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Chop-chop: Throw another cooking competition on the fire

Premiering: Wednesday, March 11th at 7 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Chef Marco Pierre White
Produced by: David Barbour, Julian Cress

Chef Marco Pierre White, the British bloke who hosts NBC's new The Chopping Block, used to have Gordon Ramsay under his wing.

But the bombastic star of Fox's Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares got to these shores first, leaving his old boss to serve leftovers on yet another weekly cooking competition devised by an umpteenth U.S. network.

White, who hosted the UK's version of HK, has a look and a hairstyle that suggest Deadwood despot Al Swearingen. But unlike Ramsay, he doesn't curse or even yell in Wednesday's opening hour. Instead, White quietly notes that a supplicant chef "made me a dog's dinner." He's also bracingly even-tempered when informing an underling that "you've got to put your balls on the table."

The one-hour series is set in New York City, already home to 25,000 eateries. Two teams of four couples each must open a pair of restaurants from scratch. The last couple standing will get $250,000 and some cooking equipment.

White occasionally makes pronouncements such as "To reach great heights, you've got to find great depth in yourself." He also considers it "a moral duty to make the right decision" in terms of which couples to cut.

Mostly, though, he's a casual observer of the whole process, leaving some of the more cutting comments to a guest food critic who drops in to sample the various repasts. On Wednesday's premiere, the designated food taster is snooty Corby Kummer of Atlantic Monthly. He doesn't yell either, but his overall 'tude makes one wish he'd suddenly be eligible for the Heimlich Maneuver.

Chopping Block ends its first hour with a bit of a twist. None of this is must-see TV, but I prefer White's underwhelming, cool-as-a-cucumber approach to Ramsay's constant hot sauce. He'd rather sip some wine and puff on a cigar than get all worked up about a poached egg or something. Bravo for that at least.