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Top Chef Thoughts for August 11

Well, that certainly was interesting.

I was on board the Kenny train early in the season, as he seemed a skillful alternative to the (in my opinion) unpleasant Angelo. Unfortunately, it looks like Kenny’s ego has gotten the better of him and was his downfall in this episode. When he felt that he wasn’t matching up to Angelo or others, he fell into the classic trap of trying to do more, more, more. It’s been a constant criticism when he’s been on the bottom the past few weeks. Kenny’s needed to edit his dishes to keep some really good ingredients and themes together instead of trying to play too many fields. Jacks of all trades tend to be masters of none.

Kenny did a good job as executive chef, at least by what the editing shows us. But screwing up not just one but two dishes is a surefire ticket home. Plus, cheese plates never seem to work very well in Top Chef.

On the subject of Ed’s win, the lamb looked quite good and this guy’s had the chance to finally put up or shut up. A timely win shows that with this field of contestants it’s probably anybody’s game still. The only guarantee is Angelo, and even then he could flame out under his own hubris.

Incidentally, my opinion of Alex is that he’s a walking disaster and a ticking time bomb. He might be getting an unfair edit here, but I haven’t really seen much to like about this guy.

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Top Chef Thoughts for August 4

I want to keep this brief, because yesterday’s episode was mostly a non-event. I liked the concept of the elimination challenge, and hope we see it again. I only wish that the ambassadors themselves played into the judging a bit, kind of like Top Chef Masters’ or Restaurant Wars’ comment cards.

I’m not at all sad to see Stephen go. The guy’s looked outmatched since day one. It’s kind of a shame, as reading about him before the show resulted in my thinking of him having a high pedigree. Alas, he just couldn’t seem to take the competition. It was almost like a mercy elimination. Really, beef with beans and rice isn’t going to keep you afloat here, especially if you botch the rice like he did. I’d still go to his restaurant, though. He seems like a guy that just can’t work under that kind of competition, and he was gracious in his exit.

Tiffany managed a Quickfire and Elimination win in the same episode, all while she had immunity. I’ve got to give her credit for not punting with immunity. She put forward the effort and the dish she made was worthy of winning. I wish more contestants would take their immunity and actually go out and try to win. If what you’re doing doesn’t work out, fine. You’re immune. If it does work, it makes you look even better than usual because you could have punted but chose not to.

Next week is Restaurant wars, and the preview is probably deceiving. It doesn’t surprise me that Angelo would kind of tank his team, though. We’ll have to see if it’s a costly mistake.

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Top Chef Thoughts for July 14

I gotta tell you, Top Chef 7 isn’t endearing itself to me these days. Yes, it’s still early in the season, and we’ve had the opportunity to weed out some of the weaker (and in the case of Arnold, middle-of-the-pack) chefs. It’s all well and good on that front, but it’s just very difficult to watch. I was a fan of Season 5’s episode that used this same schtick, the “farm to table” chef. Angelo’s been oozing sleaze all season long, and continues it here with his metaphors about fornicating waterfowl.

The quickfire wasn’t very exciting, a basic “cook us up some blue crab” special. Hopefully it will be one of the few throwaway quickfires this season.

One thing that is a bit grating when they do these farm-to-table challenges is that there’s always some kind of handicap, whether in time or prep or in facilities. I’d really like to see one of these challenges have a much longer session time to really let these ingredients shine. This is some of the best stuff you could work with, and it seems a bit counterproductive to not let the ingredients have enough time to be prepared or cooked. Somebody’s always coming down to the wire, and having this “one team of all the contestants” idea just didn’t sit right with me. It’s like they’re trying to set them up to fail. That’s not why I watch the show.

Kelly’s pork looked absolutely delicious, and I thought it would win, but Big Daddy Kenny comes out on top. Curried eggplant isn’t exactly something I would assosciate with “farm fresh,” but it’s more about making the best tasting dish. It still had that rustic look and texture, and doing something different with flavor is what set him apart from the pack.

One thing I did want to address is that this year’s exit interviews, with the exception of last week’s have overall been very classy and well handled. Timothy screwed the pooch, and it takes a big man to recognize where you made mistakes and to learn from them. I think it’s just a bit sad that he’s from Baltimore and screwed up a blue crab challenge. That should have been in his wheelhouse!

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Top Chef Thoughts for July 7

Hey tubes, the chefs are back, and they’re back big! Or not. That had to be one of the most anticlimactic episodes I’ve watched in a long time. No matter what mental gymnastics the judges did to try to pull down Kenny and Kevin (and Kevin was clearly the weaker of those two), Arnold and Lynne clearly had the biggest culinary abortion of the night. They missed the spirit of the challenge and the execution problem on the pasta was a magnificent sin compared to no having enough au jus for Kenny’s beef.

Ignoring the fact that squid ink pasta would not be served on a Hilton menu (I mean, come on, this is for room service, it’s got to be tasty AND easy to prep), the dish just didn’t look appetizing. An “adventurous” diner might give it a go, but I’d wager it would flop even if it was executed properly. Speaking of execution, Lynne’s neurosis over the pasta being overdone was probably a work of editing, as we’re never entirely sure of exactly HOW long it spent cooking. Nevertheless, fresh pasta often requires a bit longer of a cooking time, and it seems like an elementary mistake for someone like Lynne to make. Not saying she didn’t make the mistake, mind you, just thought they placed a ton of emphasis on her freaking out about it being overdone. When irony is heavy handed, it never looks very good.

