Why I’ve Had It with ‘Top Chef’

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.

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14 Responses to Why I’ve Had It with ‘Top Chef’

  1. loved this post! Also loved the “do me” comment and think your suggestion of having cumulative points throughout the season is genius!

    Have you checked out Gordan Ramsay’s new show “Master Chef?” I absolutely LOVE IT! You might too!

    Cat Chat http://opcatchat.blogspot.com

  2. Tuxi says:

    Maybe Glenn Beck should’ve gone all out on his Becklieapalooza at Lincoln Memorial and had a 2-for-1 deal, 2 fake extravaganzas for the cost of a bus ride to DC. Top Chef and the fake emoting and bad acting would fit in great with – well, Glenn Beck’s fake emoting and bad acting! And Tony could grab Beck and throw him in the Potomac! Too bad there are no sharks, pirhannas or alligators in said river!

  3. Tuxi says:

    By the way, Karen, I never thought I’d see this sentence anywhere, but love it: * Tiffany was screwed because her mussels froze!* And the pea puree could be used for the way off-Broadway musical *The Exorcist Musical: Regan, How Your Head Spins*.

  4. catsworking says:

    Tuxi, peas whole, mashed, pureed, are all the same to me — disgusting. If someone handed me a plate of anything sitting in a green puddle, I’d hand it back. But I’m just a simple girl, not a foodie.

    I couldn’t f**king believe it when Tiffany’s mussels froze (it is a funny image). Looked like sabotage (even if by neglect by the production staff) to me.

    It’s similar to what they do on Dancing with the Stars. When they want to screw dancers, give them absurdly inappropriate music. Yeah, they say it’s to keep the younger viewers watching, but you just don’t murder the beat for beginner dancers unless you want them to make fools of themselves.

  5. catsworking says:

    caren, I haven’t seen Gordon Ramsay’s show. The only cooking competition I’ve ever watched is Top Chef, and now that’s off my list, there’s room for a replacement. Is it on Food Network?

  6. Gizmo's mom says:

    I’ve always thought the judges shouldn’t know whose dish is whose…that way dishes would be judged solely on the merits of the dishes in front of them, not on expectations held for each contestant or whether the judges like / dislike certain people.

  7. catsworking says:

    Gizmo’s mom, I think that’s an excellent idea! Let them judge and score the dishes blind. They can tell them later who made what so they can still indulge in their little humiliation-fest at the end.

  8. Gizmo's mom says:

    If the judges are any good, they should be able to tell more often than not whose dish is whose…

  9. catsworking says:

    Gizmo’s mom, you’ve got a point. I should think if the CHEFS are any good, they would have some signature way of cooking that might carry through most of the challenges that the judges would pick up on. So maybe there’s no way to filter out judge bias?

    I was reading other blogs about the last episode with Bourdain as a judge and someone said that Tony tried to register his utter disdain for Angelo by saying he had no idea what Angelo was talking about when he claimed he’d submitted and “made love” to his short ribs. I took the “submission” bit as an attempt to suck up to Bourdain, since he always says eating should be an act of submission. But I don’t know if Bourdain saw enough of the season to realize Angelo’s a douchebag, or if he just cut Angelo off at the knees because he saw through the BSing on the spot.

  10. adele says:

    My comments have been disappearing again, so I have my fingers crossed on this one. I actually didn’t mind that Top Chef won the reality Emmy, although I think the ideas presented here, about cumulative judging are excellent.

    For the most part the T.C. cheftestants are excellent cooks,and the challenges, though pretty far fetched, get to show them thinking on their feet. I’m constantly amazed that by the recipes they maintain in their heads and their ability to (often) create edible dishes under very difficult conditions.This batch of cheftestants is pretty short on personality, but most seem to be very good cooks.

    But the much anticipated return of Bourdain to judge — I swear he was drugged in some way. I’ve never seen him so mellow; he made the always gentlemanly Ripert (who doesn’t come across nearly as authoritative as he does on Avec Eric) seem positively snarky.

  11. catsworking says:

    Hi, Adele. I haven’t seen any comments from you in days, but this one came through fine. Doesn’t seem to be a problem at this end.

    Watching Bourdain and Ripert on Top Chef last week, I suspected Tony had decided to play ” Good Cop, Bad Cop” with the Ripper and didn’t tell him. Maybe he’d done his homework and seen how dull the cheftestants were and saw it as the only way to liven things up.

    And maybe Ripert feels that as Colicchio’s guest on the show, he shouldn’t try to upstage his host. If you’ve seen any of the videos he does after a judging, he’s pretty frank about the food in those.

    Some of the challenges are so absurd, you’d think the judges were out to poison themselves. No reasonable customer would want food prepared under the ridiculous conditions they set up. Sure, it’s all for the sake of “exciting” TV, but every time I see a chef crash and burn when he/she has already proven competence and goes home instead of some conniving numb-nut, it seems very unfair.

  12. Cindy says:

    Don’t give up on Top Chef now. Next season is currently being filmed in New York City and the contestants are top finishers (but not winners)from past seasons.
    So we will see Tiffany and Carla and Richard Blaise and Antonia and the other Tiffany again. Plus one of the nastier finalists (I won’t spoil the finale) of this season.
    Did you recognize where the dining was? It is the building where the Food Fight is held.

  13. catsworking says:

    Hmmm… NYC. Very interesting, Cindy. Maybe Bourdain will be judging again, too. They’re making a much-needed move to bring back some of the tried-and-true personalities. And since they all know the ropes and did well before, it should make the competition more interesting. Carla was one of my favorites.

    I thought I heard them mention they were in the Ronald Reagan Building last week, but I didn’t particularly recognize it.

  14. Cindy says:

    If you are interested in next season’s Top Chef, go to eater.com. They have identified almost all 18 contestants. But beware, this season’s winner will be revealed because 3 of them are in this finale.

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