Taking in the heat of celeb kitchens

By Jessica Wong, CBCNews.ca

In today's celebrity-obsessed world, it's not surprising that top tier chefs have become TV stars. You start with incredibly passionate, highly skilled and often-explosive personalities. Mix in the requisite unpredictable, heated situations. Incorporate a quirky crew of side-characters. Voilà: you've got must-see TV.

My own foodie TV-watching tendencies run the gamut from home-cooking shows — say, watching Michael Smith prepare dinner for his family while I'm cooking for mine — to bombastic competition-style programs (Japan's original Iron Chef is a particular favourite).

In recent years, the annual Canadian Culinary Championship fundraiser has joined my list. The most recent edition ended in Vancouver last weekend, with Montreal chef Matthieu Cloutier triumphant in the national final, part of the overall Gold Medal Plates initiative that raises thousands of dollars for Canada's Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

I got my first taste of Gold Medal Plates a few years ago when Toronto chef-mogul Mark McEwan — a perennial regional competitor — featured it on an episode of his reality series The Heat. I'm also lucky to be acquainted with Toronto food writer and the contest's national culinary advisor and head judge James Chatto, who invited me to a regional fundraising event one year and shared some details of this year's final with me upon his return home this week.

Though I'd been loosely following the regional competition through occasional newspaper reports, nothing beats watching this kind of professional kitchen action itself on TV (though live, of course, would be the ultimate experience).

Imagine my delight when I came across the seven-part, one-hour per episode documentary series that documented the 2008 edition — and that the series could be watched online.

What kind of food-related TV programming do you enjoy? How does watching these shows affect your culinary habits?