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Top Chef Week Eleven: Chocolate, Romance and… You have to be kidding me.

January 18, 2007

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Last week’s scintillating, scandalous-looking teaser had us kind of keen to tune in to Top Chef this week. (Well done, you wily producers. Like we don’t watch every week anyway.) Would all the hype and speculation pay off with drama actually worth watching? You tell us, loyal fans.

The show started off routinely enough. Between a blizzard of product placements in the KENMORE! kitchen featuring CALPHALON! products, the now five remaining contestants were asked to concoct dishes using “one of two flavors” of NESTLE CHOCOLATIER! brand chocolate. Presiding over the chocolate feast were, of course, Padma the hostess (does her voice get more nasally and irritating each week?) and a silver-haired, gentlemanly-looking French chef who had the contestants swooning in their admiration: Chef Eric Ripert of the famed Le Bernadin restaurant in New York. (Is it painfully ironic that one of the more dignified and renowned guest judges wound up on this particularly ridiculous episode?)

The QuickFire seemed more important when the judgments were intoned in a thick, le-sexy French accent: Elia just missed winning by making two dishes — a chocolate chicken (“It looks like a mistake, like chocolate sauce dripped onto chicken in the refrigerator.” Oh, snap. And in heavily accented English, no less.) and an apparently delicious chocolate dessert. Ilan also missed the boat by making a revolting sounding combination of chocolate ganache and chicken liver (“It is not something that should be served, say, in a restaurant.” Or ever.) Winning praise were Cliff for his traditional chocolate mole sauce over chicken, Marcel for his innovative potato cannolis stuffed with coffee and chocolate, and Sam for some kind of “well-balanced” seafood with spicy chocolate sauce.

Dramatic pause. Sam won.

And with victory, Sam earned the privilege of picking which course and proteins he’d serve for the Elimination Challenge. Aside from a thinly veiled advertisement to VISIT ROMANTIC SANTA BARBARA!, that challenge was to cook a romantic five course meal for 30 people. No other restrictions were given, besides having to work together in a small restaurant kitchen. Yawn.

Sam determined to cook a first course using lobster and scallops (which disappointed Marcel, who wanted to use lobster or scallops) and beets (which disappointed Marcel, who was also using beets) with plum sauce (Marcel had no comment on the plum sauce). Second course was Ilan, who went to his wheelhouse of Spanish cuisine to cook a delicious clam concoction with noodles. Third course was Marcel, who made salmon with cutesy little hearts down the seam and served with beets (naturally). Fourth course was Cliff, who made, in the words of Chef Ripert, mundane “hotel food” of beef with purreed lentils and “useless” greens. And finally, Elia served “The Kiss,” a chocolate and mint concoction that was, apparently, quite good, but caused her to have a minor meltdown when her chocolate hearts wouldn’t come out from their molds. Tearfully declaring, “I quit,” she looked mournfully at the near-perfect plates exiting the kitchen. The all-male remaining contestants quickly rallied around their distraught heroine; Sam encouraged her, Ilan comforted her and perhaps Marcel squeezed her arm (that part we may have made up). Frankly, this kind of camaraderie has been sorely lacking on the show. Sometimes it helps to be female and good looking, no?

But wait, there was more “camaraderie” yet to come… hours after the meal. This is where the drama occurs, folks.

Asking for a camera (the producers must be thanking their lucky stars) and imbibing mass quantities of alcohol, Sam, Ilan, Cliff and Elia decide to act out the old TV-land trope that good television equals drunken reality show stars filming their escalating antics. First, they decided to shave their heads. Well, Ilan shaved his head when Elia said she would shave her head. Then Elia did shave her head. (For added drama, the producers had her wearing a remarkable “Elia” wig during her post-shave interview recap, which she pulled off with a flourish to reveal… a nicely shaped shaved head. Frankly, she looks pretty good bald.) Sam and Cliff, apparently, declined to undergo the clippers. But with all this head-shaving going on, thoughts naturally turned to the most impressive head of tresses on the show: Marcel. The poor kid was innocently sleeping, excluded from all this drunken grooming, when he was rudely awakened by Cliff, who intended to execute a hair-brained (pun alert!) scheme to shave Marcel’s head. Now, Cliff is probably, oh, three times the size of Marcel — perhaps 12 inches taller and 100 pounds heavier. So, after being jolted awake, a struggling and confused Marcel was easily pinned down as Cliff fruitlessly called for the clippers and the other drunken contestants looked on — half amused, but apparently not as serious as Cliff about actually shaving Marcel’s head. At last, Marcel struggled free — impressive locks still intact — and ran to the bathroom to sleep on the floor.

Good television? Or a re-enactment of seventh-grade sleepaway camp? (And isn’t it really astonishing that they chose to film it all? The producers must be living right.)

Anyway, since this synopsis has become exhausting, let’s sum up: Tom Colicchio, looking stern, arrived the next hangover-laden day to say that Cliff is off the show for “touching another contestant in an aggressive manner.” The other contestants say nothing. Cliff is duly remorseful, and Marcel gamely gives him a “man hug” as he departs.

Oh yes, and there was also a judges’ table. The four remaining contestants undergo a tongue lashing of sorts, mostly from Padma, after they march in Cliff-less and half bald. Our French guest judge wisely says nothing and somehow manages to remain dignified. Who, oh who, would go to Hawaii after all that? Well, all of them. Sam and Ilan were given their Hawaii tickets, and the only drama came from Padma’s rather painful line, “Elia and Ilan, pack your knives… and go to Hawaii!” Oh, boy!

