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Netflix’s Snack vs. Chef cooks up some astonishing transformations

Netflix’s Snack vs. Chef cooks up some astonishing transformations
Snack vs. Chef judges Ali Bouzari and Helen Park, and judges Hari Kondabolu and Megan Stalter, possibly in a moment when they all realized their show sucked. (Image via Netflix)

Netflix’s Snack vs. Chef, a competition where chefs and food scientists try to recreate processed snack foods, has accomplished some incredible transformations.

Snack vs. Chef has taken the format of the very fun Fast Foodies format and transformed it into a show with absolutely none of the personality or charm.

It’s taken the idea of Claire Saffitz’s popular YouTube series and created something far less interested in process, insight, and the joy of experimentation.

It’s taken very funny people Megan Stalter and Hari Kondabolu and turned them into neutered hosts.

Yes, Snack vs. Chef is just like a generic version of a brand-name snack food: painfully different than the real thing, but with enough of the basics to provide some empty calories.

Snack vs. Chef hosts Hari Kondabolu and Megan Salter standing and smiling
“What are we supposed to be doing here?” “I don’t know just smile” (Image via Netflix)

Before I explore why Snack vs. Chef is such a mess, Snack vs. Chef isn’t a failure. It has a delightful collection of talented contestants who demonstrate a lot of creativity, especially in the second challenge. Whether they’re cooking or watching, they’re fun for us to watch.

Their experimentation results in a few fun moments, such as in episode one, where frying faux Cheetos start to explode, splattering hot oil all over the kitchen, including into a gas stove, fueling fire.

Their second-challenge creation of their own snack is presented in packaging, a nice touch.

Each episode has three chefs face off over two rounds: recreate a processed snack food, and then turn its characteristics into their own snack. The winner goes on to the semi-finals; the others do not. That’s a simple format, yet so much of what is built on top of that is baffling.

Snack vs. Chef contestant Danny Kievit leaning on a counter looking at an Oreo cookie that has been split in half
Snack vs. Chef contestant Danny Kievit ponders an Oreo (Image via Netflix)

Hosts Megan Stalter and Hari Kondabolu—two people who I really like in other contexts, whether that’s a scripted TV show or a terrific documentary—are painfully underused.

I certainly don’t need them to emulate other comedian hosts and interrupt cooking with their bits (Bake-Off) or fill every molecule with grating personality (Lego Masters).

But there’s literally no reason for either of them to be here, because they do nothing. Watch an episode and imagine them being cut out, and nothing will be lost.

In the second round of competition, the chefs are asked to create their own snack food, but the challenge is reproducing part of the original: a snack that leaves residue on your fingers, like Cheetos (is that the quality of a Cheeto that we’d want to remain?) or creating functional food like a Pringle (Pringles are functional?!).

Snack vs. Chef judge Helen Park and host Hari Kondabolu talk to contestant Sandy Dee Hall during the Flamin' Hot Cheeto challenge
Snack vs. Chef judge Helen Park and host Hari Kondabolu talk to contestant Sandy Dee Hall during the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto challenge (Image via Netflix)

Even the set makes no sense. The episodes begin with everyone crushed into a corner of a decently faithful recreation of a bodega, where a vending machine dispenses the challenge and the names of the contestants.

I live in suburban Florida, so bodegas are not a thing here, but I do not think they have vending machines, because isn’t the point that bodegas sell what would be in a vending machine, things like chips and candy?

Some bodega elements find their way into the much-larger kitchen space, like a corner with a soda fountain and frozen drink machines, and bags of chips clipped to metal racks hanging above the ovens.

But there are also glass columns of multi-colored candy; beakers sitting on the blast chillers; and a wall of even more vending machines, including some that are high above the air. And there’s a lounge in the back that seems like it came from a different show.

Even the proportions of the set are off. The kitchen is massive but there’s a lot of unused space. Meanwhile, the other chefs watching are crammed together in the opening bodega, watching from behind a window—an amusing visual that quickly seems silly with all the unused space.

