By FRANCES GRANT
A strong stomach for chaos and conflict is a prerequisite for viewing the latest workplace docusoap, The Restaurant (TV3, 8.30pm). At this time of year it could be too much for the stressed or faint-hearted.
The six-part American show, about fancy New York chef Rocco DiSpirito setting up his own restaurant, also seems a little late getting in on the act: we've already had every food business reality series going from local versions to the likes of Gordon Ramsay's Boiling Point and Jamie Oliver's unemployed-youth project Jamie's Kitchen.
DiSpirito is New York's answer to London's Oliver - a boyishly good-looking chap with casual charm, drooled over by women and voted one of US People magazine's sexiest people - but occasionally morphs into a simmering version of the famously hot-tempered Ramsay.
DiSpirito's telegenic appeal and the fact that he was already a "name" chef no doubt helped to smooth the way when it came to finding a backer and all that handy exposure of his own reality TV show. Like the chicken and egg, it's hard to tell whether the show or the restaurant came first. Suffice to say, it's produced by Mark Burnett, of Survivor fame.
Last week's first episode followed DiSpirito through the pressure cooker weeks before opening. Quite why it had to be such a rush - was it money or TV production demands? - was not really clear. Whatever the reason, the deadline did its job of putting some heat into the drama. Much of the show was without commentary, the frantic scenes and fraying tempers spoke for themselves.
There appears to be no deeper purpose to this, however, other than DiSpirito's desire to honour his Italian American roots by opening an Italian restaurant. This might prove tricky as the chef is a French food specialist and has never cooked Italian food.
Fortunately there's Mama Nicolina to her boy's rescue. Appointed executive chef, the diminutive Mama is up at 6am with the best of them, knocking out around 300 of her special meatballs. Mama's English isn't too hot but she looks set to become the series' most interesting character.
A restaurant in the Big Apple seems a natural place to stage a reality TV show because a fair chunk of New York restaurant workers are probably waiting on the big break into fame and fortune while they're waiting on tables.
The hundreds lining up in the street to "audition" for a job waiting tables or chopping veg last week was indicative that most of the staff see working at Rocco's as their 15-minute window of opportunity to break into showbiz. Already in the first episode several members' talents for jostling for the limelight is matched by their ineptitude in the kitchen or out front.
As producer Burnett once said, "Most people you find who work in a restaurant - waiters, bartenders, waitresses - all want to be on Broadway or TV anyway."
Burnett has called the show the "first American unscripted drama", and as such it's an object lesson in why reality is so much less intriguing than fiction. Spats between staff, setting fire to the kitchen, muddled orders and grumpy customers only have limited potential as storylines.
Anyone who saw that wonderful film Dinner Rush, about a family-owned New York Italian restaurant - house special: revenge, served cold - will know that fiction can indeed be a whole lot spicier than reality.
By FRANCES GRANT