Let’s just cut to the chase: What do you think of the prank and tonight’s episode?

Husband: Cringe worthy. The whole episode was an example of why not to drink. I mean talk about becoming the newest poster-child for teetotaling. At no point was that not just painful to watch. You can tell from the very beginning, it all looked like a good idea through beer goggles. Yet, I can’t imagine something more humiliating when you are standing in front of two of the most successful people in your industry (Tom Collicchio and Eric Ripert) and have to explain yourself. I can’t imagine Elia felt so grand about her smooth skull then.

Wife: Every time the show might focus on the food these “talented” chefs are preparing, Top Chef manages to swerve back into reality-TV land. Which I loathe. The prank was, of course, incredibly juvenile. I shudder to think of the consequences if they had actually shaved poor Marcel’s head. As it was, I thought the kid was pretty calm about the whole thing. The more astonishing part is that those clowns filmed the whole thing… Was it really them and not a Machiavellian producer? Well, then, if not cooking, they may have a future in creating C- level reality shows.

The judges agreed that the cooking on the show was actually the contestants’ best. Whose dish would you want to try or were you most impressed by?

H: Wait, there was food? Oh, yeah, there was some food… Hmm, I guess my feeling is that Ilan had the dish I could least imagine what it tasted like. However, it’s not like we know what it was or how it was prepared. Actually, we know that at the end he took up 10 burners and torqued Marcel off, so at least we know the important thing. NOTE: Please read that previous sentence with even more sarcasm then you thought previously possible.

W: I’d want to taste Ilan’s — which didn’t look that pretty to me, but went over huge with the judges — and Elia’s. Really, though, I’d try any of their cooking. It’s become so hard to judge whether they are actually talented cooks or can just arrange food nicely on a plate. Maybe this is because the show has taken the emphasis off of the food. Because the ingredients whiz by and the preparation is not shown in favor of footage of the contestants bumping elbows in the kitchen, I have no idea what anything might taste like — except when I see the judges react after forking it in. That kind of sucks. Hint, hint, Top Chef.

Favorites? Next off?

H: Sam is hands down my favorite to win. He appears to be the leader and creative. I think he’s a full step ahead. However, I’m excited to see what Marcel might bring to the table with a bit of a break. Part of me wishes they’d ditch the forced scenarios and have a straight cookoff so we can really see who is the best, and know who’s the best under the circumstances. As for next off, I’m going to choose Marcel. While I think Marcel could bring the big game, I’m well aware that he’s not hit a home run this far and it could tank him.

W: Sam will win. And I no longer are what order the other contestants are booted in.

Who is your favorite? Do you think Elia’s looks good bald or is that a quick to grow back scarlet letter? Did you finish watching the episode or were you tempted to change the channel like we were?

Disclaimer: All “quotes” from the show are approximate. We weren’t taking notes.🙂

7 comments

  1. What weird episode. What an idiotic prank. What great looking food. I would have eaten everything.

    While I agree Cliff had to go — he actually looked as if he was hurting Marcel — I’m sure if his dish was one of the favorites, there may have been more “drama”. They judges had made it clear that his was the weakest dish, so his departure wasn’t as stinging as his co-conspirator Ilan’s would have been.

    Enough with the Marcel stuff. We know he’s selfish, move on.

    Ilan needs to move past his Spanish training. It’s one dimensional and limits him to pimenton, saffron and intestinal meats.

    Elia’s just skating by. They needed a woman on board to keep it balanced, but her whiny demeanor, “i quit; i know mole doesn’t have a heavy chocolate taste” is irritating and calculated. As a woman it pisses me off that she stands there wringing her hands and acts as if she’s never cooked with any processed food in her life.

    Sam’s the winner. It’s pretty clear that he’s got his stuff together. It’s a shame that the producers don’t spend enough time on the food, as I think he (and the rest of the chefs) is probably even better than they show on the screen.


  2. That prank scene was just awkward–I watched behind half covered eyes. I felt bad for Marcel (especially for sleeping in the bathroom), but I also felt bad for Cliff the next day. He clearly knew how idiotic he acted. We all do stupid and regretful things, but it would have been best to wait until after Hawaii to get wasted with the cast and wrestle them to the ground.

    I think Ilan’s dish was the best last night and I am tempted to try it out this weekend: http://www.bravotv.com/Top_Chef_2/recipes/episode_11/elim/ilan.shtml, which would be the second Ilan dish we have attempted in our home (his roasted corn was the first). However, I think Sam will win in the finale as he consistently makes seemingly thoughtful and well executed dishes.


  3. Thanks for your continued commentary on Top Chef. I enjoy reading your blogs and your comments!

    Have you noticed that a bunch of the judges have their own blogs as well at http://www.bravotv.com/blog/topchef

    I thought you might enjoy them as well.


  4. So, I think Wife should mail me my shoes. Or call me.


  5. I have to say I was totally disappointed in that episode as well. Disappointed in the contestants, the food, and the producers. So Jerry Springer-ish.

    When Tom came in to boot Cliff, it reminded me of when Dana White, President of UFC, had to kick a fighter off for violating rules in The Ultimate Fighter. Both were bald, both were in charge. Dana pulled it off a lot better.


  6. Why they want to pick on little Marvel Marcel is beyond me.


  7. Thanks for your great site!



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