February 22, 2009

Will There Be a Slaughtering?

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 4:16 pm

Giddy Colicchio

This game might not be Stefan’s to lose anymore. Wha’ happened?

First, Stefan had the misfortune to make gumbo and beignets, setting himself up for a head-to-head comparison with Hosea and Carla. It looks pretty bad when other contestants make better versions of both of your dishes. (Hosea had also obviously studied and refined a knock-out gumbo recipe, which he tailored to the tasted of the local judges. That’s the kind of clever gamesmanship you would usually expect from Stefan, while Hosea looked on, washed some green beans, and whined about Europe.)

"This is not a butt rubbing competition... There will be a slaughtering."

"This is not a butt rubbing competition... There will be a slaughtering."

Second, Stefan gave the appearance of being cocky and arrogant. And, probably, he is cocky and arrogant. But I think there’s another factor at work: Stefan strives for an air of sprezzatura. It’s not enough to defeat and humble his opponents; he has to make it look easy. But the judges, especially Tom, don’t want to see that. They subscribe to this very American idea that you need to work hard and sweat or else you’re not doing it right. Stefan hasn’t yet had Hung’s insight: if you want to win this competition, you need to shamelessly flatter the judges’ prejudices. If your temperament and world-view clash with that of the judges, suck it up and tell them what they want to hear. In Hung’s case, this was that technically flawless French-Asian fusion cuisine was a reflection of his heart and soul, that he cooked with the blood, sweat, and tears of the immigrant experience. In Stefan’s case, he needs to reassure the judges that he cares more deeply about the food than about humiliating his competitors, that he spends every last second of his allotted cooking time obsessed with achieving perfection (smoke breaks are not OK).

"If it works out, it works out. If not, fine."

"If it works out, it works out. If not, fine."

Predictions. The Top Chef finale often features a reversal of fortune, where a contestant who is on a hot streak chokes (Richard, Casey) and/or a contestant who has been floundering exceeds expectations (Lisa, Dale, Ilan). Given that, Stefan’s missteps might have been a blessing (weakness is strength!), Carla might falter, and Hosea might surge. I’m picking Stefan, with Hosea as first runner up (this is not an official designation, but the judges usually make it clear who came in second and who came in third). Sorry Carla, but I just have a bad feeling about your chances—it won’t stop me from offering you a cheerful “Hootie hoo!” should we ever cross paths.


Blog at

%d bloggers like this: