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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November 9, 2011

Top Chef - S9E2 Postmortem


Okay, I know, I know, I no longer live in Chicago. But when Chicago chefs go six for six in the qualifying round to take up thirty-eight percent of the bunks in the house, I get a little verklempt.

I'm a little late to the party here, so I think most has already been covered in the comments. Also, I'm trying to focus my time on getting the rankings going. So we'll keep this one brief, and I should have some substance for you shortly.



Great second episode and it looks like a pretty good mix of chefs/backgrounds. I'm not sure how I feel about these "Last Chance" webisodes yet though.

Did anybody else have an issue because TiVo has it listed as "Top Chef: Texas" instead of "Top Chef", thereby nullifying their season pass?

Anyway, the two people I picked at the start of the episode advanced. I'm really glad Grayson made it, as the major reason she was on the bubble to begin with was that someone else screwed up the butchery.

Once again, timing cripples one of the contestants. I'm kind of curious about the layout in Kitchen Stadium - how far did Chaz have to carry his rice to plate? Why didn't he just bring his timer with him so that he could see how much time he had left?

My favorite comment of the night was made by Edward -- "If they leave me in this room long enough I will kill the other 5 chefs" hahahahaha

saw both episodes at once: best way to do it, i guess. it was a pretty thrilling first two episodes. (i watched all of TC canada and wasn't all that excited by the prospect of season 9) the moment when tom tossed the arrogant asprino clone for his terrible butchering was ... shocking to me. i'm not sad the guy went, but i thought "okay, they mean business." and so they did. this second episode was just as good, for my money. i don't mind the two hours over two weeks at all, if the focus on food is going to be so steady.

i disagree that all three groups should have been given the same challenge and judges. first, it would have been boring to watch. second, this is a show about making the best of the situation/challenge. the guys who had twenty minutes to cook were, certainly, at a severe disadvantage, but ... that's the nature of the game. it IS unfair, all the way through. remember that hugh acheson was the first one tossed on his year of top chef masters. no reflection on his abilities as a chef, obviously. it's important to keep in mind that this is a game/competition. sometimes you roll 7 sometimes snake eyes. it's a vital part of the drama. i guess, i've made my peace with the drama ...

the best thing about the elimination format this year, to my mind: we go into episode 3 (which is really episode 1) knowing the chefs who've made it way more than we've known them in the past. i'm already more interested in all of their stories than i have been at the start of any previous season. yes, there's a real american idol vibe, but i also love the eliminations at the beginning of american idol. (glad simon's not a judge on TC, but lagasse looks so serious and dour, these last two shows, i'm wondering if he's the simon.)

go to say, though: god, i miss anthony bourdain...

Yeah, I was kind of rooting for Edward there in the end. Definite Fabio 'Chop it off and sear the stump on the flat top' ethos there. Some good looking food got made, and I really liked assigning different foods different cook times. Its pretty encouraging to see some real thought going into these early challenges. Its not a BS twist, but a solid, well thought out one. Well done Magical Elves!

It was a little surprising to me the shear number of contestants who were eliminated for failing to finish/plate in a timely manner (in both episodes).

I didn't like the format last night as much as I liked the one last week. Challenges with severe time limitations are always my least favorite. I'd rather see the chefs handicapped by obscure ingredients or themes rather than an absurdly short time span, which seems to stifle creativity rather then spark it.

The third group seemed to have more "lower-level" chefs than the other two. Maybe that was deliberate to make it easier to eliminate more from the last group should the need arise?

Does anybody remember which foods belonged in which group? I don't recall the specifics, but I remember thinking last night that the 20-minute group might have actually had it the easiest.

I definitely didn't care for this elimination challenge as much as the other two, nor did I care for most of the chefs. Was very sad to see the Austin chef on the bubble leave because he did too much (I didn't even see the panna cotta happen!). And was glad to see Grayson get a chance to redeem herself since her original dish was butchered (not in a good way) by someone else.

Overall I'm interested to see how this season plays out.

Did anyone watch Tom's webisode thing? How is that going to work, I wonder?

I remember the trout was in the 20 min group. I don't remember what other dishes were in that group. Maybe the octopus? I do remember that the 40 min group had at least two braised dishes- oxtail and something else? I was shocked that risotto was in the 40 min group. It does not 'take all night' to cook a risotto. It takes twenty damn minutes if your mis is well prepared. I grant you that there are some risotto preparations that take longer due to the time it takes to prepare various components, but the actual cooking of the rice it's self is reasonably quick.

