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Mar 8, 2006 11:25 PM

Top Chef!

  • r

I really enjoyed this show. I liked the combination of behind the scenes in a real restaurant, with real restaurant culture (do *not* disrespect the chef!) and Iron Chef style tasting and judging.

It didn't hurt that it was shot in SF and in places I'm familiar with. Plus, they eliminated the most obnoxiou contestant first, instead of saving his ass because he "makes good television." I think the fact that the judges are also working with the contestants means they aren't going to put up with much attitude.

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  1. I liked the show as well, though I do think they picked some of the contestants for the drama factor only. (Which I guess makes sense if they want the show to contine.)

    The disrespect and disruption from the contestant who was elminated was unfortunate. But I still want to know if they threw away the sauce!

    7 Replies
    1. re: Dev

      Yeah, Hubert Keller didn't actually answer the question, did he!

      The bottom line of any of these shows is entertainment. But I do think this production company (which also does Project Runway) manages to balance entertaining people with challenges that reflect real-world situations and that require the contestants to display genuine skill, talent and creativity.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        What channel/time?

        Sorry to ask such a non chow question. I tried to Google it without success.

        1. re: nooodles

          It's on Bravo. LA Times says 11p tonight (Wednesday - the CH time will show that I posted this on Thursday since it's after midnight in the east) and 10p starting next week. I have Dish network and it was listed at 8p and 11p tonight. Set it to record tonight, can't wait to watch it.

          1. re: Debbie W.

            Bravo usually reruns each episode of this kind of program multiple times. You can check the schedule on their website. Because Bravo only has one feed, on satellite systems you can see it as it's being broadcast nationwide (i.e, on the west coast we see the 10 pm EST broadcast simultaneously at 7 pm PST), while on cable systems they may delay it three hours and show it at the "correct" time (i.e. it will be 10 both EST and PST).


            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              I was just looking at the website, and among other things the winning recipe is posted (don't look if you don't want to be spoiled).

              Brief recap (no spoilers) of the first episode: after we meet the chefs, there's a "quickfire" challenge which consists of each chef working the line -- or rather, attempting to work the line -- at Fleur de Lys for 30 minutes under the meticulously watchful eye of Hubert Keller. Of the 12 chefs, only three managed to last 30 minutes without making a gaffe that prompted Keller to dismiss them. No one was eliminated, but the winner, as chosen by Keller, was given immunity from elimination in the second challenge.

              The second challenge was to prepare a dish they would consider a signature dish, to be judged not only by the judging panel but also the other chefs. The loser was sent packing.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                That's good to know, about the posting of the winning recipe. It's interesting to see the components that they thought worked so well.

                But looking at the recipe, since they don't have S&P on it and the ingredients list doesn't include the chicken stock mentioned in the instructions, (plus there's no mention of the plate decoration, which looks like it was done w/ a balsamic reduction and some sort of oil) I wonder if they ommitted anything else.

            2. re: Debbie W.

              It was shown again at noon CST on Thursday

      2. I watched it as well but had a completely different opinion -- I actually thought it was dreadful.

        *Warning: spoiler content! If you haven't watched, but are planning to check it out, don't read this!!*

        This is just my very pointed opinion and I have nothing against anybody who enjoyed it -- I just wish I had! I felt like the show appeals to those "in the know," but does not make the effort to educate those viewers who lack culinary training or restaurant experience. For example, Keller boots a contestant wearing sneakers on the line, but there is no explanation given as to why -- because anything other than a nonslip shoe can be disastrous in a slippery kithen full of sharp implements and scalding pans. You also didn't get a sense of how the line works, how you need to "come up" with the other cooks when you are "reading the board," what an expediter is, etc.

        Basically, I think the producers need to do a better job of providing context -- and not just on the technical/professional side. They really need to flesh out a backstory about the contestants because there wasn;t much to be found in the exposition. I felt like I learned very little about these people. Unlike other reality show kick-off eps, "Top Chef" had very little group dynamics because they insisted on two independent-minded challenges in the first 60 minutes of the series, both of which left the contestants to fend for themselves rather than be part of a team effort (the red vs. blue team device doesn't count). So, we really didn't get a sense of these people -- we didn't see them interacting too much with their peers and we didn't get to learn very much about who they are other than a couple of token anybody a wife or a father or a newlywed, etc. Did anybody grow up in the restaurant biz? Did anybody turn to food because they were never good at anything else?? Etc.! That is why these people didn't seem too compelling to me -- I couldn't identify with any of them based on the limited info made available during the show and none of them were so charismatic that I found myself rooting for one more than the other with the exception of the older woman from the Hamptons -- she was the only one with a colorful personality, despite being scattershot. And the guy who made the duo of beef had some energy, I suppose. Many of the others were actual dislikeable -- Tiffani is scary, the sommelier kid is very bitchy, the Hollywood personal chef is arrogant.

