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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Top Chef: "Jazz Hands"

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I found myself rather disappointed by tonight's episode of Top Chef. None of the wins or losses felt completely earned, largely because there wasn't a single dish prepared that was wholly the product of just one chef's cooking. (They mostly each belonged to someone, but there was a lot of crossover, so far as I could tell.) I don't mind Stephanie winning and Patty going home—Patty's been skating the edge for a while now—but in the meantime, the episode was mostly just frustrating.

The Quickfire is a musical-chairs themed challenge, where the chefs have to prepare at whatever station they land on. Midway through, they all land at their own stations again, but then a total random is brought in for the end. So somehow, Brian wins immunity for the challenge, which of course makes no sense, but just shakes up the competition for no clear reason. Meanwhile, Nicholas gets strep throat, and has to sit the Quickfire out—but he's paired with Brian, Travis, and Patty on the team for the elimination challenge, which is to cater jazz legend Kermit Ruffins' potluck for his friends.


I might just be feeling rather curmudgeonly today, but this challenge annoyed the crap out of me. It's not a potluck if it's catered—so why call it that? And why let the chefs collaborate, if it's a potluck? Let it get random—let people just make their best thing, you know? What's the point of adding more layers to a challenge so that it looks and feels just like every other challenge we've seen? This is sort of like "Lea Michele's Halloween Bash," redux: Kermit Ruffins' "potluck" party. Except he doesn't even get to judge the finalists (I didn't even know who that woman was at the end), so the entire challenge feels like a waste of time.

On top of that, the losing team is the one with the one guy who didn't deserve immunity and the other guy who had strep throat for most of the episode—hardly a surprise there. Like I said, I'm not upset about Patty going home. But that team started off badly and just kept going downhill. Meanwhile, Nina's team wins again, because the judges are so taken with her gnocchini. (Nina loves making gnocchi. This is her third time making it.) There's a part of me that wishes that we could just give Nina the award so we can see the rest of the judges cook something. Having one chef so good that they break the curve every time doesn't make for totally fascinating television.

But she doesn't win this time. Stephanie wins with her grilled pickled artichokes (I believe), which are talked up so much in the opening scenes that those of us on the couch here guessed she was going to win right off the bat. Stephanie's response to her win is, "It's literally been since high school since I won something," which is really adorable. I would be fine with Stephanie getting her own talk show after this, where she just tells self-deprecating stories about how she gets tongue-tied in front of famous people.

Really, I guess the episode was fine. A "meh" episode if I ever saw one. The Reynolds family of products make a few cameo appearances, and a few chefs have to cook with a microwave, which is pretty hard for them. Sounds about average. As far as the dishes go, I found myself excited by a few that the judges didn't like—Carrie's tiramisu with microwave sponge cake and nectarines sounded really good to me, as did the beef dish (and that fried chicken Gail kept raving about). But nothing really stood out. I had some trouble keeping on top of all the dishes, because the stunts toward making them seemed more important this week than the dishes themselves. The cooking scenes were really fast, because all the teams had their own kitchen time (it looked like the teams actually were cooking for four different potlucks), so they had to compress a lot of storytelling into a few quick takes. And because the chefs went out to a jazz club to party. Guys, that's my precious cooking show time, you can't go have fun.


Stray observations:

  • Seriously, Sara's hair and makeup process is a thing to behold.
  • Gail's manicure is a perfect lavender, obviously.

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