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"I Want My Chef TV!"

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With last night's (much anticipated) premiere of the third season of Top Chef on Bravo, there now exists a triptych of "reality" television programs each devoted to making one lucky chef a star (and the other contestants infamous). Over on the Food Network we've got The Next Food Network Star, which blends cooking and "star" quality, and on Fox we're two episodes into the blazing fires of the third season of Hell's Kitchen.

And I am watching all of them.

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I know, I know. It's the worst kind of brain candy, and it comes with a mighty dose of insult to injury: Viewers can't taste what the participants are cooking! Of course, in many cases--like when Hell's Kitchen's Gordon Ramsay spits the food out and curses its maker--who would want to? (This problem also reinforces the concept of never watching food television when you're hungry; much like going to the grocery store on an empty stomach, this perilous state of being leads to disastrous eating decisions, like last night when I watched the Top Chef premiere while eating a revolting slab of Trader Joe's microwave Eggplant Parmesan.)

If you can stand the heat, come with me as I take a brief look at each of these competitive kitchens.