Wednesday, January 5, 2011

So, Who Do You Have On Your Fantasy Top Chef Team?

BE WARNED: There be spoilers ahead!

I don't have much interest in the very popular running and catching and throwing that most citizens of our glorious nation like so much. I am, however, entranced by competitive cooking. If I'm home, and have the TV on, I'm always happy to watch The Iron Chef (or its stepchild, The Next Iron Chef) or Chopped. I won't, however, watch that awful Gordon Ramsey yell at people. His show is far more about humiliation than cooking. I like food and I like watching people cook. I am severely domestically challenged, but I do enjoy cooking and wish I did it more often.

But enough about me. The crown jewel of competitive cooking shows is Top Chef. Currently, we are being treated to an All-Star version in which they have brought back some of the top competitors from previous seasons, and so far, it's been pretty fantastic. Since it's an All-Star tournament, everyone is strong. And Bourdain is back. And the challenges have been creative and interesting. We're 4 episodes in, 5 chefs have been eliminated, and it's fascinating viewing.

When I saw who was chosen to compete, my picks for final four were as follows.
  1. Richard
  2. Marcel
  3. Jen
  4. Angelo
That said, the pool of competitors is incredibly deep. There are fewer people I'm certain won't make the finals than otherwise. Honestly, coming in, the only chefs I'm pretty sure don't have a prayer are: Spike (he loses focus, and his decision making skills are pretty much non-existent), Fabio (he's just has no range. He sticks around, but rarely wins), Jamie (her food isn't that impressive. I think she's playing out of her league. And she's a total complainer.), Dale L. (I found the fact that he made it to the finals in his season baffling. Sticking around because you haven't lost is different from winning), Casey (I'm still completely prejudiced against her from the mis en place relay from her season when it took her 45 years to chop onions), and Stephen (he's just completely out of practice. He admits himself that he hasn't cooked professionally in years).

Everyone else, I thought, had a fair shot.

They've aired four episodes (the fifth airs tonight), and there's only been one major upset - But it was MAJOR. It knocked out one of my final four, probably the chef with the finest pedigree in the competition. In the second episode Jen went insane. Her food sounded lackluster, and she argued with the judges in a way that was slightly crazy. Colicchio admired her moxie (or so he said for the cameras), but honestly, she came off like someone who was unbalanced. And she was sent home. Jennifer! How? You were Ripert's sous chef at Le Barnadin! If this were a film contest, that's like if the person trained and chosen by Martin Freaking Scocese was out in the first round. Just shocking.

Elia, Dale L., Spike and Stephen are also gone (no real surprises there). I've found watching the women particularly interesting this season. Both Tiffany D. and Carla are competing very similarly to how they did the first time around. They both started off quiet, and then they began winning and winning and winning. Carla and Tiffany D. are also both lovely people and have similar styles: i.e. they cook fairly simple food that is often underestimated by the competition, but tastes incredibly good. Carla is also extremely adventurous and delightfully strange, and has won her first challenge. Tiffani F. is also impressing me. She was thought to be the "bitch" in season 1 (the famous "I'm not your bitch, bitch" comment was directed at her). She is doing well and is having a nice time and seems quite likable.

One of the things I've always liked about Top Chef is they never seem to choose their finalists on the basis of audience popularity, physical attractiveness or even ordinary likability. This is a show where a belligerent, thoroughly unlikable, physically unattractive lesbian can make it to the end. You have to love it. Many different races, all sexual persuasions, all different sizes (including the women!) are included. Top Chef might be the only place left on television where the women are allowed to be as chubby as the men and it's really no sort of issue. It's so refreshing.

Is it me, or has there been a lot of gnocci this competition? Also, now I want to learn how to braise things. And apparently, Colicchio has a new pork belly BLT at his new joint. Yum.

1 comment:

Timothy Nolan said...

Fabio's like the Don McLean of the chef corps... he's got one hit (gnocci for breakfast?) and he's gonna ride it until it just dies.

Jamie must go... now. You get the feeling that after several other former contestants (Remember Sam?) said "no, thanks" they finally got to her name on the list?

My final four was pretty similar, but I also had Spike as a dark horse... he seems to have come a distance since he was the goof with the hats... but, alas...

All that said, Marcel is winning this thing.