‘Top Chef’: Too good for its own good
February 10th, 2011
01:59 PM ET

‘Top Chef’: Too good for its own good

Asking “Top Chef” contestants to whip up some classic favorites may make for a great lunch, but I’m not sure it makes for great television.

On the other hand, it did help me finally figure out what’s been quietly bothering me about this season of All-Stars.

But before we get to that, let’s talk about the fondue party.

And it really was a party during the Quickfire challenge, with the contestants all trying each other’s food and acting as the judges. I always enjoy seeing the “at home” clips of the chefs, when they cook for each other and let their guards down, and this felt like one of those moments. (But Richard, please don’t ever again mention a naked fondue party. Boiling hot liquids and nudity don’t mix. Let’s be safe out there, people.)

Angelo’s food must have been tasty, because he was voted into the top three despite the overly-complicated manner of eating it. The other top dishes came from Antonia and Dale, with Dale winning for his Pho-ndue (his play on the Vietnamese dish Pho).

For the Elimination challenge, the chefs ended up on Jimmy Fallon’s show, picking one of his eight favorite dishes to make for his birthday lunch. Options included a burger and fries, chicken pot pie, Philly cheesesteak and Ramen noodles.

Not that my list would look that much different, but we’re not talking about the highest level of cuisine here, nor the most challenging, other than the beef tongue that Antonia selected.

And that was, I felt, the failure of this challenge. The chefs weren’t asked to re-interpret or deconstruct any of these classic foods. They were just asked to serve them, and specifically to a celebrity for his birthday. No one did anything outrageous. (In fact, I think Richard lost points from Fallon for NOT doing his usual Richard craziness.)

I don’t think anyone’s dishes were horrendously bad (though Fabio’s more-meatloaf-than-burger burger and Dale’s overly salty cheesesteak were clearly the worst), but nothing stood out as tremendously wonderful.

And here is where we get to the problem I’ve been having all season: these chefs are just too good. That shouldn’t be a problem, especially in a competition like this, but hear me out.

Part of the fun of "Top Chef" is watching these contestants flail around in the kitchen. Since everyone here has gone through this once before, they know how the system works. Other than one Quickfire with Dale, no one has failed to finish a challenge.

We’ve had some unique contests, but for the most part these chefs haven’t been challenged tremendously to test and stretch their skills. They are talented enough to bang out great dishes consistently (the dim sum challenge excluded). It’s the double-edged sword of bringing back All-Stars: they make great food, but they do it with little drama along the way.

They’ve also watched their seasons (and presumably others) and know exactly what kind of dramatic TV pitfalls to avoid. Are you telling me that Mike and Spike seem less abrasive because their personalities have changed, or did they just figure out what not to do in front of the cameras?

Most of the Judges’ Table sessions seem completely devoid of conflict (Jen and Marcel are the exceptions here, I know), and other than Jen, everyone has taken his or her elimination incredibly well, almost jovially.

Don’t get me wrong. I love “Top Chef,” I love most of these contestants, and I truly enjoy watching them work and what food they come up with. (I’m starting to sound like Fallon with the over-praising.)

But this season has felt like a longer version of those one-off shows where they bring back old contestants to do one meal or challenge together, and the stakes are significantly lower. (An odd feeling, since the stakes are higher in this season than any other.) The challenges haven’t been the most demanding, and when everyone is cooking at such a high level, it becomes fairly easy to spot who’s going home week to week.

This week, it was Fabio. His burger (which he admitted to approaching more like a meatball) underwhelmed the judges, and his decision to offer cheese as a melted side topping fell flat. Of course, he took his elimination in the best manner possible. If he doesn’t have his own show in less than a year, I’ll be shocked.

The winner this week was Carla, whose chicken pot pie solicited universal praise. She’s starting to make a move late in the game, just like she did in her original season, so the other chefs better watch out.

What did you think about last night’s episode? Sound off below!

soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. byrdie

    Wow. Looks like *no one* even considers Mike a contender except, apparently, Mike. I'd feel sorry for him if he wasn't such an arrogant ninny. Fabio was Born to run the front of a fabulous place; but I'm not sad he's gone. He's already opened a place in CA and it got poor reviews because the food just wasn't good. He's a CELEBRITY Chef, not the other way around.

    I'm enjoying this season *because* there's so little "drama" and back-stabbing; we've been able to actually see what they can DO. If Top Chef is all about being an outstanding leader, able to "Do It All", then the right people have been released. Richard needs to be in the final three because he's a good Leader; but everyone else seems to be better at taking direction than taking the responsibility.

