For Top Chef fans, the name Marcel Vigneron creates a mixed reaction. He is the upstart molecular gastronomer from Season 2 who didn't get along with his fellow contestants, produced foam in every meal, and was assaulted by fellow castmates who thought it would be funny to shave off his hair against his will. He's a polarizing character who produces good food with unusual techniques and no shortage of confidence. After a forgettable run on Top Chef All Stars, Marcel is back with a new reality TV show on SyFy: Marcel's Quantum Kitchen. It follows his attempts to launch a catering company in Los Angeles. Naturally, everything is molecular gastronomy.
Aside from pretending to demystify some of the techniques of his trade, Marcel's Quantum Kitchen offers nothing new to the reality TV genre. The general premise of launching a business has been done better many times before (such as one of my favorites, The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency, and the first of its kind, The Restaurant). So has catering (Private Chefs of Beverly Hills), egomaniacs helming a business (Flipping Out), and colorful ensemble casts of employees set up just for the sake of a TV show (The Rachel Zoe Project), among others.
If you have nothing new to offer besides a minor gimmick, you have to do the show well. SyFy stumbles here, too. The graphics are interesting the first time you see them. Transitions occur on a large grid reminiscent of an organic molecule diagram, leaving the action in one atom to zoom in on another. The menu is presented with bright conceptual drawings that are highlighted as Marcel and his team switch from one prep station to the next. Unfortunately, the bold black and yellow design never evolves and is completely overused. It's just another gimmick in a show about a gimmick.
That is not to say what Marcel is doing is not interesting. It is. The premiere episode saw him trying to invent a process to inject a fresh mozzarella balloon with a tomato filling for an appetizer course. His explanation of all his tricks is interesting and the results are mostly appealing. The problem with his method is that he thinks molecular gastronomy--which I consider to be a legitimate method of food preparation--is just about the show. He obsesses more with getting a rolling fog out of his customer's mouths than the taste, texture, or plate appeal of a row of white spoons with white balls and white liquid in them. He thinks the draw of molecular gastronomy is the method itself, when it should be about creating new food experiences through innovative cooking methods.
The entire program suffers from underestimating the intelligence of the audience. The show literally uses the same interview clip with Marcel every single time they cut back to him working on the preparation of a dish. There are countless continuity errors because of the repetition, such as seeing a completed version of a dish sitting on the table a few seconds after no one on Marcel's team could get it right. Even worse is the false premise that Marcel and a party planner could have put together such elaborate special effects in less than one day. SyFy is stepping in to stage the parties and if this Quantum Kitchen is a real company, his future customers are going to be mighty disappointed.
Marcel's Quantum Kitchen is only for the most devoted food reality TV fans with the lowest standards in entertainment. The exposition does nothing to explain the techniques beyond "I put these sheets in water and out pops gelatin," so you can't even try anything at home without doing a lot of research on your own. You probably won't like the show unless you really like Marcel, and as far as I'm concerned, he's not charismatic enough to anchor a series.