Bourdain’s Too Good for “Top Chef”

By Karen

No Reservations Season 7 is tentatively set to begin February 14. In the meantime, Anthony Bourdain fans can watch him judge Top Chef All-Stars.

In week 3, Tony got minimal screen time as the judges noshed at 4 exclusive New York restaurants. I think the less he’s seen with that mean little clique, the better. In his Bravo blog recap, Tony even managed to say something nice about all the cheftestants.

(On the other hand, Eric Ripert ripped a new one for Elia, week 1’s loser, for publicly spewing many sour grapes about Tom Colicchio. It’s as close to nasty I’ve ever seen Ripert get.)

Week 3 was a double elimination. Stephen and the non-Asian Dale got axed for failing to channel the spirit of their assigned famous chefs, yet Asian Dale won the elimination challenge with a mere egg. Go figure.

Is there a larger dollop of pomposity in this season’s judging? Or am I just becoming jaded from seeing one too many plates of weird stuff sitting in puddles  of goo?

Unlike the judges, I’m not surprised when chefs faced with an array of strange ingredients and sometimes malfunctioning appliances — and a ridiculously brief time to figure out what to do with them — concoct increasingly bizarre platefuls of crap.

Speaking of crap, so are the so-called “challenges.” Top Chef has morphed from a cooking competition into a culinary Survivor. I’m waiting for the Quick Fire where Padma coyly gives the the cheftestants 15 minutes to hack off and prepare an unobtrusive body part from the competitor to their left.

As much as I looked forward to Tony’s return for his wit as a judge, I’m now sorry he’s there. He’s not really one of them. He likes tube steaks cooked on dirty grills in alleys. (Granted, Padma loves to lick grease off her ankles.) But at this stage of his evolution from reputed bad boy, hurling clever “Gotchas!” at well-meaning people who were cornered for a multitude of reasons into creating bad food is beneath him. Far beneath him.

End of rant.

Zero Point Zero crew member Helen Cho is now tweeting and blogging for Tony, and her updates are on Tumblr. The plan is to make her as unpredictable as the show’s format, so they flipped interviewing duties and Tony supposedly grilled Helen to reveal some new Bourdainia, including the tentative Season 7 lineup, which is…

701 Nicaragua
702 Cambodia
703 Haiti
704 Vienna
705 Ozarks
706 Boston
707 Brazil
708 Japan
709 Cuba
710 Macau
711 El Bulli
712 U.S. Desert
713 Congo
714 Yemen
715 Memphis

Remember Sandra Lee’s Kwanzaa cake, a staple in Bourdain’s personal appearance repertoire? It seems Sandra bought the recipe 10 years ago from Denise Vivaldo, whose hilarious confession is on Huffington Post (thanks, human Adele, for the link!). Apparently, Sandra’s peeps thought she would be bigger than Martha Stewart. Maybe they still do, now that her boyfriend, Andrew Cuomo, is New York’s governor-elect.

12 Responses to Bourdain’s Too Good for “Top Chef”

  1. MorganLF says:

    I actually like Tony on this season and he’s never looked handsomer. He is born to wear a suit and the hair is longer and (thankfully) gel-free. I think he is more than qualified to critique, and deconstruct pompous, bad, food. Last week one of the restaurants was Marea. In Tony’s recent book signing lecture he actually referenced one of its dishes as his favorite, supplanting roasted bone marrow. Ottavia tweets about its new sister restaurant Morini all the time.

    Bourdain is no different than he has been in past seasons and his blog is thoughtful and well written. I saw Colliccio on another show saying he though Tony’s comments about Fabio’s dish were a bit over the top. I disagree.

    He is neither gratuitously nasty, (Tobey Young) or grandstanding. I personally think Fabio acted thin skinned and whiney. Jen HAD to have been coached to defend flabby, chewy, spongy, meat with egg yuck on top. There is no way a palate as trained as hers could have earnestly believed THAT dish was worthy of her vehement defense. What’s next, table flipping and weave pulling?

  2. catsworking says:

    Hey, Morgan! I agree with you that Tony is looking good. I especially like him in a suit myself. Going back to something I think you said about the Christmas special, when they were filming, didn’t ANYBODY have the balls to say, “Hey, Tony, enough with the gel! You look like you just stepped out of the shower and got dressed wet. Go wash that shit out of your hair and we’ll do another take.”

    Yeah, I agree with you that Bourdain knows how to figure out what’s in a dish and if it tastes good or not, and I trust his judgment because he doesn’t eat only haute cuisine, which is the impression the rest of that bunch would like us to have.

    I guess where I’m heading with this whole food on TV thing is that if somebody’s not showing me how to prepare a dish, I’m not interested in just watching them eat it or talk about it. That would include Man v. Food. Watching that guy bust a gut trying to win a T-shirt or a bumper sticker is sick.

    Just last night I was watching an old French Chef and wondering what Julia Child would think of the business of having people cook under extreme duress and then judging them on the results.

    If I had discovered Bourdain on TV cooking instead of traveling, I probably wouldn’t have given him a second look.

    And regardless of the merits of any of the present cheftestants, I think Top Chef has descended into self-parody.

  3. zappa says:

    I am strangely bored with Allstars and all things Top Chef.Karen,I agree with you that there is an undercurrent of almost bored arrogance.Bring on the weave pulling! Let’s have an episode of Padma BabyDaddy drama!! “You are not the father!!” Top Chef is a huge money machine and isn’t going anywhere for a while,but,I’m signing off.What do you wanna bet that SOMEHOW TC ends up doing a moose/caribou cooking challenge in Alaska with an appearance by Sarah Palin?

