Top Chef Season 2 Episode 11...should we care?

The recap of this episode is brief, because I want to discuss something else about the show itself. But the recap and review first.

  • Cliff was probably going to get booted anyway. Lentils and beef sounds good as combo, but he didn't execute it right. He was playing it too safe.
  • I did feel really bad for Marcel, and Cliff and the others were incredibly stupid in what they did - especially Cliff, obviously, and he deserved to get kicked off the show. Still...seeing him with a shaved head would have been funny...
  • Why was it up to Padma to yell "you idiots" to the contestant? She has that much authority? If it came from Tom Colicchio fine...but from..Mrs. Rushdie? (I have admitted already that I dislike her more and more, which is why I probably noticed it.)
  • Elia looks great with a shaved head! So does Ilan. They should both keep the look - there's a precedent for sexy bald top chefs.

topchef_baldmontage.jpgI think Chef was bald...

  • Ilan's chocolate truffle with a chicken liver center is a close second to last week's watermelon and 'gnocchi' with gorgonzola sauce by Sam for the "what were you thinking" wacky food award. I do dimly see his logic though, because of the texture of the liver when cooked...but still. Liver. Chocolate.

  • Geez, how did they get Eric Ripert (of a Super Serious New York Restaurant (Le Bernadin) on this mess show? 15 minutes of fame blabla...
  • I always wonder in these situations - did the Romantic Dinner couples have to pay for their dinners? I wonder if I'd pay for a Top Chef dinner myself...there's always the risk of Chocolate Covered Livers...
  • .
  • Apparently (though it was sort of lost in the confusion) Ilan's dish was the winner...demonstrated here by Lee Anne. Looks nice!

So anyway, after the totally unnecessary and condescending tease about which chefs would be eliminated (which was obviously going to be 'none' since Cliff was disqualified for manhandling Marcel), all four remaining chefs jet off to Hawaii for the final rounds.

But there's a bigger question to be asked...

Does Top Chef work as a show?

I don't talk about it here since this is a food blog, but I love Project Runway, on which Top Chef is modelled. Even when I disagree with the choice of winner, as I did this past season, it's still a great show. There are many elements that make Project Runway successful, but the question we discussed while wotching the latest episode of Top Chef. 'We' who watch Top Chef and Project Runway together are die hard food lovers, who have varying degrees of interest in fashion (one of us has zero interest), but we unanimously love Project Runway and have very mixed feelings about Top Chef.

Some of the elements that make Project Runway successful include:

  • Fashion is a visual art, so we the viewing audience can see the results of each challenge. While there are things like wearability and comfort to consider real life garment construction, for high fashion which is what the show is mostly about it's all visual.
  • The final reward, a runway show at New York Fashion Week, is a real, valuable goal for most designers in the U.S.
  • The setting, New York City, is the unquestioned center of the garment industry, and Parsons is one of the top design schools.
  • Some of us have problems with Heidi Klum as host (like her rather whiny delivery...incidentally, she's much less whiny in German), but there's no question that she has real fashion creds as a top model. Besides she doesn't really have that much to do except announce the challenges and participate in the final judging - and, since she is a top model you sort of take what she has to say seriously.
  • Of course - Tim Gunn! A real teacher and mentor, he makes the show come alive.

Comparing these points to Top Chef:

  • Food is only partly visual, and the visual part is definitely secondary to the taste and smell. So the audience can't really judge along - we can only take what the judges say to be true.
  • The value of final reward, besides the money and the Sponsored Appliances, is nebulous. Is participating in a food festival at some resort, which we never get to see anything of anyway, really that valuable to a chef's career? Most of the chefs seem to be on that show because of the publicity they might get just for being on TV. This makes for some unsatisfactory contestants (this season's Betty comes to mind here, as does last season's Andrea).
  • The setting...well it 's neutral I guess (in my opinion they should have kept it in San Francisco, since no other U.S. city is as totally obsessed about food.)
  • The host, this season and last, has been less than satisfactory. I guess we are supposed to buy Padma Lakshmi as a food expert, as we were supposed to buy Katie Lee Joel as such. I don't, for either of them. PLUS they are boring.
  • Tom Colicchio is a great chef and insightful judge but he's not Tim Gunn - and I know he's said on his blog that's not his role, and so on.

So, the show lacks these things. Add to that the extremely noticeable Product Placement for every single episode, and it adds up to a much less enjoyable show than its big brother, for us anyway. Sure it has something to do with the contestants, but I find that I have to almost force myself to continue watching...mainly because I commmited to these recaps. I'm really not sure if I'll care enough to do the same for next season.

It will be interesting to see how the upcoming interior design show Top Design fares in comparison.

