January 22, 2009

Top Chef: Sending Out Some Love (But We’re Just Friends! And That’s All We’re Going to Be!)

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 2:22 am

Damn you, Magical Elves, and your cloak of tele-reali-editing. I was sure right up through the end-of-meal summing up (you know, the part where the judges chat about their overall reactions, until Padma says, “Well, I think we have a lot to discuss at Judges’ Table!”) that I had called it last week, and that Leah would go home: the Sunset Lounge had served the weaker meal and it was clearly almost entirely Leah’s fault. But, on service alone (!), Sunset Lounge pulled out the win and Radhika took the fall for Sahana.

This looks doubly bad for me, since I also pointed out last week that the front of the house was a safe position to play from in Restaurant Wars (indeed, triply bad: I predicted Carla would put in a strong performance). There are some mitigating factors…

First, team leader (or, as they called it here, “chef-owner”) is a tremendously dangerous position to play from in Restaurant Wars—just ask Tre and Dale. The combination of team leader and front of the house is (I think) unprecedented in Restaurant Wars history. And for good reason! The front-of-the-house advantage is premised entirely on the judges’ reluctance to hold you reponsible for the food, since they know you can’t control what’s going on in the kitchen. As the team leader in this challenge, it is your job to be in control of what’s going on in the kitchen! You are going to be held responsible for every dish that goes out. You need to be in the shit, knocking heads. (Bearing this in mind, being awarded the leadership role in Restaurant Wars counts as the Worst Quickfire Prize Ever—worse than a copy of Padma’s cookbook.)

Radhika’s only hope was that either: (a) one of her teammates would “go rogue” and put out an awful dish, despite her best efforts to correct him or (b) her team would knock out a great meal without her help in the kitchen, leaving her well clear of the danger zone. Carla almost pulled off (a) by choking on dessert and sending out an unfrozen “frozen yogurt” that should have been pulled or repurposed (and conceivably could have been saved if she had been as resourceful as Stefan). Jamie and Jeff almost pulled off (b) with a meal that was clearly better, on average, than the competition (the judges scored it 2 courses to 1, head to head). If only Fabio and Stefan hadn’t ruined it all with unctuous Mediterranean charm and delightful desserts!

Which brings us to mitigating factor two: Radhika failed to observe Rule #10. Setting aside the problematics of counterfactuals, it’s hard to argue against the following proposition: if Radhika had chosen Stefan instead of Carla, she would not have gone home tonight. She would have traded the night’s strongest performer for the night’s weakest performer. She would have had the three strongest, most consistent chefs in the kitchen, leaving her free to completely fuck up the front of the house while they rocked plan (b).

On the plus side, picking Carla and putting her on desserts led to the most delightfully strange and awkward Rule #8 violation since Mark of Season Four’s, “I think Tom doesn’t like me”:

Carla: I knew my dishes were going South. At that point, it really wouldn’t help the diner’s if I was in a bad mood. So my thing was, I’m just going to send out some Love with this stuff I’m giving you—

Tom Colicchio: How could your enjoyment impart enjoyment—

Carla: That is my belief, Tom!

Tom Colicchio: [Complete bewilderment]

Choosing Carla would have made a lot more sense if she had been used in the front of the house, where “sending out some Love” could have been a realistic strategy for success.

Predictions: Leah obviously does not have her head in this game. It is her turn to go.

P.S. I have nothing to say about Leah and Hosea’s hoochie-coochie except, if either one of them thinks they’re not getting broken up with at the end of all this, they’re deeply, desperately wrong.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I just realized I’ve been misspelling Jamie’s name all season. I apologize for the error.


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