Thursday, May 22, 2008

Top Whaaaah?

On last night's episode, the chefestants got woken up at 5:45 am by a surprise visit from Tom. Wow, what a fun way to wake up! Not only a strange man's voice saying, "Hey! Wake up!" but a strange man who gets to JUDGE you, gets to decide your FATE for you. Nice. (Not that Tom is a strange man, necessarily; you know what I mean.)

So they straggled down to the kitchen and Tom told them their quickfire challenge was to go to Lou Mitchell's, a very busy Chicago breakfast landmark, to work the short-order egg station. They each had to work it for a set time and the winner would be the person the owner of the restaurant would hire. It was over quickly, we didn't see much of each chef, but it was enough to make me NEVER want to be a short-order cook.

Though a tough decision between Dale and Antonia, Antonia prevailed. Go, Antonia! Whatever, I like her.

The chefs then went to meet Padma for a description of the elimination challenge. Restaurant wars! Antonia's prize for winning the quickfire was to choose her team. She chose her team members from the Wedding Wars challenge, Stephanie and Richard. Well, duh. The only other decent chef is Dale, and working with him seems to be like working with a hungover porcupine. Oh, hell, that's an insult to porcupines. Sorry, little guys.

The teams got busy planning their restaurant themes and menus and buying ingredients and decorations. Team Winner (I'm just assuming) went with Warehouse Kitchen, a gastro-pub theme, and Team Loser (even if they, by some miracle, won the challenge, still... losers) went with a – surprise! – Asian-themed restaurant, Mai Buddha. Tom was absent for this challenge, so he was replaced by da da dum... Anthony Bourdain. Who would totally freak me out. Tom doesn't pull punches, but Bourdain, I don't know, can really put people down. Way down. To China from North America down. Anyway.

Team Antonia (naming each team after its executive chef) moved along at a nice clip, calm, organized, pleasant, professional. Stephanie handled the front because she's opened her own restaurant before; she also created two dishes. I was a little unclear on how she managed this since she was out front, but I don't know how much she did before she had to go out there. Oh yeah, each team got to choose help from past contestants and TA chose Nikki to help them with the pasta.

Team Dale chose Jen to help them. (Poor Mark and Andrew didn't get chosen.) Spike handled the front for their team, presumably so he wouldn't be the one to go down in flames if they ended up losing. I'm so sick of wiliness – wow, that looks wrong but I checked and it's actually right – helping these people move along. It's supposed to be Top Chef, am I right? Not Top Manipulator?

Team Dale had problems from the start. Dale put a rotten avocado in his Halo Halo and had to try to fix it, so he was in a bad mood right away. Then Lisa couldn't get her laksa right, Dale kept telling her it was too smoky, Spike said it was sour (?), and she just couldn't seem to figure out how to correct it. Since she didn't seem able to tell anything was wrong with it until they told her, I don't know why they thought she would be able to fix it. That's it, I'm just calling her Loser from now on. Does she even have taste buds?

Loser was also in charge of a dessert – mango sticky rice – and she couldn't get the rice sticky! Now, I'm no chef but I know that one rice gets sticky while the other doesn't – I think short-grain gets sticky and long-grain doesn't, but don't quote me. I told you I don't cook. But even I at least know there's a difference. And she's supposed to be a CHEF! Ugh, she infuriates me!

Meanwhile, Spike took credit for braised short ribs but, as it turned out later, it was just his recipe and Dale actually cooked them. I think Dale should have gotten credit for them if they turned out well, but I'm not sure he did. Dale also created butterscotch miso scallops with spicy eggplant and pickled long beans for one of the main dishes.

Of course, Dale and Loser spent most of their time in the kitchen arguing and cursing and Spike either avoided them or egged them on, depending on his mood. It was about as pleasant as you would expect.

Finally, dinnertime was over and the judges – substitute head judge Anthony Bourdain, guest judge José Andrés, Ted Allen, and Padma – went back to the judges' table. The results...

Team Antonia won, naturally. Their dishes were well-received by the judges and the other diners. The judges particularly liked the fresh linguine and clams with sausage and horseradish creme fraiche, and the gorgonzola cheesecake with sweet potato puree and concord grape sauce. Both of those dishes were... Stephanie's! So she won the challenge.

I was a little surprised because, like I said, I don't see how she did those dishes if she was out front. Did she prepare them early? Did she just provide the recipes and the others did the actual work? I know Nikki helped with the pasta; did she get credit? Also, Nikki told them there was grit in the clams and Antonia tasted them and said there was, and Richard rinsed them again, so it seems like maybe he actually cooked the dish? I don't know, it wasn't clear to me. It doesn't seem like she should have won if she didn't actually cook them, but I like her okay, so it didn't really bother me.

On to Team Dale, the clear losers in so many ways. Spike again did his best to distance himself from the fray, saying the lack of teamwork was a problem between "those guys." The judges mentioned later that he was smart to do that; maybe, but smart in a sneaky, cunning way, not really intelligent and certainly not honorable or decent. They slammed Dale and Loser for the lack of teamwork, especially Dale as the executive chef, but didn't say anything negative about Spike's uninvolvement – BY DEFINITION a COMPLETE lack of teamwork. I'm so sick of him and his slick smarminess. I can't understand why it works for him.

