January 9, 2009

Top Chef: No Rules

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 5:10 pm

Sadly, I can’t claim that Melissa and Eugene’s exits are due to clear cut rule violations. They fell afoul of Implicit Rule #0 (“Do not make bad food”). Arguably, Carla saved herself by observing Rule #8 (“Be prepared to defend your dish at Judges’ Table”): she demonstrated that she understood the weakness of her dish and clearly articulated what she could have done differently to improve it. In contrast, Melissa feebly protested that she really is too a creative chef in spite of her bland, boring fish tacos and Eugene stolidly claimed that he is just too out there and forward-thinking and the judges just don’t get him. Right.

In defense of Melissa and Eugene’s concepts (if not of their finished dishes), I get really tired of hearing lazy, complacent axioms from the judges and cheftestants. In this episode, we learned that radishes have to be cold and can’t be paired with tomatoes and basil and that fish tacos could never “wow” the judges (Tom Colicchio has a long list of dishes that could never “wow” him: fish tacos, deviled eggs, chocolate cake, salad (*cough*Rule #1*cough*), cucumber canapes… He seems to live in a permanent state of disillusionment. (On the flip side, his enthusiasm when he likes a dish can be truly infectious, e.g., Stefan’s duck and dumplings)). These kinds of “rules” really are made to be broken—for instance, I’m quite confident that a sufficiently delicious fish taco could in fact “wow” the judges. The trouble is when you go against the conventional wisdom and fail, everybody just clucks and says you never should have tried in the first place.

Jamie: You’ve been warned. When you don’t win, you whine. When you win, you just squeal “finally! finally! finally!” like anybody else gives a shit that you haven’t been winning (hint: your fellow cheftestants wish they were winning too). You are on track to place in this thing. But if you don’t renounce your humorless lesbianism, I will be rooting against you.

My take on Toby Young is: shut the fuck up already. He was 0 for 4 in the over-the-top metaphor competition (“please pack your gibes and go”):

  1. Radhika’s soup :: weapons of mass destruction. This didn’t even make sense. It sounded like the soup was just bland. It would have been more appropriate for Melissa’s habeñero sauce incident (or is that too on the nose?).
  2. Hosea’s bacon-wrapped halibut :: American actors upstaged by British supporting players. This took too many words to get out and didn’t land home with the audience. I’m sure Mr. Young and Anthony Lane could have had a long hard chuckle about that one over tea and biscuits, but to American ears it was strained, pretentious, and, well, twitty.
  3. Eugene’s dish :: “The bland leading the bland”. This one was pretty good. But I suspect you could find it somewhere in the Toby Young food writing archives… it smells a little musty.
  4. Jeff’s avocado sorbet :: Tom Cruise’s cameo in Tropic Thunder. This is the kind of comparison you get from somebody who thinks they’re terrifically hip and cutting edge for having seen Tropic Thunder and knowing that was Tom Cruise, but who doesn’t get how completely un-hip it is to crush on Tom Cruise playing an amoral Hollywood jerkwad. You are trying too hard, dude.

My bet for next to go? It’s time for Arriane’s meltdown, don’t you think?

P.S. After five seasons of Top Chef, after innumerable plates of pork, beef, veal, bacon, duck, foie gras, and so on, ad nauseum, isn’t it strange for Tom Colicchio to play the ethics card on an over-cooked red snapper (“It hurts me that the fish gives up its life and then it gets completely over-cooked and beat up like that…”)?


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