Why I’ve Had It with ‘Top Chef’

September 3, 2010

By Karen

Reality TV hit rock-bottom when Top Chef won an Emmy for Best Series. I’m not just miffed because TC turned its best guest judge, Anthony Bourdain, into wallpaper this week. Bourdain had nothing to work with. All the nice, but dull, cheftestants prepared good dishes.

I’m not even upset because the chef I was least indifferent to — Tiffany — got sent home over some flaw with her fish sauce they trumped up.

Top Chef never has been about great cooking, but about having the stamina and cunning to overcome the producers’ relentless sadism and sabotage.

Everyone associated with the show proudly claims, “It doesn’t matter what you cooked before. If your dish sucks this week, you’re going home.”

That’s just bullshit because it makes being named “Top Chef” a crap shoot.

The chefs work mostly in unfamiliar kitchens with unreliable refrigeration. How many dishes have been ruined in the fridge? Tiffany was screwed because her mussels froze.

Also, I don’t intend to squander another minute of my life watching anyone tear through Whole Foods. I HATE grocery-shopping. And WHY do they have a time limit?

I’ll tell you. Faux tension, leading to silly mistakes that sink perfectly capable chefs.

This season, pea purée figured in a few episodes. Can you say, “Puke on a plate?” Alex was accused of stealing it from Ed. Tom Colicchio vehemently denied it on his blog, while never explaining where the missing purée went.

Tom, it’s noxious green goop. It doesn’t just vanish.

This season, instead of preparing yet another little pile of weeds and protein sitting in slime, someone made a beautiful mac & cheese with a pork chop on the side — something a “normal” diner might enjoy. It was dismissed as not exotic enough.

Which brings me to Padma, the exotic judge with dubious credentials. I think they only keep her around because she can say, “Pack your knives and go,” and make it sound like, “Take off your clothes and do me.”

And Tom Colicchio, “the rock” of the show, with a similar presence. When he occasionally deigns to register an expression, cheftestants’ chins quiver as they wonder, “What did he MEAN by that look?”

Next week’s finale is in Singapore. Why? To boil noodles? They couldn’t do that in DC? I plan to skip it. I’ve watched every episode this season, yet I don’t care who wins.

The only thing that would salvage future Top Chef competitions for me would be to have the judges assign semi-objective numerical scores on each dish (1-5 so Padma could keep up) in several categories, such as seasoning, doneness, complexity/creativity, presentation. The foodies can work out the details.

Make the scores cumulative, so the chef with the lowest total score each week goes home. That way, good chefs wouldn’t get destroyed in one challenge for things beyond their control (like fridge temperature) and the best would come out on top.

And drop the ridiculous deadlines. Turn off the damn camera and stop making the chefs behave like lab rats trying not to step on electrodes.

But if you can’t give up the “Gotchas!”, move the show to Nickelodeon.


Is Bourdain Back on Top Chef?

August 30, 2010

By Karen

This week’s No Reservations is another special. The production team had a team track them as they filmed the recent episode in Kerala, India. I found this behind-the-scenes look much more interesting and entertaining than finished product. You’ll see Tony not just as “the talent,” but as senior gang member.

His crew has an endearing sense of humor and loyalty to the cause. Now I want to revisit Bourdain’s previous book, No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach, where he wrote about them extensively, because now I feel as if I might relate better.

UPDATE to UPDATE: I was right the first time. Bourdain is going to be a guest judge on Top Chef on September 1, not in Singapore on September 8.  This season really could use an infusion of his wit. And I learned from judge Eric Ripert’s video recap of last week’s episode that they cut probably the best moment — him spitting out a cheftestant’s toxic gray tuna tartare.

I found a thought-provoking post on the Jawa Report about Bourdain’s visit to Saudi Arabia and what it accomplished — not. (Remember, the one where Danya won his fan contest?) Bourdain was faulted for not delving into that (or any other) culture’s ugly underbelly. But he’s no investigative reporter or diplomat, and I think for him to do so could have terrible consequences for the innocent people who host him.

Jessica Wong at CBCNews in Toronto is seeking reader questions before Bourdain appears on September 22 at Ryerson University. She gave her own list, and it’s so well-worn, if there’s any chance she’ll be talking to him, I suggest she do her homework. Like maybe watch an episode or two of NR and at least skim Medium Raw.

On the other hand, Katharine Shilcutt with the Houston Press blog, Eating Our Words, did an excellent phone interview with Bourdain before his appearance there on September 20. He seemed in good spirits and mentions that he hopes to go to Cuba with Zamir around New Year’s for No Reservations‘ next season, and he’s already picked the show’s theme.

Evan S. Benn of stltoday.com in St. Louis also interviewed Bourdain before his October 1 appearance there. Tony tells why he’ll never tweet, and mentions some other places NR might visit in Season 7, which he says they’re deliberately trying to make “very difficult” to challenge themselves and keep it fresh.

Here’s a video interview with Lauren Ezersky of Better about Medium Raw. I give Bourdain points for keeping a straight face.


Can Ripert Lure Bourdain Back to “Top Chef”?

May 17, 2010

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain is hard at work on Season 7 of No Reservations, recently visiting Rome and returning to Beirut for new episodes. NBC Washington got some scoop on his plans for Beirut. If the poll of “locals” down the right side of the page is any indication, he got a warm — preferably peaceful — welcome back.

Eater compiled a one-minute video ode to Bourdain’s eating and drinking in Season 6. The background score, “I Say a Little Prayer for You,” seems a little weird.

Speaking of weird, Bourdain has lined up a speaking gig in Nebraska on September 11. First Salt Lake City, now Omaha. He did speak in Texas in April and lived, so maybe it emboldened him for deeper forays into the red states.

And in the Friends of Tony Dept…

Entertainment Weekly reports that Eric Ripert is replacing that odious twit, Toby Young, as a judge on the upcoming Top Chef: Washington, DC, to air on on Bravo beginning June 16.

Here’s hoping that Tony will find time to share the judges’ table with his bud, Eric.

Some commenters at Slashfood hate the DC locale and the roster of political guests. I wish Tom Colicchio would fix co-host Padma Lakshmi a burger and fries to go.

Padma recently had a baby and deserves some slack, but did she look in a mirror before she left the house to attend the Met’s Costume Institute Gala?

And if you’re willing to make your eyes bleed, I found on Quote Unquote a photo of Toby Young à la Bourdain’s “boner” picture.


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