Thursday, November 20, 2008

Top Chef: New York - Episode 2

Previously on Top Chef...
New Season! Apples (because it's New York, GET IT)! Schmancy loft! The Scandinavian wins! Losers lose!
-Anyone else notice that the winner of Top Chef this season no longer gets a "culinary vacation in the Swiss Alps" or whatever it has been? I'd like to imagine the previous winners behaved so badly on the trip, they had to take it away as a prize. Like, pooped in a ballroom or something. Here, I'm thinking in particular of that weasel Ilan.
-Forgot to mention this last week, but the Top Chef kitchen... with it's mosaic-tile logos made to look like the interior of a subway station...? Adorable. I wish there was gourmet food being cooked in MY subway station instead of just homeless men peeing.
-In the credits, when they're showing all the chefs, Jeff... the pretty boy... winks and they key in a little *DING* sound. This does not endear him to me.
Tonight's episode was a perfect example of one of the things about Top Chef that I find absolutely maddening. Namely, the introduction of rules/aspects of a challenge that are then immediately ignored not just by the contestants, but by the show itself.
Let me explain what I mean...
The Quickfire Challenge tonight was to make a "signature hot dog." A fairly straightforward challenge, as they go (i.e. there were no vending machines or gas stations involved), but... to spice things up... there's a twist. They're going to be competing not only with each other, but with some lady who's a Hot Dog Expert and everyone in NYC knows her because she's famous for hot dogs and she's like Darth Sidious, but for hot dogs. It is clearly stated by Padma that all the chef's hot dogs will be judged against hers. Except they aren't. The chefs make their hot dogs, and the Wiener Queen makes hers, and they're all tasted and... that's it. There's never any judgement handed down with regards to how the contestant's hot dogs stack up against the one she made. So why the fuck was she there??? My theory, judging by the output of hot dogs from the chefs, is that hers REALLY didn't stack up at all, so they threw that part of the challenge out on the fly. The one she made was totally boring looking, so it wouldn't surprise me if that were in fact the case.
And then, in the Elimination Challenge, they did the same thing!!!
The EC this week was to create a New American menu (everyone seemed to know what that meant and were excited about it, despite... um... no one hewing to that aspect of the challenge) and serve it to a group of "opinionated, angry, judgemental New Yorkers." I was a little put off at first by the constant talk about how New Yorkers are, basically, these awful, rude people who will tell you to go fuck your sister if they don't like the cut of your jib, but I chalked it up to the usual reality show hyperbole of which this show is not above. HOWEVER, the producers were actually going somewhere with all this "New Yorkers are mean" talk! The people the contestants were serving? All chefs who FAILED TO GET ON TOP CHEF! That is a fucking genius move. Except that... again... the concept goes nowhere. We get a few shots of the understandably bitchy unselected chefs being bitchy about the food, and I think Colicchio mentions their general opinion of a certain dish at one point during the Judges Table, but otherwise... nothing. I don't know, maybe they were just there to rattle the contestants cages, so to speak, but... to me... it doesn't seem like they did anything with what really was a stellar idea. A round-robin Brazilian strap fight would have been awesome, if admittedly a bit off-topic.
Oh, and side note... you can TOTALLY tell why some of the unselected chefs weren't picked. Fugliness abounded and, though the show isn't about looks, gross faces don't play well in magazine ads and TV commercials and such.
Anyhoo... let's get down to specifics.
The hot dog idea, as I said, was pretty straightforward, but it left a ton of room for interpretation, which I think is the hallmark of a good Top Chef challenge. Generally, when the contestants are asked to create a "signature" anything, you're going to end up with some interesting results (both good and butt-nasty).
On the butt-nasty side, there was our Scandinavian pal Stefan, who made something that looked like a grilled cheese sandwich fucked a corn dog and then drowned itself in "Irish tarter sauce," whatever the hell that is (leprechaun jizz?). The judges agreed that it tasted like Euro-barf.
Eugene... whom I still love, but who was mostly a fuck-up this week... made some sort of bizarre sushi/hot dog hybrid and, though the judges never said anything about it, just looking at the thing sort of made me want to lie down with a damp cloth on my forehead.
And then there's Jill. Oh, Jilly, Jilly, Jilly... you are just the worst, and that is a reoccurring theme throughout the episode. Her "signature hot dog?" A store-bought wiener wrapped in lettuce. That's pretty much it. I mean, she tried to fancy it up with a few condiments... ginger, I think, and some sort of spice... but basically it was just a hot dog and some rabbit food and the judges unanimously agreed that it was ass-y. Based solely on the way it looked, and taking into account her attitude in general, I wanted to plonk her on the head with a large soup ladle.
The winner of the Quickfire ended up being Radhika... the one who made the big deal last time about not wanting to get pigeonholed as the Indian girl who cooks Indian food. Needless to say, she won the challenge with an Indian food-inspired hot dog. It, however, did look amazing; it was basically a tube-shaped lamb gyro with curry and grilled onions and I'm not ashamed to admit that I licked the screen a few times. Also screen-lick worthy: Hosea's pepper-happy hot dog concoction that also featured smoked bacon. Yum, drool, etc.
