January 6th, 2011
01:34 PM ET
In seven seasons of "Top Chef," we’ve seen contestants take over restaurants for service plenty of times. I don’t think we’ve ever seen it go as badly as it did last night.
In fact, the entire episode seemed to be a lot of trial and error... heavy on the error. It all started with the quickest Quickfire challenge in the show’s history.
The chefs had to make a dish in the same amount of time as head judge Tom Colicchio. We’ve never seen Tom cook on the show before, but he started from scratch and knocked out a fully composed dish in 8 minutes, 37 seconds. Not bad, if you’re into gourmet food made in the same amount of time it takes to cook pasta.
The contestants didn’t have to recreate Tom’s dish, they just had to match his time. There’s the first error of the show. Why didn’t we get to see a cook-off between the judge and the chefs? Yes, Colicchio would win (hello, he’s a producer), but it would still be awesome. Essentially, we got a cool cooking demonstration followed by a really short challenge, with no link between the two other than a clock. Nice concept; bad execution.
Points to Marcel, though, who snagged Tom’s unused fish instead of scrambling in the kitchen for ingredients like everyone else. Points off to Angelo, who saved time by making a raw dish, which Tom explicitly said not to do. Following instructions: it’s fun for everyone!
Mike took the win and a car for his troubles. Not bad for less than 10 minutes of work. Meanwhile, I felt terrible for Dale, who tried to make noodles and ended up with nothing on the plate. He then pinned his hopes for redemption on the elimination challenge, and if you’ve ever watched a minute of a competition reality show in your life, you knew this was going to end in one of two ways.
The chefs were faced with the challenge of taking over a dim sum restaurant in the middle of Chinatown during the lunch rush. Dim sum is a bunch of small dishes being served constantly, so speed and quantity are king. Sounds perfect for a group of chefs who obsess over every single component on the plate and making sure it looks just right. I could try to recap how the experience went, but I think Mike said it best:
“Everyone sucked and everything sucked.”
Ouch. But yeah, this was just a colossal failure from top to bottom. The dishes took forever to come out. Nearly half of the dishes were lackluster at best. Diners got so tired of waiting that some walked out. At one point, Tom had to go down to the kitchen to try and get things on track. Honestly, I lost track of how many contestants said they were embarrassed.
And that shines a spotlight on a problem I’ve been having with this season. With the "All-Stars" format, I was expecting to be blown away every week. Instead, a lot of chefs that I considered top-notch don’t seem to be up to the task here. I’m not sure if it’s that the challenges are that much more difficult or if the chefs aren’t as enthusiastic on a second go-round, but something’s not clicking.
I also think part of the problem is that there are just too many chefs. I lose people in the shuffle week to week. The next episode looks to be a double elimination, so that should help. Either way, I hope we start to see some of the contestants really shine soon. Right now, it seems like the focus is on how bad the bad dishes are, rather than how impressive the good dishes are, a balance that I’d like to see reversed.
But on to the results. Dale takes the win (in the same episode where he talked about redeeming himself, can you believe it?) and Casey is sent packing after trying to make chicken feet. A bold attempt, to be sure, but when your food gets left on the plate in a restaurant where customers are so hungry they’re trying to snatch dishes off the carts, it’s not a good sign.
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