Saturday, February 26, 2011

Top Chef Southern Style

It's the eternal Top Chef debate: should the judging take past performance into account? The show was developed by the same people as Project Runway with its "one day you're in, the next you're out" mantra and the judges have been very staunch, for 8 seasons now, in judging each challenge on its own. But does this really leave us with the best chef in the end?

I can't argue with many of the winners so far, but there's a side effect to this: the chefs hanging around by just not being the worst each week. The most egregious example of this was Lisa from season 4 who made it to the finale after being in the bottom group 5 of the last 6 eliminations. And in this All-Star installment with many of the chefs being people who supposedly left too early during their original just seems kind of ridiculous that Mike and Tiffany, who have both yet to win an elimination challenge are still in the competition while Angelo and now Dale are out.

I don't know if I really have any good suggestions to improved the judging but as a TV viewer who obviously can't taste the food myself, I can't not think about cumulative performance. When a chef is repeatedly in the bottom three...shouldn't that mean something? Towards the middle of the season I was pretty excited because it seemed like there were so many contenders for the title. But now I don't think I'd be happy with any winner except Richard. I love Carla and Antonia has surprised me by actually being memorable but it wouldn't feel right to have either of them win over Richard unless he has another meltdown.

This week's challenges were Southern-themed thanks to guest judges Paula Deen and John Besh. Paula Deen presided over, what else, a deep frying Quickfire challenge. Antonia either forgets or doesn't have time to plate a second dish and is disqualified even though Paula wanted to give her the win, Richard can't resist using liquid nitrogen again and makes fried mayonnaise, and Mike wins with a stolen idea from Richard? I didn't like Mike very much during his original season because he was always making these slightly offensive comments but this time around I'd been kind of dismissing him as just being a loudmouth. But I don't know, this move was pretty suspect. A chicken "oyster" served in an oyster shell is pretty dang specific and Mike himself admits that he got the idea from Richard's notebook. I don't know about "chef law" or whatever, but this was definitely not cool.

For the elimination challenge, the chefs have to cater a benefit party for fisherman displaced by the Gulf oil disaster. In a fun but not particularly meaningful twist, their proteins come with a sous chef: a recently departed cheftestant. Tiffany complains about Marcel, Carla is shocked that Tre doesn't actually know Southern food, and Fabio and Richard reunite the bromance but there isn't too much drama there. Richard takes the win with an unusual snapper and pulled pork combination over grits and wins a trip to Barbados, to which he invites Fabio! On the bottom are Carla, Tiffany, and Dale. The judges have problems with all the dishes but deem Dale's to the be the worst, and just like that, one of the frontrunners is gone.

I'm disappointed. I was actually a fan of Angry Dale from season 4 but was really happy to see Not Angry Dale do so well this season. It's definitely a shame that he's gone but at least he got some redemption in terms of how he presented himself.

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