Top Chef: “Giving It The College Try”
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Top Chef: “Giving It The College Try”

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Top Chef

"Giving It The College Try" 

Season 11, Episode 11

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Eh, I wasn't feeling much of this episode. It felt anticlimactic, coming on the heels of two strong episodes. And even the winning dishes didn’t sound particularly interesting, because they’re cafeteria food for a bunch of undergrads who can’t even identify what they’re eating. I’m also not particularly interested in an episode of Top Chef where the main drama stems from the massive limitations of the challenge, instead of like, you know, the cooking. The writing on this episode is flawed, and that means the whole episode falls flat.

I guess it seems to me that if you have eight different stations for a bunch of college kids, which are designed for eight different courses, why wouldn’t you either a) let the chefs draw knives for the stations so they could prep or b) let them work together to create a full meal with different parts? For some reason, they’re given a random assortment of ingredients, a limited number of appliances, and three hours to make 500 dishes. This is an insane challenge. It reminds me a little of the infamous cream cheese challenge from earlier in the season—what’s the point of making food that definitionally kind of sucks, with such incredibly difficult limitations?

I would have liked to see a cafeteria-based challenge that gave the contestants a clearer directive: Do something different with cafeteria food. Or, make the kids happy. This nebulous “both” results in substandard food that doesn’t get anyone too far. It also results in a whole lot of interpersonal drama. 

Personally, squabbling between the chefs is not the reason I watch Top Chef. But the infighting over the appliances—which centers mostly around Carlos complaining to Colicchio that Nicholas stole his oven—is ultimately what hijacks the episode’s storyline. Considering that the only reason Carlos would have done something so petty is because the challenge was badly structured to begin with, I wasn’t too invested in Nicholas’ righteous indignation. Carlos needs to suck less, obviously. His weaknesses in technique are becoming more and more obvious (especially in the quickfire) and he really should have thought through his meal better. But in between Carrie getting flak for taking the cold station (even though she was trying to do everyone a solid by using her immunity for a good cause), Shirley complaining about other people being greedy or mean (when she literally fell over herself to grab the duck legs), and Justin loftily informing the camera that he doesn’t cook down to people, this whole episode was a tangle of sloppy editing and the sadder sides of all of our contestants.

Witness the incredibly gimmicky quickfire. I get that the show is now just trying to pit the contestants against each other for maximum drama, but that dash to the table of drumsticks was depressing. There are drumsticks scattered on the floor by the end, and Nicholas is punished, as he points out, for taking the time to help Shirley up. The drama detracts from the cooking, and it makes me dislike a lot of our contestants, to boot. Maybe I’m feeling cranky today, but that isn’t what I want from Top Chef.

Stray observations:

  • At least Justin is finally gone. He doesn’t cook down to people, guys.
  • I know I came down on Shirley a little above, but her ability to make the pizza oven work for her—without complaining—is pretty damn awesome. She earned her win.
  • Brian is pretty annoying, isn’t he? His strategy seems to be to slouch to mediocrity in every competition, which means he’s never bad enough to be outright eliminated but rarely good enough to win. 
  • Duck fat was the flavor of the week—in at least three of the drumsticks, I think. 
Filed Under: TV, Top Chef

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