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Redesigning Top Chef Season 5

I've watched "Top Chef" quite a bit since season 3 in Miami and I think the main probelm with Season 5 has been that it lacks the character of the NYC area. Episode 1 tried to get the people out to the different boroughs and areas, but aside from that experiment/challenge, it is rather dull and lackluster. Furthermore, aside from the contestants, the judges comments and guest judges have been insipid.

If you were to redesign the show and truly make it Top Chef NY, what sort of challenges would you come up with to truly make it Top Chef NY and not a gentrified 2009 Bravo version?

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  1. Get them out of WF and let them shop in the small shops, independent purveyors of different specialty foods, different ethnic shops. They did it for the first episode but many contestants didn't use it well. Other than Episode 1, this season could have been shot anywhere. Stop the product placement challenges--does a chef really need to be able to cook with Diet Dr. Pepper? It makes the challenges forced...you can see the producers' heads turn, "Our sponsors are Diet Dr. Pepper, Quaker Oatmeal, Gladware...how can we incorporate it in a thematic challenge?"

    3 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      The product placement is getting really intrusive.

      I like the idea of using small, independent, ethnic providers. Also more "organic" challenges, i.e., things that a real chef would have to deal with, like the fish intended for tonight's dinner has gone bad, so what else can I cook with what's on hand?

      1. re: chowser

        While I agree it would be a good idea to get out of Whole Foods, I would point out that the Chicago season did not take advantage of the vast range of ethnic markets in the Chicago area either (I've lived in NY and Chicago and there are a lot more in Chicago). What the Chicago season did was to stage episodes that took advantage of typical Chicago settings - a Bears game, a neighborhood block party, etc. They're not doing that in NY and I agree it looks like they could have shot the show anywhere. I think one reason is that given the time of year the show was going to be aired, they decided to do more seasonal themes - Thanksgiving, Christmas - which just look incongruous. They should have done more to give you a sense of the city.

        1. re: rjka

          Even the seasonal theme bothers me. Why pretend it's Christmas or Thanksgiving when they filmed just because it would be when aired? There will also be the lag time in filming. It was odd to have the Christmas challenge (or was it Thanksgiving, I can't remember anymore) followed by the summer outdoors seasonal local challenge. Just go with whatever season it is. And, again, in Chicago, it would have been great if they'd taken advantage of the local markets. But, then again, it's about product placement and WF must have paid to be front and center.

      2. There is no sense of city.
        It hasn't been a high priority before, and it isn't now. Nor will it be in the future, until a local mentor is brought in to help with the planning. It would have to be real sincere efforts at showing a city.
        I could see a New Orleans chef doing it easily.
        But in many cities, the chefs aren't that tied to where they are cooking and for more money would move elsewhere. And that applies to the show, sadly.

        1 Reply
        1. re: shallots

          "I could see a New Orleans chef doing it easily. "

          Bring it on! We have four seasons: oyster, crawfish, crab and shrimp...the weather stays the same, so no continuity problems here.

        2. i think we're all saying pretty much the same thing - we'd like to see it a bit more NY-centric as opposed to a show that could have been filmed in Anytown, USA.

          personally i wish they'd done a challenge that involved buying & preparing ingredients from the U Sq. Greenmarket, with the stipulation that they use a minimum number or proportion of ingredients from NY purveyors/sources.

          1. I know your question asked how to truly make it Top Chef NY, but I don't think that's the totality of the problem this season. I think there are too many team challenges, and honestly, the chefs seem a whole lot less inspired and talented on the whole. Think back to Season 1, with Harold, Tiffani, Lee Anne, Dave, and even Stephen. Their food just seemed so interesting and it seemed they really took a lot of chances. This season, so many of the dishes seem downright boring, and everyone seems to be playing it safe - maybe just trying to stay in the game instead of trying to impress. Or maybe it's because Season 1 was the start of something new, and now it all seems like old hat. Also, I miss Bourdain. So I'm not sure if injecting more NYC into the show would have helped much.

            1. While I also would have loved to see more challenges using independent stores and less product placement, Whole Foods and Diet Dr. Pepper pays the bills. I do agree with the notion that they should be out in NYC more than doing shows like the Foo Fighters in Rochester and Gail's bridal shower. I would love to see a street cart challenge. I'm sure there are some who would argue that it's already been done in Season 1. But there's no law saying that you can't do the same challenge again. They do restaurant wars every year. Street food is an important part of the NYC food scene. Or maybe they can take typical street food (hot dogs, pretzels, halal chicken, falafel) and make an upscale dish. Or maybe one of those Korean deli salad bar by the pound challenges -- when I look at some of those dishes, I'm wondering what they were thinking as they have all these dishes that should never be sitting out all day on a warming tray. The challenge perhaps may have been to comprise of decent dishes that would stand the test of time and be high profit items. Or do Football Squares with bagels or coffee (even if it's from a big corporation like Sara Lee, Lender's or Dunkin Donuts -- you know, to pay the bills) instead of oats. Or perhaps another variation of a fusion challenge they did on Season 1. And while not totally New York, I would love to see a vegetarian challenge at some point in Top Chef. And I agree with GHG that a Union Square market challenge would be a good one as well.

              4 Replies
              1. re: Miss Needle

                Product placement is one thing but they don't have an American Idols segment with the constestants singing songs about Coke and being judged for it. Or, if they want, let them film a mini-commercial like the Idols do for Ford. Just keep it out of the challenges.

                1. re: chowser

                  Oh my! I've never watched American Idol so I have no clue that sort of stuff went on. While not PBS, Top Chef is definitely a step above most reality shows.

                2. re: Miss Needle

                  how about a subliminal product placement challenge and let the viewers text in their guesses, aided by scratch and sniff cards for clues to the ingredients...J/K

                  1. re: edible complex

                    Ha ha. Actually, I read somewhere that we (the audience) will have a hand in choosing what challenges future contestants will be involved in. Perhaps by Season 10 (if it lasts that long), your wish may come true. : )