PLEASE READ BEFORE COMMENTING!!!
As usual, there's a lot of sneaky intel out there, but I'm endeavoring to keep this blog a spoiler-free zone. This isn't just for the readers, but for me, too -- I don't want to know what happens! As such, anything that's already been broadcast or has been posted on the official Bravo site is fair game for discussion. I will, for example, discuss the preview of next week's show at the end of the post. But if you've heard rumors that one chef has been hosting a lot of dinner parties, or that another chef was spotted boarding a plane to an exotic locale, please keep them to yourself.

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August 10, 2010

Top Chef - S7E8 Power Rankings

Thank god for little blessings.

Just as quickly, peagate fizzles out, as Ed isn't even sure whether or not he packed it. And now we can officially move on. Until the reunion show, at least.

This was a tricky little episode, and one that really had the potential to send somebody home early. No matter how much you know in the kitchen, you can't know everything. You just can't. And a bad draw here could've really sunk somebody. Of course, then Kevin and Tiffany go and disprove that theory, but we'll get to that.

Though it sure would have been nice to see a bit of the city itself (sadly, I think those days are long gone on Top Chef -- too high profile), I was thrilled to see an ode to the local Ethiopian scene. There is a huge Ethiopian community in DC. 200,000 is a number you see thrown around a lot. And though I didn't get to try nearly as much of it as I would have liked while living in the area (well, Baltimore), what little passed my lips was a revelation. Eating Ethiopian in DC was one of those, "So THAT'S what the fuss is all about!" moments for me. But it's a brutal challenge if you have no experience with the cuisine. Ditto all of the ethnic cuisines represented in the elimination challenge. But there, an elimination is on the line. Harsh. Not sure whether I think it was a little too harsh. But everything seems to have worked out just fine.

So here's the real take-home message from this week. Remember how we said it's anybody's game? It wasn't. NOW it's anybody's game. I mean, really, can this get any tighter? I keep saying that week in and week out, and then those on the top stumble and those on the bottom shine and everybody runs hot and cold and you couldn't pick a favorite to save your life. Which isn't to say I won't try.

The power rankings are not purely a prediction of who is most likely to win, or an assessment of last episode's dishes, or a reflection of the contestants' historical performance, but rather a nebulous amalgam of all three, combined with a little bit of gut feeling, to provide a relative measure of current awesomeness.

Wins
Top
Bottom
1 Angelo Quickfires
3
6
0
Last Week: 1 Eliminations
1
2
0

I'm still leaving Angelo at number one, but much like Kelly in the third position last week, I'm now calling this a very tentative hold. Though he picked up another win last week, has been consistently good and has stayed out of trouble, the pack has basically caught up to him. One thing we learn is that he isn't limited to Asian (as if that palette isn't broad enough). And despite having significant experience with Ethiopian, he couldn't quite pull down that quickfire win.

2 Tiffany Quickfires
1
1
1
Last Week: 4 Eliminations
1
5
0

THAT'S what we were looking for. It's time. I still feel better about the peaks of some of those below her, but remarkable consistency, building momentum and a sudden explosion into the winner's circle puts Tiffany just barely off the pace in a tight field. In particular, I love that she won over Samuelsson despite apparently having no experience with Ethiopian. The challenge isn't in your comfort zone? Make it your comfort zone. If you can do that, it bodes very, very well for your chances. This placement isn't without reservations. But who can we really place without reservations at this point?

