December 19, 2010

Faking It

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 7:20 pm

Not much to say about Top Chef this week. The Elimination challenge was interesting but unfair, for a couple of reasons. First, Wylie Dufresne probably spends weeks or months working over a dish before he puts it on the menu at wd-50; can you really imagine anybody in the world meeting his standards with just a day to think about it and a couple of hours in the kitchen? Second, there’s a real mismatch between contestants and styles of food—Angelo was clearly in a much stronger position going into this challenge than Fabio was (even if Fabio’s whining about how impossibly difficult it is to cook French-Vietnamese fusion cuisine instead of pasta pasta pasta is irritating and dull).

Angelo snorts some heirloom tomatoes

That said, some of the contestants managed to acquit themselves well against long odds and others just choked. Carla smartly made a pretty traditional plate of shrimp and grits, attractively plated. There’s no chance that dish would ever appear on the wd-50 menu, but I’m sure it tasted good. Dale T. made a similar play: a solidly delicious dish that basically ignored the parameters of the challenge (how exactly is dumpling soup avant garde?). Both bets paid off: you don’t go home on Top Chef if your food tastes good (unless the next guy’s tastes better); and you can always win if your food tastes great, even if you kind of cheated.

Stray thoughts:

  • Angelo: If an Italian thinks your pants are too tight, your pants are too tight.
  • I can’t think of the last time I wanted to eat a Top Chef dish as much as I want to eat Dale’s dumpling soup.
  • As I predicted, it’s not looking like a good year for The Rules. I don’t expect to see many pasta salads from these chefs.

December 12, 2010

A Fight to the Death

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 6:08 pm

Oh, Jennifer. You ran smack into Rule E (“Be prepared to defend your dish at Judges’ Table”) and got sent home ahead of at least a half dozen lesser chefs, including three on your own team who made clear cut, amateurish mistakes, but were prepared to fess up and beg forgiveness at Judges’ Table. It’s hard to credit Tom’s claim that Jennifer’s attitude had little to do with her elimination. If she had said, “Yes, my dish could have been improved; I was working alone because Jamie got hurt and I did the best I could,” there’s a good chance they would have sent home Tiffany or Antonia for serving undercooked frittate.

But damn, Jennifer was pissed. More pissed even that Fabio last week. Like, Dale punching a locker pissed. If she showed any previous evidence of that temper, I don’t remember it.

Jennifer does not appreciate your feedback

Jennifer does not appreciate your feedback

Stray thoughts:

  • H is still totally bent out of shape that Top Chef filmed in the museum—just steps away from her office—and nobody told her. (Hey, Top Chef producers: have you considered a Google lunch challenge?)
  • The Quickfire devolved into a sugary race to the bottom, didn’t it?
  • Tiffani’s inability to accept that the Elimination Challenge involved unreasonable constraints that she hadn’t anticipated was… odd. She’s seen the show, hasn’t she? (It may have been added in post, but Tom clearly says, “One team will be cooking with meat and meat byproducts, such as eggs and dairy, only,” back in the David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing.)
  • I always assumed there was bad blood between Top Chef and Katie Lee. How can she look at Padma without thinking, “If I was the least bit interesting, you’d be a nobody”?
  • I’m considering a new rule: don’t ever put anything in an oven. Ovens can’t be trusted.

December 5, 2010

Top Chef: All-Stars: Yes, Really, This is a Blog Post!

Filed under: Not Tech, Top Chef — Chris @ 6:57 pm

As it happens, the debut of Top Chef: All-Stars coincides almost perfectly with the end of my Ph.D career (I got it, BTW), leaving me free and unburdened by work-related guilt for the first time in many years. So welcome all to the triumphant return of Procrastiblog, now with 50% less Procrasti- and 100% more -blog. The plan is to cover this season of Top Chef on a weekly or near-weekly basis. Since I don’t have cable anymore and have to depend on the kindness of strangers for my Top Chef fix, expect the posts to go up over the weekends.

I’m looking forward to this season of Top Chef. There’s a good half dozen contestants I’d be happy to see win. We can expect the level of competition to be generally high—I’d be surprised if any of these old pros falls afoul of the rules. And we can count on Anthony Bourdain to be likeably dickish and amusing each week at Judges Table (Toby Young should take some notes on how to make forced pop culture references without coming off as congenitally unlikeable. I will miss Eric Ripert, though; he really classed up the joint).

Fabio Hulks out

Fabio Hulks out

But the All-Stars format doesn’t entirely change the normal course of a Top Chef season too much. We’d normally expect at least a half dozen hopeless caterers, moms, and seafood chefs to get slowly weeded out through the first half of the season. Instead, we have a eight chefs who are better than the average contestant, but not finalist material: Stephen (Season 1); Elia (Season 2); Antonia, Dale T., and Spike (Season 4); Jamie and Fabio (Season 5); and Mike (Season 6). It’s a shame that most of these contestants could have been replaced by stronger contestants from their respective seasons: Dave and Lee Anne (Season 1); Sam (Season 2); Stefan (Season 5); and Bryan and Kevin (Season 6). (The last three in particular could have been strong All-Stars contenders.) Of the non-finalist contestants, I’d say only Tre (Season 3), Jennifer (Season 6), and Tiffany (Season 7)—all upset eliminations—have any chance at all.

Some of the former finalists are looking surprisingly weak: it turns out Marcel (Season 2), Dale L. and Casey (Season 3) all had the good fortune to be better than average in weak seasons—even within his avant-garde niche, Marcel pales in comparison to chefs like Richard and the Voltaggios. Can there be any doubt that Jennifer, Richard, or Angelo could have disemboweled Season 2 winner Ilan Hall and served his guts in an ambitious but not overly fussy trio of offal?

Stray thoughts:

  • Isn’t a bit unfair and not all that surprising that the Quickfire win went to the only team with four chefs?
  • It’s also a little unfair that the second group being served got to know they were being piped into the kitchen when it came time to criticize the food. They were far less harsh. Is it a coincidence that the bottom three dishes came from the first group?
  • The rules of the Elimination challenge were somewhat unclear. Elia seemed to fall into the trap of sticking closely to her original preparation, whereas other contestants reproduced little more than the key ingredients. For example, Angelo jettisoned one of the key components of his original dish. And didn’t Tre get to rework the least problematic of his multiple losing dishes?
  • It remains astonishing the immediacy with which everybody who ever meets Marcel dislikes him. Even so, can we stop replaying the head shaving incident now? Especially if it’s going to be accompanied by self serving and not entirely regretful blather from the likes of Elia?
  • It was especially fun to see Bourdain make former fan favorite Fabio show his less genial side. (The prickly, aggressive version of Fabio should be familiar to anybody who watched last year’s Reunion Dinner.)
  • Have you noticed that the immersion circulators Marcel was mocked for wanting six seasons ago are now bog standard Top Chef equipment, used indiscriminately by everyone?
  • I wonder if Richard knows how to cook anything without using liquid nitrogen?

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