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?

September 15, 2010

The Top Chef: D.C. Blogging You Deserve

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 3:31 pm

Just a quick note to say the blog isn’t entirely dead, my thesis isn’t entirely finished, and I still have opinions about Top Chef.

It’s been a weak year, with some of the worst themed challenges of the show’s run and no especially strong personalities to root for or against. It goes without saying that none of the top three contestants this year could hold a candle to any of last year’s top three (Kevin Gillespie had more total wins than Ed and this year’s Kevin combined. And he came in third place). My predictions…

I’ve come to really appreciate Angelo’s high-strung energy; I believe he’s totally genuine and genuinely weird. But he’s been coming undone, Jennifer C.-style, and I have a feeling he won’t pull it out.*

I can’t stand Kevin. He’s an arrogant moron, never more so than in the baseball concessions challenge, in which he transmuted a strategic desire to screw Angelo into an torrent of moral outrage. With only one Elimination win and one Quickfire win (for a team challenge), he’d be the least distinguished chef to ever win Top Chef. (Side note: Kevin is chef at the only genuinely fancy restaurant in my hometown, so I was predisposed to like him. For future meals with my parents, I’m going to stick with Chick & Nello’s.)

Ed is… well, Ed is Ed. He’s not that great, but he seems to be pretty good. He’s a nice enough guy. And he’s on an upsurge (3 Elimination wins and 2 Quickfiers in the last 5 episodes). Like most Top Chef’s past, he will get the title and the crown, get razzed by the New York Times, and watch the also-rans run off with the fame and plum jobs.

See you next year!

* [SPOILER] (highlight to read) It’s more than just a feeling. Angelo is apparently participating in an upcoming Top Chef All-Stars series, so he’s almost certainly not the winner. [/SPOILER]

April 8, 2010

Program Note

Filed under: Top Chef, TV — Chris @ 7:25 am

I will not be blogging about the second season of Top Chef Masters. First of all, I really should be writing my thesis. Secondly, I already have two series of posts that I’m months behind on. Lastly, it’s a good show and all, but everybody’s too good all the time, and mostly pretty nice. There’s hardly anything to kvetch about.

Best wishes and happy Spring,
The proprietor

December 13, 2009

Michael Hated Everything

Filed under: Not Tech, Top Chef — Chris @ 10:35 pm

Poor Kevin. It’s hard to say he choked, since he put out four pretty solid dishes, but he certainly underperformed his potential. As far as I could see the whole thing was pretty close, with each chef putting out one great dish (Kevin’s chicken skin and squash, Michael’s rockfish, and Bryan’s venison), one mediocre dish (Kevin and Michael’s desserts, Bryan’s tuna-noodle casserole with no tuna, no noodles, and no salt), and a pair of dishes that were good but not impeccable (the Judges always find something to peck).

I think the lesson of Kevin’s two part finale experience is that Top Chef is not the place for slow-cooked meats. It seems to me that you rarely get the time you need in an elimination challenge to properly cook a brisket or a pork belly (though, Shyamalan twist, Michael won with a pork belly back in the Thunderbirds episode).

Who does mom love more?

Predictions. I was only 5 for 13 with my predictions this season, and that’s not counting a totally ill-advised Jennifer vs. Bryan finale prediction from episode 5 (one has to admit that was pretty close!). I probably would have called Robin’s elimination if I had bothered to blog episode 10 (though maybe I would have chosen Eli for spite).

That’s a bit better than I did last season and about a million percent better than I did on Top Chef Masters.

