Friday, March 14, 2008

Top Chef - "Silly, Pretentious and Weak"

And Tony was only getting started.

Top Chef on Bravo

I really didn’t want to get roped into the new Top Chef season, especially from the beginning. These reality shows always start with 50 people and you have to remember too many names and stories and then by the end of the first episode half of them have left anyway. I would rather get involved further down the road, but someone asked me if I was going to be watching and I decided to check it out.

I had just read an interview with Padma and Tom. I was happy to learn that the ONLY thing the judges judged on was the food. They see none of all the nonsense that go on behind the scenes. All the shenanigans are for our benefit and they in no way impinge upon the outcome. I thought I remembered Tom in the kitchen occasionally in past Top Chefs, looking at what was going on and how the kids work together? Maybe not.

Anyway, they started at Pizzerino Uno in Chicago which led to a rather obvious, I thought, deep dish pizza challenge. I think that’s just dumb. The ability to make a deep dish pizza in no way signifies what kind of chef you are. In fact, it might just go the other way. I HATE deep dish pizza. I think it goes against everything that pizza stands for. The crust is bready, doughy and heavy and the filling is just gloppy.

There seems to be a surfeit of chefs from San Francisco. Two of them turn out to be a couple – Jen and Zoi. That partially explains the geographic density from that area.

Tom and the radiant Padma arrive and instantly send them into the kitchen for the deep dish pizza Quickfire Challenge. They have 90 minutes.

The contestants didn’t have to make the dough, which I would have thought might have been a legitimate test of their skills, but, of course. there was no time.

Okay, this is why I didn’t want to start watching. I have no idea who anyone is. Can’t they wear nametags?

After much pausing and rewinding, this is what they made.

Dale has a lot of energy and verve. I like him. He also is a sous chef from Buddakan (in New York, not Phillie), so I really liked him. His pizza: Sausage, pickled kohlrabi, scallions and sriracha sauce.

Valerie, nice Chicago girl: meat and potatoes pizza.

Manuel, a little full of himself. “Classically trained.” Eh! Who isn’t? Pizza with sopressata and rapini a la Siciliana.

Nikki, a nice New York girl, who doesn’t like deep dish pizza. You go girl! White pie with comté, ricotta and pecorino cheeses and mushrooms.

is a Kiwi. He's really proud of himself for bringing Marmite. Doesn’t he know that Yankees think that’s really nasty? Pizza with chicken, zucchini and marmite “molasses”. Who calls it THAT?

Antonia, slightly brazen Italian. I like her chances. Pizza: burrata cheese, prosciutto, arugula and heirloom tomatoes.

Richard made peach taleggio pizza with sweet tea sauce. I don’t know what that means.

Spike” or Evangelos, Greek and cocky, but I bet he can cook. Pizza a la Grec: onions, feta cheese, olives and sausage.

from New York. Pizza with Asian BBQ sauce, and duck. AWESOME! I like the sound of that.

One of them, don’t ask me which one, doesn’t grab a pizza pan fast enough and so he had to make his deep dish pizza in a cast iron frying pan. I think that is a good idea. Various pies get unmolded pretty badly, but it turns out not to matter, because they only have to present 2 single slices.

More pies and contestants are introduced during the actual judging.

Stephanie, Pizza with melon tomato sauce (no, thank you) prosciutto, olives and arugula.

Ryan, pizza with escarole, ricotta salata and butternut squash.

Andrew, pizza with smoked marinara (interesting), prosciutto, onion and cheese.

Jennifer, Harvest Pizza, with grape, bacon, fontina and rosemary. My favorite by a mile. I LOVE her choice of ingredients.

Nimma, Hunter Style Pizza with mushrooms, onions and stracchio cheese. Yuck. Looked bad and the judge said “missing salt”.

Please don’t ask me which pizzas Erik and Zoi made. I completely lost track…

The contestants bring their pizzas to this big house, which they think is the house of the judge. The guest judge turns out to be Rocco DiSpirito. Rocco is not one of my favorites, but he does seem a bit more sincere these days. Maybe the former Mrs. Eddie Murphy is having a good effect on him.