I liked the concept of the quickfire, but I’m not sure it actually appealed to anyone. I mean, if they didn’t have actual babies testing the baby food… what’s the point? I did like the look of Kenny’s dish, and think it’s indicative of what he can generally put out. It looked like a good win for him.

Next week looks like even more cattiness and other drama. Not enthused, but you never know. Those magical elves and their shenanigans with the editing computers can make something look completely different compared to how it actually went down. Regardless, I don’t watch the show for drama, I watch it to see people make awesome food. The less bullshit the better. If people want to see standoffishness and catty fights, Bravo’s got lots of those terrible Housewives shows they can watch.

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Top Chef Thoughts for June 30

OK, so last night’s episode was a challenge about GRILLIN. And boy, did they try to throw us. Arnold, going “Oh, I don’t know a thing about grilling!” and the girls looking at it with bewilderment were all lies. Dirty, filthy lies. Those who boasted most about being great with grills wound up on the bottom. Those magical elves, they sure like to play with our reads of episodes.

Tracy was booted off with her terrible excuse for a “slider.” The best of plans, as they say, often go awry. Sausage seems to be a killer on top chef, whether it’s store bought or hand ground. She at least had the temerity to go out with some semblance of grace. Yeah, we probably caught her on a bad day, but she never inspired confidence in any of her dishes. I’m not too sad to see her go, even though she seemed to have a decent personality.

This has to be the most unlikable cast next to season 2 so far, though. Even Kenny, who is less of a dick than Angelo, still has a bit of smugness/big daddy to him that might not sit well with some. Still, he’s infinitely preferable to Angelo for me. Speaking of Angelo, I do have to give him credit for what appeared to be a sincere appreciation of Amanda’s ribs, even though she totally fell for Angelo and co. screwing with her about them.

There was a lot of spazziness, a lot of bitching, a lot of potshots… the food seems to be getting lost in this. Food-wise, the bright spot was the return of my favorite guy, Jonathan Waxman. He was able to add some very insightful commentary at judge’s table and throughout the meals. It’s a shame that a guy of his clarity and stature couldn’t hold up through all of Masters, since he truly is one.

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Top Chef Thoughts for June 23

“Listen all y’all, it’s a sabotage!”

Yeah, I buy that angle that Angelo was trying to torch Kenny. It was a complete, total sandbag that was designed to work like a toss without overtly being a toss. I’m a bit disappointed, actually, that someone with the skills and talent of Angelo would try to pull something like that. Also, by doing so, he quickly broke his “I want to win all of the challenges” boast. I don’t think Angelo will be endearing himself to a lot of people.

The Quickfire was an interesting concept. Basically like a three legged race, except with sharp knives. But that’s not really the meat here, the important thing is the EC. Man, that’s a tough challenge. It’s got a gimmick, it’s got a tight budget, and it was definitely going to force people into places they were not comfortable in being.

I’m not really all that sad to see Jacqueline go. She made a cardinal mistake of Top Chef neophytes, and that’s trying to rescue something that’s bad by betraying the spirit of the competition. Two pounds of sugar will not just magically make it less starchy, it’ll just mask the taste with sweetness. This is, by the way, what the spirit of the challenge was meant to avoid. Chef Tom’s blog post on Bravo’s website this week really goes in depth on the subject, and has given me a bit more info on it. He’s passionate about school lunch, and I agree with him about the stigmatization of free lunch, which is wrong.

I’ve been conversing with people who think that Amanda’s sherry chicken was a bigger crime than Jacqueline’s awful dessert. Amanda spent a ton of money on something that was against the spirit of the competition, but I guess her chicken at least had some nutritional value. Jacqueline’s pudding? Not so much.

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Top Chef: DC Thoughts for June 16

Well, it’s the start of a brand new season of traditional Top Chef, this time in fabulous Washington, DC. There’s a bunch of changes and in my opinion most of them for the better.

The most visible change is Eric Ripert as the fourth judge. I know most people won’t be missing Toby all that much, but I thought he simply got off on the wrong foot when he first came on board. He had a few good insights here and there, but I think ultimately moving up to Eric Ripert is a huge step forward for Top Chef as a whole. Having one of the world’s premiere French chefs on the judging table gives you a lot of cred.

The field of contestants is overviewed very well by Dom over at his blog. I’m not sure what else I could add to that other than the glimpses we got of a few chefs tonight. These intro episodes really need to be an hour and a half or perhaps two hours long to really get a feel for some of these chefs.

Still, in the end, the guy I thought was the kookiest (John) got bumped the first. He made the cardinal sin of Top Chef – do not do a dessert unless you absolutely have to. He bombed spectacularly in the eyes of Tom. It’s a dessert that I probably would have enjoyed if I tried it, but John just lost it somewhere along the line. It honestly looked like something I’d get at Friendly’s. I was not impressed.

Also, Kenny is a beast, and I think him and Angelo are going to be duking it out in every challenge. I think Angelo should get a grip on himself – there’s just too much variance to win every challenge in Top Chef. I mean, yes, everyone wants to win every challenge, but let’s be realistic here. It simply comes off as arrogance. Kenny appeals to me in his very technical way; we’ll see if he keeps that up throughout the show.

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