3 Kelly Quickfires
1
2
3
Last Week: 3 Eliminations
2
3
1

Nice to see Kelly backing up the faith I put in her last week. Bounceback achieved. I thought her elimination dish looked solid, and I'm a puzzled by the fact that Colicchio seemed to take a bit of shine off it by insisting that she'd done something very traditional. Bearing in mind that "traditional" is relative, this was only traditional by a rather liberal definition of the term. Carpaccio is one of those rare dishes with origins that are, for the most part, universally accepted. It was created in 1950 in Harry's Bar in Venice, and to this day is served in its original form -- thinly sliced raw beef drizzled with an olive oil-based mayonnaise sauce that's flavored with mustard and Worcestershire. That's it. There's no parmesan cheese, no arugula and certainly no balsamic vinegar, to say nothing of other common toppings. But okay, we'll throw Tom a bone and acknowledge that as the country of Italy has embraced the dish, forms which more closely resemble what we typically think of as carpaccio in the States have become widely popular. But still... Kelly first seared the beef with dried spices, and she topped it with asparagus, snow peas, seared maitake mushrooms, anchovy and truffle... how is that any more traditional than Kevin's riff on Indian flavors? The soul of the dish -- its more widely popular if not original version -- is there, but that's about it. Nicely done. Plus, it inspires one of the best Top Chef lines of all time. For those who missed it, coming from Giuseppe Manzo, from the Italian embassy:

"Oh, I think that today's carpaccio represents Italy better than I do."
Brilliant bit of self-deprecating humor from a fellow whose last name even translates to "beef."
4 Good Kevin Quickfires
0
2
3
Last Week: 7 Eliminations
1
4
3

Good Kevin makes good food. He does cool things with meats, respects his ingredients, and brings them together in creative and technically sound ways. Good Kevin weaves a top mentioned dish out of broccoli and lemon when his cauliflower takes a dive. Good Kevin creates a beautiful new take on vitello tonnato and executes it perfectly. Good Kevin takes an ethnic challenge with which he's completely unfamiliar, makes it his own, creates a dish that's inspired by the flavors of Indian cuisine, toasts and blends his own curry mix and brings home a win. Good Kevin is a serious contender for the Top Chef title.

5 Kenny Quickfires
2
5
0
Last Week: 2 Eliminations
1
2
3

The placement makes it look like Kenny's taking a dive, but that's not at all the case. It's just that everybody is right on top of one another and he's being narrowly outpaced. He'd be a strong number two if he could reclaim the early season mojo, but now he hasn't been on top of anything for three straight episodes, and the duos and trios are really getting old. I'm starting to wonder if Kenny's responding all the wrong way to the inevitable setbacks that all Top Chef contestants endure. He seems to be doing more, more, more when he should be doing less, less, less. We've seen that his busy style can rock the house when he pulls it all together, but he hasn't done that for a while now and the more he pushes, the more likely he is to trip, I think. And for someone who "knows" Thai food, his Thai recipe would make any Thai purist cringe. It's more of a spicy-sweet Asian hodgepodge, where the base of the green curry is panang curry paste, which is the equivalent of slipping alfredo sauce into your tomato sauce. Of course, if it's tasty, it's all well and good. But playing so loosely with the conventions of a cuisine means that you'll be brutalized by the judges if something doesn't work.

6 Ed Quickfires
1
2
2
Last Week: 6 Eliminations
0
2
2

I'll ask it again, why do some hold Ed in such high regard? I agree that he's a talented chef and he's made some good food -- everybody has at this point -- but for the life of me I can't figure out what he's done to stand out from the crowd. Though it doesn't really have any bearing on the competition, I'm particularly annoyed by his Chinese dish. For somebody who is "very familiar with the culture and the food," he sure doesn't show it on the plate. His potsticker was ostensibly served with a Sichuan jus, I'm looking at this recipe and I sure can't see it. It's like the name was just thrown in there because it's trendy and sounds good. It's enough to make something that's inspired by Chinese flavors. There's no reason to throw darts at the wall to determine which region you're going to name your dish after.

7 Alex Quickfires
0
0
5
Last Week: 5 Eliminations
1
2
1

I want to give him more respect for the borscht and the salmon, but I just can't. The guy just has a nose for the bottom. Particularly odd is the fact that the guy can't buy quickfire success to save his life. Look at that quickfire record. How do you bottom out more than 50% of the time? And while cooking Spanish for Jose Andres is an absolutely brutal, brutal bit of luck, it sure doesn't sound like they needed a Spanish luminary to point out the problems with his dish. Like Ed, he was confident. Heck, he was excited. But Spanish is like Italian in that those flavors are simple and they pop. Perhaps even moreso for Spanish. He's spent time in Spain, he knows that. But instead, he apparently made a big, bland mess. I don't mean to oversimplify, but if you're cooking a Spanish dish for Jose Andres and you look at your mental recipe and see 41 ingredient lines, that should be your clue-in that it's time to edit... drastically.

