Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

Let me state this right off the bat: I absolutely hated this episode.

There is a tendency to lump together all unscripted television shows as 'reality'. This isn't quite right. A true reality show has these characteristics:

  • It brings participants together in an unrealistic and artificial situation.
  • The action is periodically manipulated by manufactured injections of drama and tension (a.k.a. 'twists') by the show producers.
  • The main objective is to try to entertain the viewers mindlessly, not educate or serve any similar lofty purpose.

Top Chef is, after all, not really a show that is really interested in food, cooking or even about being a chef in real life. It's just another manipulative reality show. Mind you, I like some reality shows. But I suppose I had higher hopes for Top Chef in the food sense. No longer.

There were many things wrong about this episode. I guess we can start with the unfairness of making the contestants plan and present their menu without telling them that it would have to be prepared in less than 24 hours. And then dropping that particular bombshell on them, at around 10 in the evening!

Then there was the inclusion of a celebrity wedding planner as the guest judge. I cannot believe she had the gall to suggest that the chefs were inferior since they could not produce the kind of food her services provided to her clients. I wonder when was the last time she had to plan, prepare and serve a wedding banquet for 100 in under 24 hours, with a kitchen staff of 5, including making the wedding cake. The shallowness of her view was quite evident when she was oh so impressed by the sweeping motion of the waiters presenting the dishes to the diners. Sheesh.

Lee Anne "won" the menu challenge by presenting an attractive and ambitious menu. If she and the other contestants had known of the totally unrealistic time constraints, let alone the fact that they would have to procure their supplies from a supermarket, would they have come up with the same menus? Would Tiffani have even suggested 100 little cakes? Tom Colicchio suggests in his blog that they should have adjusted the menu based on what was available (by using a fish other than salmon). Wasn't it inferred that they had to stick to the original menu very closely? What if they had made adjustments...would they have been penalized for it? Given the nature of shows of this type, if I were a contestant I would be afraid of that.

Stephen got kicked off. I suppose he deserved it, but the whole premise of this episode was so unfair to all of the contestants that I can't really dump on him. As much as I've been critical of him I never really disliked him. His biggest failing is that he is young and rather full of himself. He is certainly not untalented.

My enthusiasm for the show is quite diminished at the moment. Because of this the lesser flaws of the show, such as the monotonous, robotic delivery of Mrs. Billy Joel, are starting to bug me now (hi Aoife, you're right!) Hopefully the remaining contestants will survive with their dignity intact.

Finally, I hope that Scott and Scott are 1) a real couple, not actors or something, and 2) very happy. They were so cute...the only bright part of this sorry episode.

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Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

Can't dump on Stephen? Come on! There's so many choices! It took him 8 hours to roll 100 spring rolls. That's 5 minutes on each one! Then he was "instructing" a professionally trained staff that has been pouring wine a lot longer than he's been drinking it.

Agree with ya that this was a pathetic episode. The time constraint and only having a grocery store with crappy fish really hurt them. The $3,000 didn't go far when you figure they had to buy service wear like the spoons, and they had to buy everything retail.

FoodFan | 28 April, 2006 - 23:05

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

Dear gods, this was awful. Painful to watch, i don't want to see the rest of this series awful.

I wanted to punch the wedding planner. And, well, everyone on the judging panel.

Kim | 29 April, 2006 - 00:36

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

Being that I used to work for a catering service and we pretty much did exclusively weddings... I would have been so annoyed if some ass wipe like Stephen came along trying to tell me how to serve/pour wine. The guy is so full of himself! He was somewhat entertaining, though... I will never forget the one liner he fired at Candace: "And you will fail.... horribly."

Ha!

KeL | 29 April, 2006 - 05:24

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

I was furious during the whole judging session. Even though there were many more shots of people loving the food, Tom and Gail had to treat it like it was a complete failure.

Unfair, unfair, unfair. You can't give people sixteen hours and $3000 to do the catering for a wedding and expect everything to be perfect. Katie and Tom should have told them beforehand so they knew what they were working with. It made the final challenge of Project Runway look halfway compassionate.