Predictably, the judges hated the laksa because... all they could taste was smoke. Imagine that. Loser actually stepped up and took the blame for the laksa. Dale said, "I don't know laksa, I trusted these guys" and Spike said, "Well, it wasn't like any laksa I've done," both completely leaving Loser flapping in the breeze. Which was kind of yucky, but it since was her dish, and they tried to tell her how to correct it, it was understandable.

Then Spike wanted to take credit for the braised short ribs and Dale stepped in and said he cooked them, it was just Spike's recipe. I don't blame him, I'd want credit if I'd done the work. Especially with Spike trying to slide out of all responsibility and yet take credit if it looked like the judges were about to say something positive.

Dale took credit for the butterscotch disaster and I think was surprised that the judges hated it. HATED it. Anthony Bourdain and José Andrés absolutely excoriated it. They almost gagged. That's pretty bad, given that Anthony Bourdain will apparently eat just about anything, and like most of it. It was also very interesting because Dale had been doing so well before this serious misstep.

I can't remember what they said about his dessert, the Halo Halo. I know they said something at the dinner table about it being a good idea or interesting or something, but I don't remember if they liked it or just the idea of it.

They also didn't like the mango sticky rice and here Loser tried to shove responsibility off onto Dale by saying he told her what rice to use and it wasn't a rice she was familiar with. He said, "I did not tell you to grab that rice!" Loser looked at Spike to back her up and he just shrugged and said, "I don't know." Way to help the team, Spike ol' buddy ol' pal! Oh well, maybe he really didn't know. And I don't know who was right about the rice issue, but I have to ask WHY would Loser use a rice she wasn't familiar with? That makes her not only a loser but also a dumbass.

So the judges asked them to leave and take their squabbling with them (they didn't actually say that, but they were thinking it). They apparently only considered booting Spike off briefly, though, in my opinion, he deserved it for not taking enough actual CHEF responsibilities. He needs to get called on his chickensh*t scheming ways. Can you tell I'm sick of him? And his straggly almost-there facial shrubbery – no, not even shrubbery, just weedy growth. And his hats. And his icky voice and manner. And his teeth. Ugh. I need to go take a shower now.

There, that's better. Now the real debate – Dale or Loser? The judges were being hard on Dale because he was the executive chef but I think that's a completely specious argument. Here's why. I presume that in a real kitchen, the executive chef has some actual authority. Maybe not to fire employees (unless he also owns the restaurant) but at least to relegate one to chopping onions, if the EC decides the person has offended him. (For simplicity, I'm going with him since I'm mostly talking about Dale here.) Obviously I don't know much about how kitchens actually run (beyond what reading Kitchen Confidential taught me a few years ago), but I'm guessing something like this actually goes on.

Given that, how is the executive chef position in these challenges at all similar? They have no actual power over these people, and they all know it. The judges chastised Dale for not controlling his team and his kitchen, but I ask you, and would love to ask them, how much control can he actually have? He can't fire Loser, he can't even take over her dish, can he? I guess he could have taken it over and tried to fix it and then the judges would have been told that she couldn't even finish a dish and he had to try to salvage it. But then he would sink with her if it still wasn't any good. That's so not fair.

I understand that in a real kitchen, the restaurant is only as good as its weakest dish, so the executive chef has to be sure that everything going out to customers is as good as he thinks it should be, but in that case, he also has much more authority and control over the kitchen. Here the position is largely spurious and just means the chef has put himself on the chopping block. I think they should get some credit for stepping up and trying to take on the thankless extra responsibility, but they don't. They just get slammed for it. I really hate that about this show.

I also think they should take past performance into consideration. Who in real life would get fired for one mistake? I mean, unless you did something actually illegal or cost the company millions of dollars through sheer stupidity. Most of the time you get a little break, especially if you have a good track record.

Well, you can see where this diatribe is heading. They cut Dale. DALE! He was definitely a prickly pear and difficult to work with, but he also had talent. Despite his mistakes this time. So these judges, in all their infinite wisdom, kicked off the only talented chef that the losing team had on it. Way to go, judges! Right on!

It should definitely have been Loser. She should have been kicked off a looong time ago. If I have to hear her whining and complaining past the next episode (unless Spike is the one to go next time), I'm going to cut a ...something. Probably just my palms with my nails. But still. It will hurt and I don't like pain. So, judges, help a loyal viewer out?

I'm so aggravated by this episode. I wonder if the verdict would have been different had Tom been there instead of Bourdain?

Top four should have been Antonia, Dale, Richard, and Stephanie. Top three should now be Antonia, Richard, and Stephanie. Top two should be Antonia and Richard, with Richard FTW. Although it would be nice for a woman to win; Richard, despite his pink shoes, just doesn't qualify.


David Dust said...

Lisa MUST go!

CLICK HERE for DavidDust's Top Chef recap.


sassymoll said...

If there is a God, Lisa will be out next time. But then that leaves Spike. Hm. I'll just hope that the judges get so ticked off they cut both of the losers. My sad little forlorn hope.