Not to take a page from Jordan Baker, but come on, she can’t be the only who’s obsessed with Top Chef. I think it’s fairly obvious to anyone who knows me even at the most superficial level that I’m fascinated by reality TV. Granted, I watch more than the average American, but I also tend to be a bit of a snob – why be any different than my normal life? I try to watch some of the upper echelon of shows, such as The Amazing Race, Survivor, Project Runway, and my current favorite, Top Chef.
This season seems to be a marked change from last year’s already. I’m sure I’m not alone in noticing that it seems as if there are around 4 or 5 incredibly talented contestants this year and a shit ton of cannon fodder. I’ve decided on a few favorites, and they surprise me based on my horrendously ill-informed pre-season judgments. So far, I’m definitely into Stephanie, Richard, and Ryan, with Antonia starting to grow on me. But this season has more douchebags than ever, and I think the real fight for the highly coveted and contested appellation of Biggest Tool is being fought rather bitterly by Andrew (Douche 1) and Spike (Douche 2). However, one can’t dismiss Dale – it’s as if Ilan and Hung had angry sex and produced this unholy bastard, who stole last season’s lovable Dale’s name just to make the end result that much more horrific.
Anyway, this episode was the fourth and at this point, you would expect real personalities to be fleshed out. And yet, as Lisa walked on screen, my roommate yelled, “Who the fuck is that?!” Seems as even though we’ve had three episodes to meet these people and get rid of almost 25% of them, some of these contestants have no background whatsoever. Which, to be honest, is totally valid. Characters like Spike, Richard, and Andrew have commandeered a lot of attention from the editors, and contestants like Jennifer, Antonia, and Lisa are all but invisible. SPOILER ALERT!!! Manuel barely had any kind of story arc before he was eliminated this week, save for maybe being the boring token Hispanic who seemed to always fall back on Mexican flavors.
So the episode starts off with what seems to me as an exceptionally subjective test – utilize your repertoire of techniques to impress one of the best French chefs out there, Daniel Boulud. Essentially, a lot of them basically showed off their knife and plating skills. Excuse me while I shoot myself in the face. I’m a waiter and I can cut better than some of these people. So Boulud picks Dale as the Quickfire winner and he’s assigned immunity/his pick of the Elimination teams. Padma moves on to the Elimination Challenge and it fucking rocks.
The chefs are told they’ll be catering a six course dinner for movie critic Richard Roeper (vom) and Aisha Tyler (nom). The best part about it is that they have to base their dish on their favorite movie. Unfortch, these guys have godawful taste in film, and almost every single team cheated. At least two separate teams picked a dish before they picked a film. Not to mention Ryan and Mark, who selected A Christmas Story – a movie Mark had never seen and Ryan couldn’t name. Technicalities aside, this was by far one of the best challenges I’ve ever seen, Top Chef or not. Here’s how the dishes went down –
First Course – EvilDale, Douche 1, and Richard. Essentially, they picked the theme of the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory before anything else was even decided, but they executed the imagination of the film so well that one can’t be too pissed. Smoked salmon and a tapioca faux caviar with (and this is genius) a wasabi white chocolate sauce. I love both of those things, and I remember this being a “What the FUCK?” moment for me, but apparently it went over quite well. Richard pushed his luck even further with some sort of pear celery foam drink to recall the Fizzy Lifting Drink that almost spelled doom for Charlie in the movie. It seems like Richard pulled this team through, but who knows how much of that is editing, since Andrew is almost universally hated by all human beings.
Second Course – Douche 2 and Lambuel. Spike, the second of the douches, destroyed Manuel’s shot at integrity by shooting down his ideas and declaring, “I’ve been cooking Vietnamese for awhile, so let’s just choose a shitty movie about Vietnam.” The thing is, just because you choose Good Morning ,Vietnam and told everyone you were making a summer roll doesn’t mean you’re actually making a summer roll. This shit has Chilean sea bass, a chili pepper rub, swiss chard, and some black bean monstrosity. Major douche points for this one.
Third Course – Nikki and Richard’s Lesbian Twin. These two were another team that kinda used a movie as an excuse to make some food. Since Nikki is so vehemently aggressive in her ethnic pride, Italian food was the only option, so these gals picked Il Postino. Thing is, it turns out their rustic tortellini with squash, cavolo nero, ricotta, peppercorn, and pecorino romano really wasn’t that bad. It just sucks that it wasn’t that great, either.
Fourth Course – Mark and Ryan. These guys can not come with up a movie to save their lives because it turns out that neither one really has any taste, and that whole “growing up in different countries” means they have vastly different backgrounds. They bicker back and forth over some truly horrible movies, and then Ryan gets someone else to remind him of the movie title for A Christmas Story. Eventually they settle on “that Christmas movie,” and flawlessly interpret the Asian dining scene with a braised quail breast with carrot puree and a quail spring roll with cranberry chutney. Lord, that sounds amazing. So props to them for not only coming up with great food, but really tying a movie one of them had never seen to their final dish.
Fifth Course – Zoi and Antonia. Okay, here’s the thing: Talk to Her/Hable Con Ella is an amazing film. I’m talking one of the best in Spanish cinema – it was directed and written by Almodovar. So what should we expect from these two? Bold flavors and colors. And that’s exactly what they promised. Except they didn’t so much follow through on that – rack of lamb with cauliflower and saffron puree? Pick some more bland items, please. The saffron wasn’t even noticeable on the plate, so why waste the money? This team probably let me down the most.
Sixth Course – Stephanie and Lisa. On the other hand, this team probably impressed me the most. While Stephanie is probably my favorite of the season and my first episode pick to win it all, Lisa has been…how do you say…a little of a nonentity thus far. If you really get down to it, they picked a beef/steak dish and THEN went after a movie with a cow scene. Seriously? Top Secret? Are you fucking kidding me? Except that this is probably the plate I wanted to devour the most. Two kinds of beef – short rib, braised, and a New York strip, with a caramel potsticker and two(!) different caramel sauces. How can you not be drooling over this dish? Leave it to Steph to be awesome, and I’m floored that such a horrible movie can come up with such an incredible dish.
The dishes came out, the guests of honor didn’t matter, and the judges deliberated. Why is it that Bravo tries to make it seem as if the people for whom the event is thrown actually matter when it’s proven every single week that the four judges are the only votes that count? Anyway, moving on to things that actually matter. Teams Richard and Stephanie are chosen as tops, and they’re taken into the judges’ room. Both are fawned over, but since Richard came up with the most innovative and forward-thinking aspects of his dish, he’s finally a winner in an elimination challenge. Overall, though, these were two incredible dishes. But for every winner there’s a loser, and this week Team Spike and Team Zoi get thrown in.
Turns out the judges didn’t like how Zoi and Antonia presented their food and thought that their story didn’t match up with their dish. However, no one really disliked their food, so the girls are safe. It’s basically either Spike or Manuel going home for the Vietnam fiasco, and since Spike ensures drama and Manuel didn’t man up and fight for more say in the dish’s execution, they sent him home. I find this to be odd logic, since you’d expect the douche who steered his teammate the wrong way would be sent packing, but it’s reality TV and we should expect a little but of producer manipulation at certain points.
Next week – some legit fighting, and Richard’s Lesbian Twin seems to be in the thick of it. Hotness.