‘Top Chef’ Epsiode 11: Restaurant wars

May 22, 2008

By popular demand (um, at least one of you asked… and, frankly, that’s enough for us!), we’ve decided to resurrect our Top Chef commentary. Of course, we’ve been watching all along — but only our TiVo knows just how insightful our remarks have been. Until now.

To recap: The quickfire found the contestants awoken by Tom Colicchio’s bald head (GOOD MORNING!) at the apparently ungodly hour of 5:45 a.m. (Not so ungodly for those of us with infants — nor, I would think for breakfast short order cooks. More on that, er… now.) The six remaining contenders were asked to stand at the “egg station” — also apparently the sausage, steak and bacon station — of a storied Chicago breakfast eatery. There they had to contend with waitresses barking orders, cloudy poaching liquid, melting styrofoam containers, and, perhaps worst of all, a stern Chicago matron staring at them while they worked. In the end, that matron declared that Antonia had the most potential as a short order cook in her restaurant.

Antonia’s prize? She got to pick her teammates for Restaurant Wars. Yes, that’s right: Restaurant Wars. Hooray! Indeed, we fans of Top Chef had worried that the show had made a serious error in turning “restaurant wars” into (incredibly lame) “wedding wars.” In fact, the usually sadistic Top Chef producers seemed to have taken pity on the contestants and not required them to actually attract paying customers to their tear-down restaurants — and hey, they gave them five whole hours to pull the entire thing off. Top Chef producers, have you gone soft?

In fact, the teams were the same as for “wedding wars”: Antonia, Richard and Stephanie (read: non-dysfunctional team) vs. Dale, Spike and Lisa (read: ill-tempered and ill-fated team). Who could possibly come out on top? The drama! The tension! The foregone conclusion!

Yes, the non-dysfunctional team triumphed (again), leading to finger pointing and backstabbing from the misfits (again).

Indeed, you have to hand it to the crew at Warehouse Kitchen (the winning team’s gastropub concept): They were actually praised by the judges on virtually every dish — perhaps a first in the brutal restaurant wars episode. More true to form was the Mai Buddha team, which received scathing remarks for several dishes and faint or no praise on the rest. (Think: “Texture reminiscent of wood chips…”, “Looks like a melted candy bar…”, “It was like sticking your head into a campfire…”, etc.)

All this led to much recriminations and of course, finger pointing, by the Mai Buddha team. This is where the real drama begins — and Top Chef knows it, having dispensed with the winners in about one minute of television, thus saving the 15 remaining minutes for meltdowns and tears. Ah, reality TV.

Would Dale the executive chef be eliminated for his sour mood, poor leadership of a disgruntled Lisa in the kitchen, and his revolting butterscotch scallops? Or would Lisa go for her unappetizing smokey laksa (whatever that is), or her inedible mango sticky rice? Or would Spike go for… hey, wait a minute! Spike has cleverly (or something) maneuvered himself off the chopping block. Yes, incognito in a suit and sans pork pie hat, Spike has dodged the bullet by staying out front and styling the restaurant “like the backseat of Prince’s car.” Well played, Spike, well played.

Anyway, it all came down to Lisa vs. Dale. And both looked really pissed about it. As usual.

And, in the end, Dale was told to pack his knives and go. Cut to insincere man hugs and back slapping, followed by an understandably weeping Dale fastening his knife case.

Mmmmm. Some tasty, tasty drama. It’s good to be back!

And now, our questions and answers… featuring Husband and Wife!

It’s been a season and a half since we’ve written about Top Chef, what have we missed most?

Husband: The true art of product placement. The producers are so subtle; they really take this art form to the next level. They’re Rembrandt compared with American Idol’s ham-handed use of Ford and Coca-Cola. I mean, you would never guess that Glad sponsors Top Chef. And, boy, am I glad they do! Glad makes such a complete line of home storage products… or are they called solutions? Great containers, garbage bags, cling wrap, and various other products essential to running a well-organized and clean kitchen. (See, that is my example of subtle product placement, and I expect my check next week. Jack needs a new pair of shoes.)

Wife: Hmmm… well, it can’t be the food since my attempts to lick the television have been fruitless. I’ll go with: The fabulous hairstyles that crop up with each passing season. From Sam’s samurai bun, to Marcel’s fabulous Wolverine, to Dale’s tapered mohawk, and Hung’s awesome faux-hawk, the contestants never skimp on the styling gel or the derring-do. This year, we see still more faux-hawks (Jennifer and Richard) and the addition of an awesome and nearly ever-present pork pie hat (Spike). I still don’t know why this show isn’t also sponsored by Vidal Sassoon.

What have you missed least?
H: The hairdos… or rather the whole head area issues. I like Richard, but the brillo pad molded to a point makes him actually look older than he is. But that is nothing compared to Spike’s pork pie hats. They are a bit much. Worst of all, there isn’t just one hat, there appears to be a stack of them somewhere. He must have packed a supply of them. He’s got a trunk like Carrot Top where he can just find a new one to match his mood and the show’s theme. My advice to Spike is “We all know you are going bald, we appreciate it, we embrace it, stop using it as an excuse to make absurd grasps for attention.”

W: I disagree. Obviously. See my answer above. What I haven’t missed is the 10 p.m. when the show airs. Come on, producers. We’re trying to comment and now it’s totally late at night.

