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.