I’d like to start by saying something that means a lot to me: Hugh is back! His departure was perhaps one of the most difficult things I’ve witnessed over the course of three seasons of Top Chef Masters. Sure, John Sedlar will be missed—John, we hardly knew ye!—but Ruth, Curtis, Danielle, and I were uniformly elated to welcome Hugh back to the fold. He’s a talented, intelligent chef, and sending him home last week didn’t feel like the right thing to do (in spite of that salty scallop). Lo and behold, he proved his skill this week by acing not one but two preparations of beef Wellington, perhaps one of the all-time most challenging dishes to make.
The gorgeous Christina Hendricks introduced this week’s Elimination Challenge by telling the cheftestants that she disliked the food of the 1960s. Christina obviously has great taste in all sorts of things—a charming husband among them—but on this particular matter, I must disagree. In the 1960s, when I was a kid, my dad was an office-products salesman (he traveled the country selling Bic pens and desktop blotters), and wherever he was, he would stop at restaurants that I imagined were impossibly glamorous, serving food that I considered to be the absolute pinnacle of sophistication. Whenever Dad returned from a trip, he’d go right into the kitchen and duplicate the dishes he’d had at these restaurants: beef Stroganoff, grasshopper pie—foods that, to this day, I absolutely love.
But there was one 1960s creation to which my dad exposed me that stood out above all the others: Duck à l’orange was to me the ideal food and the very definition of high-end dining. So it was a bit disappointing that it was that dish that wound up sending a chef home on this week’s episode. Neither of Sue Zemanick’s versions was outstanding. Still, I’m not sure that it was a plate of food bad enough to go home over. Could Sue’s food have been better? Could it have been more flavorful? Could there have been a better differentiation between the original and the updated rendition? Yes, yes, and yes. Sue’s duck wasn’t terrific, but it was tasty.
Suvir’s veal Oscar, on the other hand, was like shoe leather. At the Critics’ Table, we learned that the chef had made the decision to deep-fry the meat after not snagging enough space on the stovetop. Politeness is a virtue, but if Sue’s dish hadn’t been such a disappointment, Suvir’s policy of nonintervention could have been a fatal mistake—he needed to push someone out of the way and gently sauté that veal!
Note to the producers. Same goes for Top Chef and All-Stars seasons, ridiculous that these chefs aren't even given the proper chance to win. Too small of kitchens, crappy ovens n burners n such. I mean c'mon. I get messing with them on the quickfire but for the elimination challenge, really...it's not their fault you did not equip them properly. I thought it was all about the food. Apparently it's how you politic or bully your way to a station before the other chefs.
I agree. It seems so unfair to put a couple of chefs in a very bad situation. Producers, of course, had to know the number of chef could not fit in the space. Notice the two chefs who had to wait were both called out at the bottom. (Chefs affected by the bad kitchens/equipment are consistently in the bottom on all the Top Chef shows.) And when these chefs explained the situation to the judges last night they were told to stop being nice. Wow. This doesn't seem like the way to treat professionals. In an effort to "make drama" the producers show a lack of trust in the chefs' ability to impress and the audience's ability to be awed by the food. As an audience member I really want to see each chef given a fair chance to cook at his/her best.
James, I don't think I have taken the time to welcome you back. I truly enjoy watching you judge these Masters. You are a delight!
I think this season of Top Chef Masters, for whatever reason, is the first nail in the coffin of celebrity chefdom. Something about the look, pace, and feel of this season is signaling the end of an era. The judging sessions seem oddly rushed--almost pro forma, while the crush of a so many chefs in tight quarters seems casually and humiliatingly dismissive.
Unlike the mature, delightful camaraderie that developed between engaging masters in previous seasons (especially in certain episodes of season one), the current season is a slap in the face--to the chefs and to the viewers. "The Chef" as an icon has been slapped down to (corporately) manageable size, don't you think? I'm embarrassed for them. I'm also embarrassed for the judges, who also seem to be uncomfortable (maybe the lighting, but maybe the result of a cruel editor). I feel just plain sorry for the chefs who agreed to to be in what looks like a remake of They Shoot Horses (sorry, Chefs), Don't They?