So, what do you Top Chef good enough to keep watching? It is worth taking at all seriously? Is it just reality show fluff?

Filed under:  top chef tv

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... and there are a bunch more bald top chefs...

There are some very valid points about the concept of such kind of cooking contest shows. We have a TV station being lucky to get a successful "professional reality" show, but the production schedules allow only for one series per year. So, they were looking for something else, and it must have been kind of clear that this format is successful, so that it can be reused.

And so, one came to the kitchen-themed show. As it is said, this does not work as well, and it shows more and more that the copy is a copy, and not close to the original...

It shows in the choice of candidates; in Project Runway, the candidates have a less diverse objective ... they all want to get to the top event of the industry in North America. In Top Chef, everyone has a different objective and maybe even hidden agenda. Could it be that the producers did not have a good range of people to chose from?

As it is said, a culinaric contest is primary an issue of smell and taste. This means that it is even more important for the makers of a show to get the tertiary sense's needs through to the audience. And this is definitely not an easy job. One thing is in favor of the producers: they did not fall into the "popularity contest" trap (having the TV audience to vote candidates out of the show).

The question was "Does Top Chef work as a show". I would say it even stronger: the Project Runway concept is good ... for Project Runway. Taking it directly to Top Chef ... is flawed. It might work with many ifs:

if the candidates were more carefully selected

if the filming and editing were adequate

if there were a Tim Gunn

if the goal of the contest were more focused

Great analysis of the show's issues as usual. One of the joys of watching the show for me now has been so that I can appreciate your posts!

I think it's a *barely* good enough yarn to keeping watch right now, but it is also a pale shadow of season 1.

To directly address your question: Can a reality show about cooking work? The answer: Absolutely. Iron Chef, in its Japanese and now US incarnations, has been doing this forever, and those shows both focus on the food and the personalities (although the Japanese show did this better than the current US version).

The Food Network also has a slate of such shows (covering pasty contests, BBQ bakeoffs, etc) that work quite well on a number of levels.

This means that Top Chef is doing a couple of things dead wrong... In my opinion, here's what those things are:

- Too big a starting field of chefs...

- They need MUCH, MUCH more focus on the actual cooking process. This anchors Iron Chef and similar shows, and is nearly absent here. We need to see a lot more of the chef's planning processes, something a smaller field of chefs would allow for...

- The quickfire challenges, with their mad dashes and scant prep/food coverage, should be dropped outright. They are glorified commercials for the Placed Product and suck away time, preventing any deeper analysis to happen in the main challenge.

- If not a Tim Gunn, there at least needs to be an Alton Brown-esque figure who can handicap the chefs' processes for us. Someone to explain why the contestant's choices and actions may be good or may be bad down the road... This would really add to the drama.

- They need to ask themselves some hard questions about why they chose the mean spirited, nasty bunch they did this year and why they're so different from the funky, happy, argumentative group from season 1...

- The hostess doesn't bother me... It's kind of an irrelevant position right now on this show...

- While I personally like chef Tom and think Judge Gail is stealthily the hottest woman on TV (beautiful, accomplished, amazing figure, well spoken), they both seem to be judging the food on a 3rd grade level... Where's insightful and descriptive discussion of the dishes? Is this being edited out for such comments as, "I couldn't finish this..." and "Terrible..."? I'd like to see much, much better description of finished product on this show, something that the Project Runway judges do far better (or that their editing allows far more time for...).

- I don't know what to do about a "lure" for contestants' winning... There's really no food equivalent of Fashion Week. Perhaps this needs to be more about the money (double the seed money to start your own restaurant?).

- No disrespect to L.A., but this needs to moved to a city with a serious restaurant culture that's a bit less tired... I mean, every other reality TV show is based in L.A... Yawn... Back to SF? Maybe D.C.? How about Philly?

My idea for a quick fix:
- Make Judge Gail the hostess
- Add a real heavyweight critic to the judging panel
- Cut the initial number of contestants by at least 30%
- Kill the quickfire and double the amount of time given to coverage of food planning and prep...

That would keep me watching...

Chef Tom is great, and there should be more of him, working with and observing the chefs.

I agree, this host is a complete waste...she is purely there for eye candy.

I disagree about Gail. Her high-pitched, whiny voice is beyond annoying, particularly when she repeats the same criticism...i.e., "I really didn't like it!" "There's no excuse for rubbery eggs!" She sounds like a spoiled co-ed griping about the dorm food to her equally spoiled roommates.

I say, bring Paula Deen on board to host this mess...she'll spice it up!

hi maki. i always enjoy your top chef recaps, and i hope u will continue them. but i totally agree that this season is not living up to season 1. about the host, the contestants dont seem to like her either, see
here. but they aren't allowed to say bad things about her, lol.