Saturday, April 26, 2008

Where's the Pepto?

This look pretty much sums up the way I felt this week after viewing the latest efforts of Top Chef. Confused and frustrated. It sucks when one of your favorite chefs is jettisoned from the herd. But this season more than any other I can't say I understand a lot of what's going on with the "judging".
I certainly understand the concept of the viewer not being able to taste the dish to make us rely on the judges as to whether a dish tastes good or bad. I could understand why other factors come into play when judging a dish such as leadership, adhering to the "challenge" (improvising, tailgating, dessert, ect.), presentation and so on. However even that has dropped by the wayside and left me in the valley of despair. It's time to call the judging what it is, superficial and capricious.

I'm trying to follow the logic. The elimination challenge was simple enough, make a dish of the things called out by the audience at the Second City Comedy Night. A color, an emotion and an ingredient. Now because it's Top Chef, I don't have a clue what the rules really are but ONE would think that the specific ingredient was important, the color also but to a lesser extent and the emotion element and improvising your dish factor would allow some wiggle room. Now I'm not even going to get into all the other bullshit tricks that were thrown into the mix because in my opinion they were stupid reality TV show twists that add very little to determining a good top chef.

This was the winning dish, Green Tofu Perplexed. This dish should have won. It used the ingredient, it used the color and it even used the emotion, perplexed which apparently the diners were when they tasted the beef flavor of the tofu. It was nicely improvised by Dale and Richard. Thank goodness because the other choice was the Asshat's long awaited Squash Soup he's been dying to make for apparently the entire season. Team Asshat had Yellow Love Vanilla. So we got an orange squash soup with a Crème fraîche dollop sprinkled with vanilla. It wasn't yellow, it didn't really give off the emotion of love and the ingredient was a sprinkling and it certainly wasn't improvised. Oh well.

Our two losing teams are sweating bullets. Why? I guess because one team didn't use the ingredient, used the wrong color and took the emotion and applied it only to themselves. They did improvise but you would think that one of the two members of that team would be going home. You would think that because the other team used the ingredient, sort of used the color, and applied the emotion to the dish that this would be a no-brainer sort of decision. When you're supposed to use polish sausage and you decide to use sea bass? Seems like the sort of judging criteria that would send someone home for not cooking tailgate food at a Bears game. You would be very wrong in that assumption. Because Jen had to pack her knives. Poor Jen fell into the trap of partnering with Stephanie who has done so well in the early rounds that she now brings the all important "Benefit of the Doubt" factor with her whenever she might appear at a losing judges table.

I know I was just as shocked as Jen. I don't know why. After Richard slipping by with his scaly mushy salmon I should have known anything was possible. What's also possible is that I'm finding that the judging is sloppy, badly seasoned and has absolutely no direction or cohesion. I suggest the judges clean up their act or they will be packing their mics and going home.


Anonymous said...

I'm really sad about the departure of Jen, too, and I read somewhere about her brussels sprouts salad at Coco500, and I'm give my eyeteeth to be in San Francisco to try it. That said, I do understand something about what looks like capriciousness in the judging maybe not really being that. That is, it makes sense to me that you'd have to think about all sorts of factors that might play in sometimes, but that those factors probably don't outweigh "tastes bad," which is what people were saying about this. The grease melting from the goat cheese sounded kind of gross.

The Big Shamu said...

Then what was the point of having the dishes based on what the audience yelled out? If you're going to have challenges with specific requirements then don't you think that presenting the required parts of the dish is important? It's really very hard for me to understand the equation of Sea Bass + Chorizo + Purple Potato Mash ÷ shots by the chefs = magenta drunken Polish Sausage. Guess I need to brush up on my Top Chef New math skills.

Cyndi L said...

Shocked and incredibly disappointed. That sums it up. Team seabass = better chefs than Team sexy asparagus? I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

I think there is a point in having the dishes based on what the audience yelled out, and that's what made the winning dish win; it was a witty response to the challenge on the terms in which the challenge was offered. But I guess I hear an implied "that tastes good" at the end of every challenge (in the same way that we imply it at the end of every restaurant order), and the thing that tastes bad might well lose rather than the thing that tastes pretty good but violates the terms of the challenge. YMMV, of course.

Charlus said...

I agree, Shamu. I have a bald spot from scratching my head so much over this decision. Somewhere in Florida, Sandee Birdsong is seeing red all over again, and I don't blame her.