8 Amanda Quickfires
0
2
2
Last Week: 8 Eliminations
0
2
2

I might've actually moved Amanda out of the basement a bit this week, except for the fact that she took what should have been her home run pitch and popped it up (I really need to quit with the sports analogies... sorry). She got exactly the cuisine she wanted, she did a straight-up traditional dish, and she still managed to blow it. And for those who say she deserves to be higher, that's why. She's just... green. She doesn't seem to have the confidence or the comfort to string some good dishes together. She also has some high peaks and could easily make the final three. But those peaks aren't as peak-y as Alex's, and she's been in a lot more trouble at times. If she lives beyond the next few weeks, it'll be because she pulled out the right dishes at the right times. Of course, the fact that I'm even saying this about the person now inhabiting the basement is remarkable. Well... sort of...

9 Bad Kevin Quickfires
0
2
3
Last Week: 7 Eliminations
0
4
3

Bad Kevin makes amateurish choices and blows their execution. Bad Kevin makes the most boring Puerto Rican dish you've ever seen. Bad Kevin screws up baby food. Bad Kevin makes dishes with no flavor balance. Bad Kevin seems lost up there, unable to bring his ideas together into a coherent plan. Bad Kevin is a goner, it's just a question of how soon.

10 Stephen Quickfires
0
2
4
Last Week: 9 Eliminations
0
1
3

Was drawing Brazil a matter of the cosmic forces letting Stephen know that it was time? Perhaps they didn't get footage of it, but it sounds like we missed what must've been one of the more amusing moments in Top Chef antics: Stephen roaming the aisles of Whole Foods shouting out, "Does anybody know anything about Brazilian food?" Best part? He found somebody who did. But yeah, you blow rice and it's hard to recover at JT. I'm sure he would have been forgiven for co-opting chimichurri for Brazilian purposes, except for the fact that it looks like kind of a flat chimichurri (aside from the abundance of garlic, that is). It sounds like it was actually a tough call, and that he nearly survived to see another day. But still... that rice.

Not sure there's much to sum up, so we can move right on to:

WARNING : MINOR EPISODE NINE SPOILERS AHEAD

Restaurant Wars! We'll see if it's a matter of some deceptive elven editing, but this one looks like it's going to be interesting. I like to see the chefs succeed. I don't like to see a lot of failure. But Restaurant Wars may be the one exception, when watching how things can break down is far more illuminating than watching them run smoothly. Also, the blindfold relay! The edit has Alex looking like he botches both. And for all of her issues, I bet Amanda can hold down the line, which would make Alex the prime pick for elimination. But when the elves are at work, I assume nothing.

Discuss!

Comments

Excellent as usual. You raise some cosmic questions for me: can Bad Kevin be controlled without diminishing Good Kevin? How can Good Kevin and Bad Kevin coexist? Which one will show up to RW? It will be interesting. I hope it's Good Kevin.

Good job Dom.
I am amazed at how many of the chefs have close to the same number of top 3s and bottom 3s. What this season has lacked in terms of great chefs and compelling personalities has been made up by the fact that most of the chefs are pretty close in talent.

Good job, as always, Dom. Almost impossible to guess who's next to go. Even expertise or lack of it in a cuisine doesn't help. Depends on who's inspired that particular day and who's off their game.

Except for Angelo, who seems to be able to keep his head above water. Kelly's stabilized after her one disastrous day. Kenny's keeping himself out of trouble, if not at his peak, but at least he's not flaming out. Tiffany has found her groove, but her time in obscurity during the first half of the season gives me pause.

