Top Chef Rundown – January 7, 2009

Do you guys watch Top Chef? If my blog interests you, then you probably should. It’s good TV. Yes, it’s a reality show, but it’s so much better than the average reality mess these days. It’s built on the model of Project Runway, and basically brings together a whole group of up-and-coming chefs to compete in a series of competitions. You’ll find it on Bravo on Wednesday nights. If you do watch Top Chef and haven’t watched this week’s episode, be warned. I’m going to spoil it.

At the season’s midpoint, the chefs are really beginning to stand out and show their true skills (or lack thereof), though I’ve yet to pick my favorite.

Before the holiday break, a Christmas special had the Chefs assigned themes from “The 12 Days of Christmas” to cater a gala event, and ultimately, the judges were so unimpressed with everyone that they decided not to send anyone home. When everyone is bad, it’s hard to pick the worst.

This week opened with a “Diet Dr. Pepper” Quickfire Challenge. (We have long been amused at the both the amount of and obviousness of product placement on Top Chef). The remaining Chefs were challenged to create a dessert without using sugar of any kind. We’re always surprised at this point in the history of the show that the Chefs don’t come prepared to make some sort of dessert, but right away, the typical moaning about how they don’t work with pastry and they aren’t a pastry chef started. Excuses, excuses. In the end, Radhika won immunity from the challenge ahead.

The Elimination Challenge was, quite simply, to make great food. The genius twist is that the Chefs were a part of the judging, and were able to taste each other’s food. They were harsh, but no where near as harsh as the new judge, Toby Young. He was fabulously snarky, but I feel like that may have been to the detriment of actually judging the food. We’ll see how that goes as the season goes on.

The best moment of the episode was when Fabio called out Jamie’s overuse of the scallop. “This is Top Chef! It’s not Top Scallop!” We actually laughed out loud. I do agree that Jamie makes scallops a lot, but I don’t really think it’s a problem. These chefs have personalities, favorite dishes, favorite ingredients, favorite styles. Marcel used foam, Richard souis-vide everything, Ilan cooked Spanish food, Radhika cooks Indian food…so what if Jamie likes scallops? As long as she’s cooking them well and impressing the judges, who cares? Speaking of impressing the judges, Jamie’s Seared Sea Scallops with Fennel won the whole thing. Good for her. I so hope she stops complaining about how she’s the best one there but never wins, though.

And then it comes down to elimination. Things were better overall this week, but there were some low points, notably Carla’s messy Bitter-Garlic Risotto, Eugene’s WTF Fish and Daikon “Pasta,” and Melissa’s Gross Fish Tacos. To counter the generous gift during the Christmas episode, two people went home this week, Eugene and Melissa. I think they got it right. Melissa seems to end up in the bottom more often than not, and when she’s not at the bottom, she’s solidly in the middle. And Eugene just seems to be out of his depth. Ultimately, it came down to too much creativity and too little. I think Carla was the right choice to stay–she’s got a few more weeks in her, but I don’t see her going all the way to the end. There are stronger players out there.

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