On an unrelated note, I hear Katie Lee Joel isn't going to be around for Top Chef Season 2. Hopefully her replacement is much more telegenic.

Jess | 29 April, 2006 - 05:35

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

Stephen certainly didn't perform too well in his final episode. All his bad points were there again, the tendency to want to be front-of-house, the lecturing of others, the lack of time management, being too perfectionist, the lack of communication to the kitchen. And he did deserve to be the one gone.

Re the judging: When we were watching this episode, we were almost screaming at Lee Anne and the others to stand up for themselves a bit more. I don't know if they did, and if those parts were cut off, but I feel they should have challenged the judges about the fairness of the task.

As for Mrs. Billy Joel...if they wanted someone photogenic in the food world to host it they should at least select someone with some food world credibility. Heidi Klum is mildly annoying to me too but at least she is an acknowledged top model. (On a sidenote, on the British version of Project Runway, Project Catwalk, Elizabeth Hurley was the Host. She proved how important a good speaking voice can be in such a role...she didn't really add much substance, but her voice is so nice and low and soothing that it didn't really matter.)

Actually, I think they should just make Gail Simmons the Host - she's photogenic enough, and has more food credibility than Mrs. Joel. Then, get curmegeonly Jeffrey Steingarten to be the Critic! That would be entertaining.

maki | 29 April, 2006 - 09:33

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

Jeffrey Steingarten would've fallen off his chair at the food served in this episode!

This one is highly ridiculous and unfair to everyone, even Stephen, although I'm happy he's finally out. :D

pickyin | 29 April, 2006 - 15:17

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

Of course I'm right. I always am.

I agree that the challenge was ridiculous, but a lot of them are. Actually, I think last week's challenge, with the restaurants, was the most ridiculous so far, especially because they had to furnish them as well as cook.

Aoife | 30 April, 2006 - 00:42

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

My husband and I were also screaming at the tv when they weren't standing up for themselves. Why didn't Harold say - this was the only fresh salmon they had. I did my best with what was available???!!! I also wondered if they would have been penalized if they had substituted something else for the salmon.

I couldn't help thinking THANK GOD Miguel was already gone. Can you imagine how much worse it would have been with him freaking out the whole time and messing things up!?

Dana | 30 April, 2006 - 17:54

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

I've been thinking about why this episode/challenges angered me so much, compared to the other challenges. I think it's a combination of factors:

1. It was for, as far as we could see, a real wedding reception. No doubt that the Scotts got it for free or something and it was their choice to let a reality show cater their reception...still, a wedding is a special event. The restaurant 'guests' (who, I bet also didn't have to pay, similar to the ones in Hell's Kitchen) (yes I watch way too many foodie-reality shows...someone should just hire me to consult on them :D) were there just for an evening, one meal, and I'm sure they knew that the 'restaurant' was a one-off fake. How many times have you gone to a restaurant and been disappointed? It's not a bit deal, right? On the other hand if your wedding reception was a disappointment...

2. Again, the fact that they told the contestants AFTER they'd created, presented and been awarded for (in the case of Lee Anne) their menus about the unreasonable time frame, was an extremely unfair element. They should have told them BEFORE they created their menus that they would have very limited time to prepare it. I mean, would Lee Anne would have put in bloody origami cranes if she'd known? Oy vay. (Origami on tv is always a Bad Sign. Watch Thief for another example.) For the restaurant challenge, they did know that they had a very tight timeframe to work with. (Granted, for that one Lee Anne also created a somewhat difficult menu. That may be her weak point, being too ambitious.)

3. That Celebrity Wedding Planner was by far the most clueless guest judge. I wanted to slap her.

4. That they had to cater a wedding reception with SUPERMARKET ingredients! I guess it is a testament to the quality of SF supermarkets that they even had fresh whole salmon!

maki | 30 April, 2006 - 20:07

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

As harsh as it may sound, there is always the standard reply to the "nobody told us". And that's "nobody asked".