Nuff said about Amanda and Kevin. So clear. As for Alex, he only hit the bottom once in an EC. He may have more staying power than most of us expect, when he has more time to mull his ideas, unlike during the QFs. Who knows, the elves may be setting him up for an EC win this week just as they set up Tiffany and Kevin for their showings last week. Ed is treading water without much distinction.

I would like to comment about Kevin and Indian cuisine. When he pulled it I thought he was a goner because I knew that Padma would be a critical judge of Indian food. I have cooked Indian food for 20 years so I know how difficult it can be to get it right. And how easily you can create a disaster.

He said he had never cooked it. I believe that. He also claimed to know very little about it. I do not believe that. He knew enough to make his own curry, which is not easy!! If he was missing a key spice in the mix or added the wrong spice it would have been a obvious and he would not have been in the top. So I think he downplayed his knowledge of Indian food. I don't blame him because he could have easily gone down in flames.

Sadly, the TC recipe does not include the recipe for the curry powder that he made. I would have loved to see that.

@Dreamboat - not to diminish your experience, but here's my take on Kevin's success. He never cooked it. He knows little about it. But he's probably had Indian food a variety of time (and seriously, isn't that just an odd thing to say, like saying Chinese food like that has just one meaning?). And he likely knows the spices that he chose to use. If you know your spices and you know the basic taste of "Indian food," you should be able to concoct a basic curry powder. After all, isn't any curry powder just a mix of spices? It's not like Kevin claimed to make any specific mix, like Punjabi garam masala. True Indian cuisine, whether Goa or Kerela or anywhere, is difficult to master, but to take those flavours and mix them with your dish just takes skills and some knowledge of spices, which Kevin did not make any claims toward.

Love the rankings, Dom. I'm still hoping for Angelo to pull ahead again (in terms of the show, that is). I like the clean flavour profile that he seems to favour. But I suspect that Tiffany may be topping your list next time.

Nice rankings, as always! The Good Kevin/Bad Kevin dynamic is at once a cop-out and yet a clever way of positioning him (and him). I'm hoping that he's one of those contestants who finds his footing as the season goes on and continues to pull out better and better dishes.

It seems to me that he makes better dishes when the pressure on him is higher. He doesn't know Indian food? Knocks it out of the park. He loses his cauliflower? He creates a magnificent substitute. First day on Top Chef? He makes a good showing with the first quickfire.

He's familiar with Puerto Rican food? He fails.

Given that the intensity and pressure of the competition is heating up, it seems likely that Good Kevin (the one who thrives under pressure) will do well.

I actually spent five minutes fiddling with my browser trying, to figure out why Kevin's picture was blue, before scrolling down and finding the red 'Bad Kevin'.

I don't have much to add regarding Tiffany. She impressed again. I'm rooting for her.

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but didn't Kenny's EC dish garner positive comments from the judges even though he didn't get called out on top? Someone once said that placing in the high middle is the worst situation because you can do everything right while thinking you screwed up, and wind up making mistakes on the next challenge as a result.

While Kelly's carpaccio was a departure from the original, it seems pretty common in contemporary American kitchens. I obviously haven't had that particular combination, but it seems right in line with what I would expect from many good restaurants. No disrespect intended - as Andres implied, there's absolutely nowhere to hide on something like carpaccio - I'm just saying Colicchio wasn't completely wrong about it being traditional. I'm much more impressed with the fact that she picked it based on the cooking conditions - a simple, easy judgement call that all too many chefs ignore to their detriment.

This is a schizophrenic season, but I think Dom has a good handle on the madness and I agree with him almost top to bottom. I made the mistake of viewing the preview at the end of the last episode and honestly don't know what to think of Restaurant Wars. It's hard enough to figure out who goes where, but Elfin editing is like having an an agent provocateur in your midst, trying to push you down paths where you don't want to go. Ultimately, you just have to go with the talent and let the chips fall where they may, which is sort of Dom's credo anyway.