Now, that is settled. Let’s talk Restaurant Wars… or should it be Judges Wars? Colicchio or Bourdain?
H: The natural thing would be to say Bourdain. I mean, he’s great on Top Chef because the editors help him. They take all the maudlin and long-winded stuff that fills his No Reservations show and distill it down to pithy sound bites. So, I’m staying with Tom. He’s sharp and acerbic when the need is there, and I suspect he gives the editors more time to work on placing product in subtle ways throughout the show.

Perhaps No Reservations could use some editing instead: Hire the Top Chef guys and they can cut about 10 minutes of the graceful shots from the road of a mountain vista and give us more Bourdain anger and skylines that have Toyota Trucks parked in random places.

However, Jose Andres may be in the mix as best judge. He is a big, hugable guy who just wants everyone to get along. Might be a new perspective on the show to see that sort of warmth. Of course, he’d need to wear a “I heart Evian” T-shirt to seal the deal.

W: I’m not a huge fan of No Reservations, but I have to say: Bourdain, no contest. He’s funny as hell on Top Chef. I wish he were on every week. (Not necessarily instead of Tom, whose puzzling soul patch hypnotizes me when he speaks.)

While the judges chose to kick off Dale, who do you think has the bigger attitude problem — Dale or Lisa?
H: Before this episode, I had Dale on the short list to be one of the final two. Though I admit after seeing butterscotch scallops done Asian (or any other way), I felt a bit concerned. But something about Lisa says bigger problem. Dale pitches fits, but I always am a bit sympathetic when it’s focused on getting something right. (It may be my own subconscious looking to myself… I, too, like things done a certain way in the kitchen). However, Lisa consistently is in this position and frequently seems to shift the blame to another person. It was just last week she had to make sure that the judges knew someone didn’t follow the rules even though she was a complete disaster. Therefore, Dale is a hot head, but Lisa has the poisonous attitude.

W: I was surprised that Dale, who seems quite talented, was kicked off. Arguably, though, the executive chef usually takes the fall for the failure of his team. As much as a reality show is a popularity contest, Dale seemed to be on the losing end, and therefore on losing teams. His Hung-like strategy of make no friends and take no prisoners didn’t work out well for him in the end. And I imagine that the executioner will call for Lisa soon, too.

Did you miss the usual flaming disasters that were past restaurant wars?
H: I so did. I was hoping for the near poisonings of the past. Or the pure disgust on a diner’s face. Or perhaps some other completely epic combination of bizarre dishes, service that was off putting, and truly hostile patrons. I think the Chicagoans proved that Midwesterners might be too nice. No one pitched a fit about the scallops or asked if they were supposed to take home the woody sticky rice to feed to their pet squirrel?

W: I have to agree. And it’s more amusing to see disasters in fictional restaurants, than on horrifying programs like Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares. Too much of that kind of TV and I have to tame my gag reflex when dining out.

Favorite? Next off?
H: My favorite is Richard. He has a good personality and he always seems to be winning or in the group of winners. He’s like Hung last season in that he appears to have the technical and artistic skills. However, I’m quietly rooting for Stephanie. Finally, a contestant who can make a dessert without it being a complete disaster. Most of the time, it’s like none of these people ever baked before the went on the show. Next off for me is Lisa. She’s running out of people who will shoot themselves in the foot to save her.

W: I like Stephanie or Antonia as dark horse contenders (Plus, they’re chicks! Let’s get a female winner!)… but Richard’s faux-hawk and pink clogs may prove irresistible to the judges. I would not weep if either Lisa or Spike went off next.

So, should we have left our comments to ourselves? Who’s your favorite? And honestly, did you know what a laksa was before the episode or did you have to google it like us? (BTW, it’s a spicy noodle dish.) Do tell!


  1. I’m thrilled you’re back with your Top Chef recaps!

    I hope Lisa is headed home next. Bourdain nailed it when he said even her body language suggests she doesn’t accept feedback well. Such a bad attitude that one. I’d like to see Spike follow Lisa.

    It would be great if a woman would win—it’s time! Can Stephanie pull it off? Otherwise, I think I favor Richard over Antonia.

  2. SO glad you are back, both for the food and the TC recaps. I think Lisa needs to go. Her hair scares me. I’m always afraid a greasy chunk of it will fall in someones food.

  3. Eeeeeeeee! So happy you’re commenting on TC again!!! Thank you!

    Dudes. I actually gasped when Dale got the heave-ho. Lisa has GOT to go. Now. Has she won a dang thing yet? I actually yelled at her through my TV. Can’t. Stand. Her.

    Tom or Tony? How about both? Let’s ditch Ted, Padma and Gail for just Tom and Tony and we can sit back and watch the fireworks. That will probably be a scheduling nightmare but thanks Bravo!

    For a while, I thought it was Richard’s game to lose but now realize Antonia is kind of winning me over. Plus, doesn’t Richard look a little like Goat Boy from SNL? I’d definitely eat this Goat Boy’s food though. STILL dreaming about that peach/sweet tea syrup/taleggio pizza from the 1st episode.

    Finally, forgot to comment on your adorable son! Cyoooot.

  4. I agree — I thought Dale should have stayed and Lisa and/or Spike needed to go. My original picks when the season started were Antonia, Richard, and Dale. Now I’m going to substitute Stephanie. Regardless of who wins, this is one entertaining TV show!

    Umm, unless Spike or Lisa win Top Chef. Then I’m going to have to say that something is seriously wrong with the show.

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