    If it comes down to whose food I'd travel 100 miles and pay $100 bucks to eat, it'd be Richard, Dale and Carla... and all three for different reasons.

    February 15, 2011 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
  2. JJ

    II think I need a life. Too involved with these shows!!!

    February 11, 2011 at 10:14 am | Report abuse |
  3. JJ

    Antonia, Carla and Richard show the most range with their cooking abilities. If you took away the Asian ingredients from Dale and Angelo, they would be gone already. Angelo looks so stressed and tired. Half the time he looks like he is physically sick. I think he needs to go. But I must say he is a gentlemen and is very gracious to the winner of the challenges. More so than Tre, Mike and Dale. I think Mike should have been eliminated before Tre. At the dining table, everyone agreed that Mike's dish was the worst. Did the judges give him a pass so they could let go of Tre? Mike is so full of himself and here is a supposedly great Italian chef and he couldn't cook the pasta correctly. It seems all Mike and Fabio know is how to cook Italian. It's terrible that they were so jealous of Antonia because of her win and couldn't congratulate her. Even Tre seemed upset that she had won. Shame on them! If they had a problem with her win, then maybe when Mike and Tre were up for elimination, they should have told the judges that they did a better dish than Antonio. Why didn't Fabio say something at the Judges table when Antonia won for her mussel dish? Does Mike, Tre and Fabio not know that the Rao's people loved her food and hated Mike's and Tre's. Oh please, Mike and Fabio said she did a French dish. GIve it a rest!!! I'm glad that Fabio is gone but I'll be happier when Mike is eliminated. Yeah Fabio's cute and has a great personality, but a top chef – no way. All he really can cook is Italian. With that said, yes I would go to his "Italian" restaurant. Antonia on the other hand has cooked many dishes other than Italian that were wonderful. The only time she has been on the bottom is when she was on a team. She consistently shows a wide range of cuisines along with Richard and Carla. I'm hoping that Mike goes next. He is rude and obnoxious and was so wrong in the way he spoke to Marcel and questioned Antonia's win. He should have been eliminated at both challenges. He's dodged more bullets than Bonnie and Clyde. He really hasn't any respect for the other chefs. He made a comment about Richard helping Antonia. Richard didn't cook the food for her. He helped her with the method. Richard has the confidence in his cooking ability that he doesn't need to sabotage his fellow contestants. To me that is what a top chef is about. I love the fact that most of the other contestants are willing to help others. Mike, Dale and Tre are the only chefs not willing to help others. Tiffany helped Angelo when he needed fish, not Tre. Angelo tried to help other chefs also (some not so successfully). He didn't want to jeopardize his chances of winning. Notice he's gone. I'm hoping the top 3 are Richard, Antonia and Carla. I think they are all amazing chefs. They have never shown any jealousy over the other chefs wins and always sincerely congratulated the winner. In my book, Richard, Antonia and Carla are the winners. They have a gift for creating great food and most of all, integrity which I don't see in Mike, Tre and Dale.

    February 11, 2011 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  4. Steffie

    My biggest Top Chef upset was Sam from Season 2. I thought for sure, he would be a part of this show.

    And I hated to see Tre go. He was so drama-free, no whining, no complaining. That was my upset this season.

    February 11, 2011 at 9:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Solo

      Awww...thats so sad. I bet you still wet yourself during nappy time.

      February 11, 2011 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
  5. Gee

    Richard, Dale & Carla as 3 finalists.

    February 11, 2011 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
  6. Ceasar Salad w/Dried Booger Bits

    This show is a complete waste of time. Fabio is sweet on all the boys and most of these idiots walk away not being able to prepare a PB&J Sammy.

    February 11, 2011 at 7:35 am | Report abuse |
  7. Kammy

    I think if Fabio had put the cheese in the middle of the burger and char grilled it, he would have stayed.

    February 11, 2011 at 7:31 am | Report abuse |
  8. scottfromjax

    Jackson S – umm, you don't have a vote.

    February 11, 2011 at 6:53 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jackson S.

    You can tell what a great person Fabio is by the way he acted when he had to go home. He was such a gracious and good sport. He made great tv too. We are voting for Blaze or Carla!!!

    February 10, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Hannah

    1) I sooooooo hope Carla wins.