I thought the time limits were actually a great equalizing factor. It allowed enough time to cook a dish simply but well. Those proteins that take longer to cook got more time, but you notice that the longer time did not necessarily equal more success. This struck me as a well balanced challenge.

I have to admit, I was holding my breath when the chef with the glasses started fiddling with the pressure cooker to get it open. I wanted to scream, "Put it in the sink - it's locked for a reason!" Fortunately, someone else told her to do just that.

Would that have been a good time for the producers to step in for safety? Slicing off your hand is one thing - exploding a gallon of superheated liquid seems to be a whole different level of dangerous.

Another great episode. Speaking of changes to this years protocol, Did Padma always have a vote? I thought she just ate, found odd bits of shell, bone and other detritus in her food, and looked at nervous people with a well-balanced mixture of condescension and disdain before crushing their dreams.

I agree that the time differential in the final group's challenge made sense. This was not random, but rather tied to the time required to cook the assigned ingredient. I like a risotto cooked longer than 40 minutes, but the time is a preference not a requirement. I have often cooked it myself in half an hour after working a 10 hour day and driving multiple carpools, so it should be a snap when the cook is well-rested. That dude just lost focus. (I also don't understand why having a wife of Italian descent was thought by the chef to be the lynchpin in his certain win, but that is a different topic.) All the challenges were smart, none were gimmicky, and all called on skills which will be necessary to excel during the remainder of the season. I usually don't really get invested until the 5th or 6th episode, but I am already all in. Hats off to the Elves.

Narshkite- The more I think about my last post, the more I think I overreacted. It's not 'shocking' that they gave 40 min to prepare risotto. He had to do his prep, cook all the components, cook the rice and plate. I can see that taking forty minutes. Like you said, it was the lack of focus that did him in.

Where is everybody? I'm used to waking up to 100 comments the morning after.

Speaking of changes to this years protocol, Did Padma always have a vote?

She always had a vote, but EC judging has always been consensus based as opposed to voting. This was different because each contestant faced a 3-judge panel instead of 4, and the outcome was based on a vote instead of consensus. Padma was basically a tiebreaker in this round - if Tom & the guest agreed, then her vote was superfluous.

I encourage everyone to watch the Last Chance Kitchen mini online; it looks like it'll be a great addition to the show. The format is a single elimination challenge, where the current "last person standing" goes up against the person who was eliminated each week, every week. Whichever one cooks a better dish in a quick-fire type challenge gets to be the new "last person standing". So, for the first week's winner, they'll have to beat 14-ish other defeated contestants, back-to-back-to-back, to get into the show. But the first episode (~7 minutes) was pure cooking, no gimmicks, Tom as the judge.

Thanks ZRD. I was wavering but I will check it out. And thanks IG, I somehow thought her opinion did not count before. Maybe that was just with me...

right ... i should have said in my post that i know these chefs better than i've known the others at the start of a season, except, of course, for season 8, where i knew everybody and, so, started from 60, instead of zero.

and ... some of you guys know i'm canadian (i hereby apologize for myself and for rampant beavers) so i wonder if one of you kindly and loving americans would be so kind as to tell me what the hell is up with the "last chance kitchen" thing. the video is "NOT AVAILABLE IN MY REGION", so i have no idea what's up or who won the challenge.

and also ... i still think having 20 minutes is a handicap, though obviously the protein was on the producers' mind when they assigned the time limit. the 20 minute limit means, whether you're so inclined or not, you've got to be simple. we've had this simple vs "refined" discussion over the years and i know there are good arguments for simplicity, but enforced simplicity is something else again.

All the TC Commandments were out last night.

1. Thou shall not make risotto.
2. Thou shall not overcook a protein.
3. Thou shall not do a duo.

Decent episoide. I was kind of hoping Laurent would make it.

Anon Man - the only one they missed was over-seasoning. Also, the duo counts for double (ha!) because it involved scallops.

Scallops. Scallops aren't so much a rule, but a danger zone. I'm not sure if Paella deserves its own commandment or is a subset of risotto.

Last night's show is a bit of a blur. I was glad to see Edward rebound from being put on the bubble as well as gashing his hand. He said a few things in the sidebars that made me think he would be cut. Usually when someone says how confident they are in something, it's foreshadowing his/her demise.

I'm read to look over the 16 contestants and get on the the show.

Scallop Paella?

