Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Top Chef Quickie - Restaurant Wars (Parts 1 & 2)

Hmm, I'm getting a little worried that Top Chef is making me a snarkier person than I used to be, because here's the first thought that came to mind after watching this season's "Restaurant Wars" two-parter:

C'mon, Top Chef! We want this to be challenging! It's not enough that you're making them do two services, and they have to choose furniture and artwork and even figure out where the bloody kitchen equipment should go! Next time, let's make them wire the building electricity and maybe hook up the gas lines! After all, they can't cook without those things, so every chef should also be an electrician. Better yet, make them build the freakin' building first!

/end snark

That said, I do like the fact that each chef had to be either front-of-the-house or executive chef for a service, because otherwise it's too easy to hide as a line cook and huddle back there in survival mode. But if the show continues with this two-service format, I hope they will allow the services to be on two different days (unlikely) or at least go back to putting the chefs in existing kitchen/restaurant spaces and letting them concentrate on food.

All of my complaining aside, this is probably one of the few Restaurant Wars in which I think they absolutely chose the right winners and the right losers, both in terms of teams and individual competitors. The orange team, with its restaurant called "District LA," was the clear loser, and Phillip was asked to pack his knives and go. Not surprisingly, Phillip once again proved that he is absolutely incapable of taking criticism. He may hear the words being spoken, but in his mind anything except high praise cannot possibly be true or valid if applied to his perfect food. One of the complaints was about his strawberry champagne salad, which even to me looked like a huge amount of strawberry syrup poured over some greens and strawberries. What's bothersome is that Phillip complained that the judges told him to "do his own food" yet sent him home anyway, like they were deliberately deceiving him. What does he think they tell the other chefs? He also whined about taste being subjective, so he feels they sent him home because they didn't "happen" to like his sickly sweet salad. If only one judge made the criticism, that would be subjective taste, but when they're in complete agreement, maybe he needs to pay attention to what they're saying.

It was also typical Phillip that he thought he aced the front of the house. I wasn't sure the judges needed to be that harsh about the free cocktail upon entering the restaurant, but little touches like that don't make up for otherwise inadequate -- which can also mean overly solicitous -- service. And how telling that the judges were able to predict that Phillip spent most of his table-side time with his diners talking about his own restaurants.

As for the rest of the orange team, I felt that Jeremy was fortunate that the judges didn't realize just how badly lunch service had actually gone once they themselves were done eating. From the judges' conversation, I don't think they were aware that many of the diners were ignored for ages while Jeremy instructed everyone to drop everything and serve the judges. I'm glad Amar didn't go home for his dish, as unappetizing as it sounded. I do agree with the judges that Amar didn't act like an executive chef, but I truly did feel Phillip's mistakes were worse. Even Kwame didn't serve anything close to what he is capable of (although to be fair, he had the unenviable job of executing Phillip's strawberry salad, knowing all the while that it was a disaster -- and he did try to tell Phillip so).

While I didn't find any of the food in this Restaurant Wars to be super memorable, I really think the gray team, with its "Palette" restaurant, did quite well. Marjorie struggled a tiny bit in the front of the house at the beginning of service, but pulled it together. Much more importantly, when Karen fell so far behind that she couldn't prep the servers for dinner service, Marjorie took time away from her own dishes to go back out front and pick up the slack. In addition, Isaac stepped in to help Karen finishing prepping one of her dishes. This, people, is teamwork. And while it's unfortunate that Karen fell so far behind, it wasn't due to ego -- and she did eventually manage the front pretty well, plus contributed that tortellini that was quite successful. Meanwhile, Isaac and Carl both nailed the executive chef roles for their respective services. They just got it done.

In the end, I was glad to see Isaac win, especially because we all relate to that "last kid picked for the team" fear. But the rest of the team's contributions, especially Carl's calm competence, should not be overlooked. I feel like Marjorie might have won overall for her front-of-house (especially if the judges had known how much she contributed to dinner front-of-house too, which I don't think they did) if her second dessert, with its champagne fizz, hadn't turned the judges off a little. But she certainly would have been safe no matter what, with her delicious bread, delicious cheese course, and front-of-the-house work.

Was it my imagination, or was Phillip the first chef to leave this season without going over to hug the other chefs goodbye? Overall, and I hope I'm not jinxing things here, this has been a nice group of chefs, who seem happy for each other's successes for the most part. But I don't think anyone was unhappy to see Phillip go.

And now we are seven: Carl, Karen, Marjorie, Kwame, Isaac, Jeremy, and Amar. Earlier on, I thought Kwame was the one to watch, but I have to admit he doesn't seem confident lately. I think he's a nice guy and extremely talented, so I hope things improve for him. Actually, there is nobody here I don't like. I think at this point I'd be happiest to see Marjorie win, but unless things change radically, I have trouble envisioning a final outcome I won't be okay with.

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