Thursday, September 06, 2007

Top Chef: And in such small portions

So, having blogged about the last episode of "Top Chef" (what feels like months ago), might as well try to keep weighing in for the rest of the season. Spoilers coming up just as soon as I get an aerial view...

Good riddance to Howie, who twice in one episode tried to pull the "You can't fire me because I quit!" tactic. For a second there, I was worried that Padma's haughty line about the judges deciding who goes meant they were going to keep Howie to spite him and prove who's boss, but they sent home the right guy. In fairness to Howie, he had tried to play well with others the last few episodes, and his talking head about shopping at Target was the most likable he's been all season, but it was time for him to go.

I'm of two minds about the challenges this week. On the one hand, I like the idea of forcing the chefs to be creative by putting some significant restraints on what they can do. (I remember surfing past the first season episode where they had to shop at a gas station and thinking, "That's kinda cool" before surfing on to the Yankee game.) And, as a few people showed in each challenge (Brian and Casey in the Quickfire, Casey and Sarah in the Elimination), it was possible to make good food under those constraints, and even to be a little creative. (Though the most creative dish of the night was Hung's sugar cereal diorama; if you're doomed to fail, at least fail funny. Nicely done.)

But the Elimination Challenge in particular felt more like something out of "Hell's Kitchen," something so ridiculous to pull off on its face that it was really just an excuse for the judges to yell at the contestants. The thing that's supposed to separate "Top Chef" and "Project Runway" from the other competition shows is that they're a celebration of talent, and they try to put their contestants in positions where they can show off that talent. Maybe this is just an unremarkable group of chefs, I don't know, but this late in what feels like a very long season, I'd rather see people be able to show off to their best abilities, rather than (as Hung admittedly did in both challenges) just try to make the best of a bad situation.

What did everybody else think?


Eric said...

I think it's a part of the formula for this time in the season to throw them an elimination challenge that's pretty much completely unfair. In the first season it was the wedding, which they had to plan and produce in less than 24 hours on a tight budget (though not quite so tight as last night's.) Hopefully in the next few weeks we'll get to see them create dishes that show off their talent and training, leading up to the finals.

Heather K said...

Sorry for highjacking comment thread, but have you seen the 3 minute snippets of Marshall and Lily's honeymoon that are on and on comcast on demand?

The second one isn't on the CBS website (but is on my on demand) and is a record of Marshall and Lily's afternoon at Loch Ness. It is pretty great! I love Jason Segel.

Blankity-Blank said...

But what is the point of having them create stuff without these sort of restrictions? This isn't a competition to see who gets to become a chef. They're all chefs already. We know (or at least, we're supposed to assume) they can all cook well enough. If it was simply about who could cook the best dish we could have a show following Padma and Tom around to all the contestants respective restaurants.

Certainly cooking one and a half (or two) hors d'ourve dishes for $50 isn't going to teach any of them anything useful when they return to their real jobs, but that can't possibly be what you thought you were getting. Or wanted to get in the first place.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Certainly cooking one and a half (or two) hors d'ourve dishes for $50 isn't going to teach any of them anything useful when they return to their real jobs, but that can't possibly be what you thought you were getting. Or wanted to get in the first place.

No, but I think there's a way to do challenges that are entertaining for TV without making things impossible for the cheftestants to do well in. Say, give them the $350 budget but greatly expand the amount of time they had to shop so they could really find some bargains and plan better, you know?

Blankity-Blank said...

Yeah. I feel a little like I just tried to tell you how reality shows work now.

But I don't know, they've been using that same store for awhile now (which doesn't look bargain friendly.) The time limits shouldn't mean as much. Except that 10 minute one. They're already limited to one aisle. That was overkill.

Taleena said...

This was a frustrating episode in that give them time constraints or budget constraints but not both and expect good food in quantity. It's the good/fast/cheap paradigm - pick any two.

Plus I don't think that Brian got the credit he deserved for riding herd on that bunch at the grocery store. I am betting he was a big part of the reason that everyone was so cooperative with each other.

Plus, winning the QF put him in a no win situation of "choosing" to be leader. Top Chef often gives these folks a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.

Good choice for the axe though.

Anonymous said...

I'm willing to give the episode a pass on the *insane* challenge parameters since they finally had the decency to get Howie off our screens. I agree that he's been more likeable these past two episodes, but his behavior earlier in the season was pretty obnoxious. I was glad to see Casey win an elimination challenge, too. For some reason she's my favorite, possibly because she looks exactly like my college roommate.

h said...

You really have to put the blame squarely on the morons at Bravo. After all, they PICKED these lackluster Cheftestants, absurdly obscure "super-star" guests, and designed the sophomoric challenges.

I explain who is MOST to blame at my blog this week.

Unknown said...

Artfulsub: I consider your characterization of Top Chef's guests wildly hyperbolic. Of the eleven we have seen so far, at least five are what I would consider to be awfully conspicuous in the food world -- two certified TV stars/sex symbols,(Bourdain and Rocco)three hugely influential chefs with consistently lauded restaurants, (Portale, Van Aken and Boulud) and a couple of local movers (Zakarian in New York, Govind, Schwartz and Barton G. in Florida). That leaves British Gin Guy and Maria Frumkin, whoever the hell she is. And Bourdain comes back next week.

As for the contestants, I don't understand your dim view of their skills, especially since you make no attempt to justify it. Considering that the show revolves around deliciously insane, debilitating constraints, the food presented seems more than satisfactory. The standouts are damn remarkable, though admittedly few and far between.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with the time limit/budget constraints, because they had ample time to plan before they shopped.
Doing more than 1 dish each was madness, when have you ever been to a party with more than 7 appetizers? Or even 7?
They blew this challenge in the planning stage.
$350.00 is a tiny budget to feed 40 people, but if McDonald's can get them 8 cheeseburgers at that price, retail, then these guys should have been able to crank out 3 good apps and a dessert.
Brian did take crap unneccesarily. As leader, he needs to keep everyone underbudget and on task. In an individual competition, any more control than that would be unfair for him to exert.
I like this show, but I do get the impression that the judges' egos sometimes play more of a part than they should. Hung's arrogance seems to ensure that unless he hits a home run, he's going to get slammed by the judges.