Oh...I didn't like Edward's "Oh, you work on a cruise ship" comment, but the chef, I forget her name, carried that around on her sleeve, so maybe I can't get too mad.

I think Paul Qui looks like a competitor. I like the chefs that are calm and, generally, keep their heads down and cook. The chefs that go on and on about how getting a coat was the most important thing in their career -- sigh. I just hope we see some really good cooking without too much douchebaggery and grandstanding.

It seems like this season is the season where Top Chef borrows every last reality TV trope from the vault. These two episodes were straight out of American Idol, and Last Chance Kitchen is a pure ripoff of Survivor's "Redemption Island" concept. So, I really want to hate both ideas...

But damn it, they're both really good ideas and I can't deny them. The winnowing of half the contestants gets rid of the worst producer mistakes and gives us a solid field full of chefs who belong. The Last Chance Kitchen turns the show into a double elimination event, which offers a small buffer against the "one mistake can send the best chef home" effect.

Oh...I didn't like Edward's "Oh, you work on a cruise ship" comment, but the chef, I forget her name, carried that around on her sleeve, so maybe I can't get too mad.

Matthew - I had the same reaction, but what cracked me up about it was that Edward had just talked about wanting to represent Louisville and prove he wasn't any less of a chef for not being in New York.

I take all of that stuff with a grain of salt - everyone is tries to categorize themselves as an outsider and an underdog. It's the standard, "They don't respect us! They don't believe in us!" trope every sports fan has heard a thousand times already.

That said, I suspect that ther might have been a little editing trickery in that exchange - he said the words, but there's a good chance that the the actual exchange wasn't nearly as condescending.

Re: The Last Chance Kitchen, have they announced how they're eventually integrating it into the show?

Ideally for me, it would work like the second chance QF/Elim we saw in Season 5. In other words, the last LC Kitchen person would go to the finale location with a chance to get back in, but only if he WON the Elimination Challenge (If he came in 2nd, he was eliminated).

That way it's fair to the other chefs and the importance of avoiding Last Chance Kitchen is still big - (Also, so we don't have a chef who missed most of the season's challenges - such as restaurant wars - suddenly showing up).

Remember, it's not quite double elim....while it's double elim for those who get eliminated before the last chance kitchen is over, when the LCK is over, the remaining contestants don't get a second chance.

So, for the Canadian fan, Last Chance is basically a little mini online eppy where whoever just got booted gets the chance to live on. So, the last two (sorry, I've forgotten everyone's names) went head to head in a pizza fight, and Andrew(?) won. Now he'll go up against whoever gets booted next eppy.

This will go on until the finals. With the winner of the Last Chances getting a shot at the finals.

I'm digging it. It's a really good way to deal with (Insert name of fabulous Chef) had an off night/developed the flu/oversmoked his potatoes, and died an early and ignominious death. Now, if he can beat everyone from his elimination on, he can get into the finals.

Just as I suspected, the final group was expected to yield less contenders than the other two. In these terms, it was less interesting as an episode for me – since an inordinate amount of time was spent on non-contenders. So here is where, for me, the splitting of the premiere into two episodes yielded less dramatic/interesting results than the first installment. (I still like the idea behind the premiere challenge; it just needs to be fine-tuned/tinkered with.) The initial Power Rankings will be interesting since we've had a small preview of each of the finalists and what they can do (and how they handle the pressure, etc.).

"I disagree that all three groups should have been given the same challenge and judges […] it would have been boring to watch"

Well, I agree with the later (and said as much last week) – but the point at which the producers become primarily concerned with keeping the audience entertained, over creating a (reasonably) fair competition, would signal the show's decline in my view. Yes, it is the nature of the game that someone good can go out early. But I would point out that – not counting Top Chef Masters or Top Chef All-Stars – there has never been an instance where a contender was eliminated in the first episode; or anywhere near the first episode. The producers task is obviously to create scenarios where contenders end up on the bottom, and are threatened with elimination, while also ensuring that there are enough second tier competitors who, in the early stages of the competition, can (and will) be sacrificed in the place of the contenders. An early-round, or even middle-round challenge, in which all the competitors were given different parameters, and which would result in a contender getting cut, might create initial buzz/interest, but it would have disastrous consequences over the long haul. So I respectively disagree with your comments.

I really liked this new opening. Love that they were able to sort of squish out the chef's who would've muddied the waters later. Interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out.

Colicchio did not like that french guy Laurent, it didn't matter what he cooked the second time, he was not going to make it through.

