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Food’s Chef In Your Ear the ultimate in culinary improv

Simply put, Chef In Your Ear is unlike any culinary competition on television today. In it, unskilled cooks prepare a restaurant-quality dish in one hour with help from a professional Canadian chef. The hook? The chefs are ensconced in remote booths, directing competitors orally through earpieces while observing them via a bank of monitors.

“It’s like an improv performance,” says series executive producer Daniel Gelfant. Developed from an idea by Justin Scroggie and Ricardo Larrivée, Gelfant’s final product—debuting on Food Network on Monday at 10 p.m. ET/PT—Chef In Your Ear (hosted by Second City’s Greg Komorowski) is a wild mix of laughs, excitement, a little embarrassment … and a huge learning experience for chef Cory Vitiello.

“We lose three of our most important senses in taste, smell and touch,” Vitiello says on the phone from his latest Toronto restaurant, Flock. “But because we lose that, I found I paid attention to so many other little details than I would if I was actually down there. Watching through five monitors, I’m able to see a pot boiling on the back, or bones being left in meat.” Vitiello and fellow Canadian chefs Jordan Andino (Harlow Sag Harbor), Devin Connell (Delica Kitchen), Craig Harding (Campagnolo) and Rob Rossi (Bestellen), have to call on their skills as coaches, mentors and psychiatrists to guide their charges through to success with recipes for pork schnitzel, eggs Benedict, spaghetti and meat balls and eggplant Parmigiana.

Vitiello and Rossi are in tough in tonight’s first episode of 26, “The Big Bang”; the former is paired with violin superstar Rosemary while the latter teams with toymaker Nick. At first, it seems like a recipe for disaster, especially since Rosemary screams when she’s under pressure. Suffice it to say, there is a lot of screaming from her side of the kitchen and Vitiello struggled early on to keep her focused.

“I think every one of us started each episode saying, ‘There is no way this is going to work,'” he says. “But then you build some trust and some confidence and there is a point where it just clicks and you work together. You can see the transition on the floor, where they realize, ‘Oh my God, I can do this!'”

Chef In Your Ear airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network.