    Zappa’s mom

  4. catsworking says:

    ZM, thanks for letting me know that I’m not the only one burning out on TC.

    Instead of having the camera follow the ousted chef out the door to pack his/her knives and go, I wish they’d follow Padma off-stage and show her sticking her finger down her throat to barf up all the losing AND winning dishes she just tasted.

    And I think you’re on to something. I can see it next season: Top Chef Alaska. The cheftestants are challenged to create a tasty, HOT entree using nothing but snow and ice. They’re armed and sent into the wilderness to kill and gut their own protein, with 15 minutes to prepare a meal. They have to make a luscious dessert out of bear dung. And, one by one, the whole Palin family could be brought in as guest judges because they’re all experts in Alaskan cuisine.

  5. Cheray says:

    I seldom express my opinion on here but I’m a faithful reader (not for the cats – I’m not a cat lover – but I AM a Bourdain fan). I thought that I was the only one who thinks this show has become dull and boring. I’ve stopped watching it and substitute instead DVD’s of No Reservations past episodes.

    I also agree that Tony has never looked better. But this tired show is not a good showcase for him or his unique talents. I love seeing him in far-off locales sampling the native food. Also, I love seeing him when he dominates the show. NR suits him to a tee – it’s perfect!

  6. catsworking says:

    Welcome, Cheray! The cats won’t hold it against you that you only check in for the Bourdain news. They’ve learned to live with it. 😉

    I hope more readers will weigh in with their opinion on this. It seems ironic that Top Chef seems to be running out of steam just as it’s getting nominated for all sorts of awards, which I don’t think it has ever deserved, even in its hey-day, whenever that was. It’s just further proof of how low TV has sunk.

  7. adele says:

    Me, too! I’ve found the last couple of seasons of Top Chef pretty boring, but I thought that was at least in part due to the absence of Monsieur Bourdain. So I was really looking forward to the All Stars edition — Tony and some of my past favorites. I was kind of done after the sleep-over at the museum episode. The challenge seemed ridiculous, and the notion that the cheftestants were only allowed about 45 minutes of sleep did seem a feeble attempt to ape Survivor (a show, which I’m proud to say I’ve never watched).And I agree with you, Karen, Jen’s meltdown had an air of total unreality. An accomplished Ripert-trained chef losing it to defend pork belly with unseasoned eggs.

    I guess there’s only so much new under the sun, and even if, like me, you like to watch cooking shows to learn new cooking techniques or recipes, there’s not much to learn from Top Chef, because most of the situations are so preposterous.

    Loved Zappa’s mom’s idea of the moose-caribou cooking contest. I’ll probably finish out the season, but Sarah Palin would be the deal breaker.

    The one bright spot is that, when he’s on, Tony does look fabulous. A suit suits him, and he seems to be youthing rather than aging.

  8. catsworking says:

    Adele, it was Morgan who theorized that Jen was coached to go off the deep end to defend her dish. I didn’t know her from Adam, so I didn’t know if that was abnormal behavior for her or not. I did wonder why Eric Ripert would have hired such a snot.

    This season has sent me into the arms of Julia Child. I got a set of French Chef DVDs earlier this year and hadn’t watched them. I learn more about technique from 5 minutes of her than I’ve done in hours of watching TC. But in fairness, we’re not supposed to learn anything except that butterscotch and scallops don’t mix, and that cooking basic dishes that normal people would find tasty is for losers.

    I agree that the TC challenge at the museum was a travesty. Any cook who doesn’t know that kids will go for sugar over salt or vegetables is an idiot, and it was obvious that the junkiest food would win.

    It was interesting when Bourdain and Ripert closed ranks around Colicchio once he got attacked by Elia, although Bourdain’s defense was nowhere near as emphatic as Ripert’s. I suspect he does see some “selling out” there. He recognizes it as a necessity for long-term survival and profit, but doesn’t embrace it as a life strategy. Ripert hasn’t really crossed that bridge yet, since he owns restaurants and is still considered a working chef. Anything else he does merely enhances that image.

    Colicchio strikes me as a helluva nice guy personally, but I don’t him as the world’s greatest chef/bad-ass on TC.

  9. MorganLF says:

    Zappa’s Mom, instead of a weave pull perhaps a Pino Griggio shampoo?

  10. manuel says:

    I have to agree that this season of TC is not catching my interest. I’m surprised b/c I thought I would really enjoy watching the “comebacks”; usually it takes me a while to get engaged b/c there are too many people and I can’t tell them apart. But here I know all the people and their talents/flaws and I’m still bored.
    As to Tony, didn’t anyone catch his “it’s very flavor forward” comment -what a douchy thing to say!

  11. catsworking says:

    Hi, Manuel. Funny you should mention too many people. I’ve always felt the same way. Unless somebody had something really distinctive about their appearance or manner (like Carla, who’s one of a kind), they’d get lost in the crowd with me. This season, I still think Jen and Casey are the same person.

    I guess what’s making this season kind of boring is that all the chefs have moved on in their real lives and are quite accomplished (except for Stephen, who went more into restaurant management, I guess), and they all know the ropes of the competition, so it’s really just a matter of waiting for the TC producers to come up with a challenge so horrible that somebody just can’t handle it. And that’s kind of cruel.

    I don’t think I did hear Tony say something was “very flavor forward.” The only thing I remember from last week was that he said Stephen’s dish, I believe, tasted like a “head shop,” whatever that is. I live a sheltered life.

  12. zappa says:



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