The Rules. The record for The Rules is much better: 9 of 14 eliminations were arguably rule violations. One for Rule A (“Never make a salad or dessert”: Preeti), two for Rule B (“Play it safe”: Jennifer Z. and Robin), four for Rule C (“Respect your proteins”: Hector, Ron, Ashley, Ash, and Eli), one for Rule D (“Be prepared to change your plan”: Mike I.), two for Rule E (“Be prepared to critique your dish”: Eve and Mattin). The ones that fell through the cracks are Laurine, who set a precedent in going home for being a terrible hostess in Restaurant Wars, and Jennifer, Kevin, and Bryan, who were simply not the best of a very good lot. The only rule that didn’t come into play this season was Rule F (“It’s business, not personal”), which is surprising considering how many team-ups with Robin and Ron seemed headed for disaster.

That’s it for this season. No more TV blogging till who knows when… Any suggestions?

December 8, 2009

You Eat What You Like, And I’ll Eat What I Like

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

The trouble with finishing off the season with four incredibly talented and relatively drama-free chefs is… I’ve got nothing to say. This is what I was afraid Top Chef Masters was going to be like, before Michael Chiarello arrived to douche things up. Unfortunately, the old Chiarello touch didn’t take this week.

Prediction: It’s sad to see Jennifer go, even if it does put me back on a solid prediction streak. My call from last week stands: Kevin FTW. If you are not convinced by the mere fact that the more-technical chef has prevailed over the simpler-but-more-soulful chef exactly once in Top Chef history (that would be Hung, over the outmatched Dale and Casey; a moment of silence for Tiffani, Marcel, Richard, and Stefan); that Kevin is the all-time winningest chef (although Bryan now stands beside him as the all-time not-losing-est chef, having never once been in danger of Elimination); if Kevin’s toothsome Yukon Cornelius-ness isn’t enough to give you a rooting interest, just consider this: it will be an unpleasant and awkward Christmas at the Voltaggio’s if Bryan loses to Michael (or vice versa).

[UPDATE] I meant to note that this is the first time in Top Chef history where there can be no perverse or outrageous outcome in the finale. Notwithstanding Michael is kind of a dick—it’s hard to blame him since obviously his mother never truly loved him—all three chefs are incredibly talented and none of them is a boo-hiss villain in the Tiffani/Ilan/Lisa/Hosea mold. I’ll be rooting for Kevin, but I wish all the best to the Voltaggios too.

November 22, 2009

How Do You Measure a Chef’s Worth? Just By The Pleasure He Gives Here On Earth

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 11:16 pm

This week was a preview of how I expect the rest of the season to play out. Kevin made the smart Rule B play, sticking with simple, clean flavors over elaborate presentations. He risked being dismissed as an underachiever. But in truth it’s rare for a chef to go home for making delicious food that’s not “ambitious” enough. Indeed, Kevin has exactly the kind of approach the Judges like: not overly fussy, focused on flavor, and “soulful.” The Voltaggios are more technically proficient, but more likely to try something risky or conceptual that falls short on flavor. (Top Chef contestants need to spend more time studying Tom Collichio’s Diet Coke commercial—he is not a big fan of conceptual cookery.)

Predictions: I’m putting all my chips on Kevin to win. If you need more convincing, with this episode Kevin clinched the record as the all-time winningest Top Chef contestant, with 5 Elimination wins and 4 Quickfire wins (one, the blind-fold relay, as a team member). He’s won nearly half of the Elimination Challenges he’s participated in (recall he was excused from the Joël Robuchon challenge for his Quickfire win). He’s only been in the bottom once, in Restaurant Wars (that great inverter of Top Chef fortune). In comparison, Stephanie (Season 4) had 5 Elimination wins, including her Season win, and only 1 Quickfire win. Stefan (Season 5) had 4 Elimination wins and 4 Quickfire wins. (Let’s hope that Kevin doesn’t imitate his home stretch performance.)

I am fond of Jennifer, but she obviously has a problem performing under pressure. I expect her to go home next week.

November 15, 2009

The Quiver of a 17th Century Courtesan’s Inner Thigh

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 11:15 pm

First off, I apologize for two weeks without Top Chef blogging. Let’s just say the demands of reality interfered with reality television.

