Lee Anne Wong on the craziness that is Restaurant Wars.
All apologies...for my absence. I have been on vacation for the past two weeks in Mexico, without copies of Top Chef and limited access to E-mail. I'll try and cover as much about the second half of Restaurant Wars as I can from memory.
OK, second half of Restaurant Wars (also known as "The Return of Top Sommelier"): I was actually really psyched to see Stephen again in Miami after seeing him briefly for the Smackdown Episode (I was not allowed to socialize with Season One and Season Two during that time). Those of you who are familiar with him from Season One probably have formed a few opinions, as did I at the time, but in getting to know him after the show, he has become a great friend. Stephen is extremely talented in the kitchen, but is more overly ambitious and gifted, and I am positive is well on his way to becoming a great restaurateur.
So, the question was whether the team who won the Quickfire benefit or be hindered by Stephen and his expertise. I thought it would be the former, granted the team's front-of-the-house manager would know how to work with him. I will admit, I remember clearly (as if it were yesterday) going through Restaurant Wars with Stephen. Not so much fun. But he has matured in many ways since the airing of our episode, and this time around he had no other responsibility than to match and pour the wines.
In thinking of the Quickfire, I forget whose idea it was on creative, but I think we all agreed a relay race would be somehow exciting and hilarious at the same time. I came up with each leg of the race, curious how each team would divide the tasks. I was surprised when both girls volunteered for the onions, making it a female head-to-head. Of course Brian opted for the oysters, but I think Howie did a pretty good job shucking himself, even though he may have sweated into an oyster or two.
AND NOW for the music -- maybe the theme from Jeopardy?! The sound of crickets chirping? Or maybe "Chariots of Fire"? It was absolutely AGONIZING to watch Casey cut the onions. Either way, while I love Casey and truly think she is a talented chef, the knife skills leave something to be desired. Sara's knife skills were slightly better, but only by a fraction. The excitement returned when we watched Hung rip through those chickens, and then Dale whipped their way to victory. Poor, poor Restaurant April. It was actually nice to see the underdogs come out on top.
Each team had the chance to redesign their space with the assistance of Christopher Ciccone. Not necessarily fond of Garage's space to begin with, nor the Lucite chairs, I think it was a small improvement from the first episode. The space still felt cold, and the colors aren't ones that make me hungry. I REALLY disliked the revamped space for Restaurant April. The writing on the wall, while interesting food quotes, made me think of some sort of pseudo-fancy fast food joint. The whole wicker/bamboo/palm tree decor, along with Buddha, belied the fact that they did not actually have anything remotely Asian on their menu other than Casey's soup. I can't remember too much about what happened while the challenge was going on other than the fact that no one knew if Stephen or Dale was running the front of the house. Service did go smoother though, and there were no incidents regarding dishes this time around.
I want to clarify my statements in my last blog for those who misinterpreted what I wrote. For the record, I have no problems doing my job. I fully understand that part of my job is to clean up after the contestants -- after all, someone did it for me. However, as production, I am not supposed to assist nor interfere while a challenge is going on, which includes stepping on to set in the middle of filming to clean up because they can't manage to maintain their own restaurant spaces, which is entirely part of the challenge. When they are complaining because they don't have enough glassware, or silverware, or clean plates, etc., it's not because we did not provide them with enough, or the four dishwashers on set. There is no way for us to predict how many courses each team wants to work into their menus, so we give them a big enough budget to buy what they need. If something needs to be reused during dinner service then should it be up to production to bring their dishes back to the kitchen for them when they have wait staff as well as hands of their own? What happens if I drop and break a bus tub of one team's dishes by accident?
Restaurant Wars is such an amazing episode because it is entirely about running a restaurant of your own, and of course it's ridiculous that we give them 24 hours, and of course it's ridiculous that they only get to talk to their servers 30 minutes before service, but that in and of itself is the challenge! We are not setting them up to fail. If you look at Tiffany, Dave, and Harold's team in Season One, they had a whole lot less to work with and succeeded with flying colors. I just wanted to let you know why I felt the need to write about this last time. You ask for behind-the-scenes information, and that was it.
In any case, I was sad to hear that Tre was eliminated. From what I had heard from the judges, the food was lacking, and it was simply because he did not defend himself at Judges' Table. Tre is already a celebrated chef with so many accolades that it made me wonder why he tried out for the show in the first place. I have such a world of respect for him, his incredible talent, and his mature, low-key attitude in the kitchen. I wish him nothing but the best, as I know he is already well on his way to becoming one of America's most recognized chefs.