As far as reality-show villains go, wildly talented “Top Chef” and “Top Chef: All Stars” alum Marcel Vigneron didn’t come close to the level of Evil Russell of “Survivor” or, to go way back, Omarosa from “The Apprentice.” Still, he clashed with fellow contestants, polarized viewers and made headlines for being the contestant “everyone loves to hate.”
Plus, he’s easy on the eyes — and that, television viewers, is the kind of person who gets his own reality show.
As a result, we get “Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen,” a new cooking series on Syfy that attempts to justify the fact that it’s on a science-fiction-themed channel by using molecule-shaped animation, helpful graphics that count milliliters of liquid and the word “quantum” in the title. In reality, the show winds up being like any other frantically paced, personality-driven cooking show on any other network. Though Marcel points out in the beginning that he’s a molecular gastronomist, which means he incorporates science into all of his cooking. Well played, Marcel, well played.
But really, don’t we just want to be entertained? Quibbles with the channel aside, the series proves to be a dynamic hour of television. The producers avoid manufacturing drama — say, by fixating on Marcel’s egomaniacal tendencies — and instead focus on the most fascinating aspects of the chef’s new day job as the owner of a catering company.
Right up front, Marcel admits he’s had a colorful past. “I know many of you are probably thinking, ‘He’s that [expletive] from “Top Chef,” ’ ” the 30-year-old cook explains at the top of Tuesday’s premiere episode, though he doesn’t reveal that it’s Syfy’s sister channel Bravo (both owned by NBC Universal) that airs “Top Chef,” which may be how he got this gig. “Truth is, I’m not like that at all. You say ‘jerk,’ I say ‘perfectionist.’ ”
With the whole “yes, Marcel can be mean” thing out of the way — along with a scene with the chef gamely performing a cooking demonstration for elementary-school kids to prove his kindheartedness — the show moves on to chronicle Marcel and his staff as they cater ritzy events in Los Angeles. Money is seemingly no object to their clients, which makes for outrageous, riveting displays of creative food-making.
The first client up is a very “Real Housewives of Orange County”-looking woman named Carlton, a philanthropist who eyes Marcel suspiciously but concludes that he’s the right person to cater her cocktail party to raise awareness for Wildlife Waystation, an animal refuge. Cue Marcel and his team — Jarrid, the rebellious cook; Devon, the good-natured mixologist; and Robyn, the rookie and former rock-concert-tour caterer.
The group decides to go with a safari theme, creating dishes that resemble a snake, a tree and even a bird’s nest with an egg inside.
Foam bubbles out of pots, steam goes everywhere, and the lightning-fast editing shows the many tries at getting complicated recipes just right. There’s one attempt to figure out the best way to form a giant snake out of grated cheese, and — spoiler alert — there is no good way. Marcel decides to use fried potatoes and mozzarella cheese blown up as small balloons to make the bird’s nest and egg.
Occasionally, a “this is science!” graphic flies across the screen with a definition of something such as “oxidize” — as in “be sure the apples don’t oxidize” while making fruit leather to eventually create an edible map that guests can use as they navigate the jungle-like party — but you’re so engrossed in the snake made of beef tenderloin, you barely notice.
The 60-minute episodes fly by. In the second one, Marcel caters a small engagement party for two high school sweethearts and includes an edible ring made with hot liquid sugar as a post-meal treat. Somewhere, there’s a squabble between Marcel and the event planner about three-tiered plates — but you’re too focused on the 30-inch “wine noodle” to care.
For those who crave drama as a side dish, Marcel does have his moments. “Doing this tasting for you set me back a little bit, but I was more than happy to accommodate,” he sweetly tells an event planner, passive aggression at its finest, after she asks for a pre-event tasting. Marcel also almost leaves Robyn in tears after she spends eight hours peeling apples for the edible map, and then the map prototype falls apart. “I would hate to fire her before the party’s even over,” he growls.
When Syfy (formerly known as the Sci Fi Channel) rebranded nearly two years ago, its mission was to expand its types of programming. It succeeds with “Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen,” though the series is only six episodes — and as long as the channel follows this model, it’s on the right track.
Premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. on Syfy.