Videogum

Top Chef S07E01: Mr. Chef Goes To Washington

The last season of Top Chef was good, but it was decidedly lacking in drama. Everyone was just very talented, and respectful of each other’s talent. Well, OK, maybe not Robin. But almost everyone was very talented. (If it helps, Robin was very old?) There were no villains, with the possible exception of Toby Young, and for the first time in a reality show, I was actively rooting for all three finalists. (Perhaps rooting is the wrong word. But I was definitely watching the show.) So it is nice to see that this season the producers have made some attempts at putting the drama back in Top Chdramaef. The talent pool doesn’t seem nearly as strong as last year (“I got a job working at IHOP when I was 17,” “I was voted one of the top 25 chefs in all of Atlanta”), and we’ve already got a villain (“I was actually just in Monte Carlo two weeks ago”). As is always the case with this show, it is going to take about 6 to 12 weeks for me to actually remember who anyone is, or develop any kind of interest in their potential success or failure. I’m not even going to bother trying to learn their names or where they are from until half of them have been sent home. What am I, a stack of index cards? (I was trying really hard to think of a thing that has a really good memory, or is used for keeping track of data, and that was the best I could do. My life is basically an extended Quickfire Challenge that I am constantly losing.)

And now, TO THE ROOF OF THE MUSEUM!

Oh, excuse me. TO THE ROOF OF THE NEWSEUM! It is, of course, a Top Chef tradition upon arriving in a new city to avoid the recognizable landmarks that would help set the dramatic scene, and instead to meet at a non-descript location that most people have never heard of. That sounds like a joke, but now that I think about it, it’s true. They are always meeting in some field or some shit. “Welcome to New York! Land of the open plains.” Next year the whole show should just take place in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, everyone is meeting each other and stuff, and STOP THE PRESSES VICKI VALE WHAT IS THAT?!

Enhance.

Enhance.

Oh jeez. He should be eliminated just on principle. I’m pretty sure it is a health violation to even look at food on a TV screen that was cooked by someone with hair like that. “Instead of using a hairnet, I just tie a tall kitchen garbage bag to my head.” Yikes. But he’s probably super normal, right? He just happens to express his quirkiness through his choice in hairstyle, and everything else about him is very normal and doesn’t make you uncomfortable with every word that comes out of his mouth, right? (SPOILER ALERT: wrong.)

Tom and Padma (but let’s be honest, Padma and Tom, in that order) come out and welcome the chefs to Washington DC! 1992’s Murder Capital of the World! And now to the business. What are we going to do, sit around on the roof of the Newseum staring at some stone phallus all day, reminiscing about the fact that we’re from Dallas, or whatever? GET TO WORK! The first Quickfire Challenge of the competition is the classic “mise en place” tournament. The chefs must each peel 10 potatoes. Then they must brunoise (BRUNOISE!) 10 cups of onions. Then they have to break down four chickens. A bunch of chefs will get eliminated in each round. The final four will compete for $20,000, because as you know, what happens in DC stays in DC, and this is a classic DC “high bills” challenge. The $20,000 is presented in the traditional manner of all money:

Some people do good, and some people do bad? There are like a million chefs out there. I’m pretty sure 1,000 chefs get eliminated with each new round. Although one dude stands out, because he is an unstoppable Brunoise Machine. (Look for him in Iron Man 3! Ugh. Can I get eliminated? I would be more than happy to pack my blogs and go.) He peels and dismantles the competition! (See above parenthetical.) Say hello to Kenny.

Hi, Kenny! In the final four, after doing all the stuff to all the things the fastest, Kenny goes up against two other dudes and also Mr. Monte Carlo, the season’s front-runner for The Worst. At the end of this episode, when they do a season-long preview of what to expect in the coming weeks, there is an interview clip of Angelo where he says “I am literally going to be a sniper.” LITERALLY?! Yikes. I’m guessing that what he meant was he is figuratively going to be a sniper. Because if he literally was a sniper we would have heard about it already, and this show would never have gone to air. Megan Wants a Millionaire style. In Angelo’s defense, this is Top Chef, not Top Scallop Knowing What Words Mean. Although sometimes it is also Top Bad Chef.