Snack vs. Chef presents all of this with cinematography and editing that’s dizzying, like someone handed their kid a camera. Zooming in and out of focus, whipping left and right; even the locked-off surveillance cameras make Big Brother’s cinematography seem like an art film.

As with so many talent competitions, the judging criteria is slippery, though the judges themselves could carry the show. Food scientist Ali Bouzari has more jokes and ease than the hosts, and nerdy descriptions, like referring to the “ergonomic starch saddle” of a Pringle. Chef Helen Park offers good insight.

Both get caught in the common food competition trap of: What is our actual criteria? When Park criticizes an episode-one, second-challenge snack food for having too much stuff that comes off on her fingers, it doesn’t make any sense, because that was literally the challenge.

“I don’t know if it’s exciting enough, or what the judges are looking for,” contestant Clara says in episode two. If the contestants don’t know what the judges are looking for, that is a problem. Alas, for Snack vs. Chef, that’s just one of many.

Snack vs. Chef

A cooking competition that’s like a generic version of a brand-name snack food: painfully different than the real thing, but with enough of the basics to provide some empty calories. C-

What works for me:

  • The casting
  • The judges’ expertise

What could be better:

  • Using the hosts more
  • The cinematography and editing
  • The challenges
  • The judging

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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Happy discussing!

Chuck S

Saturday 17th of December 2022

So, I finally got around to watching this.. and I don't know why I watched the whole series... It was, in a word, a mess. I don't understand the need for the first challenge, it didn't give the winner anything. The hosts were relegated to set dressing that talked. I thought both were useless. The challenges were interesting and I like the idea of re-creating snacks. I liked the set, it was wonky and lighthearted. I also liked most of the contestants. The show could have worked and should have worked, it just didn't.

Adub

Monday 5th of December 2022

After I watch a show where I intuitively grasp its short-comings, yet lack the critical chops to articulate it properly, I rush to google to be told better what I am thinking. Thank goodness I found this review.

I only watched one episode, but the superfluous "hosts" were at times nearly cringeworthy. The set was dizzying, and Wonka-esque. The contestants at least seemed kinda fun- a credit to the producers.

Ultimately, much like the title, Chef vs Snack feels like someone imputed "cooking show" prompts into a robotic algorithm, and this is what the computer vending machine spit out.

David

Sunday 4th of December 2022

I agree with a lot of your points.

I really didn't understand the point of the vending machine. It didn't even seem to work properly as they kept cutting away before the item fell which made me think the item got stuck (the gushers).

The hosts seemed awkward and didn't seem like they had good chemistry with eachother or the guests. At one point Hari made a joke and after everyone chuckled Megan reiterated the joke to an awkward silence. I feel like if it had been one or the other it would have worked better.

The format of the show was strange as well. One person from the first four episodes went straight through to the final. Sandy won the first episode and the other contestants remain in the awkward bodega watching through the glass. I thought there would be another chance for the contestants who lost their episodes to have another chance to get to the final but instead one was chosen as a "wildcard". I feel like they planned to have a second round hence why they kept the contestants around but must have axed the idea or felt that the atmosphere would be too quiet as people left the show.

I feel like Drink Masters executed their show a lot better. The host had good chemistry with everyone and while he also didn't affect the judging, he gave a nice layman's interpretation to the very complicated cocktails. The format of having all the contestants participating and then eliminating one contestant each episode with the winner getting a benefit for the next challenge made a lot more sense than eliminating multiple contestants at once. I feel like we missed out a lot of the contestants personalities and there was no tension of an impending elimination until the final five.

Sorry about the essay in a comment. I just feel like they dropped the ball on a decent concept. I really enjoy cooking completions like this and this one just disappointed.

Luis

Saturday 3rd of December 2022

I agree. 💯. That’s all I got

Adub

Monday 5th of December 2022

@Luis, I agree.