Top Chef Week Ten: KRAFT!, two less than successful restaurants, and a shoulder shrug of a send off.January 11, 2007
Amid commercials for other Bravo shows and obvious product placement ads – KRAFT! TOYOTA! KENMORE! – there was also a Top Chef episode (brought to you by, KRAFT! TOYOTA! KENMORE!) Ahem.
Tonight’s Top Chef episode was a depressing wake-up call for all would-be restaurateurs out there – particularly those contemplating opening a restaurant on 48 hours notice with $500 for food, $500 for dishes and $700 for decorating and with roommates that you marginally, or openly, despise. We saw our intrepid contestants fall on their faces as diners spilled their dissatisfaction on those fun comment cards that only wiseacres and dissatisfied patrons usually fill out. (Note to future restaurateurs: Reconsider comment cards.)
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, as usual. First, there was the QuickFire challenge, graced by a guest judge nearly as snarky as our own dear contestants. (Bonus: He, too, sported weird hair.) The chefs had 30 minutes to create a “snack” using KRAFT! products – mayonnaise, barbeque sauce and dressing. Obviously the producers had to cut out the intense eye-rolling that may have followed. (After all, these were the same contestants who found Friday’s cuisine completely foreign… now they’re eager to squirt barbeque sauce, mayonnaise and dressing on a “snack”?) Anyway, top offerings ranged from sauce-covered figs (Elia) to steak tartar (Cliff) to Po Boy with pickled peaches (Sam) to curried lamb kabob (Marcel). Michael’s overly cheesy crab-brie quesadilla and Ilan’s dry napoleon failed to impress.
Marcel and Sam won the contest and earned the honor of picking teams a la grade school kickball (an awkwardness that Marcel highlighted, obviously reliving painful memories). Marcel chose Elia and Cliff; Sam chose Michael and Ilan. Cliff, for his part, wasn’t happy – and recounted how many times he’d had an urge to slug Marcel. (Five.) Still, he went along, grimacing mightily.
(And to think, Cliff hadn’t even heard Marcel’s cringe-inducing rap at the opening of Top Chef. It took all our willpower not to exercise a clicker finger during that skin-crawling display. Had Cliff heard it, the total number of would-be blows to Marcel would definitely be six. At least.)
The teams endured the aforementioned task of coming up with a restaurant concept and opening with at least three dishes for patrons in a matter of hours. After toying with a Mediterranean restaurant, Marcel’s team switched gears when Elia suggested an up-scale diner. Sam’s all-male team went with an Italian restaurant cutesily named for a combination of all their honeys’ handles. Lala… something.
To sum up: The food at both places was marginal. The service – fronted by Ilan and Cliff, respectively – was poor. At the up-scale diner restaurant, the judges were made to wait 20 minutes for an undercooked amuse bouche chicken wing. At the Italian restaurant, they were denied wine (there wasn’t any), made to look at a spit-up olive pit on the table, and subjected to a dessert of watermelon with blue cheese sauce. Noses wrinkled, and judges decided that there was no winner tonight.
As all six contestants were made to face the chopping block, the pickings winnowed to Sam, Cliff and Michael. Ultimately, Michael – who had failed to spend an extra $100 at the supply store – was sent packing. And despite the dramatic music being piped in, it all seemed somehow anticlimactic. Were our brains dulled by the onslaught of product placements and ads for The Real Housewives of OC? Or is our interest in the show merely waning? We’d consider it more… but… yawn.
TOYOTA! KENMORE! KRAFT! Alright! We’re awake!
Are they setting up Marcel to be the show’s grand anti-hero?
Husband: I like this question if for no other reason than we can give him a nickname and tights. Really, it’s why I made the question up. I think it’s obvious that our junior Wolverine has become Foam Boy. I do think producers might be casting him as sympathetic so they don’t get hate mail at the end of the show. I think Marcel hurts these efforts when he tries to rap. People need to learn: Don’t rap or sing in front of a camera unless you are a professional. Even if Marcel isn’t the focus of producers’ schemes, it appears he might have the chops to continue being a compelling focus for the show.
Wife: I don’t know whether Marcel is an anti-hero… “Foam Boy” sounds more like a side kick to “Gelee Man.” But I know that I’m getting bored and tired of the drama surrounding him. Most of the conflicts come across as incredibly immature; mostly I wish could tell the contestants to grow up. (This is why I don’t normally watch reality shows.) I’ve moved from disliking Marcel, to feeling sorry for him, to not giving a whit about him, to really, really wishing I had never seen him rap.
Are we shocked about Michael?
H: Yes and no. I’m only surprised because last week the show went the same direction when Betty was kicked off. It had a great deal of drama, but none of it about the person who was kicked off the show. The reason I am not surprised is that it has become pretty clear that Michael, even if he’s not technically the least proficient, is not at a point in his life where he’s decided how he’ll be as a chef and leader. I don’t doubt that he’s a very good cook. I just think when you see the presentation and flavors from the others, it’s clear he is not there yet.
W: I’m not shocked that Michael was booted, but I’m sorry to see him go. His head down, hands in pockets, “Aw shucks” smile at the end is the reason why I ultimately grew to like him (after mocking him – a lot), and probably the reason he was also kicked off. He was a sheep among mini-Wolverines (and mini-Wolverine haters.)
Why were people drawn to the Italian restaurant over the diner?
H: I don’t know myself. I love me a good burger and find that there is a great deal out there in this realm of food. I might be biased because I cook a great deal in this area. But a true burger that modifies the standard and brings in new flavors and elements would have had me in a second. I also have this bias about Italian food. I love Italian food, especially pasta. Just look at the number of dishes we’ve posted with pasta here. But my personal take is that most Italian requires a limited set of skills to execute well. There are things at the fine dining end of the spectrum I’m not talking about. Italian is something I eat when I want to eat. If I want to go out and experience food, I typically don’t eat Italian.
W: As is every red-blooded American’s right, I like diner food, too. But I think the customers were all about boozing – let’s face it: they didn’t pay money to eat at those “restaurants” — and an Italian joint was bound to have wine, right? Wrong. That factor probably resulted in some pretty nasty comment cards. Plus, people want more bang for their free food – and no doubt Italian sounded fancier.
Who do you think is going to win? Who do you think is next off?
H: This is a lot harder then last week. Sam and Cliff let me down… consider Cliff’s sour demeanor and Sam’s watermelon fiasco. I’m not sure if Elia has the chops to carry it out, but she appears to be the person minimally affected this week. So I’m going to go with her. My next off is going to be Ilan. It’s crunch time and Ilan is young and is not showing the initiative that appears to be the sort of thing they are rewarding. I also think his jabs at Marcel are setting him up for a big embarrassing kick off. We shall see. Heck, I could make arguments for all of them at this point!
W: After being on the fence about Elia, she has definitely grown on me. And relative to the other contestants she seems insanely reasonable. My once favorites Ilan and Cliff are continuing to fall in my estimation: Cliff, because he seems more and more like a jerk; Ilan for his immature obsession with picking on Marcel. At this point, it’s hard to have a stand-out favorite… and I won’t shed a tear for most of the contestants should they face the chopping block.
So who do you think is the winner? The next off? And did this episode finally feature food or were we just imagining it?