As a nod to the false face of all “reality” programming, a lot of time is spent digging into the storylines crafted in post by reality show producers. It was an element we examined earlier in this very Top Chef season with the exacerbated douchery of long since eliminated contestant Aaron and wondering where the season would get any semblance of drama in the wake of his departure. What couldn’t be seen in the early days of season 12 was that by season’s end, the crop of contestants that once seemed bland and boring would reveal themselves to be something considerably more rare in the reality genre: just generally nice people. And in being populated by generally nice people, this season of Top Chef finds itself resembling current cooking show darling MasterChef Junior than resembling any previous seasons of Top Chef. And as unlikely as this turn of events may have seemed even a few weeks ago, the tone suits the show and provides it’s own alternative source of drama that MasterChef Junior understood from the start: when everyone is a nice, every elimination breaks your heart.
But before we get to this week’s heartbreak, let us remember all of the good times this week’s episode provided to us. Namely, Andy Cohen awkwardly attempting to jam his hands in pants pockets not intended for such things.
Cohen and his college roommate show up for the episode’s Quickfire Challenge, in which the contestants are asked to put their own spin on ramen. The twist (because there’s always a twist) was that they need to use ingredients provided by the dorm rooms of local Emerson College students. This is predictably off the wall and proves to be a vaguely off-balanced challenge, as it’s pure luck what each chef will get in their mystery bag. Some make a lot of a little and some struggle mightily despite having a whole host of quality pickings. Mei and Doug end up on the bottom, despite both of them having a lot of fresh food options. Meanwhile, the other three chefs make a lot from a little, with George utilizing hot dogs to make a weirdly appealing Spaghetti-O’s type dish, Gregory managing to make a successful dish using essence of pizza and Doritos dust and Melissa winning the day with a ramen dish comprised of Easy Mac and Fritos dust. (To be fair, she also had a whole roast chicken, probably the single best ingredient available.)
Soon the chefs proceed to the stew room to learn about what lay ahead in the Elimination Challenge, only to be greeted with video of Jacques Pepin on Julia Child’s cooking show as they cook the classics, followed by Padma entering with the man himself, ready to take questions on Child’s style of cooking. The chefs need to cook a dish for an elite table of judges that serves as a tribute to Julia Child. Child’s cooking was homey and warm, bringing classic French cookery to the American masses and influencing, if the contestants reactions are any indication, generations of chefs to come. The chefs all take the challenge to heart, each wanting to do great things representative of the effect Child’s had on their culinary development.
The fervor with which the contestants throw themselves into this challenge seems like a new level for the season and all the chefs seek to create dishes that fully encompass the chef that Julia Child was. Most interesting about that choice is how little most of the chefs deviated from classic French cuisine. George decides to make veal osso buco and Melissa, braised short ribs, both choosing to braise their meats despite an abbreviated cook time. Mei and Gregory also opt for classic dishes, duck à l’orange and coq au vin, respectively, while Doug decides to stick with a traditional ingredient, foie gras, prepared untraditionally, whole.
At some point during all of this it becomes clear that the episode’s elimination will be unpleasant. The remaining chefs are all similarly talented and just generally good people who are all trying very hard to prepare something worthwhile. Their work is suffused with a desire to make something not just good enough to make it to the next round, but dishes that are worthy of being tributes to an iconic chef. It’s clear from their giddy disbelief when Jacques Pepin walked into the stew room that this meant something to all of them and to fall short would be gut-wrenching.
In the end, it comes down to execution, the backbone of French cuisine. Melissa and George’s braising gambles both fell short, with George serving veal that was underseasoned and undercooked and Melissa serving short ribs that were overseared and undercooked. Doug’s whole foie gras gamble also failed, resulting in an undercooked, though adventurous dish. It’s Gregory and Mei who really shine, Gregory, by making a pristine, traditional chicken and Mei, by executing her duck perfectly but also adding her own personal culinary style into her proto-classic dish. Because of her innovation, Mei nabs her second elimination challenge win in a row. Sadly, it is curtains for former frontrunner Doug, whose face upon elimination resembles most closely the look your pet has when you accidentally stumble over it while walking.
To say it’s a surprise that Dougie is sent packing before the finals is an understatement, as he seemed destined to be in the final three. The only thing that could have been more surprising is if Gregory got booted at this late date. It seems like a deeply inappropriate result, but thankfully Last Chance Kitchen still remains to right all of Top Chef’s wrongs. Thankfully, next week appears to be back to the bizarro Top Chef, requiring the remaining contestants to cook with ill-suited family members. And really, what better way to prove you’re a fine chef than be forcing to work with a complete incompetent you’re not allowed to fire?
Quickfire Challenge Winner: Melissa
Elimination Challenge Winner: Mei
Elimination Challenge Loser: Dougie
Bitchin’ ‘Bout Blais:
- I miss him. I’m woman enough to admit it.
LAST CHANCE KITCHEN, “Liverwurst Nightmare”
(Spoilers. Please scroll to Stray Observations if necessary.)
- Oh man, liver is so gross.
- Seriously, Tom never has negative feedback until he eliminates someone. I feel like someone could just serve him an uncooked potato and he would just poker face it until announcing their elimination saying, “It was a raw potato.”
- Good for Doug and Adam for moving forward. Seems in keeping with season expectations.
- How do we think they do LCK? Are they just filming this all in a single day or do they cart all the eliminated chefs in day after day?
- I dunno, maybe I was just being angsty this week but Doug’s elimination just really bummed me out.
- I can’t tell if those college students looked really young or really old which feels intensely disconcerting.
- It feels like I had a decidedly atypical college experience as my fridge never really saw anything as cook intensive as bacon or highbrow as sushi. It was more like Subway leftovers and Coca-Cola.
- The dishes all LOOKED really good this week. That’s what cooking everything in butter will do for you, I guess.