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Top Chef: "Room Service"

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If I had a nickel for every time a contestant was “pissed” on tonight’s episode, I’d have myself quite a few nickels would I not? Angela was pissed because she was featured in Food & Wine magazine once, which somehow entitles her not to be up for elimination. Lynne was pissed because somebody fiddled with her oven temperature, and her partner Arnold was pissed because she’s so pissy. Kevin was pissed because Kenny won’t engage him in a “group discussion” over the quality of their horseradish sauce. And virtually everyone left in the third stage of Elimination challenge was pissed because they have to keep on cooking despite putting out two courses’ worth of totally awesome dishes.


And frankly, “Room Service” pissed me off a little, too. I’m generally excited by tournament or round-robin style scenarios that raise the stakes and make the chefs more competitive. And goodness knows a double elimination in the early-going of any season is a welcome development. But the Elimination challenge—which tasked them with creating easily executable breakfast, lunch, and dinner offerings for the Hilton room service menu—struck me as more than a little wonky. It makes sense to narrow the field with each course and spare those who deliver the goods, but when the judges are left at the end with three dishes they essentially like and still have to send two chefs home, it defies reason.

But more on that in a minute. The Quickfire had Tom and Padma entering the Top Chef kitchen sans special guest—Oh no! What could that mean?! I don’t know what’s going on! I’m prepared to feast on the still-beating heart of the guy next to me!—and reminding us that they’ve each had children recently. (Padma needn’t have reminded anyone on our message boards of that fact.) Chefs were told to make two dishes: One that Tom and Padma would enjoy, and a pureed version that an infant might tolerate. Each judge gets to reward their favorite with $10,000, which Arnold vows to donate to an orphanage in Thailand and Alex plans to splurge on a hooker and an eight ball. (That wasn’t all the Alex weirdness tonight. On him not being a father: “I practice making baby, but not baby food.” Not liking the word “practice” there.) Of course, half the chefs just go off and cook whatever the hell they like, without concern over whether an infant might dig mushy renderings of pan-seared duck, overcooked lamb, or spice-rubbed pork loin. Personally, I’m not convinced a baby would go for salmon in any form, but the judges seemed to dig Tamesha’s salmon and veggie chowder, and she was infectiously profane about winning their approval. (“Holy shitballs, I won 10,000 smackeroos!”) Kenny also triumphed with a seemingly risky curried chicken dish, taking advantage of his own experience cooking as a widowed father.


Now back to the Elimination challenge. Chefs were paired up into two-person teams, and for once had the freedom to choose their partners rather than drawing knives. All seven pairs had to work on breakfast, with the two best spared from making lunch; then two of the five making lunch were spared from making dinner, leaving three teams to cook dinner, the worst of which would have both of its members eliminated. The winner gets their dish featured on Hilton room service menus across the globe, except only the three worst teams are around to compete for the win. So if chefs were keen on making the Hilton menu—and winning a fabulous six-day European vacation to Barcelona or Venice!— they’d deliberately have to bomb out in the first two rounds and excel in the third. Because apparently none of the winners spared from making dinner were eligible to compete for the top prize. (It’s entirely possible that Tina and Angela made the single best dish of the night with their shortribs dinner, but without the winners from the previous rounds competing, how would we know they wouldn’t top them?)

But as flawed as the “tournament” was for determining a winner, it was perhaps worse for determining a loser. Judging by the comments, the three teams—Kenny and Kevin, Kelly and Angela, and Arnold and Lynne—left to make dinner all made dishes everyone essentially liked, with some minor reservations for Arnold and Lynne’s undercooked pasta and color problems and the lack of horseradish-y punch in Kenny and Kevin’s shortrib dish. Under normal circumstances, there’s no chance any of them would make the Bottom Three. And yet the structure of this challenge put not one but two of the chefs at risk. Granted, they botched the first two courses to get themselves in that position, but it seemed unreasonably harsh for Arnold and Lynne both to go home this early for putting out a quality dish. Having won last week’s challenge outright, Arnold was especially heroic for being so gracious in defeat. He had every right to be, well, “pissed.”

Stray observations:

• Arnold: Maybe the grill is my friend, after all. Grill: “I’m not here to make friends.”


• At the end of Top Chef’s run, an enterprising web person could put together a nice montage of Padma spitting out food. This week: Lemon seeds.

• Infants love four-layered baby food featuring poached tuna and fenugreek broth. Don’t let their cries tell you any different.


• Relieved to see Stephen hang around, but I wonder if his flailing on Top Chef will have any negative effect on Seablue’s business. That restaurant is literally right across the hall from Tom’s Craftsteak at MGM Grand. For him to be the last picked in gym class doesn’t bode well.