Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Top Chef Quickie - Episode 5 - Big Gay Wedding

In the spirit of better late than never, here are some thoughts on Episode 5 of this season's Top Chef.

For the Quickfire Challenge, the chefs went to a date farm -- that's a place where they grow dates, not a new and horrible reality television concept. So naturally, they had to create a dish featuring dates, and also inspired by a favorite or best date that they themselves had been on. Some of the chefs played fast and loose with that concept, like when Chad tried to turn his love for his daughters into a "date" with them. Yeah, not so much. Worse, some of the chefs barely got the dates into their dishes. Those of us who've been watching the show for a while now know that one of the unspoken rules is that when the judges ask you to feature an ingredient, they don't mean that you should dribble a little bit of it into a sauce, dressing, or (especially) foam.

In any case, I was happy to see Jason win with his dish of dates and carrots. It reminded me a little of the carrot dessert Gregory made last season during the finale, and I bet it tasted phenomenal.

I was less impressed with the guest judge for the elimination challenge, who did nothing to dispel any of the myths about models. I think lots of models are intelligent -- look at Padma -- but the coy innuendo thing from Chrissy Teigen was kind of stereotypical. On the other hand, all the guest judges this season have been given bad-pun-dialogue at some point or another. Whoever's writing that? Please stop.

For the elimination challenge, the chefs were tasked with providing the wedding reception food for 24 gay and lesbian couples tying the knot. I was glad to see familiar face Art Smith as a guest judge here, and even happier when he told the chefs that after his own fiasco trying to make a wedding cake on Top Chef: Masters, he was going to spare them (not to mention the wedding couples) the misery that would come from forcing them to make the cake.

And on that note, an aside: waaaay back in season one, Tom Colicchio gave the chefs all kinds of grief for using cake mix when they had to cater a wedding on less than 24 hours notice. Keep in mind that back then, the chefs didn't come on the show knowing they would have to make desserts -- in fact, Harold Dieterle won the finale while serving a cheese course for dessert. So I was 100% behind the Season 1 chefs when they decided to use a mix rather than risking a fallen cake since none of them had cake recipes memorized. And I think that Art deciding to provide the cake this time sort of backs that up. /aside

But back to the wedding. I'm normally less interested in the non-food moments of the show, such as the chefs calling home to husbands and wives in what seem like very self-conscious, almost staged conversations. But when Padma, who had just gotten ordained, married the couples, I was more than happy to sit back and enjoy the moment. You could tell how much these couples love each other, and while I'm thrilled that this important social step forward happened in my lifetime, I'm also ashamed that it took so long in the land of the free. In a similar vein, I loved the little story about Tom losing and finding his wedding ring. (My husband and I have a temporarily lost wedding ring story too -- maybe that too is universal in marriage!) I'm glad that his rabbi encouraged him to proceed with the wedding only a few short days after 9/11. Love is love.

I always like it when the chefs do well, and the appetizer course had three judge-pleasing dishes. I'd love to know what those carrots tasted like. And I just realized I've talked about carrots twice already in this post, which is funny because I generally consider raw carrots to be an aggressive, in-your-face kind of vegetable. I eat them, but they're not my first choice. In the hands of a trained chef, though, I think they can be made sublime.

For the next course, I was uncomfortable with the tension between Jason and Angelina. On the one hand, I think she's not ready for this show, and she's been coming off as a little immature. (I'm not biased against young people; Kwame, by way of contrast, seems incredibly mature although people keep commenting on his youth.) On the other hand, Jason's repeated comments about this being his dish began to grate after the third or fourth time. But the dish was a hit, and he was right: it wasn't because of Angelina.

Ultimately, that has to have been the best wedding meal that a Top Chef crew has produced to date. The only off-notes were Phillip's potatoes and Giselle and Karen's vegetables. Everything else looked fantastic and impressed the judges, especially the dessert. I am not a dessert girl at all, but that's one I would have loved, especially if the cherries were tart. In any case, poor Kwame looked nervous even though he'd just won the entire challenge for the shrimp dish he and Wesley put together. He needn't have worried, because Padma had said earlier that Kwame's sauce saved the dish. Now although I'm not crazy about Phillip or his cooking, he did say that his potato ... whatever would taste like mashed potatoes, not that they would be mashed potatoes. And I wasn't too impressed that a bunch of judges not on the chopping block felt compelled to jump in with their comments at this point.

In the end, Giselle went home. I think, as she said, she was one of the nicer people there, but it never felt like she really had her act together. I originally thought her comments about Phillip not seeing his own flaws was out of left field, but when she went on to say that at least she and Karen realized they could have/should have done better ... well, she was right! And Phillip still couldn't see his flaws, no matter what the judges said. (I still think Jason should have stayed the heck out of that, though.) Overall, I think the right person won this challenge, and probably the right person went home, although I couldn't have quibbled if it had been Karen instead of Giselle.

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