Friday, January 7, 2011

"They will cry in your face if you don't give them what they want."

Friday, January 7, 2011

For this especially exciting edition of Top Chef, the producers have decided to change up the format a bit. Rather than the usual opening scenes of cheftestants waking up hung over and bedraggled or meeting the new day with fresh zeal and confidence (immediately setting us up to believe those happy chefs are probably on the chopping block for the episode), we are now graced with the ominous view of an empty Top Chef kitchen, then flashing back to the even more ominous, and infamous stew room during the previous episode. Yelling and outbursts of emotion ensue. As if we needed more assurance that this is a high-stakes season! In fact, as Dale L. states, it's "open season."

Quickfire challenge:
When the chefs stride into the Top Chef kitchen, no one is more shocked than me to see Padma standing with a Jonas brother! Apparently, it is Joe Jonas. I haven't the faintest idea which Jonas is which, and I find it amusing that Spike identifies him immediately. Even more hilarious is the fact that Dale Talde is also oblivious to the Jonas existence and thinks he might be a pastry chef. I cringe a bit with some of these guest selections, because they obviously don't have a lot of culinary experience.

Thankfully, culinary experience isn't the most important thing about this challenge, which is to create a midnight snack for the kids staying overnight at the American History Museum. Joe Jonas will get to select two winning snacks, but ultimately the kids will decide which is the best. The winner will receive immunity and an advantage during the next challenge. I give Joe props for telling the chefs their snacks have to be better than peanut butter and celery, and even more when he cutely jokes that they have to complete the snack in 30 seconds. He's got a little sense of humor, that Jonas!

As usual, there is a gigantic rush to the pantry and fridges. Dale Talde commandeers all the sugar in the house. I don't know why it's such a big deal-walk over to his station, people! Cooking for kids "hits very dear" to Marcel, and Tiffani F. tries to wrangle the liquid nitrogen, while reliving her poor behavior with kids from Season 1. Her dish is a weird mix of marshmallows and chocolate.

Richard, for whom I have nursed a burgeoning dislike, completely endears himself to me when he shares a tale of how, as a husky kid, he used to eat things like cereal with heavy cream. Be still my heart. I would eat cereal like that every single day if I could.

Joe Jonas thought the chefs performed well, but wasn't in love with Tiffany's coconut treat, Mike's low-on-chocolate polenta bars, or Stephen's strange snickerdoodle sandwiches. He did, however, love Tiffani's snowball and Spike's carrot and potato chips served with marshmallow mascarpone dip. I know that last one sounds a bit strange, but something tells me it would be REALLY good.

It's at this point that the chefs learn the tie between Spike and TIffani will be broken at the museum, and the remaining chefs will have to assist in making enough servings for the kids. Setting us up for a team elimination challenge, Tiffani and Spike pick their teams. Fabio is picked last, and chooses to be on Spike's team because he "wants to pissed off" Spike. There is a bunch of back and forth about which team leader is better, we learn that Richard teaches Liquid Nitrogen 101 back home, and two of the best chefs, Angelo and Dale Talde, are on bag-stuffing duty. We also hear from Fabio that he likes to be "under the rudder." He means radar. Bless his heart.

Not surprisingly, the kids ultimately go the sugar route, wholeheartedly embracing Tiffani's supersweet snowball/moonpie. Poor Spike attempts to work the crowd a bit, to no avail. Jamie can't tolerate the noise, and gives the audience more reason to dislike her by stating with firm certainty that she never wants children. I was a bit surprised to see that the kids all knew which Jonas was present. I underestimate their popularity.

Elimination challenge:
After Tiffani is declared the winner, the cheftestants begin to clean up the mess. In the midst of it, Tom arrives. A twist, of course. He announces that the elimination challenges begins now. They'll be joining the sleepover, and then preparing a breakfast for the kids and their parents in the morning. Said breakfast will be inspired by the diets of the brontosaurus and T-rex (the skeletons of which are conveniently located just behind Tom's head as he explains the details). You can probably guess that this means one team will be cooking with meat, and one will be cooking with fruits and vegetables. Tiffani, as the winner, picks T-rex. Let the record state that everyone should have paid closer attention to Tom's explanation!

