Monday, August 30, 2010

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

I am so bored. This current season of Top Chef is draining the life out of me. Why? Let's discuss. Around the Top Chef blogger teepees, the consensus seems to be the quality of the chefs. That this season is just a blip. There is some validity to that argument if you look back at past seasons and realize that casting seems to alternate between having a group of rock solid working chefs with some success under their belts and having a group of marginal cooks with wacko personalities and goofy hats. Take a look at last season and this one. You had four outstanding chefs that made food you remember. Like Kevin's candied bacon jam, or Michael V's Braised Pork Belly. This season we're talking about food that a chef apparently lost in transit. Despite the fact that I've gotten used to the seasonal swing between good chefs/drama chefs I think there's a larger problem that has to do with the whole concept of Top Chef. The series has been set on Auto Pilot while the creative folks that fleshed out some of the better elements of the series have wandered off to do new shows. I don't blame them. I do blame the Producers for not shaking the show up. The basic format has......not......changed! Joel Keller over at The TV Squad has some ideas on why it's so predictable but his major consensus is that the show is still entertaining. As someone who has put a considerable amount of sweat and effort into Top Chef, I couldn't disagree with him more on that particular sentiment. I didn't think Ed walking around the condo in Tiffany's dress was entertaining. I didn't think Angelo plastic wrapping the toilet so another drunk chef ends up peeing on the floor was entertaining. Not to mention how we can all recite the lines by heart of a chef waking up the next morning after another chef has been auffed. If you are boring me it matters not one iota how well produced the damn show is, I'm ready to turn the channel.

Can this Food Reality game show marriage be saved? I think if you radically change it up, you could probably save the Good Ship Top Chef from sinking. How? Hold on to your chef's jackets.

First - Get out of the Studio. It's time to make Top Chef grittier, more realistic. But that means getting out of the Top Chef kitchen. Every season the production crew finds a big empty warehouse and builds the Top Chef Kitchen inside of it. They do this for some very specific reasons. They can control production access, they can fill it to the gills with product and appliance pimpage and it allows them to control camera and sound elements. The Top Chef Kitchen has great sight lines and no outside noise to deal with. You can shoot all night and not piss off the neighbors. But Shamu, didn't they shoot inside the Hilton Hotel this season? Isn't that why they keep showing this shot...
...before each parade of chefs into the Top Chef Kitchen? No. It's just more pimpage. The kitchen was built here.

Some empty warehouse on the outskirts of DC or even into Maryland or Virginia. Let it go. The Top Chef Kitchen is a security blanket you don't need any more. You need to get your hands dirty.

Second - Take Top Chef regional. The whole shooting in one city for a bulk of the season does nothing for the actual competition. It does allow for a lot of pretty local shots but not much else. So what to do instead? Instead of having 17 chefs all in one spot for the season, shoot the first eight episodes in four different cities. Each city gets two episodes and four chefs competing. Epi one, Quickfire eliminates one chef, then the next challenge eliminates another leaving two chefs for the next episode. Episode two cranks up the pressure when it's one on one with the final winner going to the next round. Instead of shooting in some studio, find real life kitchens to shoot in. You've had a huge amount of regional chefs as Guest Judges, time to tap that market and their restaurants. Ask your camera people to get creative. Say hello to a lot more kitchen and food shots. Have challenges that are based in restaurant reality, not stupid word play games. Have the chefs serving food to actual diners. Regulars to whatever restaurant they are filming in. Not handpicked publicity folks invited to eat the chefs food. Who would judge? Sorry Tom, Gail, Padma and whomever is the forth, you'll be staying home. The Regional Rounds are based on how well the dish sells, appearance and the efficiency with which the chefs work with staff, both front and back of house. They've got to order or shop for proteins and produce. They've got to find and procure special ingredients if needed. They've got to budget to make a profit off a dish. You can sell all the lobster you want at $5 a plate but profit will be a judging criteria. If Chef A makes a killer dish that sells 30 servings and actually gets them out on time, correctly prepared, and makes money, they move on before Chef B who could only sell 10 servings and had three come back. The Head Chef of the restaurant will be the ultimate judge but according to the judging elements laid out by the Producers. Oh yeah, the diners won't know what dish is by the guest chefs so none of the voting specifically for Top Chef contestants. So now you've whittled down 16 chefs to 4.