The elimination of the Austin chef did establish that the "making one dish too many gets you sent packing" rule trumps the " cooking mussels equals victory" rule. Good to know.

I liked Tom telling Janine to try and come back next year.

Just watched Last Chance Kitchen. For drama, can't be beat. Gives an eliminated chef a chance to overcome that one bad night.

Perhaps a distraction from the regular show though. Also not sure I want to watch a video on top of the show in another location. When I tried to watch Wednesday night it never would open; I presume from so many others trying to view.

There's going to be a lot more viewer tension this year, I think. Although it's still really early, the "cook-offs" got rid of some chaff that bogged down early shows in previous seasons when the series was a marathon, not a chain of sprints.

I doubt there will be many times this year where someone survives "because they aren't the worst."

Even without the "cook-offs" I think the caliber is much higher this year. I'm looking forward to the whole season.

Ok, I'm watching it over again - it breaks down like this

20 minutes: Lamb, Mushrooms, Trout
40 minutes: Brussels Sprouts, Duck, Risotto, Short Ribs
60 minutes: Octopus, Oxtail, Veal

The only thing I think should have been flipped were the brussels sprouts and the lamb; I just don't see how 40 minutes for brussels sprouts makes sense.

"But I would point out that – not counting Top Chef Masters or Top Chef All-Stars – there has never been an instance where a contender was eliminated in the first episode; or anywhere near the first episode."

you mean by "contender" someone who might have won the competition if they had gone on? i'm afraid i don't see how you know this. your assessment of those who were eliminated early is likely low BECAUSE they were eliminated early. circular argument. you haven't tasted the food of all the early eliminated chefs, have you? also, the reverse - the idea that no "bad" chef has ever made the finals - is just as untenable. (even putting lisa fernandes aside)

i assume - as is shown by the two episodes we just watched - that the chefs chosen for each season all have talents. the question is: do their talents stand up to the stress that is this competition? some do - not necessarily the "best", i'd bet - and some don't - and those who don't are not necessarily the "worst".

your feeling that the producers protect the "best" chefs until the later rounds may or may not be right. but the idea that the show will be in decline if the competition gets unfair is, for me, wrong. in fact, from the very first season on, there have been instances any fan would point to as "unfair". (is it "fair" to make a vegan chef cook pork? do you suppose the vegan chef is lousy because he can't cook pork? if cooking a protein is the sine qua non for winning Top Chef, why allow a vegan chef in the competition in the first place? is that "fair"?)

i know a lot of viewers believe the producers drive the eliminations on this show. collichio has repeated said that's not the case. me, i'm agnostic. but i really don't think "fair" has much to do with what makes Top Chef a good show.

elise: the canadian thanks you.

If nothing else these first two episodes will prevent completely non-competitive early episodes. The last several seasons have had 3-4 episodes to start where they had to take out some seemingly god awful chefs while the contenders just basically played it safe. S5 and S7 were exceptionally poorly casted in that way.

One other thought on this new method: it also weeds out cooks who can't handle time pressure or who don't cook in a way that fits the show. Remember Stephen from the DC Season? He was always in the bottom, and eventually he got booted, but was actually fairly accomplished. Bio says he's the EC at one the Vegas MGM places, and has worked with Trotter, Keller. During the reunion show, he admitted that he conceives dishes by trial and error. Tom admitted that there are plenty of chefs who cook like that, but they aren't chefs who are likely to do well on the show. Why waste space on people who are perfectly good cooks, but not really cut out for this competition?

I think the reason the risotto guy lost track of time was that nobody was shouting it in that group. In fact right before that someone was sort of mumbling that there were 2 minutes left. I don't know if it was strategy or not, but I think the fact that nobody was shouting time screwed him. Of course it is his responsibility, but it seemed unusual to me.

last chance kitchen seems to pit the current off chef versus the prior week last chance kitchen winner with a re-entry slot somewhere deep in the season. So for anyone to emerge from the early episodes they would need to win upwards of 7 head to head challenges. Seems a useless diversion.

nom(3): LCK might be a useless diversion, but i can imagine it being very interesting. for instance, if the same chef keeps winning, it'll create a tension (will she? won't he?) and teach us about the chef who gets a shot at the finale. in fact, if the same chef keeps winning, we might know more about him/her than we do about the finalists.

(plus, how great is it that L(i)CK is a sub-category of Top Chef?)