Did anyone of the candidates ask when that event is supposed to be? By now, they should be experienced enough with the way the game works, that there will always be some (unfair) twist. (And don't the producers of the show have a track record with such twists?) Of course, it could have been that they asked, but were not given an answer, or a misleading answer.

max | 1 May, 2006 - 11:45

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

The worst part of this episode by far was the ridiculous wedding planner guest judge. Did she even talk about the food (which is, according to the show, the most important element in judging?) She seemed more enamored with the waiters "sweeping the room" than anything else. In fact, her lack of food knowledge was definitely apparent when she remarked that she was partial to the "wazoo" flavor of the oysters. Give me a break.

Eric | 1 May, 2006 - 11:45

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

The concept is TOP CHEF.

I don't feel that a chef would be planning the event.

You should have staff to do that.

As far as Stephen goes.
He can NOT accept criticisms in a professional manner.

He should not have been in the front of the house telling others how to do their job.
I have worked plenty of weddings at a country club.
They used the sweep method quite often and this was back in the late 80s early 90s.

So, when the lady acted like that was a new thing, NO it has been around for years.

ALSO, the Chef we had has also had to take criticisms from others even though he the other person knows nothing about food.
John Saundry and he was and still is an awesome chef.
I have a lot of respect for him.

Karla | 4 May, 2006 - 04:47

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

I quite agree about the host- she's so useless! And what does she know about food?! I think they should've definetely gone with someone with more food street cred.

PS. Maki you've done a great job recapping this show! I've been keeping up with the posts as a substitute to watching the actual show (I dont get that channel)

tanvi | 4 May, 2006 - 07:52

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

So sad to see Stephen go and Dave stay. Leanne played right into Dave's tears and feeling bad for him, immediately came to his rescue by saying he should not leave. This will later bite her in the ass. The three things the guests complimented: origami, amuse bouche, and the sweeping service. Stephen should have stayed. Dave, who played it safe by playing sous chef, should have gone. Since when does a top chef stick around taking orders from everybody. He gave no input that was taken serious

jami | 4 May, 2006 - 09:39

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

*spoilers ahead, dont read if you havent seen it yet*

Stephen should have been in. True, he was not a team player, he was prissy with the cake mix thing, and he spent way too much time at the front of the house (does the waiters need to know about the wine? they pour it, not drink it) BUT Dave is the weakest link so far. True, he switched from IT to chef and he is pretty good, but he is more of a home chef than a restauranteur. Plus Stephen would have been perfect for the Week 9 challenge and would have very possibly be in the top 3 to vegas.

B | 5 May, 2006 - 06:06

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

thanks for that, tanvi. it's nice to read something positive about stephen, once and a while. i thought he did a better job than dave and harold in the wedding challenge. there are two things he did that cost him dearly 1) he spent way too much time FOH. he could have given his instructions to the wait staff in a 30 minute talk...and that be the end of it. he shouldn't have kept going out there to check on them. but, i think he truly wanted the reception to be a stunning success. he just doesn't know how to trust others to do their jobs-delegate. 2) the spoons. if he had made sure those spoons were sticker free, the rest of the chefs wouldn't have been so ticked and turned on him at the judges' table. i really think it all came down to the spoons. he could have done his FOH spiel and still been in the kitchen more. i think he was very anti-cake mix and was trying to distance himself from that...he winded up distancing himself from any allies he had. it cost him dearly. but, he did have one of the few dishes that the guests really liked. to me harold was the loser in this challenge. but, harold has a way of gliding under the radar it seems.