        The judges are even worse -- Collichio comes off as an asshole -- almost like he's trying too hard to be cold and dismissive. Hubert Keller was unintelligible at times and - generally speaking - basically inaccessible to anybody who isn't a foodie and aware of his esteemed rep. Gail Simmons is boring and flat, although she's Kelly Freakin' Ripa when compared to Katie Joel who is quite possibly the most unenthusiastic host in the history of reality TV -- what were they thinking?

        Finally, the set is pretty bad -- I thought the kitchen was too big and sterile. It didn't lure me in or make me want to spend time there. And the grand prize of $100K is pretty weak. At least the Next Food Network Star winners got a show and the winner of Hell's Kitchen got to choose btw. taking the helm of a restaurant or going to London to train with Ramsey -- let's face it: $100k is pretty pale in the excitement dep't...not exactly Survivor money or a modeling contract or a job with The Donald.

        Thus far, "Top Chef" is in the weeds.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Jimbo

          I understand that you don't like the style, but that's actually why I like it: like Project Runway, it's much less "soapy" -- more focused on what these people do as chefs than creating drama from their "backstory": in the recently concluded Project Runway, the viewers never heard that one of the designers grew up in a refugee camp in Laos until the finale -- they could have made a great story, but they were more interested in the fact that she made beautiful clothes (she eventually won) and showing the creative process that goes into them.

          As I said, you don't have to like that style, but I find it refreshing compared to the overly dramatic sob stories and contrived controversy and relationships on other reality TV shows. Frankly, I don't care who loves his mother or pulled himself up from adversity -- I'm interested in seeing what they can do in the kitchen. It's sort of like the chowhound premise: avoid the hype and focus on whether or not the food is good.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            I'm kind of mixed in my opinion of this show so far, but one compensation for the lack of background info on the show is that they fill in a fair amount on the website, bravotv dot com. The site is cumbersome but once you figure it out it's really pretty helpful. They did the same thing with Project Runway.

          2. re: Jimbo

            I agree with you on the judges, they are pretty bland and not very informative as to what they were expecting. Maybe it is first show jitters and they will let loose in later shows. The only time they actually ripped on the least three is on Ken, and he deserved it.

            At least we don't have to hear a million variations on the inane:" chef, what is the theme of your dishes today.."

            By the way, I saw the "Chairman's nephew" on a Jet Li movie the other day, he's about as good in the movie as he is on Iron Chef America.

          3. SPOILER ALERT!

            Much better than Hell's Kitchen, which was so fake fake fake, it was hard to maintain any interest.

            The contestants seem much more serious as well, and despite the very short bios, I already have my favorite (LeeAnn, the winner of the first challenge in Keller's kitchen).

            Hard to make too many judgements so early in the game, but damn, Katie Lee Joel has about as much brains and personality as a rock. I thought Colicchio didn't come off well -- there was no evidence at all that he is a respected chef. Oddly, and in contrast, I thought Keller came off much better, but perhaps that was because of the first challenge, where you see him in his own restaurant kitchen taking charge and booting asses.

            However, IMO the obnoxious Irish guy ketting kicked off at the end had more to do with his personality than with the dish. That vegetable stirfry was a disaster -- the gal that made it should have been booted first. I thought the tastings should have been blind for that reason. Judge on the food, not the personality.

            13 Replies
            1. re: Puspter

              I know! I have a bigger problem with not knowing how to rinse your produce than with the potatoes being kind of flavorless. Isn't washing out grit fairly basic?

              1. re: Puspter

                I pretty much agree w/ your assessment! I thought the Irish guy, arrogant and distracting as he was, mainly was booted for his attitude and not his dish. His dish didn't look great, but there were a few that looked terrible! I thought the vegetarian stir-fry mess was the worst, but that contestant saved herself by her deferential response to criticism.

                There were def. flaws in the competition. I too thought it should have been a blind tasting. I also thought the group that got to taste first had a slight advantage by knowing what their competitors produced, as well as seeing the response of the judging panel. Totally unfair. I did like hearing the peer review. You can learn alot about a chef in how they evaluate and critique!

                I too was generally disappointed by the show's crew. Keller came off fine, but I did wonder if him getting hysterical about the Irish guy tasting w/ his finger was more b/c he was being filmed than b/c he would do so in reality. Colicchio came off more cold and pissy than I would expect from reading some of his books. And who is this Katie Lee Joel?!...they say she's a food writer??