The final round for the delicious domed platter of CA$H involves the final four chefs creating a dish using the potatoes, onions, and chicken, plus whatever is in the pantry (you know, the pantry on the roof of the Newseum. Classic pantry). Mr. Monte Carlo breaks Kenny’s crushing streak with a last minute upset. Fair enough. No one is here to make friends, probably. And ALL of the chefs in the final four will be given a “big” (read: confusing) advantage in the Elimination Challenge. They separate into four teams, and the chefs who won the Quickfire can choose the chefs for their team, and the chefs in their team are who they will be competing against? I kind of understand how this is an advantage, except that these chefs don’t really know each other at all, and after they each pick one person that they think is a lame duck, the rest of the chefs, many of whom are (probably) not lame ducks, still get separated onto those teams? So they’re still competing against some good chefs, too? Whatever. I’m not here to make sense of the “advantages.”

The challenge itself is for each chef to cook a dish that represents where they are from, because of how we are in the nation’s capital. Sure. Someone named Kelly says, “Every single day of my life I cook regional Colorado cuisine.” Haha. What’s THAT? Pieces of mountain sauteed in upper-middle-class hippies? Padman informs them that they will be cooking for 300 “young, successful Washingtonians.” That better be true. I hope that they made everyone give a birth certificate and a resume at the door. Anyway, in a few hours, the chefs will go to Whole Foods to shop, and then they will prepare their dishes for the first Elimination Challenge of the season. But first: SOME JOURNALING.

Oh man.

So, the chefs cook. I don’t know. Too many cooks in the kitchen! Literally. And I mean literally in the dictionary definition of literally, not Mr. Monte Carlo’s definition of literally, which is actually the definition of figuratively. You get it. Some things that they are cooking look good (“deconstructed short rib borscht with creme fraiche,” “arctic char with pickled shallots, tapioca, and smoked bacon froth,” “cinnamon-coffee rubbed trout, with black bean mole, goat cheese polenta and quinoa”) and some things that they are cooking look bad. And when I say some things look bad, I mean at one point I actually yelled at the TV to stop showing me Jaqueline’s duo of Hudson Valley chicken liver and port mousse.

Gross. So so so gross. That shit seriously looked like what was pouring out of that kid’s mouth in The Haunting In Connecticut:

And just in case the look of it did not gross you out enough, she kept talking about how it was GRAINY.

The young, successful Washingtonians show up. No homo.

The judges show up. No homo.

“This tastes good.” “This tastes bad.” You know how it goes. Classic Top Chef. Let’s just get to the Judges’ Table, shall we? So, Kenny, Mr. Monte Carlo, some dude named Kevin, and some dude named Alex end up in the top four. Congratulations people I don’t know at all and in whom I have no emotional investment! Mr. Monte Carlo wins. Dude is on a roll. After the Quickfire Challenge, he had interviewed that he wanted to be the first person in Top Chef history to win every challenge. It seemed hilarious at the time, but now it just seems annoying. I’m all for talented people brimming with confidence, but something tells me this guy needs to be taken down a hundred pegs.

In the bottom four: some dude named Steven, Jaqueline, the woman who made the duo of blood-infused barf, some dude named Timothy, and, of course:

Tom gets a good burn in against Jaqueline who claims that she’s made her barf dish hundreds of times but had trouble in the competition because she didn’t have her recipes. “If you made it hundreds of times, why do you need a recipe?” Tom asks. TOOOTALLLLLLL BUUUUUUUURRNNNNNNNN. My question, of course, is if she made it hundreds of times, why hasn’t she stopped making it, because it looks fucking disgusting. (And I am someone who actually likes liver mousses and pates! I am a man of the world! A worldly man! Ladies!) But in the end, Ani DiFranco loses for her maple mousse napoleon with crisp macadamia nuts and maple sauce. You could tell things weren’t going well for her when she said “I’m from Detroit, Michigan, and in April, maple syrup is flowing from the trees.” Uh, no it’s not? I’m from just outside Detroit, Michigan, and in April VIOLENT CRIME IS FLOWING FROM THE TREES. This guy knows what I’m talking about:

Oh. Now I feel kind of bad about what I said at the beginning about how she should be eliminated on principle. If only I had known when I started writing this post how it would all turn out! Goodbye, Ani DiFranco. Yours was a dreadlocks flame that grew burned too long bright.