'Top Chef' Needs More Cooking, Less Gimmicks
Last night’s episode of “Top Chef” was a sad indictment on the American educational system. The five remaining contestants were whisked away to the Bahamas where the remainder of the season will take place. After the Quick Fire Challenge, judge Tom Colicchio informed the group that Elimination Challenge would involve cooking for “Bahamian royalty,” and the chefs seemed genuinely excited at the prospect. After all, who wouldn’t be? Me.
Now, I’m not exactly a member of the foreign service, but when you start talking about a royal family for a country that’s 50 miles off the U.S. coast, it catches my attention. Shouldn’t I have heard of the King and Queen of the Bahamas at some point in my life? More importantly, how does a former colony in the Americas end up with their own king? Unfortunately, the chefs never thought to ask these questions, and went about preparing for their royal engagement, only to find out they’d been duped. There is no Bahamian royal family (GASP!), and the meal was for the “King of the Junkanoo” at a tiny restaurant. In short, they prepared a meal for royalty, but they ended up serving commoners.
Now, the fact that none of the five chefs knew that there is no king or queen in the Bahamas is bad. I hope maybe someone did, and it was edited out by the producers. But that's irrelevant. This is a cooking show, not a social studies class. Why should Antonia be punished because she didn’t pay attention in school? More importantly, what purpose did the trick serve? I know improvisation is an important skill for chefs, but there’s a difference between having to adapt to a situation and having to scramble because you were lied to. The entire situation may have been entertaining to watch, but at the end of the day, it didn't help in determining who is the better chef.
Throughout the season, the chefs have been asked to participate in numerous challenges that have had absolutely nothing to do with their culinary skill. For example, in episode 10, they were told to create a meal for the employees of a Target using only ingredients and cookware found in the store itself. Granted, this challenge had some redeeming value, as it showed the chefs ability to think outsid the box and work with ingredients on hand, but it was still disappointing to see Angelo go home for salty soup. Of course it was salty! All the food came from Target.
A similar example came from episode 12, when the contestants had to make a meal using only items from the Ellis Island ferryboat. When “Top Chefs” are reduced to boiling hot dogs and mixing popcorn with fruit, what does that prove? Nothing, but at least this was only a Quick Fire.
Perhaps the worst example was from episode 6, where the participants were split up into groups and taken out on chartered fishing tours in order to catch the meal they would be cooking that evening. Granted, it’s important for a chef to know his or her ingredients, but this was ridiculous. One’s ability to catch a fish does not reflect on one's ability to cook it. If someone had came up empty, would they have been sent home? That’s like sending Tom Brady home from the playoffs because he can’t kill a pig and tan it’s skin for a football. Apparently, the producers disagree, since the previews for next week's episode show the remaining chefs diving for shellfish. If I wanted to watch “Deadliest Catch,” I’d have DVR’ed “Deadliest Catch.” I want to watch “Top Chef,” damn it.
Sadly, when it comes to tricks and gimmicks, the contestants aren’t the only ones being set up. In episode 12, it was the audience who got punked. After sitting through an entire hour of nonsense involving family histories and personal journeys, the judges were “unable” to reach an agreement because all the dishes were so spectacular. Give me break. This culinary miracle just happened to take place on the most contrived, overly emotional episode of the season, when family members of each contestant were in attendance? How convenient.
From what I’ve read, there won’t be any double eliminations in the remaining episodes, which is strange. TV schedules are decided months in advance, but I suppose the producers and the network just said, “Sure, what the hell? We can do an extra episode on short notice. No biggie. Oh, now we’re flying five people to the Bahamas instead of four? Great!” Even if I’m all wrong, and I’m just being a cynical bastard (which is entirely possible), that’s no excuse. This isn’t the Special Olympics! They aren’t all winners. If they honestly all did that great of a job, do an elimination Quick Fire and send someone packing. If no one goes home, it’s no longer a competition, and I just wasted an hour of my time watching assholes cook for no reason. That’s what the Food Network is for. This is Bravo. I want blood!
People watch “Top Chef” because it’s smarter than its competitors, and it doesn't traffic in manufactured drama. I’m not going to stop watching anytime soon. And the fact that it’s taken eight seasons for me to get pissed off speaks volumes. Keeping a show fresh is difficult, and for the most part, the producers have done a spectacular job. But these recent gimmicks and pointless challenges aren’t going to do the show any favors in the long run. After all, the road to “Hell’s Kitchen” is paved with good intentions.
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