So yeah, Radhika wins the QC, gets immunity, moving on...
Basically, everyone was a disappointment. When it was all over, Tom Colicchio, looking like someone had just shot his dog, addressed the group and told them all that they sucked on ice. Have to say... just going on visuals here... most of the stuff people put out looked pretty bad. Melissa... the hillbilly chainsaw massacre one... put out just a grilled avocado with some sectioned citrus fruit as her dish, for fuck's sake! And Eugene... my homeslice... he made some sort of open-faced meatloaf sandwich that looked like a monster dump on bread made of sorrow. For shame, guy who I'd picked as my favorite. For shame.
But, there were some winners, so let's get them out of the way first. The top three were...
Fabio, for his beef carpaccio with bizarro olives (he made them, somehow, into spheres and all liquidy on the inside).
Carla, who is still a nutjob, yes, but one that can make an awesome apple tart. (fyi, it looked amazing)
And Jamie, for making a chilled corn soup. Which was apparently good. It was very yellow, I can tell you that, but pleasingly so.
The eventual winner of the EC was Fabio, mostly for his ability to bend the laws of physics with regards to olives, and he was very charming about it. The fact that he doesn't speak English very well is, I think, going to be a constant source of amusement during this season. I feel bad saying that, but, eh, foreigners are hilarious. Anyway, this means that the European contingent in the Top Chef kitchen is now two-for-two in the Elimination Challenge. C'mon, America, shape up!!! USA!!! USA!!! USA!!!
Okay, on to the losers. Like I said, there was a wide selection to choose from, but the bottom three ended up being...
Hosea, who made a crab salad which seemed to mystify the judges. They couldn't really pinpoint what was wrong with it; Colicchio himself states that all the ingredients Hosea used should have worked together and been delicious...but... for reasons unexplained, they weren't. Essentially, everyone just thought it was lousy, save for Hosea, who thought at first that he was one of the winners. Fail.
Ariane, who... oh my god, I just hate her so much. She's the keeper of the "I Don't Give A Shit" attitude this season, but she's mixing it up with this weird sad-sack vibe and a voice that sounds like if Sarah Palin were man. Grating and, apparently, completely talentless, I seriously can't figure out how she made it on the show in the first place. Anyway, she made some sort of bullshitty lemon meringue thing that everyone agreed was too sweet times a billion and which Padma actually spat out. Never a good sign.
And of course...
Jill. Oh, Jilly, Jilly, Jilly... you've finally reached the point in your life where sparkly pink shirts and kicky headbands won't hide the fact that you are a retard in the kitchen and a mealy-mouthed chump when asked to defend a dish you've made that was, I believe, compared to dog food by one of the diners. She made a quiche using an Ostrich egg (what? exactly.) and to this casual viewer at home, it looked liked it had cancer. It was universally reviled by the judges, however I'm pretty sure the thing that really killed her was her defense of said dish. Amid the "ums" and shrugs and pauses, her argument boiled down to this: "I dunno... I just, like... there was a lot of pressure and the time constraints... and... I guess I'll do better next time... or whatever."
Except you won't, because... Jill... oh, Jilly, Jilly, Jilly... you're going home. Which you shouldn't be too surprised about, seeing as how you're just terrible.
Overall, this was a good episode. There's still a couple of contestants who've yet to make any impression on me whatsoever... Alex, specifically, who I keep forgetting is even competing... and it looks like there's still a ton of chaff to be culled before things will get tense. Still though, I think we're looking at what's shaping up to be a very decent season. I'd say about mid-way through, once people like... oh... say, Ariane are gone... shit's going to get really interesting, really fast. Here's hopin'.
Next week on Top Chef...

The Foo Fighters, for some reason! Rain! Jamie doesn't like her group! Presumably, more cooking!!!


Blogger Digital Fortress said...

You seem very passionate about this show...never watched it, but I feel very informed and hungry now.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Clinton said...

I don't think you're alone. I had hoped this series of posts would be more popular, but that hope was based on the assumption that everyone watches the same tv shows that I do.

Ah well, I *do* enjoy writing about it, as I'm a big nerd, so I'll just stay the course. Steady as she goes, and so forth.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Big Daddy said...

I'm warming up to the Italian dude.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Todd said...

Stay the course! I like blogs about shows about food!

8:05 PM  
Blogger Bill From Gainesville said...

C dog, when I am clicking through the Channels and that show pops up, I sometimes hurt my push finger really bad because I watched about ten minutes of it once, and I think that Boss Cheff dude is such an Asshole, however that post was so moving that I am only going to click to the next channel normally going forward. That is some powerful writing my friend, You have healed my psychological loathing of that show to a mere normal hatred. Thank you ... I will completely follow the series from now on, only not on the T.V., Only on your blog. In the end I hope to be able to be a critic of the show having never watched it but at the same time be completely and utterly informed on the subject. You add value to my life CDOG!

2:01 AM  

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