Only three weeks into the 12th season of Top Chef (set in Boston this time) the claws are already coming out. While I was relieved to see that the season premiere spared us of the in house drama between the chefs (that you know the producers do everything they can to beef up) sadly that relief didn’t last long. I don’t know about you, but if I wanted to see a bunch of people living together that don’t know each other and don’t want to live together, I would watch Big Brother (or Real World, back in the day.) I watch Top Chef because I want to see the cooking competition. So can we please stick to that Bravo? Pretty please with crème fraiche on top?
Anyway, onto the important stuff. We kicked off the meat and potatoes of this week with the dreaded Sudden Death Quickfire Challenge. This week’s challenge meant these esteemed chefs had to come up with a gourmet dish that incorporates some type of tea. As they explained on the show, this was a nod to the Boston Tea Party. As with any quickfire challenge some of the chefs rose to the occasion while others crashed and burned horribly. Likely the pressure of knowing they would have their dishes judged by world famous chef and restaurant owner Ming Tsai caused some of them to drop the ball when it came to preparing their dishes.
Continuing with this season’s Boston theme the Elimination Challenge took place at Fenway Park. Each cheftestant (a word I really hate btw,) was tasked with creating a gourmet dish based on a typical ball park snack, such as popcorn, peanuts or hot dogs. As always, this led to some amazing creations and some that made you question what the chef was thinking when they chose the dish they chose. The Elimination Challenge was judged by Dennis Eckersley, a former player and current legend of the Boston Red Sox as well as Ming Tsai, Dan Shaughnessy and former Top Chef contestant and fan favorite, Richard Blais along with Padma and Tom as well (naturally Gail Simmons wasn’t anywhere near this one. We can’t have her subjected to such a dirty, filthy low class place as a baseball stadium.)
As much as I could live without it, I suppose we can’t do a thorough weekly recap of Top Chef without tackling the subject of the banter exchanged between the contestants. It has always been obvious that Top Chef Contestants are made to live together because it adds another level of competition to the show. As much as the chefs try to one up each other in the various kitchens they cook in throughout the season they try just as hard when they are sitting in the house they are forced to share for the duration of the competition. Actually this seeps into the actual competition too. Funny how they’re put in one room (ironically called a stew room) with a camera and nothing to do. Throw in a tremendous amount of stress on the part of everyone present and you have a recipe for drama. Katsuji and Aaron engaged in a verbal war where Katsuji told Aaron that he is making everyone hate him and Aaron threw back his own smart mouthed comments about Katsuji’s affinity for running his mouth that left the other contestants and the viewers at home on the edge of their seats. Aaron is just as hell bent on getting rid of Katsuji as Katsuji is on getting rid of him. As they traded insults back and forth Aaron told Katsuji to “shut his mouth with bread pudding.” Aaron arrogantly mentioned that bread pudding is “what five year olds cook,” And they say that women are catty.
I will admit sometimes the personal revelations contestants reveal on this show can be heartwarming. For the Elimination Challenge Katie shared that she was making a meal that reminds her of her late father. I’m not one to get sappy over reality shows (well, not this one, anyway) but when the judges told her that her dad would b be proud of her dish it gave me a warm squishy feeling that I don’t usually get. From anything.
I do have to say, after so many years of watching Top Chef I am starting to get a little tired of the judges ripping into the contestants when judgment time comes. While I understand the point of the show is to weed out the chefs that can’t hack it until you find the one you can I often feel like some of the comments Padma and Tom make are just unnecessarily harsh. Sadly though, this is what brings in viewers and keeps the ratings high, so I’m sure the harshness will not only continue but will get worse.
The shift from bringing the chefs in in groups to be judged to bringing them in all together to be judged is one that I do find brings an interesting dynamic to that portion of the show. Sure in previous seasons the groups that were still in the stew room could watch what was happening on a monitor, but I think it makes more of an impact on them to see it happening right in front of their faces.
Let’s face it; in a lot of ways Top Chef is like high school. Everyone is in everyone else’s business and people love seeing each other get reamed out by those in a position of authority, as the Top Chef judges are. They get to see exactly what they are in for if the judges think they screwed up. They also get to feel the tension in the room caused by being judged in front of their fellow chefs. This may be a bold move on the part of the producers to help each chef step up their game.
Check back next week to see what developments are in store.