In contrast to most actuality competitions, although, Prime Chef isn’t about amateurs with hidden abilities, or weekend warriors with simply sufficient talent to shock the judges. It is a present about skilled cooks coming collectively to take a shot at glory. These are non-public cooks, government cooks, award-winners, and restaurant house owners all taking a break from their lives as precise professionals to compete.

This offers the present a distinct really feel from one thing just like the Nice British Baking Present. Not one of the opponents are ever confused over methods to make a dish, and none of them go house as a result of they couldn’t pull off a modestly formidable cake. These cooks are creating outstanding-looking meals in every episode. Even the present’s scrappiest underdog would embarrass a house cook dinner. In different phrases, they aren’t a lot totally different from the opponents in any main sports activities league.

And that goes double for the at present airing season 17, which is an all-star season, that includes among the greatest cooks who’ve competed on the present, however didn’t win. This implies the competitors is even fiercer than regular, and each chef there’s already acquainted with methods to play the sport. It makes this season an particularly straightforward jumping-on level, since these cooks have loads of built-in storylines and current relationships. Each time somebody brings up an inside joke or a reminiscence from their season you get a talking-head rationalization or a brief clip from earlier seasons that exhibits what they’re speaking about. It’s the reality-TV equal of a greatest-hits album.

Whereas the cooks are the celebrities of the present, it’s the modifying that makes Prime Chef work. The present’s modifying is like commentary in sports activities: its final aim is to elucidate issues to the viewers in simply comprehensible methods, and to interrupt down sophisticated ideas. It makes the viewers really feel like specialists with out ever making them really feel patronized. Between the talking-head interviews, stray feedback from administrators and judges, and even little facial expressions, Prime Chef will get this good.

Each problem is rigorously laid out so that you perceive every part that might go improper for every contestant, even if you happen to don’t know methods to put together a soft-shell crab or what precisely is in gnocchi. Because the cooks rush across the kitchen attempting to make connoisseur perfection in a few hours, the present by no means permits you to lose observe of who’s making what, or the place they’re within the course of. Even in probably the most chaotic moments, because the clock winds down, it’s straightforward to inform who’s going to make it in beneath the wire, and who’s proper to be panicking.

Top Chef competitor Eric Adjepong stands in front of an outdoor table covered with wooden baskets, chopped fruit, nuts, and artichokes, as judges Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, and Gail Simmons examine his work.

Eric Adjepong faces Prime Chef judges Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, and Gail Simmons
Picture: Nicole Weingart/Bravo

Most significantly, each episode’s competitions construct into pulse-pounding crescendos. It’s like getting the final two minutes of a tied basketball recreation in each episode. Each chef is in a panic as they put the ending touches on their dish. Cooks give you tiny last-second additions that might preserve them from shedding a problem, or lower corners simply to verify all of the meals finally ends up on the plate. And on the finish, somebody at all times goes house, so the stakes are baked in from the start. Identical to sports activities, there’s at all times a loser, and it’s at all times gutting to observe.

Not one of the present’s high quality or pleasure got here as a shock to me. I’ve heard individuals sing Prime Chef’s praises for nearly twenty years, and it seems they have been proper. What stunned me was simply how briskly it ignited my interior sports activities fan. After a number of episodes, I had a favourite chef — in season 16 it was Eric Adjepong, who’s again for the present all-stars season — and abruptly each episode felt like cheering for a hometown workforce.

Watching Eric win Quickfire or Elimination challenges is intoxicating. Each time he bites off greater than he can chew or takes a improper step, it’s like struggling by watching my favourite workforce take a well-deserved loss. Getting pissed off because the judges degree overly harsh criticism feels precisely the identical as sitting in my lounge, railing on a referee for an unfair penalty.

Even seeing my least-favorite chef under-salt a dish with six components I’ve by no means heard of offers me the identical feeling as watching one of many NBA’s greatest heels brick a three-pointer. Might I’ve finished higher? Completely not. However the schadenfreude will depart me elated for hours.

Prime Chef takes all of the white-hot feelings of a three-hour sports activities recreation and trims the fats, cooking all of them into 45-minute gourmet-TV entrees. It isn’t precisely sports activities, nevertheless it’s as shut as we’re going to get for a number of months, and fortunately, it hits the spot.

Prime Chef airs on Bravo each Thursday night time and the first episode of season 17 is available, in its entirety on Bravo’s YouTube channel. Earlier seasons, like season 16, can be found to stream on Hulu.

Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These don’t affect editorial content material, although Vox Media could earn commissions for merchandise bought through affiliate hyperlinks. For extra data, see our ethics coverage.