The Big Shamu said...

Except in your restaurant I'm guessing if someone order polish sausage and got fish, no matter how good it tasted, I'm fairly confident your diner would be sending the fish back and demanding the polish sausage she ordered!.

CharmingDinnerGuest said...

I agree with you completely. If a chef is challenged to cook Polish sausage his response is a refusal to do so, would that not disqualify his entry?

Anonymous said...

I really don't get why the judges slammed Jen. The way they're going they could just eliminate the rules of the challenges. Why bother if you can punt the rules for the sake of your culinary integrity (I don't do polish sausage, I won't cook with beer or wine...)?
To me though the travesty of Antonia and Lisa's by was that even ignoring the polish sausage, they didn't even incorporate "drunken" into their dish. That's cooking 101. Even some vodka sauce or something would have been enough.

Anonymous said...


I'm not saying Jen should have gone, but I think some of our collective head scratching was a hack editing job by Bravo.

Clearly, flavor wise, the soup and the tofu were good. (And, the soup looked kind of yellow, but I diagress.) In passing, Tom notes that the Pork/Bacon dish was a "good plate of food". Seems like damning with faint praise, especially when later on he tells the bottom 4 that all the dishes were liked.

Maybe Jen got slightly hosed because orange is a color and an ingrediant. The dish had too much orange and not enough aspargras. (Personally, I think that's better than not using the sausage at all, but, what do I know.)

Anyway, I suspect there was some sort of long discussion in which someone argued to 86 the chorizo people and some who thought the chorizo dish was better and the cheese-bread dish didn't have enough of the featured ingrediant to get a free pass on the count alone.

I've had her Brussels Sprout salad. Its good. I'm not sure its super innovative (ala tofu marinated in beef fat), but it is really tasty.

Aunty Belle said...

Hey!! Yikes-- I did not realize that Big Shamu was Java I jes' now left ya a MM comment on Maureen and Bacon-- a day late, sorry.

I doan git this Top Chef gig...they never select the ones I like--done give up on it.

Anybody who can make brussel sprouts excitin' is a whiz. (An I like BrusselSprouts!)

The Big Shamu said...

Not to confuse you Aunty, we're not one in the same but two cut from the same cloth.
Funny, I've been hearing a lot about why folks have stopped watching Top Chef so you're not exactly alone.

The Troll said...

Glad to see you're bashing Tom and the judging. However, there was one thing about Jen's part in the dish that viewers didn't need to taste to evaluate. She used bread. (Possibly store-bought). And the bread was soggy on the bottom when served. She took individual responsibility for it, and that's what probably tipped the scales against her. HONESTY. And having front-runner Steph as a partner.

The other bottom-two team, by contrast, refused to divulge who was the leader in deciding to ignore the challenge's main ingredient. At least BEFORE the Judges reached their decision. They were,at least somewhat, dishonest.

Not saying it's FAIR but the fact that they could definately lay something specific on Jen was a factor in her gettting the axe.

Anonymous said...

And the cheese. I think Jen was responsible for the cheese (I think there is some random line about her having a "technique" for turning it orange.) The cheese apprarently also was not great.

Again, its an editing thing, but those two elements were Jen's and they sucked. I have no idea what Steph did, not much b-roll of her doing squat.

Similarly, we'll never know if Lisa or Antonia really said Chorizo at the same time. Maybe they got that on tape, maybe they didn't.

Mrs. T said...

I completely agree, Shamu. If the judges were going to use the excuse that neither of the bottom two teams highlighted their ingredient, then the same should have been said for "team asshat." Their dish was squash soup. I'm sorry, but a little dollop of vanilla crème fraiche shouldn't qualify as following the rules of the challenge either.

Basically, the challenges mean nothing to me anymore. The rules don't necessarily need to be followed, especially if you have been successful in past challenges. And hell, who knows WHAT the rules are to begin with!? The judges just pull a name out of their asses. I'm so tired of it.

And BTW...I know some may disagree with me, but I HATED this challenge. HATED IT!!! From the very beginning I couldn't stop rolling my eyes. Every time there was a "twist" I just got more annoyed. When the chefs had to pack up their food and go to the house, I momentarily turned the channel I was so pissed. It was so pointless and I was honestly embarrassed to be watching what I was watching.