Thursday, January 8, 2009

I feel oddly like I need a diet Dr. Pepper: Top Chef Season 5 - "Focus Group"

(A close second for the title was, "It's 'Top Chef,' not Top Scallops," thanks, Fabio)

Hooray! After two weeks off, we finally got a new "Top Chef" and it was kind of good, at least the Elimination Challenge. I was kind of confused by the blatant sponsorship of the QF challenge by Dr. Pepper, though. Normally it's all, "use Swanson broth" or make a gourmet meal out of this Dorito, the food is never actually INSERTED into the title of the Quickfire. I'm surprised the editors didn't have to make a new graphic with a Diet Dr. Pepper bottle instead of the usual QF intro. But, the EC won me over, as did a number of the chefs, but lets get to that later...

The Diet Dr. Pepper Quickfire Challenge (I think I'm going to create my own sponsor for each of the challenges from now on):
I'm going to admit it, right here and now, I had a total issue with the QF last night - and not even for the reason you might think (DDP). Just because you have no WHITE SUGAR in a food does NOT MAKE IT DIET!!! Did you hear some of the words the chefs were throwing around to describe what they were making or their final dish? Deep-fried. Honey. Nuts. Walnut oil. Bread Pudding. Ricotta cheese. Which one of those screams diet to you? Um, none? This is what makes me mad. It's fine to make a refined-sugar free dessert, but it's not any more diet than a piece of chocolate cake if you're just going to deep fry that bitch and cover it in honey.

That said, Jeff's baklava spring roll sounded awesome, as did his ice cream - he always makes sorbets and stuff, maybe because he's from Florida? Whatever, I'm not complaining, he could make me ice cream everyday...then preferably feed it to me on a private beach. Radhika's dessert looked good, too, I do like bread pudding, but, still, not so much a diet food. Ariane's plate looked gross, I don't know what was up with beauty shot, but the melted whipped cream all over the crepes looked horrible. Look at it!!!
Also, not food related, but was Stefan kind of flirting with Jean-Christophe? I didn't understand what was going on there...even Padma looked confused (well, more confused than normal). I was kind of pulling for Jeff to win the DDPQF, but, alas, he was beaten by Radhika (fairly, I guess, not having tasted the food) - it's OK, Jeff, there's always next week.

The Purina Cat Chow Elimination Challenge:
Was anyone else concerned when Padma said they had the night off? I expected they would send the chefs out to a club, then make them cook dessert for the drunken masses, a la Miami...remember Casey and the heels? Ugh. Luckily, they surprised me by actually sticking to their words and Tommy C. waited until the next morning to come to the house to give the chefs their challenge. (Sidebar, Fabio being worried about the house being messy for Tom was the cutest thing ever). The challenge was great. I think it should have been one of the earlier challenges, though, so the judges and other chefs could get a sense of each others' style and ability level. I guess it made sense to have it now, especially after reading this, to really get the chefs back on track and into their comfort zone for a challenge, to really see what they could do with (relatively) no limits. I think it was a rare opportunity for the chefs to directly hear the judges comments, as well as the insights of their fellow competitors, which I imagine is both painful and extremely beneficial. How many chefs get that level of insightful critique, week after week? I have my doubts as to how "blind" the tasting could be, I mean, I'd expect that the other chefs, Padma, and especially Tom, would know each of the other chefs style's by now.

The Food:
Group A:
Melissa - Tuna Tacos - WTF? I would absolutely not make tacos as my "signature dish," given the resources available to them and the time they had.
Hosea - Halibut wrapped in bacon! Sold! I was sorry to hear the fish had been overcooked, it sounded really good. Bacon, what's not to love?
Radhika - Her soup sounded delicious, I'm sorry it didn't turn out all that great, but she had immunity, so it wasn't really that relevant.
Fabio - Did anyone else here the Italian music start up as soon as he popped up on TV, rolling pasta?

His dish sounded really good, I can't believe he undercooked the lamb, though (insert sad-face emoticon). Maybe Ariane should have told him how to properly cook protein, since that's apparently her forte.
Jamie - UGH!!! Scallops! Cook something else! Nothing else needs be said, except that it probably was a fantastic dish, if not very inspired.

Sidenote: Why do I have to watch commercials for "The City" and (gag) "Bromance" on Bravo?