Third - Stay regional. Each of the next four episodes has all four chefs competing in each of the cities the previous episodes. Which means each chef gets a home town advantage at least once. Here's where you could have your chuck wagon challenge, your on the beach challenge, whatever challenge works with the city that you are in. All the judges are back, all regular judging rules (such as they are) apply. However. No chefs eliminated during these episodes. They will all start out with some points but earn more as they win challenges. Points for Quickfires, points for High Stakes Challenges. The more points you accumulate, the better advantage you have in the finale. All four chefs will compete but they will have to use their points to buy the product they want to use for their finale dishes and sous chefs they want to assist them. Also during this series of episodes, each chef gets one opportunity to a Throwdown Challenge. This means that one chef can challenge one other chef to a 30 minute, 6 product dish throwdown. No one has to challenge anyone else but if they do they have to wager points they have against points of the chef they are challenging. If they lose, the chef they challenged gets their points. If they win, they get to take points away from the chef they challenged. Hello pressure.

Fourth - The Finale. Could be one or two episodes. With the layout above, we're up to 12 episodes. Top Chef has for the past four seasons run 14 episodes but they've had as many as fifteen and as little as twelve. You could build some nice audience expectations and buzz with with a two episode finale. Again, it's the cook the best meal of your life....with the points you've accumulated from the previous challenges. There could be twists but the finale should be filmed in one neutral place with all the regular judges and any guest judges they want.

So what does this mean? No more condo segments, no more Whole Food shopping segments, a lot less of Tom and Padma and a lot more focus on the food and the stress of dealing with a working kitchen. If you really want to have some fun, have the chefs travel to each city in the second round in a Winnebago together and run segments on that.

Hell, have Winnebago as a sponsor. That's the other thing, the Producers will have to work harder for their pimpage because throwing up many gratuitous shots of ovens or product would be a lot harder. But isn't that what challenges are all about? Because if you think as many folks are watching what you're doing now, I think you are wrong. When I see comments on various boards that long time fans are forgetting what night the show is on, you've committed the worst TV crime possible and that's boring viewers off your show and onto another. Less viewers viewing your pimpage means lower ratings and less ad revenue. All of which leads down a icy bobsled slope to cancellation. That would make me a very sad TC Crack Monkey indeed.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sweet News

Great news tonight via People Magazine. Long time friend of the blog, Harold Dieterle will be tying the knot with the lovely Meredith Lynn Davies. According to People, they met at the Food and Wine Classic at Aspen and will be honeymooning in Italy. Absolutely could not happen to a nicer guy. Congratulations Harold from all of us here at the Karmic Kitchen. Here's hoping there's no box wedding cake at the reception.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

We Like It Raw

Going on a bit of a Blog Break to clear out some sluginess. Thank you to all who have voted for my essay over on Tony's site. We still have roughly month and a half to go before voting ends and then it's BACON for everyone.

I did not take this picture of bacon....but I wish I had.

Well Father Tony has gone and done it again, written another book.

Picture 33

I wonder if it's good beach reading? As part of his massive publicity machine, Tony has devised a contest to find a contributor to his paperback edition of Medium Raw. Not only does Tony have Fame awaiting you, he also has Fortune in the form of a $10,000 check. All you have to do is write 500 words to answer this question: What does it mean to cook food well?

The exocist

Father Tony would know a little something about that. Yours truly, not being so much a fame whore but totally open to accepting checks with many zeros has plopped down her own 500 words but in reality would feel a whole lot better if this had been a Photochop Contest.


Buy the book and vote for my essay and I promise I'll never Photochop your head onto the body of a goat. Because I can, you know I can.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tag, You're It!

With all the brouhaha over Kenny getting killed (and if you don't think the judges were just waiting to make that joke, check out this extended judging video) we neglected one of my favorite challenges of Top Chef.

It's the one challenge they haven't manage to screw up with their tinkering (unlike the mise en place relay race). It's not only about skills and quickness, it's also about team work and trust.

And it's also about strategy. The first and the last chefs are the most important. The first chef sets up the team, starts any part of the dish that needs at least 30 minutes to cook. The two middle chefs need to interpret and execute. The last chef needs to correct any mistakes, if possible and bring the dish home.