Here is my personal uncertain ranking:

1. Angelo
2. Tiffany
3. Kelly
4. Kenny
5. Kevin
6. Ed
7. Amanda
8. Alex

mine... Everyone between angelo and amanda (exclusive) are so packed together, that one episode performance makes all difference in my ranking.
1. angelo
2. tiffany --- i wanted to put kelly 2 despite Tiffany sweep, but I have to give credit for tiffany high water mark of 5 top group ECs.
3. kelly -- top group EC
4. kevin -- strong EC > weak QF
5. kenny -- another motp performance
6. Ed -- weak EC
7. Alex -- 2 bottom groups. Sinks him below everyone from kevin to alex bunched together.
8. Amanda -- I want to put her higher, given a QF top mention. But her peaks are still more high MOTP product.

I like the humor you bring to the rankings here with the Kevins, as I think we all share some frustration with the oddities of this season. But, I do think its a bit of a cop-out to single out Kevin when there are others who deserve the same treatement: Good Kelly, Salty Kelly. Borscht Alex, Spanish Alex (which you did touch on). After typing that, I think my top 3 are Angelo, Tiffany and Kenny, on the grounds that these are three without massives peeks and valleys.

Substantive comment about the last week's analysis: I noted in the recap the inconsitency between "authentic" and "inspired by". Amanda did straight up French and bombed, and ended up in the middle. Kenny did a mash up of Thai flavors that everyone loved, but also in the middle. So, I'm left with the conclusion that authentic style was worth a secret bonus point. In that vein, I think your critique of Kenny's "Alfredo + Tomato" Thai food isn't fair. I know Italian food well, as do you. I'm sure both of us could make a sauce and a dish that combined the ingredients and flavors of alfredo and tomato and come up with a great dish. Classic? No. Delicious? Yes. And, in this context, probably in the middle.

At this point, I think the entire field is essentially tied, with Angelo at the top and Amanda at the bottom more by default than anything else. I'd group them into tiers based on consistency rather than actual ability.

Tier 1: Angelo, Tiffany, Kelly
Angelo and Tiffany have yet to bottom out of an EC, and Kelly's sole appearance appears to be a fluke.

Tier 2: Kenny, Ed
Their peaks are essentially the same as Tier 1, but have generally mixed in shaky performances with good ones.

Tier 3: Kevin, Alex, Amanda
Consistently inconsistent. Any one of them can go on a run at any time, but the other two will likely flame out early. I have no idea which is which.

Yeah, I know the Good Kevin / Bad Kevin thing was kind of cheap. But I figured as long as it's such a toss-up, might as well have a little fun with it. And yes, there are others who are also displaying serious inconsistency, but Kevin's is bordering on clinical.

Anon Man, you're probably right, I'm probably being a little rough on Kenny there. The dish seemed like it was fairly well-received and that's what matters. It just reads like a bad, overworked Asian fusion dish. As for the tomato/alfredo comparison, y'know, I'm sure it can be done, but that doesn't mean it needs to be. And most often, it's the Olive Garden school of "throw everything in there because if you can't do good, just do more." I mean, kudos that he can pull it off. Again, that's certainly his thing. I just wonder if he's going to be able to keep it up without the judges getting tired of it. I'm waiting for the JT where Tom rakes him over the coals for making everything needlessly complex.

Good rankings as always. The hardest part of this season, unlike last season, is that with one or two exceptions, any of the chefs seem capable of making a critical error that sends them down in flames. I cook all the meals at home and have dragged my husband to many a culinary experience at restaurants but even he was amazed that Stephen was using canned beans. And botching rice? Wow. Seems like rookie mistakes but I don't think any of us can imagine the pressure and stress that the chefs are under. Years ago, I was on two different game shows - I did great on one and not so much the other - and it was like an out-of-body experience. You find yourself saying and doing things and making silly mistakes which only become apparent after it is all over. Angelo and Tiffany seem unlikely to make these mistakes but I think that Kenny is very at risk because he refuses to acknowledge that a dish of his has problems and therefore he doesn't learn from his mistakes. Even if he thinks the judges are wrong, what they are saying to him should give him insight into what the judges like and don't like.