    2) I really hope you're right about Fabio getting his own show. If I could meet anyone, he'd definitely be up there on the list.

    3) Is it just me, or was everyone else surprised Antonia got invited? Everyone else made sense, but I don't even remember her from her season. I didn't even watch the first season and I knew the contestants they chose from that season for All Stars.

    February 10, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lilo

      Why would you be surprised that Antonia got invited? She came in fourth...behind the final three in season 4 (Stephanie, Richard, and Lisa). Spike got eliminated before she did. And so did Dale. I was actually more surprised to see Spike there.

      February 10, 2011 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Shelton

    I can not say I agree, but that is for my own personal reasons. I am having fun because I had my favorite contestants in all of the previouse seasons, and none of them won. You have to admit when Richard lost that particular season it was a shock. Trey was a favorite of mine, as well as Spike and Carla(another shocker). A fewfavorites not in this season of All-Stars was Andrew, Kevin, and Jeff. Every fan is different, and has his or her favorites, and I think that is the point. I expect there to be more All-Star seasons. After about 10-12 regular seasons I also expect the "Top Chefs" to compete, which I think would be equally entertaining and fun.

    February 10, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Marty

    Love Fabio he is so adorable and love to listen to him talk but I don't think he is a Top Chef. But agree he should be on tv on his own show who wouldn't watch that.

    This season has been boring. Challenges are dull and after seeing them all on previous seasons I am kind of tired of Dale's nasty temper, Jen's conceit, Antonia's wishy washy personality, Angelo's lack of understanding of why he doesn't always win, Marcel what is there to say if he ever is on another season I will not watch period. So sick of his miserable personna.
    I prefer Top Chef Masters. I like watching these guys remember what it was like to be a line cook or sou chef and run around working up a sweat.
    Well in my humble opinion, I think Richard should win. I think he is the most consistently good cook.

    February 10, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. adrian

    Did anyone see when the cameras showed Tom, Gail and Padma entering the restaurant and Padma totally cuts Gail off and walks through the door first. I had to rewind to make I knew what I was seeing.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • HotPadma

      Cause Padma is smoking hot and Gail is not.

      February 10, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • mark in nyc

      padma strikes me as a complete biotch. maybe i'm wrong, but she is an icy mannequin

      February 10, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zs

      I did see that! I was wondering what was going on. Gail didn't seem upset though. It was just weird. Maybe someone from the filming crew yelled – Gail, Padma goes first. Who knows. All that being said, I'm having fun watching! I like them all. The only person I'm glad is gone is Marcel. He is so full of himself. I was surprised and disappointed with Jen, she came across as a poor loser instead of a strong, independent woman that she showed during her season, and certainly as full of herself as Marcel was. Dale is coming on strong and so is Carla, I can't pick a third person!

      February 11, 2011 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
  14. John

    No. I don't WANT a whole heap of drama in my Top Chef. I'd watch House Wives or something if I wanted drama. I want some of the best chefs cooking over a long period of time in interesting challenges.

    February 10, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Buddy_Girl

    I agree that Fabio is great – AND getting fat. What's up with that? On the other hand, Richard looks about half the size of himself in the original season. I can't stand Antonia. I miss Tre cuz he is hot. I don't know why Tiffany is still there... I THINK it will be Angelo and Richard in the finale, with either Dale or Carla – hopefully Carla!

    February 10, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lilo

      Ummm...who cares if Fabio gained a little weight and if Richard lost a little weight. It's about the food...not about how anyone looks...get a life!

      February 10, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Lynette

    I'm so hurt to see sweet Fabio go, I hoped he'd stay forever just for fun.
    Ahh and pot pie wins! It’s reassuring that comfort food isn’t dead. I hope the trend lasts a long time. Go Carla! She thinks winning is in the cards, but I'm not so sure. http://foodiegossip.blogspot.com/2011/02/top-chef-all-stars-episode-9-recap.html

    February 10, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Dd

    Sad to see the eye candy go. Love Jimmy Fallon though, even if he sent Fabio home...

    February 10, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Christy

    Fabio was interesting to watch. I prefer him to go home over Dale. I do agree with the other posters about Dale being the top 3 finalists. I kind of hope he wins. Now, if only he can keep it up. He seems kind of unpredictable.

    February 10, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Catherine

    First of all, Fabio is handsome, smart, and funny, and I'm sad to see him go. That said, the whole season has been great entertainment. I love it!

