Chef Roble & Co. debuts tonight on Bravo at 10 p.m. Eastern.
In its purest essence, Bravo is a network about class theater. A huge percentage of the programs that Bravo has aired in the past few years are about the fabulously rich, marginally famous, and wonderfully bitchy and the seemingly vast world of people whose main job is to cater to their every whim. There have been shows documenting the people who feed them, clothe them, style their hair, decorate their bathrooms, sell their houses for them, coordinate their fancy parties, set them up with pretty young things, teach them how to care for their young, and throw their dinner parties for them. It's the status-obsessed godchild of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous meets The Young and the Restless.
Chef Roble & Co. elbows into the already crowded arena without much gumption or originality. The series centers around Roble Ali, a young chef with aspirations to set up a catering company for—who else?—the rich and well-heeled of Manhattan. Roble is likable, but he doesn't have much of the ol' reality television craziness to animate his activities, and he seems unsure of himself. He doesn't have much authority compared to his onscreen chef colleagues like the ill-tempered Gordon Ramsey or stolid Tom Collichio, so it's not really clear why Bravo gave the green light to follow him around. (An early press release described him as "Hip-hop meets catering," but aside from using the Snoop Dogg "izzle" language and an amusing food-related flow, it doesn't seem like Roble has any rapping ambitions.)
The "company" part of Roble & Co is a scrappy bunch, with all the usual Bravo cliches. There's the obligatory outrageous gay, Shawn, who's job is to be a "human party favor," which is far less exciting than it sounds like. There's the socially awkward but efficient sous chef, Adam, who seems to have no better idea why he's on television than we do. There's the improbable chef D'Andre, who wrinkles his nose at beet juice and cheese. And of course, there's Roble's sister Jasmine, who serves as business manager and efficient foil for Roble.
Their first gig is for a young woman who seemed too awful to really exist, an Upper East Sider named Kerry whose list of demands for her 25th birthday party included a pet monkey and a kibosh on any green food, as well as having the letter "K" on every dessert. She made Veruca Salt look like a reasonable, pleasant human being. Maybe my favorite part of the whole affair was Kerry's mother, Jane, who looked horrified at her daughter's bratty show. ("We don't need a monkey," she protested, shaking her head.) Roble's job is to make every item of food red, black, or white as his other members round up circus performers, animals, and various other components necessary for the "old world circusy deep sexy scary" mishmash that Kerry requested. With plenty of stress on Jasmine's part, the thing comes together, but Roble's efforts don't seem that dazzling. We see the line-up of finger foods two or three times, tasty nibbles but nothing mind-blowing. (And what is the obsession with corn dogs?) Roble and Jasmine have the requisite fight over the kitchen versus the party floor dynamic, and then make up.
Still, the most actively horrible scene of the whole affair was brought on by their client's unrelenting self-involvement. The night before the party, Kerry called to inform Jasmine that she does want a birthday cake after all. Roble's baker Kiku, who I admit I took an immediate liking to based on her aggressively neon makeup, worked overtime to make her one. Kerry then demanded that the cake must be brought up to her immediately, which causes aforementioned argument between Jasmine and Roble. When Jasmine triumphantly presents Kerry with the cake, she doesn't even go to the trouble of tasting it before starting a cake fight and dropping the much-fussed-over confection on the floor. (Kerry's mom, again, is in the background looking embarrassed.) It was My Super Sweet Sixteen from the perspective of the put-upon waitstaff. Where shows like The Rachel Zoe Project succeed because of Zoe's actual connections with celebrities and frazzled, teenage girl entrepreneurial persona, it feels like Chef Roble is being fed his clients by the network. What's important with shows like this is the illusion that we're getting a glimpse into the world of the rich and famous, not that Bravo is constructing that world for us. Even if it's sometimes true.
Chef Roble & Co debuts tonight on Bravo at 10 p.m. Eastern.