I couldn't agree more about the Kenny over-working issue, and also that he doesn't seem to be able to step back and look at it as a problem. If Tom did give him some very specific criticism about it, it would probably save him from what I think will be an undeserved early elimination. I think his MOTP status results from being in the competition conditions rather than being a mediocre chef.

And personally I loved the Good Kevin/Bad Kevin solution - I also was like, why blue? and finding the bad Kevin made me laugh. Funny and apt.

Have missed this blog - travel & broken laptop. Can't read before seeing the show! So much good stuff, as usual ... yes, this season seems rather unpredictable.

While I just cook at home, I know a fair amount about ethnic cuisines (a good chunk from studying foreign languages - btw - liked the Manzo tranlation).

Brazilian? I've been making feijoada for ~30 yrs. (my Portuguese TA in college gave me the recipe). Lots of other good cuisine there.

Totally agree about Thai & Chinese.

P.S. I confess that one of my addictions is to visit markets & grocery stores whenI travel.

1.Angelo
2.Kelly
3.Kenny
4.Tiffany (everybody loves T, but to be ranked in the Top3 (to me) means being an odds-on favorite (at this point in time) to make it to the Final 3. Her arc is still blocked by two Parcheesi pieces plus Angelo.)
5.Kevin
6.Alex
7.Ed
8.Amanda

Allison - Thank you for hitting the nail on the head about the Brazilian food. Maybe I'm a little biased since my mom is from Brazil but I felt like there were so many options. Feijoda is actually very easy if you have a basic grasp of seasonings (ala good Kevin) but it may take a little too long. I think he was on the right track with the meat but he also had so many options on how to prepare it. He also could have done soma pao de quiejo or fried bananas. I don't know... And with the chimichurri fiasco... Brazilian cuisine actually has a sort of salsa that they eat with EVERYTHING that would have been simple and easy to make as it's a lot like pico de gallo.

What really got me about the whole "Does anyone know how to make Brazilian food" thing was that he then said that he'd been to a Brazilian steakhouse. You've had Brazilian food so there are no excuses. Even the worst churrascaria has at least a dozen kinds of meat, and all of them provide at least a couple of sides. No excuses.

My problem with Angelo's food is that, while well prepared, it seems too familiar. Pan-Asian Fusion has been around a long time now. I remember going to a Japanese-French restaurant in LA in 1981. Everything Angelo makes looks as if I've already seen it prepared by other chefs. On the other hand, he and Kenny are the only chefs that seem to have an identifiable style (Kenny's being "throw in everything but the kitchen sink"). Hopefully the others will show more individual styles now that we're in the 2nd half of the season.

On Kevin and his Indian-inspired dish -- I agree with others that he's likely eaten some Indian food so has an idea of the tastes. More importantly, he appears to have a fairly in-depth knowledge about cooking in general; IOW he is into keeping up with his profession. Throughout this season he's had a number of talking heads thrown in that illuminated something about the challenges, the judges, etc. Since Asian food (all kinds) is my favorite, his comment about Angelo only cooking Chinese food was annoying. Maybe he was just being glib (and channeling Kenny) though, as it appears that he has pretty broad culinary knowledge. I agree that he seems to perform better under pressure or when he's stretched beyond his go-to dishes (which he'll probably rethink after the Puerto Rican food debacle)

Does anyone remember how to use the f***ing Bravo site to find recipes? I wanted to look up the dishes from the episode, but can't because nobody at NBC has the slightest idea how to build a functioning website.

IG... on the main Top Chef page, it's about three-quarters of the way down the menu on the left, in the second section, labeled "Recipe Finder." Presuming you want to see the recipes from a certain episode, I find the easiest way is to search using the following format, including the quotes:

"season 7, episode 8"

That'll bring up all of the recipes from that episode.

