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Top Chef Watch: Hotel Reservations

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Belated thoughts on Wednesday’s Top Chef DC coming up:

The “Room Service” elimination challenge combined two (to my memory) new situations on Top Chef, one a good idea and one not so great. I don’t recall a challenge involving preparing a hotel meal before (thought there may have been an early one I’ve forgotten), and it was an excellent theme. Hotel menus are indeed a genre unto themselves, with specific challenges of taste (appealing to a broad base without being boring) and logistics (needing to work either in a restaurant or carted to a room). But the second twist—pairing chefs to compete through three rounds of eliminations—was ill-conceived, because it both allowed worse contestants to luck out and get eliminated early, and because it didn’t allow the best to progress to the final. (If it worked perfectly, judges would look forward to a crowning dinner menu prepared by the three worst teams.)

In the end, we had the least suspenseful elimination in quite a while, since there was no way on God’s Earth Kenny and Kevin were going home together. It might have been better to simply have the teams compete for a final prize, with the worst two teams going in each round, the judges picking the eliminated duo from whomever they feel had the worst showing of the day. This challenge was a dish that may have worked in concept, but needs to be refined in execution. A few more thoughts:

* The baby-food challenge was also (I think) a new idea, and a really terrible one. Not just because I imagining eating a dozen-odd purees must have been revolting for Tom and Padma but because—and I speak as the father of two kids who pureed plenty of meals once—there is no reasonable way a grown adult can assess “what a baby would like,” beyond watching for choking hazards.

* And seriously, those jars looked disgusting at best. I would have welcomed the texture of a lemon seed after a few of them.

* Echoing Cultural Learnings, the real loser of the challenge should easily have been the Goofus-and-Goofus combo of Ed and Alex; their pancake dish, even if they had gotten it on the plate somehow, seemed even perfectly executed like a glorified Grand Slam breakfast.

* Kelly and Andrea, however, deserved their win in the final challenge. Is short ribs and polenta an interesting and innovative choice? No, it is not. It’s hotel food. And this looked like an excellent rendition of a dish that I’d trust to survive the trip in a room-service cart and look forward to eating after a long day.

* Overall, I’m still waiting for a few favorites to break out for me this season. Have any made your list?