February 7, 2009

Four or Five Good Dishes, No Bad Dishes

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 8:32 pm

I love how, every season, the contestants get sent off to do something that seems like it will be fun and, every season, it turns out to be an Elimination Challenge switcheroo, but, every season, they walk right into it without suspecting a thing. Think of Season 3’s “Guilty Pleasures”, when the contestants thought they were going dancing, only to have to man a late-night grease truck outside the nightclub (and poor Casey, almost losing her mind at having to cook in heels and a low-cut shirt). This week, we had dipshit Hosea:

“I’m really pumped. I’m about to sit down with Eric Ripert and Tom Colicchio and have a feast. This is such an honor.”

Yeah, I’m sure Eric and Tom just want to sit back and kick it with you, hear what you have to say about hooking up with girls and then treating them like garbage, your secrets for over-cooking fish and the like… That’s the ticket.

When will these people learn?

And thus we were introduced to a really interesting and, it seems to me, relatively easy Elimination Challenge—each contestant must duplicate a dish from the menu of Le Bernardin—which results in a premature departure for Jamie.

After the last two weeks’ upsets, I think it’s time to formalize the following rule (which has always been implicit), lest the entire rulebook come under attack:

Rule #0: Don’t make the worst dish. This one seems obvious—and it is!—but I have to admit that it continually catches me off-guard. It is better to do nothing, to take no responsibility, to have no ideas, passion, direction, or plan, than to put out a straight-up bad dish. Week after week, inferior, clueless chefs turning out mediocre, uninspired food edge out more-talented chefs who make one big mistake. This is the number one cause of fan frustration and conspiracy theories. Just ask: Jamie (tonight), Jeff (last week), Andrew (Season 4), Tre (Season 3).

This week is a perfect illustration of the principle: Leah had no idea what she was doing. She didn’t have the sophistication or technique to reverse-engineer the recipe. At Judges’ Table, she more-or-less admitted that she had no idea how to properly prepare her dish and asked Eric Ripert to tell her how it should be done (his answer, add some lemon and dilute the sauce, didn’t sound like rocket science). Given another chance, she would have turned out the same bad food. On the other hand, Jamie knew exactly what she was doing, but made a careless error: she over-salted and over-reduced the celery sauce (Ripert: “The celery is really hardcore”). Given another chance, she probably would have nailed it.

So, who goes home? Jamie. Her dish was inedible.

I might also add:

Rule #12: Don’t dis Eric Ripert.

Hurt Eric Ripert

Jamie: "That wasn't my favorite dish that we had over lunch."

Predictions: By all rights, Leah is the weakest contender. But I have lost my faith that it is her destiny to go home. It’s too late in the season, there’s too much variability and March Madness-style caprice in the format. Hell, before last week, I would have put Jeff and Jamie in the Top 4. And just this week, Fabio broke the Sidekick Curse (anybody who talks on the Sidekick in the first five minutes of an episode is dead meat). Only a fool would make predictions under these circumstances.

One thing is for sure, though: Stefan is heavily favored to take home the crown. He is on track to have the winningest record in Top Chef history. He has 4 Elimination wins and 4 Quickfire wins, with 3 episodes left to go. Stephanie won a total of 5 Eliminations (including her season win) and 1 Quickfire. And Stephanie was up against Richard, who won 4 and 2. Stefan has more wins than his two nearest competitors combined (Hosea won 2 and 1,  Carla 2 and 0). Leah (0 and 3) and Fabio (1 and 0) have the potential to match Lisa (1 and 0) as the least distinguished contestants ever to reach the finale.


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