Top Chef Episode 7: Don't educate me, feed me!

As the weaker contestants are eliminated and the field becomes less crowded, it's getting clearer that there are two stong contestants on Top Chef: the girls, Tiffani and Lee Anne. Sure, Harold is a very talented chef, but he seems to lack that leadership quality and spark. A showdown between the two equally tough, outspoken and talented - yet very different - women would be really fun to watch.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. In this week's Quick challenge (which did not have the reward of immunity, as in prior weeks) the contestants had to come up with a unique sandwich idea. This turned out to be a bit more complicated that some of them might have thought. Miguel totally ignored (or forgot about) the objective and came up with some sort of mass of food on a piece of bread, or an overloaded open-face sandwich. It's too bad because it might have been that one factor that would have saved him from elimination later, since Tom Colicchio really liked the flavors of his "falafel sandwich". In the end, Harold won this challenge and his sandwich will be on the menu of the San Francisco 'wichcraft. A great honor for him, though he seemed less than thrilled by having no immunity.

But the highlight of this show was the restaurant challenge. The contestants were split (by drawing straws, er knives, again) into two teams, and given the task of coming up with a restaurant concept then serving dinner for a group of customers. I think both concepts were fine, though the name American Workshop was just great. It was quite clear that Tiffani had put a lot of prior thought into that concep.

I'm all for Spanish food so the other one, Sabor, was a good idea too. However, I was a tiny bit disappointed that Lee Anne did not go for something from her heart, but instead went for something 'trendy'. It could be that Stephen somehow insisted on Spanish, though that wasn't shown. I wasn't aware that Spanish food was the 'in' thing in the U.S. now, but if they say so I guess it is. It does explain why Stephen was going for a Spanish wine in the first episode: he's the type that would jump on whatever is "in" at the moment, without much passion or personal taste involved.

I hate to continue the Stephen-bashing here, but even though he was not the one eliminated, it was quite clear that the blue team of Lee Anne, Stephen and Miquel lost because of his performance as 'front-of-house'. This applies in general, but in a sophisticated foodie town like San Francisco especially, you do not presume that you need to 'educate' your restaurant customers. As Gail Simmons exclaimed, "don't educate me, feed me!"

Stephen's superlicious behavior and long-winded explanations about the history of the wine blabla reminded me a time when 4 of us - my stepfather and mother, and the Taste Tester and I went to a certain French restaurant on the Upper East Side of New York some years ago. (It's the one with the fabulous patisserie on the ground floor and the restaurant part in the mezzanine balcony.) Our waiter was French (or pretending to be French) and very snooty. He presented the wine list to my stepfather, who was the oldest member of our party. It was a very long wine list and my stepfather was a bit confused. The Taste Tester took the menu and decided that a Chasselas sounded interesting and was not too expensive. When the waiter came back, my stepfather ordered the Chasselas. The waiter proceeded launch into some description of what Chasselas was. Now, the TT is Swiss and has grown up drinking wine, so to speak, since he was a tiny tot; not only that, he is a real wine afficionado with a decent cellar. And he speaks French. So he took the wine list back, and politely put the snooty waiter in his place. It was really quite a pleasure to see the the waiter shrink visibly before our eyes. Still, I barely remember the meal itself except that the pleasure in it was rather diminished by the waiter.

Stephen may mean well but it just does not do to talk down to your customers, and that is what he was doing. On the other hand Dave was warm and friendly and the customers loved him. He was also in better communication with the kitchen and got the food out in a timely manner. His real-life restaurant experience showed there. He did lose his cool again at the judge's table Tiffani so annoying, or is he just a tad dramatic? We shall find out I'm sure.

However, the judges didn't pin the blame of their loss on Stephen, but instead decided to get rid of Miguel. (I must say that for a minute there I was genuinely afraid they were going to put the blame on Lee Anne, since she was clearly in charge of that team, but that didn't happen - phew!) I suppose that Miguel was the weakest contestant, but it really has to be a matter of time (maybe next week) before Stephen is a goner.

Menu notes:

  • The one jarring part of the American Workshop menu was the tuna tartare. Is that New American? Does it fit with the chips and dip / roasted chicken / fruit crisp comfort-food items? I don't know.
  • The Sabor food actually looked better to me. I'm intrigued by the olive oil ice cream. I had an olive oil and basil sorbet once at one of my favorite restaurants in the world, Oustau de Baumanière in Les Baux, France; it was really full of fruity olive oil flavor, and quite interesting...but I left half of it because it was just too odd for me. (Granted, I was super-full at the time because it came near the end of a fabulous 4-course meal..)

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I can't speak for all of America, of course, but I know that in my neck of the woods, tapas is the latest craze-- a couple tapas restaurants have opened up to wide acclaim here.

I might be completely wrong, but, to add a bit more Stephen-bashing, I wonder why he got Veuve Cliquot champagne (with its distinctive orange label) and not any of the good (and way less expensive) Spanish Cavas.

Maybe the store didn't have any...

I think it's both: Tiffani is really annoying and Dave is overdramatic. I always respected her as a chef though, but that might change after next week's episode. I can't think what would possess her to make a wedding cake out of a box.

Back in Boston, where i spent 6 years in college (it is not as pathetic as it sounds, i did get 2 degrees out of it) Spanish food has been well-established and popular. So imagine my surprise when i visited NYC and asked the hotel concierge to find me a tapas place and they could not find any. I think typcial American tastes for large plates and impossible portions has driven chefs away from the "small plates" template, but the concept is certainly getting more en vogue.

Lovely reviews, by the way. I am quite a amateur foodie myself and I love to hear what others have to say about restaurants. your little tale about Payard is pretty funny, since i have experienced it myself too (my dining partner happen to be French-Swiss as well). Waiters need to realize that just because the customers might be young doesn't mean we are idiots.

Wow, was it that obvious i was talking about Payard? hehehe.

Otto Enoteca, one of Mario Batali's restaurants here in NY, has the most amazing olive oil gelati - highly recommended.

upper east side, famed bakery, snooty waiters. Not too many of them in NYC when all factors needed to be present LOL.

i am incredibly disappointed that dave was cut after the quickfire challenge. even having forgotten to make the third dish, his food was better than tiffani's. you even said that he won one challenge and harold won two. is it just me that doesn't understand? i think tiffani was kept on for the "drama factor." that is not what i expected the show to be about.

I concur that Tiffany and Lee Anne were the strongest. With Harold a strong contender, but even in the Restaurant Theme round, happy just being in the back corner, like a day at the office, his words. But this appears to be another reality show that does not care if it makes any sense. They let Miguel go before Steve even though it was Steven playing around out front. Was this cumulative over previos rounds? Because if it was, cumulatively speaking Lee Anne was head and shoulders above Dave.
It would appear the show has been misnamed. They should have called it Top Cook, because it is definately not about who is Top Chef. I would assume they know the difference.

My wife and I were so annoyed by the elimination of Dave [how can Tiffani survive when NO ONE LIKED HER FOOD!?!?]that we refused to watch the final episode! Thanks for letting us know what happened.