Well I never said the latter – and I agree about L.F. But I find your confusion about what one means by "contender" strange. After all, isn't this the whole point of Dom's Top Chef Rankings? My point is simple: how many times has someone ranked #1 (or even #2) in these rankings actually gone home in the opening round, or round two, or three... etc.? I would venture to say: never. Yes, there is always the possibility that this could happen. (And I won't say it will never happen.) But it isn't to the benefit of the show for this to happen – and if for no other reason than because they want high-caliber chefs to compete on the show, and this is likely to be true if the show is not seen as being based primarily in talent/skill.

I do think that there is a difference between Good Chef and Top Chef Contender. Some perfectly good cooks do not do well in this kind of competition. I seem to recall that one of the TC Masters said at one point that the time constraint was a real problem for him, because he invented new things iteratively, and having to do it in one step meant he could not balance things right.

What I like about this new setup is that the people in the house both have good cooking credentials AND have demonstrated that they can cook restricted challenge food under time pressure. I also liked that the decisions did not seem to be based on anything at all other than what was on the plate.

Desperate for some power rankings. Not easy to get my TC fix here in Australia.

"But I find your confusion about what one means by "contender" strange..."

actually, i now have less sense what you mean by "contender". if you mean by "contender" someone whom DOM has highly ranked at the start of the season, i think you should look again at his initial rankings and at the results. much as i appreciate dom's work and intuition, a (small) number of his early high ranking chefs have gone out early. (ponytail guy in season 7 (john somerville) comes quickest to mind.)

yes, towards the middle of a season, dom's guesses get better, because he knows the chefs better, but your point is a little vague to me. (sorry.) the difference between a good cook and a good competitor/game-player is one of the things that make TC interesting. i think we can assume that they're ALL good cooks (especially from season 4 on) but the mystery is who is going to be good at the game. that's why i wrote i had made my peace with the game, though i came to Top Chef initially for the culinary thrills.

as i mentioned, collichio repeatedly says that the producers don't control the decisions. i tend to believe him. it seems clear that the good COMPETITORS get ahead, and that IF the producers are protecting anyone, it's the good competitors, not necessarily the good cooks. (there's no other reason for lisa fernandes getting to a final.)

i imagine chefs - high caliber or otherwise - compete on Top Chef for the exposure and the publicity, and the money. (in that order, i bet, but maybe not.) Even an early exit gives you more profile than not being on the show at all. also, this many seasons in, it's probably universally understood that an early exit does not mean the chef is "poor" or inept. (john somerville mentioned he didn't suffer too much.) so, there really isn't much downside to being on the Top Chef (except for the ego bruising of you go early).

"much as i appreciate dom's work and intuition, a (small) number of his early high ranking chefs have gone out early. (ponytail guy in season 7 (john somerville) comes quickest to mind.)"

Oh, sure. Two episodes into the season and ALREADY you had to bring that one up.


Even more recently, Jen Norris. Though in my defense, I don't imagine many expected her to go in episode two.

(Or did you just mean first to go?)

"Oh, sure. Two episodes into the season and ALREADY you had to bring that one up."

you got lucky, domenic! it was gonna be my lead item, but i did the decent thing: i waited til someone forced me to mention it! (in other words: blame Vncntdl ... just joking Vnctdl!)

but seriously: when one looks over your assessments through the years, you've been pretty damned good, even in your early picks. and on that score ... now that you've got the Top Chef part of Skillet Doux separated from the rest, any chance you could gather up the rankings and post mortems from the previous years and put them here, immediately accessible? i found myself wondering about some of our discussions from previous years and wishing i could get at them a little quicker. (if this is even a little trouble, never mind. it's just a quick thought.)

aaalex... I'd really like to move all of the Top Chef stuff over here, but I'm trying to figure out if there's some way to do so while maintaining the original URLs so links in still work. If that's not possible, I'll probably still do it (don't really care about traffic <-- Broken Record Department), but my more obsessive tendencies require that I at least give it a shot first.

Hi all! Check out this extended clip of Tyler receiving the boot from Tom:

So, correct me if I'm wrong, but since the LCK winner isn't (re)integrated into the main group, it'll be a surprise to the newly eliminated chef every single time? That's fun.

"It's a really good way to deal with (Insert name of fabulous Chef)had an off night"

Would have liked for Jen Carroll to have a second chance after they made her deal with hundreds of snot-nosed kids then made her stay up all night. Not everyone has the stamina to deal with these kind of adverse conditions and I really don't think the ability to be a Top Chef should hinge on having to perform at your best when you are sleep

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