Tuned In

Top Chef Watch: Revenge Is a Dish Best Served Cold

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Spoilers for last night’s Top Chef DC coming up:

Here are some words I like to hear on Top Chef: galantine, mirepoix, bacon. Here are some words I have no interest in hearing on Top Chef: strategy, alliance, tactics. Don’t get me wrong, I like the game of Survivor. When it is played on the television show Survivor. But I watch Top Chef because, generally, it is not Survivor: it’s a competition that prizes talent over social and electoral strategy.

This season on Top Chef, however—maybe because of the Washington location—there seems to be a greater emphasis on the interpersonal politics of the game. And in the “Cold War” episode, the producers encouraged the use of kitchen strategery with a challenge that allowed the chefs to nominate two of their own for elimination.

The episode started promisingly enough, with one of my never-fail favorites, the gross-protein challenge. (Duck testicles and beets and licorice! America’s three favorite tastes all in one!) I was happy enough to see Kelly win, but as she said, that had better have been the greatest freaking omelet of all time. It’s hard to see the creative skill being rewarded in taking an egg and making the most obvious egg dish on the planet, when someone else has to roast a freaking llama.

As for the cold-war challenge itself: well, we’ll have to take the contestants at their word that, in the end, they did in fact vote for the strongest and weakest dishes, but simply hearing them consider the possibility of voting strategically was enough to put me off the challenge for the night. It might be good for you, the player, to vote against your strongest competition, but it’s not good for me, the viewer.

On the other hand, although Kenny looks like one of the toughest contenders, I was somewhat happy to see him in the bottom two for his duo of lamb. Because listen, Top Chefs: we need to give this whole “duo of this” and “trio of that” concept a rest. Not only is it a cliché, but it just comes off as a cheat: OK, I’m not entirely confident in my dish—but what the hell, I’ll make three of them and something has to click, right?

I was sad to see Tamesha go, though. I’ll take the judges’ and contestants’ word that the rhubarb and long-pepper sauce with which she plated her scallops burned like the unquenchable fires of Gehenna, but the fact is, on its face, that was one of the few dishes that interested me enough to actually order from a menu. (Oh, another plate of cured fish? ZZZzzzzzzzzz—wha?) I’ll accept that the execution was poor, but I give her points for inspiration. However, I wasn’t voting, so there you have it.

Now for the hail of duck “bullets” (don’t ask what those actually are):

* I make a point of trying not to criticize the appearance or clothing of people on TV shows, because, honestly, there’s an author picture on this blog and who the hell am I to talk? That said: Do you have a license for that cleavage, Michelle Bernstein? That Judge’s Table outfit would get you suspended from a Hooters.

* Though I did enjoy the gross-protein challenge, once again I felt that the show left the potential of some of its ingredients underutilized. What exactly does rattlesnake taste like, I want to know? Indeed, the whole area of unfair prejudice against reptile meat deserves to be better explored.

* As for the winner of the elimination challenge: again, one of the drawbacks of watching a show like this is that the home viewer can judge the conception of a dish better than its execution. That said, Tiffany must have made one hell of a peppercorn-crusted tuna, because at this point I think there are more of those being turned out in restaurant kitchens than Big Macs.

* “Please take over the proteins to your left.” Reminds me of a really crazy party I was at in the ’70s…