I have to believe Kevin does have familiarity with Indian food, and probably higher end Indian food -- beyond AYCE buffet, taxi driver favored quick curry chicken and chickpeas over balsamic rice. As New Jersey is home to a large number Indians.

Thanks, Dom. I found the recipe finder, but didn't include the quotes in the search and kept getting results from other seasons. It would be so much easier if you could browse by different filters. Unfortunately, I'm now at work and don't want to check the Bravo site from the office. Le sigh. I was hoping to see exactly what went into Kevin's curry, and Stephen's chimichurri.

The recipe didn't break down the contents of Kevin's curry powder, and Stephen's chimichurri was basically garlic, parsley, lemon and olive oil. Very, very stripped-down.

Perhaps some ingredients are being left out - curry, tamales, etc. - so that we will buy the next cookbook.

"I like to see the chefs succeed. I don't like to see a lot of failure. But Restaurant Wars may be the one exception, when watching how things can break down is far more illuminating than watching them run smoothly."

I completely understand. I really do. But as to me, personally, I always have some emotional investment in the people involved and it seems like every year I approach Restaurant Wars with a high degree of anxiety. It's hard watching the failure level in this episode, partly because it is such a daunting challenge that success is extremely difficult. From that point of view, it really does tell us more about the remaining chefs than any other single episode. It is a crucible under the definition as "a place or situation in which concentrated forces interact to cause or influence change or development". It is a dispassionate process, but that doesn't make it any easier to watch at times. For example - watching Dale's meltdown in Season 4 was a really difficult, visceral experience for me.

So, I really agree with the reasoning, I agree with the importance of this episode. But I'm also glad when it's over.

What I enjoy most about Restaurant wars is that we've become so accustomed to speaking of chefs as artists that we often forget that they are also professionals - and blue collar professionals, no less. While RW is unquesionably a reality-show contrivance, it nevertheless offers viewers a glimpse of many different professional dimensions that are often overlooked. You get to see chefs divvy labor, plan menus, work the line, and expedite orders - all the stuff most people never think about when they go to a restaurant. Most years, it's not lack of talent that dooms a team, but poor planning and organization.

Like Polybus, I hate seeing people flounder at their chosen profession for all the same reasons; at the same time, it's a great reminder of just how hard that chosen profession is. Watching Kevin, Jennifer, MikeI, and Laurine drop the ball was especially painful last season precisely because it was such a departure from the immense skill we'd seen previously. They were specifically called out for the lack of leadership, and I just couldn't imagine any of them behaving the same way in their own kitchens.

Why RW is always the best and most interesting episode up to and including the too-often fluffed-up and anticlimactic Finale.

Because RW impinges on the Finale in a profound way. Whether eliminated at present or not, the Front of the House does not win the Top Chef title.
Which feeds the ancillary comedy:
The astonishing ease at which certain folk accept working the front of the house. Since the front of house never wins Top Chef, volunteering or allowing oneself to be "volunteered" is not a fluke, it seems to be a tell, counting history and all.
After all, even the most put-upon or discounted chef can appeal to the gods via the *drawing of lots* for who gets That Job if winning Top Chef were that high of a priority.
Perhaps, certain folks are tired and their minds are already halfway home.
Anyway, short of drawn lots or point of a gun, I will be amazed if the stronger chefs (Angelo, Kenny, Kelly)ever allow themselves to be put out of the kitchen in a million chefs'years.

(So that was and is my sweeping thought. 2 contestants clearer tonight ----3 contestants clearer if a kitchen worker gets the boot!-----And, Disclaimer: if my memory failed me, mea maxima culpa)

Just to comment on the QF and EC from this episode:

I think this is the perfect type of QF - it's tough and does draw on specific skill sets but elimination is not on the line so it's ok. It's similar to the cactus QF from last season - Mike I was the only one to use the ingredient previously and it paid off. In this case, Angelo had the Ethiopian experience to get a top nod but Tiffany was able to knock it out.