Blue Team seems to trust each other....

...Red Team, not so much. Or should I say they don't trust Alex.

Kenny is the starter for the Blue Team, setting the dish for everyone else to follow. Tiffany starts for the Red Team. Everything seems to go well for the starters. Now it's time for the second chefs. Sherry can't stumble too hard after Kenny's excellent set up and makes all the right moves with the Blue Team's dish. The Red Team seems to be thinking....

...because Alex starts liberally salting the raw fish.

This annoys Tiffany to no end.

I believe it was at this very moment that Tiffany understood, Alex touching food equals disaster. Time is up, Ed and Kevin step in for their teams. Again, Kevin moves his team along while Ed apparently does not salt the fish although I can't really tell what else he does except make a big mess. Now it's time for the final chefs. Angelo for the Red Team is expecting a clean well organized work station and a dish he can just quickly finish. Unfortunately for him...

...that would be the Blue Team's station. The Red Team's Station is a little more...bohemian.

And what's the first thing he does to the fish?

Salt that fish. A lot. With Kosher salt, a big flake salt. Fatal mistake. Time runs out and the dishes are ready for the Guest Judge. Since we're in DC and since Joe Biden has been on Gaffe Lockdown, Top Chef went to the third in line for the Presidency, (god forbid, something happen to the President or Vice President) first woman Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

She's got a pretty easy job, taste two dishes and declare one a winner. By the looks of the photos, it was easy.

The Blue Team's shrimp looks delicious and well balanced while the Red Team's fish looks muddied and wilted. Not to mention salty. Points to Pelosi for being polite but by the look on her face I'm guessing she couldn't taste anything else but the salt.

Which mean the Blue Team wins and the Red Team plots how to deal with their problem chef.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Perfect for Puzzle or Game Night

Maybe Kenny's cheese course would have worked better on this clever cheese board.....N'aah. You can get your own at Supermarket. Remember....Christmas is just around the corner.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Chef Killer

chef killer

Just think, if Kenny had not made this dish he'd probably still be in the running for Top Chef. Editing has so many meanings on this show.


I hope you didn't miss it last night, it was a doozy. Do you agree with the decision or was Kenny robbed? Discuss!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Around the World in Thirty Minutes

For the Elimination Challenge Padma wants you to feed her the World.

This was a interesting challenge to throw at the chefs. It could have been much harder. No Middle Eastern countries were chosen, African and Russia were left on the board. They didn't even include what some consider the third great cuisine, Turkish food. Look at those nine countries. Chefs who are laying claim to the title of Top Chef should have no issue what so ever making Padma and her guests happy.

Who's not happy?

It seems that Kenny is a bit confused as to why he keeps ending up in the middle. He seems to think that being a good guy and having a hard knock life somehow should figure into the judging of his food. I hate to break it to the guy but Top Chef has seen a lot of pompous assholes make it to the finals. Being nice has nothing to do with it. Putting well seasoned, good food on the plate every time you're asked has everything to do with it. I hope we're not seeing the beginning of the cracks that the pressure brings. I hope Kenny gets out of his own head and just cooks. We'll see.

Now onto someone who is on a roll...

Tiffany. Winner of the Quickfire and now in the No. 1 spot to pick the country of her choice. Being a good ole Texas gal, she yanks Mexico off the board. Gotta go with what you know. Because not only are they cooking foreign food they will also only be reheating food over sterno. No day of cooking at the serving site. Who thinks it through and decides to go with a cold dish?

Who is trying to get auffed by using the canned beans despised by Chef Tom?

That's right, it's THIS guy.

Hey? Since when do Chefs get care packages?

Hey? Since when is it legal to send liquor through the postal system?

Now it's time to taste the world according to our chefs.

Excellent guest judge choice. Jose has quite a few restaurants in the DC Metro area and lives in Bethesda, Maryland. Plus he's good TV.

Which one would you choose first? I know, based these pictures and what I like, it would have been Japan's offering but it seems a bit tame especially since Angelo was the chef. The winner?

Tiffany makes a clean sweep of both the Quickfire and the Elimination Rounds and wins $10,000 for herself and $10,000 for José Andrés's charity. Now I'm worried that she'll be auffed next week. As for the chef who finally ends up in the Condo of Shame?
Man, that was way overdue.