And, by the way, don’t these chefs know anything? Rocco doesn’t live in Chicago. The house is, of course, the big gorgeous house that they’ll be living in while on Top Chef.

The results of the Quickfire:
The losers- Andrew, Steph, Manuel, Lisa, Nimma, Valerie, Nikki and Zoi.
The winners – Richard and Mark (they LIKED the marmite).

On second thought, is it possible that this challenge was a good idea because it gave them a blank canvas on which to work?

Then it's on to the elimination, which is so friggin’ complicated. Each non-losing chef picks one losing chef. The losing chefs pick a classical dish from a list that each has to make. So each individual in the pair cooks the same dish, with their own spin to it, as they compete against each other.

The last two to choose, Zoi and Erik (what is it with unconventional spelling…unless Erik is from Norway…) had to cook soufflés, which the whole crew was nervous about.

Richard and Andrew made crab cakes. Richard (with spiky hair, that’s how I remember him) was going to town adding all kinds of exciting elements. Smoked mayo? What is that and how is he going to do that? He pulls out a miniature electric(!) smoker and smokes the spice, ras el hanout, for the mayonnaise. THAT is wild.

Antonia and Nimma made shrimp scampi. Nimma’s a completely depressive personality. How can her food be happy? She’s marinating the shrimp in PARSLEY. Huh?

Ryan and Valerie do chicken picatta. Jen and Nikki have to make lasagna. Nikki is making her own pasta, including making it by a hand on a big board. That’s impressive, but is she crazy?

Mark and Steph’s dish was duck a l’orange.

Dale and Manuel: steak au poivre.

The judges enter… Tony!!! Yay! He is so charismatic. I want to see him bitchslap Rocco. They ARE sitting at opposite ends of the table. Darn, Tony’s on his best behavior today!

Mark loses to Stephanie in the duck battle, although the judges like both. Tony particularly liked Steph’s.

They like both renditions of crab cakes with the win going to Richard. Too bad, Andrew.

Spike and Lisa’s Eggs Benedict go over well. Because they HAD to pick a winner, it was Lisa.

Valerie beats Ryan by a hair, with neither of them satisfying the judges with their knowledge of Chicken Picatta.

Zoi beats Erik in the weird name spelling category as well as with the soufflé. Neither of theirs resembles a classic soufflé. The judges are very unforgiving. Rightly so, most people know NOT to add potatoes TO a soufflé, as Erik did.

Dale beats Manuel. The judges didn’t care about his Mexican spin to the dish.

Antonia beats Nimma, which wouldn’t have been hard. I don’t know if Nimma was overcompensating for the lack of salt in the pizza, (NOONE mentioned that, strangely), but her shrimp scampi was inedible. Okay, if she doesn’t go home, this whole show is a sham. Her pizza was bad, her shrimp couldn’t be eaten, what part of that says she deserves to stay in the competition?

Goodness, just listen to me. I hate competitions. I want everyone to win. I think they should turn off the clocks, give them an unlimited budget and days to wander around a farmer’s market and then see what they can do. This is like believing that the SAT measures future success. The only thing it measures is how well you take a test, THAT test. Sorry…back to…

Nikki and Jennifer. The judges liked both lasagnas. But, for some inexplicable reason, Jennifer didn’t cook the rutabaga (WHY, Jenn, WHY?) The fact that Nikki made her own pasta was very impressive, so she walked away with the win.

The chefs face the judges. This really is so queer. They look like a firing squad (if they weren’t sitting). And the overall winner is…Stephanie, a loser in the Quickfire round, but her duck reigned supreme.

The overall losers were Ryan, Erik, Nimma and Mark. Rocco knocked Erik for the strange addition of potatoes to his soufflé. Erik said, “I made glorified nachos. I’m not proud of it.” Tony was amused.

Nimma made excuses, “The plastic wrap wasn’t as tight as I usually have it.”
?!!?! That doesn’t excuse making it so salty it could barely be tasted. Tony was being kind when he said, “It was a weak dish.”

