Top Chef Numeros 6 & 7

2006.Apr.26 Wednesday · 2 comments

in Books & Other Media

Buenos Aires – Continuing on with the Bravo Top Chef show, I decided to group a couple of episodes at a time together. Also, having to download them means I get them somewhat at random…

Episode 6 – Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? – juxtaposes an entirely different reality show up against this one. The invited judge? Ted Allen, of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a show I made it through about the first 2½ episodes before turning it off in despair. (Actually, it’s sheer jealousy, I was contacted before the show ever launched and interviewed via phone and then did a screen test for the food/wine position on the show, and then never heard from them again. Their loss.) No really, it was just that everything was so cliché I couldn’t stand it, especially the food stuff, which seemed to consist of hors d’oeuvres that my mother would have been embarassed to serve to her bridge club. True, they were easy to make for these supposedly culinarily challenged straight boys – like every gay boy can cook or something? Get real. Back to Top Chef, and the whole theme was pressure. The initial challenge, to create an appetizer from a wide range of ingredients, that cost less than $3 (prices on each ingredient were listed in per ounce portions), and all in 20 minutes. That’s tough – beyond having to calculate the cost, twenty minutes from start of thought process to serving is not an easy thing for anyone. As usual, the more profressional set did better at something like this – and the usual lack of talent showed from the others. Interestingly, and to me not surprisingly, Ted Allen was “blown away” by Stephen’s off-beat, minimalistic presentation (and got his immunity from elimination for the episode), even though, according to Chef Tom, the food was at best good when it came to eating it. The difference between a professional chef and a professional party planner, I’d say.

In the main challenge, the remaining seven had to team up to create a seven course meal, and coordinate it with each other. It took them a bit to get their act together, and to my mind, there was nothing harmonious about the planned, or eventually served, meal. At best they figured out who could do what best – and then left each person alone to figure out what to do. Of course, the show threw a twist in, and made them randomly switch to make each other’s dishes. Well, not exactly – they were told to make a dish out of the same ingredients that the original creator had planned, but to make it their own. Not one of them did that, they all tried to follow hastily scribbled or shouted instructions rather than be creative on their own, something that was pointed out to them one by one in the judging process. Still, they all did reasonably well, except for a bit of kitchen drama on the part of Miguel, the hotel cook, who switched salt and sugar in a sorbet and then just flipped out. In the end, the health food/nutritionist cook got sent home, very simply because not only did she basically not do anything, instead letting others step in and do things for her, but what little she did was bad. Her excuse? It’s not the kind of food she likes to cook or believes in. Sorry, but that’s not what being a chef is all about, especially in a challenge situation – which was stated flat out to her when she was eliminated. Her principles and dedication were noted, but her lack of ability to see outside the box of those principles has seemed over the course of the show to make it impossible for her to function when thrown any kind of a curve. Dave, the one who’s looked ready to cry throughout the first five episodes, finally did just fall apart, weeping at some points and throwing hissy fits at others – however, having gotten that out of the way, he showed up stronger than ever in…

Episode 7 – Restaurant Wars – to me made it even more obvious who has what it takes to be a good chef and who doesn’t. In the quickfire part of the challenge, the remaining six were given a wide range of sandwich related ingredients, something Tom Colicchio is famous for with his Craft’wich restaurant. The twist? No elimination immunity, but instead, the winning sandwich to be featured on his next restaurant menu. With one exception, everyone came through nicely, and even that person, Miguel, according to Tom had the “hand’s down best combination” of ingredients – but he didn’t make a sandwich out of it, he made a plate of food – and therefore lost. He threw another minor fit, but hey, he didn’t pay attention to the instructions. The winner this time, Harold, who came up with a tasty combination featuring one of my personal favorite vegetables, radicchio. As Harold put it, honored as he was that his sandwich was going on Tom’s menu, he’d rather have had immunity.

In the main competition, the folk were divided into two teams of three. They were taken to a semi-bare restaurant space with two dining areas, and each assigned one area and told to create a restaurant concept, design the restaurant, come up with a three course menu for the evening, and get it all together – in roughly 24 hours total – and all for $1,000. The judge for the evening? Jeffrey Chodorow, restaurant magnate (and hmm, one of the “stars” of yet another reality show, The Restaurant). The level of experience really shown through here, not just in the cooking, which in both cases was good, but in organization and management skills. On his team, Dave, with a background in business management and running his own restaurant, took over the design process, jumped in, created a dining room, put it all together for under budget, and then was a master at both serving customers and keeping them feeling entertained and welcome. Stephen, the sommelier that everyone loves to hate, took it on for his team – going way over budget and not getting the things he wanted to do, trying for ridiculous details, taking way too long to do anything, and being, simply, a poor host – he was neither friendly nor welcoming to his customers, was inept at food service, and as usual, spent his time trying to “educate” his inferiors (in his mind). He even made an on camera comment in one of the side interviews that “the other team is doing this whole warm, welcoming, comfortable thing; I’m going a totally different direction.” Yeah, that you did – and clearly you have no clue about what customers want in a dining experience. Interestingly, he couldn’t wrap his mind around that even when his teammates pointed it out to him, and even when the judges did – insisting that customers had told him they loved the experience, and therefore they must have. Anyone who’s worked in a restaurant knows that customers never tell the servers they don’t like them, they either tell the manager, or leave it on a comment card (which is what they did here) – but in person, just nod and say “oh, everything’s fine”. In the end, Miguel got sent home for his complete lack of contribution to his team, and his constant fingerpointing and tantrums. Stephen was given an admonishment by Chef Tom – and probably would have gotten sent home as well if they were eliminating two people at a time – “this is not Top Sommelier, it’s Top Chef, and it’s time for you to start acting like one – start showing up in chef’s uniform, lose the tie and jacket.”


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Paz April 26, 2006 at 18:03

Great recap! Makes me feel as if I were watching the show.

I was watching The Next Food Network Star, which just ended with a winner that I didn’t vote for. I usually never vote on these reality shows but I wanted this one particular contestant to win. Oh well. I’m sure he’ll still be successful after the show.


P.S. Yes, it WAS Queer Eye’s loss for not calling you back. 😉

dan April 27, 2006 at 09:33

I tried to download that one as well on your recommendation, but no one seems to be “offering” it.

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