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'No Kitchen Required': 'Top Chef' meets 'Survivor' -- with more fire-roasted giant rats

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Gilles Mingasson

Admittedly, I’ve been getting a little bored of the typical foodie programming. I’ve seen every diner, every drive-in, every dive. I’ve been Chopped, watched chefs battled over who was most Iron, and seen others battle to be Tops. And I’ve tuned in for more socially awkward Ina Garten parties than I care to admit. (Also, I clearly need to get a life.)

But just when I thought I’d possibly reached my food TV peak, BBC America introduced a new series called No Kitchen Required that combines the traditional food competition format with challenging locales. In the first episode, which aired tonight, three chefs (Iron Chef America regular Michael Psilakis, Chopped alum Madison Cowan, and Kayne Raymond) were dropped on the Caribbean island of Dominica, where they were tasked with cooking up grub that would impress the locals. The catch? They had to obtain their own ingredients. Mostly.

A single “native challenge” takes place in each episode and the winner of that gets to use the ingredient in their dishes. In this episode, the chefs had to go digging for yams in the dirt, and the first person who retrieved three unbroken veggies got to use them. (Psilakis was the victor.) Later, they all had access to other fresh ingredients that had to be foraged for themselves (from herbs to other veggies).

Easily the most thrilling part of the episode was watching the chefs obtain their proteins. Psilakis and Raymond had it relatively easy (I said relatively) — Psilakis opted to spear fish and Raymond went swimming for crayfish and drab. But I didn’t pity Cowan. He had to catch a manicou, which to us westerners is also called an opossum. (Cowan, who mentioned he’s afraid of rodents, kept bemoaning his task to catch “a giant rat.” I don’t blame him.) His guide had the task of climbing a tree and shaking it so the manicou would drop to the ground, where Cowan had to catch it. Whether he used his hands or stomped it was up to him. (Yes, it was as squirm-worthy as it sounds.) And when he finally got his hands on one, to the fire it went. Per tradition, he had to burn the hair off instead of cutting it off the animal — a technique foreign to the chef. But to his credit he went with it in a sign of respect, and I admire that. Not everyone would put up with smelling like eau de burnt rat hair.

With a focus on culture and traditions of the native peoples, No Kitchen managed to be adventurous, interesting, and satisfied my need for a little cooking action. (The actual cooking came in the latter third of the episode, which was just enough for me.) There was also a judging panel made up of locals, which was refreshing in that you knew they couldn’t care less about where the chefs came from, where they’d worked before, or what network they’ve been on. That’s about as neutral and fair as voting can get.

I’m curious to see what you thought if you watched, PopWatchers. This one caught me by surprise, and I hope it did the same to at least a few others — because I need someone to talk to about this!