Thursday, January 15, 2009

Top Chef Season 5, Episode 8: Missed Connections

It was a good idea. Inspired even. Start the show off with a quick-fire that allots the cheftestants fifteen minutes to create something brilliant from canned and packaged items, and then end on an elimination challenge that requires them to make something from the freshest items available. From cupboard/freezer to farm? From canned peas and marinated artichokes to seasonal fresh berries and heirloom tomatoes? Someone over at Bravo had their thinking cap on. It's really a shame that the concept failed so miserably.

From start to finish, the eighth episode of "Top Chef" was a disaster of the fallen chocolate souffle variety. It seemed overworked, overbeaten and teased into a lifeless puddle of prime time mush. In other words, I didn't want to swallow any of it. I wanted to send it back, and receive something more palatable in return. I wanted something I could connect with.

The problem with formulating an episode around an elimination challenge that requires the contestants to use seasonal ingredients is that by the time the episode comes to air, those ingredients are four-five months past their prime. While the weather in Southern California is nearing the 80s at the moment, it was still incredibly disconcerting to watch the chefs, divided into teams "chicken," "pig" and "lamb," prepare a summer luncheon with their aforementioned protein and sweet corn, green beans, berries, and tomatoes, in the middle of winter. One of the main reasons I enjoy "Top Chef" is because of the way the show coaxes its viewers into a relationship with both the chefs and the food. In seasons past, I loved watching Hung break down duck and chicken, I loved watching Marcel whipping up his silly foams, and I loved watching Sam... well, I just loved watching Sam.

Because the chefs in last night's episode were working with ingredients that are so far removed from what Americans are currently eating and preparing, it was nearly impossible to connect with the dishes. How am I to feel inspired by corn and green bean salad, fried green tomatoes, and a fresh fruit creme brulee, when I am ordering butternut squash soup at restaurants and tooling over pasta recipes with kale and collard greens? I can't.

My inability to connect with last night's food was only further exacerbated by my continued inability to truly connect with any of the chefs other than Fabio. I just don't care strongly enough about any of them. Yes, Carla and all her crazy talk about "peace" and "love" is kind of annoying, but not enough for me to really hate her -- especially when she keeps rolling out those fabulous fruit tarts. And yes, Stefan is egotistical and moody, but he's European -- what else would he be? The whole lot of them (again, excepting Fabio) are, to steal a line from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, like "dry toast." I don't have a strong opinion about any of them. And it appears the judges don't either. At the end of last night's episode, the entire team chicken was lumped together as "the winner."

I was admittedly sad to see Arianne take the fall for her failure to connect with her team's protein, the lamb, but still couldn't muster the kind of "No!" reaction I had when Tre was eliminated in Season 3. I was more irritated that lifeless Leah wasn't sent packing for her lackluster performance than I was dismayed to see Arianne go.

But, in the words of many of the chefs in previous seasons, "It is what it is." Shrug. Sigh. Upward and on. Here's hoping restaurant wars brings some real heat to the kitchen. Or at the very least, some adorable incoherent ramblings from Fabio.


Ashley said...

Yeah, what happened to the days of CJ? Remember at the beginning of the season when Tom said something like, "If they cook like this all season, we're in for a good ride."

Yeah right! Leah (two-timer!) needs to pack up those knives!

It's sad when the highlight of the show is when Fabio voices his confusion about why they're not being taken to Whole Foods.

Alessandra said...

I totally yelled out when Arianne was eliminated! That was such BS! Leah and Hosea (sp?) are nauseating, and they just sat back and let her do all of the work while they flirted. Then, they totally threw her under the bus at Judge's table. I can't believe that she was eliminated. I could tell Padma was really sad. I bet that was a producer's decision, as they just want to tease out the cheating/love storyline between Leah and Hosea. It looks like it gets even worse next week!

Aside from that, I agree with Didi. I don't care about anyone except Fabio. I LOVE FABIO!

Esi said...

I loved watching Sam too! :)

Last night's ep was so weird. I mean, obviously we know they filmed at the end of summer, but then a few weeks ago they were trying to pull off that holiday crap? Makes no sense. I was actually kind of upset that Arianne was eliminated. I think it shoulda been Radhika or Leah, but I WAS surprised that googly-eyed Carla made the judges happy.

Pepsi Monster said...

As the only male voice in the comment board, Sam...ewww. J/K!

I am really disgusted and very disappointed at this season's Top Chef. The decisions that are made are really horrible.

Now I just saw a preview of next week's episode and one of the contestants is going to tank on purpose because that person didn't want to be in the top 2 in the quickfire challenge so that the person can be in "executive chef" role in the Restaurant War episode.

Oh yes, Restaurant War is on next week's episode!

That person surmise in theory that the losing executive chef always get the axe (Tre & Dale). So, the so called contestant is not going to try too hard in the quickfire challenge. How lame was that?

Yeah, it might not get better any time soon.

Heather said...

i loved sam, too.

i kinda liked last night's episode, although i'm just a sucker for fabio, so i'm easy to please.

the one guy i do totally hate is that new judge. what a pathetic sound bite machine. he just says absurd things to be annoying and get camera time. and i think padma really doesn't like him cause she kinda snapped at him last night. i want gail back!!

i agree the seasonal disconnect was annoying (esp since three episodes ago, we were celebrating christmas!) - but i still totally loved the food. sometimes i get so nostalgic for fresh summer food - the corn and tomatoes made me happy :)

i'm excited to see the leah and hosea makeout sesh next week. i like hosea, but not leah so much. fabio is my favorite. <3. sigh.

Diana said...

Ashley - I loved CJ! Goofy tall guys are the best!

Ali - You know, that hadn't even occurred to me! I bet they did keep Leah on so they could keep the romance between her and Hosea going. Yuck.

Esi - Haha, you are too funny about Carla! I agree though, her eyes really are creepy! I wonder if that's why she and her husband do the hooty-hoo thing... because she looks like an owl?

Mike - That is so terrible! But considering this year's chefs, not all that surprising...

Heather - I love summer food too, so I think that was why I got so annoyed last night. I want corn on the cobb! Totally agree about new judge this week too -- his line about wanting to have unprotected sex with his food was appalling. Completely unnecessary! It was so clear he was just saying it for the sound byte. Grr!


Diana :)

Passionate Eater said...

I agree! I think it is going to take a few more episodes before I really start connecting with anyone from this season of Top Chef.

Erica said...

Yah- not a big fan of last night. I don't want to see animals running around a farm before I watch people cook them....enough said!

Alessandra said...

Did anyone notice Stefan's shirt in the last episode? For those who missed it, it said, "I make good babies." Barf.

I agree with Erica's comment. I do not want to see the baby animals before they are cooked!

Kirby! said...

The whole Hosea/Leah thing is so stupid and boring. Who cares? It doesn't even seem like they like each other that much. It's like the Hills, where the kids go on a date, and their conversation consists of, "You're so funny." "Oh, thanks, you're cool." etc.

They probably know that they're too boring to win, so that's why they're dry-humping in their bunk beds. Sorry, but seriously.

Diana said...

Erica - I know! I totally agree -- really disturbing! Especially with those poor lambs. :(

Kirby - Too funny re: the Hills! Their dates do suck! I always wonder why they come home and say they had a good date when they don't say anything interesting the whole time! They should really cast me on the show... at the very least, I'd actually eat the food at all those she-she restaurants they go to!