Tuned In

Top Chef Watch: Singapore Slingers

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Spoilers for the first half of Top Chef DC’s finale coming up:

I have seen every episode of Top Chef DC. I have also seen, with the exception of season 2, pretty much every episode of every season of Top Chef. So I think I can speak from experience when I say that, by the time it comes to the finale, I should at least know the names of the last four contestants by memory. So look: Al… er, Hank… er, oval-headed guy won immunity! Ooh, look what I Think Her Name Starts With a K made!

So I was glad to see that Angelo made the final, for no other reason than that he’s the one whose name I can remember. I could handle the forgettability of the finalists’ personalities if their food was distinctive and wow-inducing enough for me to remember, but we don’t have that much this season either.

Which, oddly, is why Singapore—which I was excited to see as a destination for the final—may not have been a great choice, or at least not the way the show used the city. Its ingredients and food culture are fascinating; the first half of the episode worked as travelogue.

But since both challenges essentially asked the chefs to try to mimic Singaporean cooking—rather than simply use it as an influence—most of the dishes they prepared failed to convey a sense of that chef’s distinctive style. (Except that, I guess, Angelo really likes rambutan.) I saw a lot of appealing dishes—Tom said it was the best food of the season, and I don’t doubt it—just none that told me what each chef was distinctively like as a chef. Singapore just overwhelmed them.

If Ed goes on to win it all, I wouldn’t argue that he was deserving, having pulled two wins in the final. But—unlike most past seasons—I couldn’t really tell you why. Likewise, though Kelly didn’t have the easiest time this week, lacerating herself and turning her rubber glove into a blood balloon, she seemed to be roughly at the same level of competence as everyone tonight. (At least none of the judges noticed a minerally tang of hemoglobin in her dishes.)*

Ed did one distinct thing to prove his worthiness to be in the final: he has figured out the TV show that is Top Chef well enough to anticipate that Tom Colicchio would waltz into the kitchen and suddenly “decide” that one dish per chef was not enough. “That was predictable, huh?” he asked his annoyed peers. And he was right! Doing one extra dish at the last minute has become such a Top Chef cliche they should all have expected it, at least in the back of their minds. Shame on the others if they didn’t–and shame on Top Chef for becoming this easy to figure out now.

Well, one more week, and then it’s on to Top Chef: Just Desserts. Anyone care to make a prediction?

* Please do not tell me that this happens all the time in restaurants. I do not want to believe that, at one point in my life, I may have eaten Wylie Dufresne.