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No One Wanted to Win

Eli Kirshtein explains why he thought the chefs should have been prepared to make baby food, and how they're playing it safe.

By Eli Kirshtein

Hi everyone!  I’m always happy to be part of the Bravo family and now that I’ve been asked to help on the blogging duties you’ll get to hear from me more this season, for better or worse!
The Quickfire was a fun one, and also one that the chefs should have seen coming. With all the media hype over Padma’s beautiful baby Krishna and Tom’s own Luka, it should be no surprise a baby-based challenge would pop up. The response of some of the chefs, saying they don’t know anything about baby food, blew my mind. Pretty simple one here; make something tasty with an easy palatable texture and no abrasive flavors. The harder part was to cook a dish that the judges might like. None of the baby food seemed like it was just an entrée pureed and jarred, so the chefs should have had no problem making something to please both palates.The two winners seemed to focus more on that than making excuses for why they couldn’t make baby food. As a side note to this: several years back, Season 4’s Richard Blais actually cooked a 15-course baby food tasting menu for the child of a regular guest at his (now dearly departed) Restaurant Blais in Atlanta.

This week’s elimination exemplifies the challenges of the early parts of the competition. There are so many chefs remaining that for practical reasons the chefs get teamed up. They’re finally breaking out of the honeymoon phase of trying to find their bearings in the kitchen and are starting to move on their feet. It’s starting to become clear that there are a lot of chefs whose focus is on placing blame rather than taking the lead. The judges can see that energy in the kitchen, and usually don’t take to kindly to it. They want to see leaders, people who control the situation.

Now with the convoluted nature of this challenge being set up so that the strongest are safe as opposed to win makes it tricky. The real difficulty here was that first, you had to make something very use-friendly and replicable for the hotel’s kitchen, and second, having to make the decision to push hard and not get eliminated and not to play for a win. It seemed that no one wanted the “Win,” instead they just wanted to be safe. Having your food featured in hotels nationwide isn’t all that bad, is it? I didn’t feel any of the chefs saw that as desirable. It might be more risky to try to play through all three rounds, but as the old saying goes, “A win is a win.”It seemed like Andrea and Kelly won on minor details. The two short rib dishes were really very close and the simple act of glazing the meat more uniformly pushed them over the top. No slight to Kenny or Kevin, just a detail that made the difference. Arnold and Lynne went out pretty far on their dish in terms of flavor. This probably needed to be a little more approachable and less creative, but that wasn’t what gave them the loss. I think it was just undercooked pasta. Lynne did make the right call of not putting it in the water at 12 minutes left, but I’d be curious to find out what time it actually did go in. They should also have considered the challenges of doing a pasta dish in this setting, for exactly that reason.

This season has been packed with departures from the norm in terms of layout and protocol.  Bottom chefs coming into judges before winners a couple weeks back made that obvious, as did the elimination taking place in the Top Chef kitchen this week. It should develop interestingly if they can keep the chefs on their toes with all the format busters, As an audience member it keeps me guessing which I love. I can’t wait to see what happens next week!

Follow me on twitter @elikirshtein

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