Regarding the EC: I agree that this is one where someone can fail with a bad draw, but I don't think that's an excuse because of how it was set up. All of the chef's should expect coming on the show that they may need to cook something outside of their comfort zones and should be at least familiar with the styles/flavors. As Tom said, they didn't need to create an authentic dish, but something inspired by the ethnic cuisine. It all boils down to taste - if the food tastes great and has some evidence of the cuisine, they're at least safe. If the food is authentic but tastes awful, that's not going to work.

Personally, I thought this was one of the better episodes this season as far as the challenges go. It's refreshing to not see the gimmicky stuff but still keep them on their toes.

Re front of house. BBC America has a show - Last Restaurant Standing. Front of house is critical in this show - if not equal with the food, it is very close. This show gives great insight into what it takes to run a restaurant - sourcing food, promotion, menu prep, cooking, service, etc.

Since the front of house never wins Top Chef, volunteering or allowing oneself to be "volunteered" is not a fluke, it seems to be a tell, counting history and all.

Steph was FOH, won the challenge, and went on to win in the finale.

@BryanD, I think you are reading way too much into FOH. There is a school of thought that you never want to be EC for RW, because they get booted for failure of leadership (e.g., Tre). There is a school that you never want to be FOH because they get blamed for problems (Rhadikka). And, there is a school that says you don't want to be a line cook because you get the "this isn't Top Sous Chef" treatment (Michael and Miguel, IIRC).

I think what is more telling is the rare person who DOESN'T want EC. That says something. But FOH is a different skill set. Fabio - great. Stephanie - decent. That both own(ed) their own places probably has something to do with that.

"Steph was FOH, won the challenge, and went on to win in the finale."---independent george

*I'm flashing my finger at my disclaimer.*
But yes, you are correct. And you prompted me to revisit the Top Chef archives. Thanks for nuthin'. That season, which I enjoyed very much at the time, looks paltry in hindsight talentwise. Stephanie, Bob's Big Blaise, and The Grouch versus a roomful of "characters". RW was just 3 vs 3(!) and Steph and Blaise(same team) won (of course), and a Stephanie-less finale was still technically do-able had my Curse struck. Certainly, Antonia's myriad noodle recipes could have sufficed in the face of Blaise's meltdown for one last episode, so you are right and I am wrong. And yet... I will work on a codicil exempting Bare-Bones RW from my formula and get back to you. :-)

"@BryanD, I think you are reading way too much into FOH."---anon man

That's what I tend to do. I grant myself the whole day off on TC days and figure ways to string out the TC Experience. I gussy my angles up in Logic so I don't feel like such a dill weed while doing it.

"I think what is more telling is the rare person who DOESN'T want EC."---anon man

It certainly is when the choice of EC is an obvious one and the obvious choice demurs. True.

My weekly defense of Amanda:
Her two biggest crimes seem to be the cartilage in the galantine and the dry beef bourgogne.
The cartilage was mentioned by one person; a competitor who didn't like her and it didn't land her in the bottom. In fact, I thought it was a very nice presentation.
The dry beef was mentioned by one judge (Tom I think) and wasn't so bad that it landed her in the bottom three. Plus she knew exactly what was wrong and tried to fix it whereas the chefs who don't get that they could possibly do anything wrong (Kenny) tend to step on land mines without realizing it at some point.
So although she hasn't been wowing the judges I do think she is improving little by little as the competition goes on and she may just be hitting her stride.

BULLETIN: My final comment on this thread:

(Restaurant Wars has just occurred (in TV/Tivo time).)

I am hoping against hope that Top Chef has not just Jumped the Shark.

The editing (leading-on) contained in this RW episode was (in over-emotional teevee parlance) borderline criminal. What we saw is Not what we got.

When the ending is not illumined by what has been portrayed, then the entire construct must be questioned by Serious People/s/z.

NEVERTHELESS! I must cling to native Optimism in the face of an otherwise barren teevee schedule, and await with bated breath the expert appraisal of Dom du Skilletdoux, who I imagine is pissed.

(Just a guess.)

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