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'Top Chef' serves online cooking lessons

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by Jeff Horwich

In the Bravo network show "Top Chef," professional chefs take on food challenges and each other to win $125,000 and a whole lot of publicity. During season four, contestant Spike Mendelsohn had a moment.

"That's what you should have done," said Mendelsohn on the show. "Was be considerate that the two people who were working with you wanted to do butternut squash soup and you didn't want to do it at all!"

But in the classroom, Spike says: "And we cannot forget to season our potatoes -- everything else is really really seasoned, I think the potatoes are feeling a little jealous."

Reality TV, meet online education. Starting today "Top Chef University" is open for enrollment. There are 12 lessons in the course; each is $25. Spike and other former "chef-testants" take you from basic knife-handling through "Miso-Glazed Sea Bass with Baby Bok Choy."

"It really is a real course with real lessons. It's not just smoke and mirrors." says Anthony Hoy Fong, Top Chef University's culinary director. "You know that you're getting real chefs that cook in their own restaurants every night, they're some of the brightest minds in the culinary world. The production quality of our videos would be a lot higher than the free stuff that you'd see out there on the Internet."

It may sound gimmicky. But PR consultant David Parmet says offering online courses could boost Bravo and Top Chef's credibility.

"They're competing with the Food Network here. The Food Network already has "food" in its name. So you already trust it as a source. Now Bravo is trying to build itself up in that market," says Parmet.

Still, don't expect a certificate from Top Chef University will launch you into that prestigious sous-chef job. Only your friends and family can taste whether you're really doing your homework.

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