Thursday, December 4, 2014

Top Chef - Episode 7 - Restaurant Wars

It's almost tempting to limit this post to just the following: It was Restaurant Wars, and Keriann went home for front of the house.

Yep, that pretty much covers it. I can't say I was overly excited about the food this week, and there wasn't even a Quickfire, which is just as well because Restaurant Wars are difficult enough without one team being given a distinct advantage up front. I have to say, I was happy that they didn't just say "choose up your teams" but rather let drawn knives determine which two chefs would take turns selecting their teammates.

Melissa went first and wisely chose Doug; I think by this point people realize that he may not be loud or showy, but he generally knows what he's doing. Katie chose Gregory -- no surprise there as he's usually so strong -- and Melissa went with Mei next. Katie took Katsuji, Melissa took Adam, and that left Keriann for Katie's team. I would have been hard pressed whether to make Katsuji or Keriann my last choice; he's a more creative chef but can be more difficult, and she has come across as unfocused and a little distracted in several of the past challenges.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the episode for me was that neither Gregory nor Katsuji seemed very interested in being Executive Chef, leaving it to Katie to do so. I felt like they both decided early on that their only goal was to get through Restaurant Wars without being eliminated. That's not to say they didn't work their butts off, but I was surprised that none of the judges, particularly Tom, called them on their obvious "play it safe" modus operandi. On the other hand, I can understand that there are two terrifying roles in Restaurant Wars: executive chef and front-of-the-house. Maybe someone should compile stats on how many times the eliminated contestant was in one of those two roles. I would also note that even though we've had plenty of episodes over the years where the overall winner got a car or $10,000, the overall winner of this episode got nothing. Heck, they often come up with great extra prizes for Quickfires, so why not do it in Restaurant Wars, which is the one challenge where chefs may really need a little extra incentive to step up and take a risk?

On the other team, which eventually named its restaurant "Four Pigs," everyone including Adam seemed determined that Adam should be front-of-the-house, and although I'm not always sure how to feel about him these days, I was glad to see him handle it so well. I hate to see the service go badly; the best Restaurant Wars episodes are the ones in which both teams do great. In any case, Adam clearly knew what he was doing. I thought some of his "patter" was a little strained, but people seemed to be having a good time and the right food got out to the right places. And this was all on top of his 150 cleaned clam shells going missing and having to take the time to re-do that portion of his dish. That's fairly impressive, and I wouldn't have quibbled if he had won the challenge overall, but I think I do agree with the judges' decision to give it to Doug, since he expedited so well and turned out a dish that the judges were quite enthusiastic about.

Another nice aspect was that Mei, who's usually pretty strong-willed, was willing to relinquish the chance to be Executive Chef because she felt she would be of more use as a line chef. Well, the way she actually put it was that "women are better line chefs." I don't know if that's true, but she and Melissa pretty much rocked the food out together, so it was obviously the way to go. In fact, the only real misstep for the entire team seemed to be Melissa's oversalted and possibly overcooked scallops, but her other dish, a mixed fruit cobbler with cardamom cream, helped make up for that a bit.

The other team was just a nightmare. Instead of choosing any kind of actual theme for their restaurant, they all decided what dishes they felt like making and then simply named their restaurant after the explorer Magellan and called it an international menu. Bad idea for Restaurant Wars, because even if both teams had done equally well in service and execution, "Four Pigs" would likely have won simply for having a cohesive menu. Keriann seemed to make every possible bad choice: agreeing to run the front when she doesn't have much experience with that, choosing a fairly run-of-the-mill dessert (crepes and mousse), and making the crepes the day before. While I understand why she wouldn't want to ask one of the other chefs to make them to order, which likely would have been a disaster, she should have picked a more exotic yet lower maintenance dish to make. Look at Adam's clams: once they were done, they were done. In fact, Keriann might have used that as a bargaining chip: I'll do front of the house as long as I don't have to do dessert. Aside from Exec Chef and front-of-house, dessert is another common pitfall that sends chefs home.

Judges Table

As mentioned, there were no surprises at judges' table. The judges asked why Katie didn't tell Keriann that she felt the dessert needed changing. I do feel Katie should have communicated better, although I also understand her reluctance to do so. If she had said to Keriann "your dessert isn't working; how do you want to handle it?" and Keriann insisted it was fine, the judges might then have blamed Keriann with a clear conscience, but they also might have chastised Katie for not acting like an Executive Chef and simply insisting. I also wonder why service was so bad. Surely the two sets of wait staff weren't that different from each other in experience and ability. Why did they struggle so much on Magellan's side? On the whole, because Katie has pleasantly surprised me once or twice, I'm glad she was not the one to go home, but it was a really close call.

Chefs I Particularly Liked This Week: I'll have to go with Doug this week. He got it done.

The Dish I Most Wanted to Taste: I have the feeling that Doug's pork and beans was probably the dish to taste, but I don't particularly care for pork (it's partly psychological for me, since pigs are quite intelligent). So I think my first choice would have been Mei's chicken liver toast with plum puree. I've never tried chicken liver, and I've become more interested in unusual taste combinations, so I think this would have been quite interesting and likely very tasty.

Overall, not my favorite Restaurant Wars episode, but probably not my least favorite.

One last note: Katsuji, STFU about Doug's height. You wouldn't make remarks about him being fat or disabled or African-American or any of twenty other things. Why do you think it's OK to constantly comment on his height? That would be like them making fun of your English. It's just not necessary, and continually calling him short is a sign of your weakness.

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