"You're going to make crudite for Norm from Cheers?"
This might as well been the title of the episode. It was funny, sure, but it outlined the main theme of this episode's challenges. Follow instructions.
Each Top Chef challenge is clearly defined by rules. Make a bar snack for Norm from Cheers, for example. There isn't anything wrong with crudite and I'm pretty sure James is a competent cook, but it just doesn't match the challenge. The best chefs in the competition will take the rules and wrap them around their own style, bend them into their own strengths, instead of forcing something into the theme that doesn't work. In the Quickfire and Elimination this week, this was the case.
Katsuji, who is becoming quite the Quickfire specialist, does a perfect job of presenting a bar snack that rings of his own personality and is a great crunchy bite. While we are on the topic of Katsujii, and I say this from the viewers' perspective only, is it just me or is there something that reminds you of Fabio Viviani? Yes, there is the accent, but also a self-assuredness and joviality about the guy, that even though you might not want to like him as a viewer, you do. He's becoming more than affable. . .
Gregory finally trips a bit in the Quickfire and man, if looks could send someone packing their knives. . .He is, no question, a nice person and probably one of the best team-oriented chefs this season. But make no qualms about it, everyone has a target on this guy. They all wouldn't mind seeing him uncharacteristically blow a dish and get sent home. It's all high fives and hugs, but trust me, at this point, the chefs are starting to understand the race. Would any of them want to go head to head with Gregory? Not me. . .He's a marked man. The competitors keep score. Literally, in the stew room or at their house is a board, and it's edited by the contestants each round (kind of like scoring your golf game). They'll chart each round, who was in the top and bottom three. They know all about momentum and who's hot and who's just buying time, and it's been obvious to them, and the viewer that Gregory is on a hot streak of epic proportion.
The Elimination Challenge was tricky. Rarely do you need to dust off the Marketing 101 textbooks in Top Chef. The rules though are simple; sell the most menus and your team is safe. So it was baffling to see the mix of menu choices we received.
Choosing to do an all seafood menu is not understanding the dining room, any dining room. It's not understanding the shopping market. It's just not understanding the challenge or following instructions. Sort of like, I don't know, making a crudite as a bar snack for a burly, beer-drinking guy.
Also, radicchio. . .
Chefs love it. I love it. But a salad, and one with an announced bitter featured flavor is a questionable choice. I'm surprised the team let Doug go with that idea! Another difficult part of Top Chef is asserting an idea or questioning a teammate. Especially one who is respected like Doug. But it has to be done. The Purple Team's menu, by the way, reminded me of the Miami Heat from the last few years. three superstar dishes who could accomplish its goal, but really there wasn't any chemistry to it. The radicchio salad was a pretty good representation of current, simple Cal Italian cooking. The linguine and clams was a Jersey Shore throwback, and the Branzino dish was straight Italian opera. All good, but none of it cohesive. Lucky this wasn't Restaurant Wars. . .
On to Mei's dish, which was as refined as you'll see on Top Chef. Lemon Jam? How do you NOT order a dish with lemon jam? I would have ordered that menu for that description alone and that was what this challenge was truly about. She got it.
But in the end, Gregory's team pulled out the marketing win and understandably so. Scallop, raviolo, steak, FTW on any day. And Gregory's individual effort with steak also shows some deep range. There was nothing pan Asian or Caribbean about this plate. Very modern Italian, smart, and full of the same contrasting deep flavors that Gregory has been featuring since the opening whistle. Small misstep in the Quickfire, and right back on top. All fight, no flight. . .This guy is the real deal.
With two chefs going home it's always tough because you know that circumstance will end someone's run prematurely. James' dish was disliked universally and was the first out. It yearned for a martini glass to present in and that says a lot. Stacy had a killer olive emulsion that saved her too thinly sliced beef and "beetle juiced" vegetables (beyond overcooked, almost evaporated, disintegrated, dust). So the call was Rebecca whose dish was OK, just ordinary.
Some people think that judging, or, errr, my judging is mean. Not at all. But I think about food in a unique way and I try to convey that imagery that races through my brain when I eat or cook. Maybe true, calling Rebecca's dish mediocre room service probably hurt. But it illustrates what was wrong with the dish that might make it more understandable to the audience or chef. Saying it needed salt and acid at this point in food television is like overusing "I love you." It loses it's meaning. So, back to my metaphor, have you ever gotten room service that left you with buyer's remorse? Over promised and under delivered, maybe? Have you ever been blown away by room service? No. . .
It's just my way of expressing the way the dish made me feel.
Want to keep chatting Top Chef? Hit me up on Twitter @RichardBlais.
See you there!