                I think the show has potential and I'm interested to see what happens. Like all new shows, I think they need to work on filming, editing, and making it flow better. I hope they will do better about showing the contestants actually cooking their dishes and sharing their food philosophies. I did think that 3 hrs. to cook one plate of food was very generous for a challenge!!

                I don't have a favorite yet, but I have to say that the snooty sommelier pleasantly surprised me w/ his dish.

                1. re: Carb Lover

                  Katie Lee Joel is Billy Joel's wife. That's all I know about her. She comes off terribly on TV.

                  The sommelier guy came off pretty pretentious, boasting about "educating" his fellow contestants. But the one I already dislike is the red-haired Tiffani -- classic hall monitor type, bossy, controlling and righteous. What a pill.

                  1. re: Pupster

                    Oh my, wife? I would have guessed daughter, but that's show biz.

                    The sommelier was so full of himself...I found it humorous more than offensive since it was like a stereotype of a hyper snooty sommelier. Cartoon like. I assumed his actual cooking would be weak, but his plate looked the strongest IMO.

                    Tiffani does seem a bit scary, but I like her drive and confidence. I believe she was the only one that was in the top 3 of both challenges.

                    1. re: Carb Lover

                      The ones who say, "I'm not here to make friends" usually don't last very long. They think they sound focused and serious, but they are usually just unlikeable and piss everyone else off.

                      I'm willing to put cash money down that Tiffani won't win. In these competitions, you need to make friends because inevitably there will come a time when those same people will vote you or you will need their support when you are down.

                      1. re: Pupster

                        If they structure it like Project Runway, how you get along with the other contestance won't make much difference -- it's not like Survivor: the contestants don't vote; it's not even like The Apprentice, where people can choose who goes to the boardroom and make them look bad.

                        I think the Irish guy's attitude was a factor, but it wasn't just that they didn't like him. They felt his attitude wasn't appropriate for working in a professional kitchen, which is a mixture of team work and strict hierarchy.

                        Here's a quote from Collichio's blog: "Even if his roasted halibut with figs had been passable, and even if he hadn't stuck his unwashed finger in a pot of sauce to taste, I felt we were well rid of him for his unprofessional demeanor. Being a chef means cultivating respect for and from your colleagues, even if you don't always agree with them."

                        Again, it it's anything like Project Runway, the chefs spent much more time than we saw with the judges explaining and defending their dishes (on one occasion, a PR designer spent 90 minutes on the runway in a heated confrontation with the judges -- and wasn't eliminated, which shows that personality and likeability usually aren't as important as talent). Although they try to present the gist of the discussion with the editing, I think sometimes critical things that factored into the decision don't come through.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          If it's like PR, there will certainly be perceptions of unfairness. Many people thought worthier contestants were eliminated to let Wendy and Santino get to their respective finals. There were various sudden-death situations and it was always possible to turn in a series of good performances and then get booted because you stumbled once while other people skated along doing mediocre work. Various fans have always argued that points should be cumulative, or in some other way the judging should be made more fair, but I don't think anyone would watch a game show that was done mathematically.

                          In one way I find this show more realistic than PR-- you do have to cook nightly under pressure and the work is done in a matter of hours. In PR, the skills that would keep you from being eliminated would not necessarily be ones you really need as a designer.

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            If you read your first paragraph, the other three contradict it. Ok, no 'voting' like in Survivor, but many moments when teamwork is necessary, when feedback from fellow contestants factor into the judging decision, even moments when help will be required from someone else. This was true on Project Runway as well. And Santino didn't win, nor Wendy Pepper -- in fact, in the end when the pressure was intense and support from the other contestants could have buoyed them, they broke down instead. (But yes, they were also less talented...)

                            Let's see if Tiffani's attitude gets her far...

                            1. re: Pupster

                              Feedback from fellow contestants rarely factored into the judging on Project Runway (for that matter, you were damned if you did and damned if you didn't: when you blamed someone else you were judged harshly for failing to take responsibility, and if you took responsibility for a failure, then they booted you because you were responsible for the failure!). There was never a situation where the contestants sat down with the judges the way there was in Top Chef this week, and I suspect that was a one-time only situation.

                              But there is one big structural difference between Top Chef and Project Runway: Tim Gunn "mentored" the designers in the workroom but had no input in the judging, while it appears Tom Collichio will be able to take the experiences he has with the contestants during the challenges to the judging process. Unless that was also a one-time only deal; I hope so, since I think the other way is fairer.

                              (And I have to disagree: unlike Wendy, Santino Rice is clearly incredibly talented -- even the other designers called him "brilliant" and "a genius" -- and I think that's why, when push came to shove, they always decided to keep him: the potential for brilliance (as opposed to the competent mediocrity of some of the other designers) was always there. His problem is that he hasn't learned to balance his vision and his talent with "wearability." Frankly, I thought they made the wrong decision: real designers have people to help make their designs finished and wearable -- what makes a designer a designer (and not a pattern maker) is the vision, creativity and artisitic sensibility, and I thought Santino had that in spades. Plus his runway collection, despite its flaws, was gorgeous.)

