How Do "Time Machine Chefs" Do Without Modern Restaurant Supplies?

Have you ever watched a cooking competition show and thought, “Man, I really wish that the cast were in a fictitious scenario where they’ve traveled back in time, and their overblown personalities really grated on me for an hour?” If you’ve thought that, you might need to track down Time Machine Chefs‘ first (and apparently, only) episode, having premiered last Thursday at 9:00 on ABC. Will it return? It doesn’t appear to be back on the schedule beyond this reveal, and it doesn’t seem like many will miss it; Wipeout, earlier in the night, had better ratings.

The show starts in China circa 1416 AD (in the heart of the Ming Dynasty), with a time-traveling refrigerator teleporting in. Cut to “595 Years Later- Present Day”… which would be 2011, possibly a sign of how long this program has been languishing in the world of pilots. From here, we’re greeted by our now-nameless hostess and the four chefs that, according to the narrative of the show, will be traveling back in time to cook according to the rules of the era.

Like Chopped, Iron Chef, and any other competitive cooking show, they’re given their selection of items to cook, and a specific goal or purpose to dish up. The four chefs are Art Smith (who loves Lady Gaga and worked for Oprah), Chris Consento (who declares that “if you haven’t eaten duck, you’re f—ing stupid”), Jill Davie (a self-declared “hoot” that features a barfing lemon in her focus video), and Ilan Hall (the nice and normal clone of Chris Consento, down to the glasses).

In China, they’re goal is to highlight crispy duck skin. The real “highlight” of this segment is when the judges, Nancy Silverton, David Arnold, and Silvana Rowe, describe how to make crispy duck skin. Arnold goes for the modern route with an air pump, something that could be found in higher-end restaurant supplies, while Rowe goes for the old-style air pump, using her lungs.

Yes, less than a dozen minutes into the show, we have a judge putting their lips on a raw duck. We’re in for some great television.

The chefs are told they don’t have electricity, running water, or gas, and none of them speak Chinese (beyond a “Nihao!”) to the extras that run the market. Yet, during the credits, it’s shown that the Ming Dynasty Renaissance Festival outcasts have sunglasses, and throughout the show, you can see assistants helping the crew in one way or another; they’re usually disguised as the locals, but it’s not as if the crew is setting up the machinery all by themselves, despite their lack of sous chefs.

Following the elimination of the first chef, Jill Davie (not enough of a “hoot” to gain a trip back from 1416, apparently), the three male chefs jump a bit into the future, all the way to 1532 AD’s House of Tudor. Theoretically crafting a cockatrice, a gestalt beast of horror, a Frankenstein of fresh food, that Henry VIII appeared to love (and the whole time, pronouncing it as cocakantrice, a word Google refuses to help find).

In this 16th century setting, the chefs have the unique element of a rotisserie grill… powered by small dogs in elaborate hamster wheels. Chef Chris loves this era, having, by his own admission, “played f—ing Dungeons and Dragons”. He also makes a brain salsa, so… that’s now words that have never been typed before.

It might be his “character”, seemingly crafted for television to show that he’s an over-the-top chef, that leads to him winning the competition and being declared the “Greatest Chef In History”.

What did they cook over the show?

  • Davie’s dish that did not endear her to the judges was Asian slaw with duck skin chicharrones and duck & mushroom “forbidden” rice.
  • Hall created pesto-stuffed duck neck and braised gizzard with soybeans.
  • Smith braised duck legs over rice and liver with cracklin’ duck skin.
  • Great Chef Consento braised duck tongue congee with crispy skin and, for not the only time in the program, added brains to the mix.
  • When teleported 116 years after the Ming Dynasty, Smith stayed simple with marmalde peacock with fruit stuffing, stuffed venison, and veered off course with a cod pastry.
  • Hall stuff a lamb head with minced cod, and all prepared venison loin, smoked peacock, and mushroom stuffed pig legs.
  • Consento cemented his status as Greatest Chef in History with pig’s head stew with brain salsa, peacock with fig salad, and venison tartar.

Do any of these dishes sound interesting to you? Duck skin chicharrones, marmalade peacock with fruit stuffing, and stuffed venison sound delicious, but I’ll pass on the brain salsa, cod pastry, and braised duck tongue.

The actual dishes are one thing, but the show’s inability to grasp, or solidify, the time-travel plot is a large issue. The competition staying with authentic cooking utensils and items is a good idea, until you see a pie placed over fire in a modern-day baking sheet. Extras are entertaining backdrop and challenges akin to Supermarket Sweep’s robot warriors; they offer a slight challenge, especially in the language department, but are there to color the footage more than anything. At one point, the hostess Brooke Peterson states that the chefs are “inter-dimensional culinary geniuses”… which is technically inaccurate. Time travel does not, theoretically, include different dimensions. They’re not traveling to worlds a la Sliders where Guy Fieri isn’t a overbearing bore or where Time Machine Chefs is a show that’ll last more than one episode.

Truer words have never been spoken than what Brooke Peterson says as the chefs hop into the time-traveling refrigerator. They definitely are history.

If, for some reason, you want to watch this television travesty, the episode is available on Hulu.