Food TV and Smoking

By Ung, Elisa | The Record (Bergen County, NJ), January 27, 2013 | Go to article overview

Food TV and Smoking


Ung, Elisa, The Record (Bergen County, NJ)


It's now a classic scene in reality cooking shows such as "Top Chef" and "Hell's Kitchen" - the stressed-out contestants gossiping on an outdoor patio over several packs of cigarettes.

A channel-flipper might find it a bit jarring. Short of "Mad Men," there are fewer and fewer TV shows these days that depict smoking.

But clouds of smoke have been a prominent part of this season of Bravo's "Top Chef," as the contestants flirt, fret over their upcoming dishes, and rehash the previous episode. On last year's season of Fox's "Hell's Kitchen," Justin Antiorio of Lyndhurst -- the show's runner-up -- was frequently seen lighting up as he talked menus and dinner services.

Antiorio said that smoking during the taping "was the only thing we could really control" in a tightly monitored atmosphere under the constant glare of television cameras. Contestants even had a two- beer limit, he said. "The only thing we were able to do is smoke as much as we wanted and drink as many Red Bulls as we wanted."

That the food world is full of cigarettes won't surprise anyone who's ever seen cooks on a smoke break behind a restaurant. According to a 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 percent of hospitality employees smoke - tying them with mine workers as the industry with the highest rate of smoking. One program called "Blueprint to Quit" even recently chose a prominent New York restaurateur and former smoker, Joe Bastianich, as a paid spokesman.

So it's not much of a stretch that the nicotine carries right over to some cooking TV. Antiorio said the stress of the show was so great that some of his fellow non-smoking contestants were lighting up.

Taping "Hell's Kitchen" is "literally such a pressure cooker. It's just like being a chef," said Antiorio, now the chef de cuisine at Bin 14 in Hoboken.

"When I worked at the 21 Club, I would run out and have a cigarette in between service. After pre-theater, I'd go have a cigarette, not so much to have a cigarette, but because you're inside all day, you need an escape, to get out, even if it's five minutes outside."

Dave Dobbins, chief operating officer of the anti-tobacco group American Legacy Foundation, which has studied smoking and television, said he has two concerns -- the health of the chefs involved and how lighting up on national television will glorify the habit for young, vulnerable viewers. …

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