teri | 7 May, 2006 - 03:00

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

Hello All, here are my thoughts. I missed the first show, but I don't think I missed much from what I can tell. As a chef myself, I think some of you are missing one of the points of this show, putting these cooks under time pressure to see how they take it and what the results are. However, I must say there are two individuals that were not treated fairly in the competition. That being Miguel when he was teamed with Andrea who had immunity. I would have accepted it if there was more than two in a team. But Miguel was put in a position that round that no other cook was put in, and this could have been easilty taken care of by not saying who had immunity until the street food challenge was over. The other unfairly treated was Lee Ann. She accepted responsility twice and took charge as a good chef should, no one else was put in that position, and then she was still judged by the teams results as the person in charge. Let's be fair. My favorite in the beginning was Dave, a little too emotional. Nothing wrong with being emotional, but probably not in competition. I also do not think you call someone bitch. I do think Tiffany is a little hard-headed, but a fine cook who I though her hard-headedness would probably not hurt her in the competition. I did feel that Steve's arrogance might catch up with him. I do not think that is why he was sent packing. And again, another fine cook, who I think did not appreciate what this show is about.
Harold, he was my next favorite. A little bit of a complainer, but at least only out of the kitchen, and not while he is cooking. I do think he made a mistake in his choice of salmon. He had plenty of time to take the frozen salmon. He had plenty of time to thaw that out under acceptable sanitation rules. So my finale thought is as we get ready to go to Las Vegas is that I have agreed to every desicion by the judges accept one. I believe they had their head somewhere else that night. Probably where the sun does not shine. But Lee Ann deserved to go to Las Vegas. She has the overall best head on her shoulders in all aspects of being a "Top Chef".

Dave | 11 May, 2006 - 12:34

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

Greetings all:

From the very beginning I find it totally sad & funny. For tose like myself that have really worked in the food industry, and I am also in the USN but these are my thoughts, I find this so entertaining to a point. Hells Kitchen is really a reality show about the true stress of fine dining.
I believe that if you did not have the chutziph to apply and be selected then you can just observe. The people that are chosen deserve to be there. Now getting along,working with others and REALLY being a team is another story.
Sure you are going to have people who will try anything to win ie: sabotage others to me very high school and immature to do these things. THE SHOW IS ABOUT BEING TOP CHEF really running the kitchen.
The most important thing is people skills and communicating, being incharge, directing,settting the pace and producing the best.
Looking at the final three Ms Tiff has to go. She may be a good cook, But its more to that she does not have the people skills to make it. Dave is so emotional please that at home. Yes it makes for fun drama but come on its tiring. Harold should win. He has got it all. The wedding thing was a real mess. Yes Chef you can cook the meals required in 12 to 14 hours only if there was team work from everyone. The place had a capt. so steve should have done more to be a team player and perfect his portion of the dining experience. Chef you have to admitt that the supermarket thing was a little out of hand you are not going to get the real quality of food needed. I think Dave did the best job. Ms tiff was way out of line using a mixed cake white trash wedding stuff, Harold could have done much better, even though the salmon he had was not the best using asian favors would have made for a very tastey dish, with asian noodles, leeann was not the real showwoman she needed to be. You saw it when she complained about having to direct the team. She did not taste any of the dishes, thats not a top chef as you said chef you have to get in their and taste and look and be part of. Email me back with you comments vikingstarvikingstar [at] hotmail [dot] com

Peter M. Michelson GM1(SW/SCW) | 11 May, 2006 - 20:27

Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

This episode was insane. The entire idea was farsical.

First of all, a wedding in 16 hours? Using a team of individuals meant to stive for their own stardom, not team success? Then let's throw in the gay couple because Bravo likes it's little political agenda statements when it can work them. And we top it off with some witch from the Weddings of the Stars???? It was ridiculous.

It was nauseating to listen to the wedding planner critiques at all....so I will just stop right here and say I hope Ms Uptown Girl gets a proper kick back from this rude troll, cause she was a total waste of time.

Stephen was an absolute master of being Stephen in this episode. I have to thank him for given my husband and I hours of good belly laughs as we have reflected on some of his more delightful moments. He is an absolute treasure, I don't think that they could actaully find an actor who could protray this guy without hitting it too far out of bounds everytime....it's just Stephen being Stephen, and god love him, what a jerk the boy is!!!!!!!!!

Lou | 21 May, 2006 - 20:43

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