    February 10, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Dan

    I am glad to see Fabio go. He screwed up several times so it was his turn. But Bravo just loves Fabio for some reason. I think he needs to lose some weight before they get him his own show though. The accent might be all that, but if he keeps on putting on weight, he won't be that great with the female fans.

    I love Carla and I hope she makes it to the final. I would like to see Antonia go to the finals to, along with Richard.

    February 10, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  21. MattV

    Do some research. Jen may have gotten upset about her elimination but Ilia gave interviews slamming Colicchio et al for her elimination. It was big news and Tom has addressed it in subsequent interviews.

    February 10, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Really?

    I don't understand you guys saying Dale is the man... He's consistantly on the bottom every week, and every week I keep hoping I never have to see him again, yet every week, he's still there. Fabio was towards the top every week, he has one bad week, and goes home... What kind of sense does that make? He slips once from his great cooking and gets the shaft while Dale's cooking is mediocre at best, and he's still there.

    February 10, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJsMom

      Dale is a good cook, but, he's very confusing, one minute he is Mr. Nice Guy and the next minute putting others down.....My Fav's are Angelo and Richard......

      February 10, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • cat in the hat

      Dale has won two Elimination Challenges and a Quickfire, so he isn't exactly a slouch in the kitchen.

      February 10, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lilo

      I think you need to go look up what consistently means in the dictionary. Dale has not consistently been in the bottom. He has won two elimination challenges and at least one quickfire. And he has been in the top for most of the challenges. He is awesome and I hope he wins the whole thing!

      February 10, 2011 at 10:56 pm | Report abuse |
  23. jillmarie

    I'm bummed Fabio is gone- he was my fave. Is it just me, or was he called Fabrizio in the past?

    February 10, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Boorgurboy

    I can't believe Fabio is gone. He was THE MAN. I will miss him. I think too that Dale will win because he has been doing consistently good.

    Carla winning again was awesome. Her expressions are awesome. Love Antonia. She's the true guidette! Love the show.

    Does anyone ever win on the "watch to win sweepstakes" and if yes where do they publish it?

    February 10, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Cookie

    I bet they specialize in Tube Steak.

    February 10, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  26. San Jose

    I love Fabio! He's one of my favorites, but I'm glad it was him instead of Dale to go home. I really hope Dale wins because he's kicking serious A on the challenges. It's going to be Richard, Dale, Angelo in the final 3.

    February 10, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  27. vlk

    I think Tre got the shaft for a second time... it almost pains me to keep watching w/o him. I mean come on, the risotto isn't quite the right consistency and he gets sent home over the guy who couldn't cook pasta...

    February 10, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Loren

    Even the dim sum wasn't really a cooking challenge, more of a restaurant management challenge, which they mostly failed. There does seem to be a bit of tension lacking, but it is surprising, despite what is suggested otherwise, that these chefs are actually coasting, not really taking much in the way of chances and flubbing too frequently what should be kitchen basics. While I can understand Fabio flubbing a hamburger, there really isn't any excuse on his part to mess up such a basic. More telling was last week's pasta fiasco, where the prima chefs are flubbed the pasta. They should have added a wild card to put them all in fear, the possibility that more than one chef could go home or none, so they would try harder. There was no excuse for the pasta mistakes and none for how boing, for the most part, their dishes for Fallon's party were.

    February 10, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  29. ajita

    Agreed that most of the challenges (except dim sum) are really not that challenging for most of the contestants. I think Jamie didn't really finish that one QF when they were trying to get a meal done in less time than Tom. Other than that, though, it's true that a lot of the usual drama isn't there. Still, I think things are definitely starting to get good now. Glad Fabio went home...I was tired of hearing him talk about how "this isn't my type of cuisine", which he pretty much said about everything except Italian food. Now if only we could get Angelo home...

    February 10, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • JJsMom

      Noooooooooooooooooo don't send Angelo home, He is a GREAT Chef and a hottie, lol

      February 10, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carolina

      Agree with the assessment, but want Richard to go home. He's too arrogant. Food should be simple, straightforward and elegant, his brand of ecletic gastronomy doesn't appeal to me at all (exceedingly glad he lost the quickfire). Go Carla or Antonia!

      February 11, 2011 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  30. Prom night dumpster baby

    I'm hungry.

    February 10, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • libby

      Heart broken so near valentines day! Bring on the Fabio show! (give em hell Carla!)

      February 11, 2011 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |

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