This season is the death-knell of chef celebrity. Whether that's good or bad, the difference between this season and the first season is a demoralizing reminder of what most television insists upon. Season One found small groups of accomplished--and almost always engaging--professionals talking, joking, and cooking. Food was in the forefront, but so was style--of personality as well as of performance. This season is a depressing spectacle. I feel as if I'm watching obedient junior high kids being herded into a series of cubicles by insanely repressed nuns. Please tell me these chefs are getting more out of this debasement than a charity donation. And please tell tell me the judges aren't pleased with the brutal look and pace of their scenes.
Something's very off about this season. I feel sorry for the chefs. This is not fun. And I haven't learned a thing about cooking or food since the series began. Bravo has decided to kill food culture.
Thank goodness you did not eliminate Suvir! I really thought you were going to. He's clearly one of the best chefs here, and a real class act!
I need to agree with the other two comments about the lack of time. When you don't provide all the chefs with the time or space they need to cook, the audience interprets it one of two ways: The producers are trying to stir up a fight between contestants (totally inappropriate for the concept of top chef masters) or they're just being cheap. What's next on the list of "challenges": Oh, you gave the waiters a night off. You get to place completely arbitrary restrictions on the chefs AND save a few bucks! I guess you gotta scrimp somewhere if we're ever going to see the real housewives of east fork or whatever.
Sue Zeminick's treatment on this show was depressing. Not just her ridiculous elimination in this episode - she was virtually edited out of the season premiere. She's a really great, really interesting chef and she was treated so poorly. Awful work all around.
I completely agree with the comments above. These chefs are at the top of their game. Why make them struggle with a small kitchen that’s too small or grind their own meat and prep a dish in 30 minutes? It seems a little ridiculous, too, that the previews for next week show cooking with bugs. Seriously? This seems more like hazing chefs who just finished culinary school. This isn't what it takes to be a Top Chef. It's about running a kitchen and all components being done well—creativity, food quality, consistency, service. I certainly hope that the chefs are shown more respect off screen than the producers seem to be showing them on screen.
Totally agree. In All-Stars they forced the chefs to fish, dive, and fight for folding tables at Target. What's next - jumping from a plane and catching and plucking a goose before landing? What self-respecting chef would agree to such a disgrace? Soon enough the entire "Top Chef" line of shows will become a culinary version of "Dancing with the Stars," where desperate cooks are begging for attention.
Unless these chef's get treated considerably better I would support them walking off the show. We, the audience, want to learn about the food not about whether they can produce under ridiculous circumstances and then be told that they blew it.
The show is losing credibility, and I think Top Chef is going to be hard pressed to find Top Chef Masters contestants unless they turn this around.
All right. I've read the previous comments complaining about this season. Yes, they changed the format. It's different. It is going to take some getting used to. But I'm not going to stop watching. You also do realize that while the circumstances are difficult and the chefs have to run and get what they want that it is edited right? They go to the "stew room" and are exlained the rules and wait for them to set up the quickfire and challenges. They have a while to think and prepare so they can figure out what they want to cook and where they are going to run to and what equipment they want to grab and such. Plus, and please remember this fact, they signed up for this. These chefs realize what "Top Chef" is. They realize these challenges aren't going to be easy. They know what they're signing up for, and that's the whole point. Bragging rights are huge in the culinary world, trust me! If these chefs don't want to do any of this, or think they're above it, they can walk away and quit at any time. But they don't because they know they want to prove they can do it. They're adults and make their own decisions and aren't being forced to do anything they don't want to do.
AS A FAITHFUL VIEWER OF "TOP CHEF", AND "TOP CHEF ALL STARS" SINCE IT FIRST BEGAN, I BEG OF YOU BRAVO....PLEASE LISTEN TO YOUR FAN BASE, AND STOP WITH THESE RIDICULOUS EPISODES. YOU HAD A GEM!! AND YOU TRASHED IT! GO BACK TO YOUR ROOTS...INTERESTING CONTESTANTS, CHARMING JUDGES, JOYFUL HOSTS, AND GREAT FOOD. NOTHING ELSE MATTERS!!!!!