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                Dude, did you see his jumpsuit?

                                Actually I know what you are saying, but I took the opposite opinion on Santino. Brilliant in the first few episodes, but downhill from there. The last few challenges he was downright awful and his runway collection was boring to my eyes. (In fact, this year's crop doesn't compare with Jay, Kara and Austin from season 1.)

                                As for Colicchio, it will be interesting to see how his interaction with the contestants will affect his judgement. The whole 'finger in the sauce' incident was interesting, as I think in Europe it's a common thing. But to do it on TV where regular people and the authorities can see you? Egads! My guess was Colicchio couldn't give a shit about the finger, but he hated the backtalk to Keller.

                                Well, I guess they've got me hooked...

                    2. re: Carb Lover

                      I definitely felt the same about the unfair advantage the group that tasted first had.

                      1. re: Carb Lover

                        Katie Lee Joel is the fourth or fifth wife of Billy Joel, what kind of caveat that gives her in a food show is beyond me, outside of the fact that she is easy on the eyes.

                        1. re: Phaedrus

                          Katie Lee is reportedly a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in Paris, and I know that she was employed in a restaurant in Sag Harbor, NY when she was 'discovered' by Joel. Still not enough qualifications in my book, but she was easy on the eyes apparently.

                    3. Thank you SOOOO much for alerting me to this show!!! I don't have cable so knew nada but I saw it today and I am hooked! So thanks, Ruth!

                      Not liking redhead chick. I don't care if she is the second coming of Christ when it comes to food, I don't like the attitude.

                      1. i've only seen one episode -- the one in which they had to make desserts for the fetish party at Madame S. I thought the challenge was interesting - but considering what the contestants presented as their desserts, i had to ask myself "WHERE DO THEY GET THESE PEOPLE!?!?!?"

                        so yes, they have to making interesting television, and i guess they've chosen to choose different "CHEFS" from different parts of the industry -- but i really feel as though they've chosen many of the contestants on the merit of being bad. seriously.

                        anyone who would put up a cake decorated like a girl in a bikini (which looked as though a toddler had designed it) or who would even CONSIDER only covering almonds in chocolate as her dish -- obviously hasn't been in a position of responsibility, or has ever even WORKED in a fine-dining restuarant before.
                        it's pathetic.
                        i felt insulted that these people were representing my job.

                        there was one contestant who make something w. champagne and rose petals and pomegranates -- a really beautifully executed dish, and i wondered -- why didn't they put more people on the show like him? who would raise the bar higher and higher -- now THAT would be competition.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: beatrice

                          Too bad you missed the first episode, where they all had to work the line for 30 minutes at Fleur de Lys (that is, they were supposed to work the line for 30 minutes, only three of them didn't get booted by Hubert Keller well before their time was up). That demonstrated very quicking who the "real" chefs were and the rigors of working in the kitchen of a four-star restaurant.

                          And none of them are trained specifically as pastry chefs, which really put them at a disadvantage in the second episode.

                          There are four or five "serious" contenders of the type you describe: Miguel, Harold (or is it Howard?), Lee Anne, Tiffani and Stephen.

                          The rest are there for diversity -- to show that there's more than one way of looking at food and cooking. And to make the show more interesting -- how much pomegranate reduction do you need? Face it, this is a television show -- it's foremost goal is to be entertaining, not to definitively annoint someone as the "top chef" (as if you could do such a thing).

                          The nonserious-type will be long gone before they get it down to the finalists (except after last night's episode, I think they're looking for an excuse to boot Tiffani on her nasty attitude alone).

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                            I think Tiffani is a coherent sound bite machine for the producers - have you noticed how much of her interviews they use compared to the rest? Outside the tattle-tale bitchiness, she knows how to
                            a. cook professionally and sparkle to the Chefs
                            b. be a reality show villan

                            how can they give her up?

                            I love the non-restaurant cooks:
                            the mom who pulled back the obnoxious if talented sommelier from making stupid food for kids for example. It's brilliant to have some plain folks in there, and she's appears to be pulling it off in terms of taste if not high style.

                            Was totally sorry to see the Hamptons caterer go - she would have added great fun and another less Cheffy but still professional element - if she wasn't so painfully distracted.

                            Disappointed in the natural foods enthusiast - it's a good perspective to have represented but not when she can't wash her greens or cook 'em right!

                            [I am totally enjoying this show.]

                            1. re: pitu

                              I started a new thread for episode three, we can continue the discussion there.