Thursday, January 8, 2009
British Invasion: The Top Chef recap
What is it about us Yanks that we feel compelled to be scolded by a rude British person? From Simon Cowell to Gordon Ramsey to that diminuitive nun/dominatrix chick who used to host The Weakest Link, we as a nation are fond of pulling down our pants and collectively shouting to England: Please sir, we want some more.
May I remind all of you that the Boston Tea Party was 230 years ago, people? Get over it!
That, of course, leads us to our new Top Chef judge, Toby Young. Now, I already knew about Toby from his tell-all book, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, which chronicles his failed attempt to work as a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and does to Grayden Carter what The Devil Wears Prada did to Anna Wintour. (They even made a movie about it, starring Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead fame.) He’s a fly in the ointment kinda guy, a leave no bridge unburned malcontent—smart, crabby, self-aggrandizing. In a word, British.
And now he is ours.
Maybe I’m just resistant to change. Or maybe I just like the cuddly alpha male approach of Tom Colicchio and I’m just not sure how I feel about this bullying U.K. snark machine. But allow me to quote Carla when I say: GAIL!!!!!! (On the other hand, I can’t wait to see Young mix it up with Anthony Bourdain—speaking of which, where has he been this season?).
But I’m ahead of myself.
The show starts with Padma’s patented, “Hello, Newman”-style greeting of the contestants and a challenge that sends a chill down my spine: Make a dessert without sugar. (A dessert is a horrible thing to waste.)
Lots of honey and yogurt gets used. Which is sort of like heavy cream and sugar. But not.
Ariane, Jersey chick that she is, decides to sweeten her dessert with. . .Diet Dr. Pepper! (You gotta love her.)
Stefan seems threatened by the French pastry chef judge and keeps putting his foot in his mouth. At one point, he claims that chocolate mousse originated in Finland.
Radhika wins for the second time in a row (“I’m on Cloud 99!” she reports).
I actually love this week’s Elimination challenge: Make whatever you want and it’ll be a blind tasting. “That doesn’t mean the judges will be blindfolded,” Fabio helpfully points out.
Nope, not only will the judges—including new bloke Toby—not know who cooked what, but they’ll be joined by half the contestants, who will serve as expert tasters. And all of this will be monitored by a hidden camera that the contestants can watch from the kitchen. Positively diabolical!
Of course, in some cases, it’s pretty obvious who made what.
I mean, who else but Gene would attempt daikon in a tomato basil sauce (ewwww.)
And who else but Stefan would make some sort of Finnish cabbage dumpling dish?
And who else but Ariane “mom jeans” would make skate with kid-friendly cauliflower puree?
And, hmmmm. . .wonder who made those scallops?
Toby Young is all in his glory. “I have found the weapons of mass destruction,” he says, tasting Radika’s soup. (Raise your hand if you think he prepared that line in advance. )
“This tastes like cat food,” he says of Melissa’s ahi taco.
He describes Carla’s dish thusly: “The side dishes are like when classically trained British actors upstage the American stars.” (Ohnohedidn’t!)
Later, describing Jeff’s Shrek-hued sorbet, he says, “It was like Tom Cruise’s cameo in Tropic Thunder.” (Yeesh, does this guy want to be a food critic or a film critic?)
But I will give him this. When Toby was eating Melissa’s tacos, Colicchio asked him: “What does this dish say about the chef?”
“That they lack confidence,” Toby replied, with alarming accuracy.
The man is like the Fish Taco Whisperer.
In the end, the Top 3 were Jamie (again with the scallops), my girl Ariane, and Stefan.
Oh, how I wanted Jamie to come in second again, because, as I mentioned earlier, her being the Top Chef bridesmaid never gets old.
But Jamie won. Redeeming both herself and the scallop community at large.
The Botton 3 were: Gene, Melissa, and Carla.
Since we had no eliminations during the Very Special Christmas in August Episode, that meant two contestant were going home tonite, or, as Padma put it: “We’re not deciding who goes this time, we’re deciding who stays.” (Somehow I think the transitive theory of cheftestant eliminations would dispute that logic, but I see her point.)
Although Colicchio showed his sensitive side when he said of Gene’s dish: “It hurt me that a fish gave up its life for that dish,” Toby, bless his heart, was all about Gene and his “creativity.” That’s because he hasn’t been around long enough to see that Gene’s “creativity” is actually just masking the fact that he HAS NO IDEA WHAT HE’S DOING. (Gene sort of reminds me of that 5-year-old kid who briefly became a cause célèbre as an abstract artist. She was just smearing paint on a canvas, but people thought she was saying deep and profound things from the toddler perspective.)
As for Melissa, she was toast and she knew it. (The old, “I deserve to be here because I really, really, really want it” can only take you so far.)
For a second, I thought they were going to send Carla home, which would have been a world of wrong. She cooks with love, people! But proving that Colicchio is still the alpha judge in these parts, Carla was safe.
So, by the transitive theory of cheftestant eliminations: Gene, the sweetest man ever to sport a full-body tattoo, and insecure Melissa are gonzo. Melissa, we hardly knew ye. No, really.