This week, Robin’s luck finally ran out. She ran afoul of Rules A, B, and D: she made a dessert, she attempted to use a technique she had no experience with, and she blundered on as the plan fell apart. She showed up at Judges’ Table hoping to get credit for what she intended, rather than what she served.

The Elimination looked close though: Jennifer put out an inedible protein and Eli had put out a dish that was inedible, period. It’s pretty incredible to think Eli did not get eliminated when he served a dish that got the following reviews:

Tom: “The dish was a failure. Texturally, it completely failed.”

Padma: “I really didn’t like the flavors in that dish. I personally would never want to eat that again.”

Nigella: “I’d rather eat sawdust… I had to bring every ounce of my upbringing to bear to not spitting the bit I had back into the cup.”

"I don't like it at all."

"I don't like it at all."

You have to figure the Judges’ were just ready to be rid of Robin.

Predictions: Can I just pretend I predicted Robin for this week? I have a bad feeling all the fight has gone out of Jennifer, but I’m going to stick to my and everybody else’s guns and predict the top four will be Brian, Jennifer, Kevin, and Michael. (Note: One of these four has won every Elimination Challenge this year. That’s the most concentrated the winners have been in any season.) That means it’s Eli’s turn to go home.

Random observations

  • Kevin on Nigella: “Gordon Ramsey named a turkey after her. She’s legit.”
  • The three top dishes were, by far, less literally inspired by their casinoes than the bottom three dishes.
  • Eli on the Circus Circus casino: “It’s not like big top, elephants, giraffes… It’s, like, not a circus.”.
  • Jennifer served “shit on a shingle” in the Quickfire and “a sword in a stone” for the Elimination Challenge. She may want to consider serving things that sound appetizing.

October 25, 2009

Laurine’s at the Back of the Line When It Comes To Gettin’ Ahead

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 6:13 pm

Let’s get this out of the way right up front: this week didn’t go well for me. After two consecutive front-of-the-house Restaurant Wars eliminations, I am going to have to retract my claims about the front-of-the-house advantage. While Radhika may have been the exception that proves the rule (she went home because she was the team leader and the team failed), Laurine finished the rule off once and for all. She went home instead of Michael, who under-seasoned his char and made bland asparagus. She went home instead of Jennifer, who made two bad dishes, one of which Tom said was “a disaster.” And she went home instead of Kevin, who sent out unevenly cooked, too-rare lamb. (Granted, the lamb dish was technically Laurine’s, and Tom tried to make a lot of the fact that Laurine had promised she would keep an eye on the dish and make sure it passed muster. But still it’s hard to fault Laurine for a poorly cooked dish when it was Kevin who was working the grill.) The reason that Laurine went home this week, instead of any of her teammates, is that she did a terrible job working the front of the house, failing to expedite dishes, forgetting to explain dishes as they arrived, and just generally being frazzled and unhelpful in a too-obvious way. I didn’t think it was possible, but there you have it.

Predictions: Damn you, Laurine, for not going home last week or the week before. And damn you, Robin, for pulling your act together and putting out a delightful pear pithivier. My record has sunk to a pitiful 3 for 9. I’m going to stick with Robin for next week, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Eli finally shoots himself in the foot.

"I am very happy about this whole situation."

"I am very happy about this whole situation."

Random observations

  • The tag-team Quickfire was by far the coolest challenge Top Chef has ever done.
  • Was Padma being a bitch or what? Was there any point in asking for salt for her asparagus except to mess with the Laurine and Mike’s heads?
  • I love that Toby Young is a man who can’t do without dessert.
  • Robin couldn’t help but complain about Mike V. at Judge’s Table, even as the Judges were complimenting her dish. Can’t she see how big his heart is?
  • Since Jennifer was the obvious second choice for elimination, and Kevin the third, one might be tempted to speculate the producers put a thumb on the scale in favor of the top contenders. Far be it from me to suggest such a thing. But one might be tempted.
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