The chefs head to a quiet wing of the museum, set up with little cots. Stephen worries about space issues, while Tre fears he won't be able to sleep naked. They have brief team meetings about their plans, which are a little useless considering they have no idea about the contents of the kitchen. Team T-rex decides to work in pairs. Team Brontosaurus seems a bit more cohesive. After the meeting, some chefs sleep, while others sneak about the museum on a flashlight tour. They sleep for approximately one hour.

Team T-rex is in for a big surprise when they arrive at the kitchen, which is color-coded with cute brontosaurus and T-rex tags. They will be using exclusively meat and dairy. This means no fruit, no vegetables, no grains, no herbs, no flour, no acid....the list goes on. The advantage becomes a giant disadvantage.

Tragedy strikes when Jamie slices her thumb open whilst preparing pork belly. At least it's a tragedy for Jamie, who immediately bolts for the hospital to receive two tiny stitches. Virtually everyone else loses every shred of respect they may have had for her culinary talent. Almost every season has seen a chef with a minor injury, requiring stitches or not, and for Fabio, it's particularly grating, considering that he actually BROKE his finger during his season. And continued to cook. She doesn't express much remorse, and leaves Jen to finish the dish by herself.

Team T-rex seems to have major issues in the kitchen. Tre and Casey are discouraged with their salmon. Antonia and Tiffany can't make the oven work properly. Jen slips on the floor.

Team Brontosaurus has to deal with Spike's tsunami-like stirring of Fabio's gnocchi, but they seem cool and collected. Casey tastes Jen's pork belly and declares that it tastes like "wet bacon." Uh-oh.

Jamie arrives just as the chefs are setting up for breakfast, the morning sun blazing down on their stations. This pretty much sums up her entire contribution for the episode. Back at Team Brontosaurus, Angelo begins a startling trend of interfering in other dishes, with questionable intentions.

The crowd heads straight to Team T-rex, which is a normal reaction. People want bacon and eggs for breakfast. I'm pretty sure they're going to be disappointed. The judges arrive with Katie Lee, the original hostess of Top Chef. Padma is far superior, even with her annoyingly picky habits.

Fabio works the crowd, endearing all the older women to his charm. As a whole, the judges seem to like the dishes of Team Brontosaurus, particularly Angelo and Richard's yogurt parfait.

Things take a turn for the worst at Team T-rex. Every dish has major flaws, with the exception of Tiffani and Dale L, who have prepared a simple steak and eggs. Casey and Tre's salmon is overpowered by a salty sauce. Antonia and Tiffany's fritattas are not consistently cooked well, so some kids and parents receive good ones and other choke down poor ones. Jen's pork belly is underdone and topped with flavorless eggs.

Team Brontosaurus is declared the winning team at judges' table, and the banana parfait, a work of art in Gail's eyes, was picked as best dish. It's a bit hard to choke down that recipe title as a winning dish on Top Chef, I'll admit.

Fireworks ensue when Team T-rex is called to judgment. Tiffani attempts to explain away their problems by blaming them on only being able to use meat and dairy. Jen pipes up that T-rex eats everything, and spends the rest of the time at the table making angry gestures, shrugging her shoulders, and yelling at the judges. Antonia threw Jamie under the bus for not being in attendance during the challenge, but is interrupted by Jen's vehement defense of her dish. I begin to think that she is either pregnant or suffering from a strange taste bud condition, because she cannot understand the judges' criticisms at all.

Despite how terrible the dish looked (see above) and the scathing reviews from everyone, it was still a cold shock to see Padma announce that it was time for Jen to pack her knives and go. She is undoubtedly one of the most talented chefs in the group, and I could easily have seen her advancing to the finale. There was quite a bit of strife and controversy around her elimination. Bloggers and commenters were irate that Jamie wasn't sent home. I was upset too, but as a long time viewer of the show, I know that the judges are consistent about the core format. Cheftestants are judged on an episode by episode basis. One bad dish is literally all it takes, no matter how amazing every dish before might have been. It's a frustrating rule, but it's how the show runs. Now isn't the time to switch it up. Reading Tom's blog at Bravo's website is a great resource, particularly when you're curious about the behind-the-scenes drama. He expressed that despite Jamie's lack of participation, if a chef feels that they need to seek medical attention, that cannot directly lead to their elimination.

At this point, I'm at a loss as to who might go home each week. It is open season.

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