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Top Chef Week Ten: KRAFT!, two less than successful restaurants, and a shoulder shrug of a send off.

January 11, 2007

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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?  

12 comments

  1. I feel like this week Cliff showed the least initiative and effort after Michael. I felt like Ilan managed to demonstrate some chops in all aspects of the restaurant, rather than just sitting back like some of the other managed to. How is it that every week everyone just seems to keep getting meaner and meaner. One thing you could say about Mikey is that he was actually nice, but sort of irritating.

    I am more captivated by the previews for next week in all honesty. It looks like a prank went down, and they were discussing the look of them. I wonder if it’s fist fights and black eyes, or if Marcel shaved off one eyebrow on everyone but Elia.


  2. I’m actually not sorry to see Michael go. But I have to say that there is no “top chef” for me at this point. Last season, Harold was clearly the favorite, clearly the best and someone you could in all good conscience root for. My feelings for all of this season’s contestants have rapidly been going downhill. My once favorites Cliff and Sam have now demonstrated, respectively, lack of personality and lack of professionalism. Ilan seems entirely immature. And Elia still is way too mousy. So I guess I don’t care who wins. And that isn’t a good place to be two episdoes from the finale.


  3. Okay, I have two questions:

    1.) How DID you manage not to switch channels?
    2.) Why were there no Kraft miniature marshmallows (even if those weren’t on the list) in any of the dishes?

    -Elizabeth


  4. I agree that last year Harold was clearly the winner and someone worth rooting for… this season’s cast is proving to be less popular with me. That said, my pick is Elia, if she can hold it together. I don’t know if she has the leadership skills, but then again, I am not sure anyone else left does either.

    I am nervous to see what they do to Marcel next week–the previews look scandalous. I don’t like Marcel, and I would be thrilled to see him go (that rap was horrific!), but the cast needs to grow up and just ignore him.


  5. Arrrggg.
    This group s hard to root for!

    I would almost agree with you about Elia, except I saw the bonus video from the party episode, and who was she chumming up with??? The DEVIL! (read Stephen fom season one)

    As the old saying goes….you can someone’s character by the friend’s they keep. I cannot in good conscience root for someone who would count Stephen among her buds.


  6. I know nothing about Top Chef, but congrats on the the food blog awards nomination. I was happy to be in such great company!


  7. I think we all agree that the show is headed down some funny roads. I think this year is definitely more, for lack of a better word, colorful. There just appears to be more talent, but also a higher percentage of misanthropes and misfits. I could be wrong.

    As for not changing the channel, we’ve had discussions about it sometimes. We do this mostly because we enjoy the interaction with you, our readers. I cannot tell you how often we’ve rolled our eyes and thought there was just a bit too much this or that in the episode.

    Finally, we said this a good deal between us that this group has fallen apart. They’ve clearly demonstrated there is ego and perhaps not the level of creativity that you might expect from a real next level cook.

    I suspect that might have to do with the show itself. I mean if you think you are the next Wily Dufresne (same name dropped last night and the chef behind WD-50 in New York, which is known for its avant garde cuisine) or Thomas Keller (French Laundry and Per Se), or pick your favoriteCharlie,Trotter or Palmer, why would you become a pawn for other people to manipulate? We are talking $100,000… about 10-20% (before taxes) of what you might need to open a big time fine dining place in NYC. I mean people must realize that you are creating a certain image of yourself. Personally, I feel being known has its advantage, but how you are known is just as important. I think most business people will tell you that it takes a long time to build a brand, but a second to ruin it. (Anyone else know the story of the “Fritto Bandito?”) This show seems like a siren songs potentially drag your reputation into the rocks.

    On that same note, they also seem to come from a small fraternity. If you’ve listened to Chow.com‘s interviews with the outgoing contestants, then you have heard many say in passing they knew someone from last season. Steven, from season 1, works in the same restaurant with Emily, Knob Hill in Vegas. It’s clear this may not be a real open casting call system or some sort of preliminary contest to get those slots. They are definitely casting it more like the Real World, then some challenge to find the best new chefs. So if you only fish in one spot with one lure, odds are you catch more of the same fish.

    P.S. Thanks Brilynn! We really love your site and I’m a freequent lurker. It was an honor to be in your company.


  8. I’ve enjoyed your Top Chef blogs.
    Yeah…the last few weeks have become “meaner” in spirit.
    It is a cooking show but, drama makes good TV.
    I have lost sight of who will win this competition.
    I thought it was Ilan or Sam but, with next week’s show previous…I’m not so sure.
    I wonder what the “prank” is that gets them into trouble.
    Maybe they (Sam, Cliff & Ilan) all wear fake catapillar EYEBROWS like Marcel possessess on his face ?
    For some reason…I think it’ll be Cliff that goes next.
    I liked Mike..but, he doesn’t seem like a “Top Chef”.
    Elia is just grating on my nerves. It did look like Meat Loaf instead of a Burger. Actually, I think there were several weeks that they couldn’t axed her from the show.
    Cliff has really gone downhill. He may be losing it mentally. He started out as one of the favorites but now…he seems like he won’t survive.
    Ilan and Sam have been my favorites all along with their cooking abilities and ideas but, I think Marcel has gotten inside their heads and is throwing them off.
    That leads me to Marcel. Who knows what’s up with the Kid ? Sometimes I feel sorry for him and other times (like the Ice Cream challenge), he should have been dumped.
    Who should win ???
    I guess…Ilan (if he doesn’t get booted next week).
    Dark horse…Elia. (but I probably wouldn’t be thrilled with it).
    Fave Fave…probably…Sam.


  9. Thanks for all the comments about Top Chef. Even if it isn’t always a pleasure to watch, it’s always fun to discuss it after!

    Elizabeth: Good call on the mini marshmallows. I can think of several right-good snacks that require them… although I wouldn’t combine them with mayo, barbecue sauce or dressing.

    And I like all the comments about eyebrows — whether they’ve been shaved off in a prank (synaesthesia) or are just giant and distracting (Lincoln on Marcel), I hadn’t really noticed them before. I’ll have to pay closer attention in the future. Usually, I’m more absorbed by the varying hairstyles: cap, no cap and all forehead, bandana, samauri bun, and windswept bouffant. Clearly I’m overlooking good eyebrow action.

    I think the overall tone of the conversation should be worrying for producers, though: After all, if relatively loyal fans like us don’t give to licks about who wins… It can’t be good for the show. (And just when they’re trying to spinoff Top Designer, too?) Hopefully this plagee won’t affect Project Runway — which holds a special place in my heart. (Don’t tell the hubby.)


  10. Actually, I can’t think of anything that would be improved by the presence of miniature marshmallows. Or Kraft singles processed cheesefood or caramels or Miracle Whip. (Aren’t those always featured in any Kraft casserole idea?)

    -Elizabeth, anti-Kraft food snob

    P.S. Okay, okay… there is one thing that neeeeeeeds Kraft marshmallows: rice krispie squares.
    P.P.S. Something that might disturb the producers even more, I don’t even know what the show is called, when it’s on, or what channel!


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