Mark’s duck was “silly and pretentious” to Tony. And Ryan’s dish was not only improperly made, Rocco called him dense (to the other judges).

Okay, there’s no question. It should be Nimma to go home. And it’s…Nimma. “Please pack your knives and go.” Isn’t there a more gracious way of saying it?

Nimma’s upset because now “no one will know I’m a very good cook.” I looked at her bio on the Bravo website. SHE went to the CIA? It really didn’t show. This is her interview video. She’s positively gorgeous, but not particularly fascinating talking about food.

I dunno, it was pretty good show. I didn’t want to commit, but now I may have to. I wish they’d get rid of 7 or 8 of them quickly, so we could cut to the chase much faster. This thing isn’t actually 16 weeks long is it? Oy!

A year ago today...The Contessa Goes Fearless and French


Lys said...

I watched it and it was intriguing. OK - it was 3:00 a.m. and the minute I saw Tony Bourdain - I watched it to the end. Yes, I think they chose the right one to go off - but I could watch paint dry I think if Tony Bourdain is narrating it *LOL*

He was especially toned down tho this time. I'm not a fan of the Rocco.

Cynthia said...

You are awesome. We don't get BRAVO on cable here but I did watch the very first season when there were re-runs on one of the other channels.

I will be following the show through your blog and thank you for do this!

Deborah Dowd said...

Thanks for the synopsis. I love this show when it gets down to about 10, but you need a program at this stage. But the addition of Tony Bourdain must be something to see!

Emiline said...

Ha- I'm so stupid. It was me that asked you. I just opened a link to my own blog.

YAY!!!!!!! I'm so excited that you reviewed this. PLEASE do it again.

I prefer thin crust. I like all pizza though.

Nimma made me so mad! You're on TOP CHEF! Have fun! Play some pool, drink some beer.
Also, she needs to learn to season her food.
Cauliflower scramble=bad.
She went to CIA?

In the beginning, the show is not that great, but at the end, it's addictive!

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I'm impressed that you were able to take all of this in and write it down. Props to you. Now I don't have to watch it.

I like Top Chef, but I can't really get into following it through from beginning to end. I do love watching the creative process though.

Chicago pizza? Yuck. However one of them did use sriracha...

Sue said...

Hi Lys,
Tony didn't get that much face time, which was a shame. I hated Rocco after that most ill-advised show, The Restaurant. (I always liked Mama, but not Rocco) He is a bit calmer now, though.

Hi Cyn,
Oh no, I hope I can keep up. If it really does go on forever, I may miss one or two, but now I want to know what's going to happen to them, even though it'll be weeks before I remember who's who.

Hi Deborah,
Welcome! You are so right. Spikey hair really helps, but there are only 2 with it this time.

Tony is really magnetic. We need to see more of him. And yet I can never remember when his show is on. I really have to.

Yes, Em,
See? I'll do anything you say. And you were only casually asking...

You CAN'T like deep dish pizza. It's gross.

Yup, Nimma was bad. Cauliflower scramble = instant ticket outta there.

Thanks Rachel,
We'll see how long it lasts.

I know you love sriracha, I thought of you when he (don't ask me which one, Dale?) used it. It's much easier to watch when they're not so many unfamiliar faces. I do best with 2 or 3 strangers.

Tracy said...

Wow, what a thorough review of my favorite food show! I feel like a total slacker. Frankly, I don't bother learning names for the first several weeks. I remember people as "the guy with the curly hair" etc.

I thought the deep-dish pizza challenge was a good one, but obvious. The chefs should have been ready to make one -- dough included. There were so many ways they could go with it.

By the way, the really good deep-dish pizzas I've had (having grown up just north of Chicago) aren't bready and doughy. But I agree that they are heavy. I prefer crispy thin crust pizzas, but I do enjoy a good deep-dish pizza once in awhile when I'm in Chicago.

Sue said...

You're right. If they're gone at the end of the hour, what was the point of noting the 17 ingredients they used in their dish that week? I just can't help myself.

I'm definitely unfair to deep dish pizzas. But, really, maybe they're not doughy, but wouldn't you say they're bready?