Here is a direct transcript of my notes from last night, specifically when I realized the other chefs were judging Group A's food:
HAHAHAHAHA! They have to judge the other groups' dishes!!! HAHAHAHAHA! Doesn't Group B get an advantage, then? Since they'll know how the judges critique the food? Especially Toby? And, they get to watch the review on TV? Tom cackling about Toby and the WMDs!!! Ugh, yeah, they liked the unoriginal scallops. But, hooray for Fabio (minus the lamb). Gene - not so good. Melissa - cat food? Really not so good.

Group B: (was anyone confused as to why the chefs were allowed to bring their Whole Foods carts out onto the streets of Manhattan to bring their groceries to the kitchen? Aren't you not allowed to remove shopping carts from the store?)

I think the Group B was fairly non-critical of Group A. Maybe they edited out the worst of it (although i doubt it, Bravo is all about the reality TV drama), but they were very fair and constructive in their criticism of the dishes, in my opinion. It must be tough to judge your friends' food.

Jeff - I don't know what to say, why does he always do so many dishes? He creates so much work for himself. I bet if he had focused on one actual family-style dish, he would have done awesome. Leah - I can't believe she admitted to doing something she had never done before - has she learned nothing from the ostrich egg debacle?
Ariane - Ugh. I hate to say it, but it sounded really good. Skate, capers, pineapple? What's not to like? And, again, she cooks her protein perfectly.
Stefan - full disclosure: I'm German/Eastern European and heart German/Eastern European food, so I was practically licking my TV when I saw his dish...God, that cabbage looked delicious. Perhaps the dish was a tad heavy for August, but I'm going to let that slide, that was probably my favorite dish of the challenge.

Carla - what happened? Her risotto sounded like it would have been good, she should have just stuck with that and not second-guessed herself, but I guess that's easy for me to say as an outsider. At least she realized it in the end.

Judge's Table:
Jamie, Ariane, Stefan were in the top three.
Jamie won and got cocky, as predicted. I guess I'm not surprised, her food is always good-looking and sounds tasty, I just get a weird, bad-attitude vibe from her. Kind of like another hated contestant from last season, who will not be named. Stefan's dish was my favorite (and he's on my TC Fantasy Team) so I was kind of pulling for him and his crappy attitude, but I'm good with the winner.

Melissa, Gene, Carla were in the bottom three, again, not shocking. Gene was getting the loser-edit from the beginning (calling his family early on during the episode, also serving to plug T-Mobile) and he clearly got in over his head with the whole fish, although the idea of it sounded good. I can't get behind his daikon with tomato, though...WTF was he thinking? As for Melissa, well, I think she just phoned it in, which sucks, because this was the challenge to really shine. I'm kind of upset her food was compared to cat food, though, that was probably unnecessary. Carla - I'm not surprised she was the one to stay, her dish suffered from over complication, but her original idea (risotto alone) was actually good. Plus, she was able to articulately explain her thought process going into the dish, as well as how it could be changed to be better. The other two were just bad all around, one too creative and the other not creative enough. I've actually found myself liking Carla more, so I'm also happy she gets to stay and amuse us with her other crazy antics.

As for the new judge - whatever. I think he just wanted to come out swinging as a douchebag and go from there. I don't quite know why. Why would you want people to think you're an asshole right off the bat? I guess he knows what he's talking about or they wouldn't have brought him on, but that doesn't make me miss Ted Allen less. As long as Toby tones it down and actually talks about the food, I'm good with him. I really only Tom, anyway.

Next week: Hung! A farm (do they have to kill their own meal?)! Stefan and Jamie act like douchebags! And actually say they are douchebags!


David Dust said...

"Purina Cat Food Challenge" ... I hope Bravo doesn't read that and get any ideas.

And I can't wait to see what kind of trouble Hung stirs up next week!

CLICK HERE for David Dust's Top Chef recap.


Beth said...

I nearly threw something at the TV when Leah said she was making something she'd never done before. I mean, really, with no rules, you could pull out your #1 best recipe out of your back pocket and throw that trump onto the table. I can't wait 'til the episode that starts with her using a Sidekick and talking about her family at home.

iko said...

Yes! The phone call home is always the kiss of death - I await that day, too!