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We know from Top Chef seasons past that challenges involving kids rarely go well. Our chefs get in trouble by overestimating children’s palates (or by, say, choosing to cook with alcohol) or by making something so bland the judges hate it. It’s a tough challenge to balance, even when the normal, make-something-healthy restriction is lifted—but it’s also difficult to connect to as a viewer because so few of the dishes seem like they’d ever cross over to one of the chefs’ restaurants.


Given how many of the chefs seem to dislike and/or fear children, though, this was a nice follow-up to last week’s affront. Throw in a twist and mandatory sleep deprivation, and the producers have nicely provoked the best and worst of the chefs’ personalities. They call this an “adapting” challenge. Things started off with a good time in the kitchen making fun of kids and ended quite bitterly at judges’ table.


Joe Jonas stepped into the kitchen to introduce this week’s quickfire, which had the chefs cooking a midnight snack for a bunch of demonic (how many times did they have to show that frightening blond kid in the previews?), screaming kids who were having a sleepover at the museum. No problem feeding them nothing but sugar and fat; the only limitation was that it had to be served in a paper sack. Not much of a limitation, especially since they ended up using some Tupperware, so the chefs get busy making crack for small children.


Rather than focus on the food, this section more or less followed the chefs around while they acted like total asses. In a good way. Dale L. created a rave for 10-year-olds, Angelo gave his dish some gibberish name like “Cheese Crisp 2010, The New Evolution,” and Dale T. dreamed of lacing his corncakes with NyQuil to lure the children to sleep. Maybe more chefs would have abandoned the sugar-rush route for this one had they known they’d be joining the kids later on.

To fill the extra 15 minutes of bloat Bravo has given us this season, we moved to the second stage of the not-at-all-quick fire, for which a team of chefs helped the two quickfire finalists (Tiffani and Spike) prepare the snacks to be judged by the kids. Tiffani and Spike chose their teams almost entirely along gender lines. Dale dubbed them The Spice Girls and their bodyguard (Dale L.) vs. The Cool Guys and their babysitter (Carla). Few of the chefs seemed invested in helping their competition win immunity; the competition fizzled with the winner finally being decided by the loudest screams of sugar-amped kids.


In an even crueler move, at 1:30 a.m., the chefs discover they’ll also have to sleep over at the museum and be up before 4 to serve breakfast to those same screaming children. Those common denominators really tugged on the episode this week; the challenges bled together and hurt the pace of the show. One of the show’s strengths is that it mixes things up with two different challenges—if the first one’s a bust, we shake it off and head into something entirely different for the last half of the show. Here we’re still slogging through children disliking tomatoes.


The sleep deprivation did the chefs no favors. In the morning, the T-Rex team, who’d chosen meat and dairy over the Brontosaurus’ vegetables/fruits/grains for their crowd-pleasing power, realized the trick: It was only meat and dairy. No other food, not even herbs. The vegetarian team, meanwhile, delighted in the numerous options afforded to them. Cue bitterness, jealousy, and general sourness. Not great TV, at least not for a reality show that’s normally and refreshingly devoid of this kind of thing. The sore losers team (Spice Girls + Bodyguard) works the ingredients into a single-plate mess of salmon, pork, and eggs and unsurprisingly ends up on the bottom. Angleo, Marcel, and Richard took the win with a banana parfait. No one made anything particularly dazzling.

Judge’s table was one of the worst in memory, the chefs angrily accusing the judges of a fixed fight. They argued that it wasn’t fair and also that the judges are idiots. Jen led the attack and was sent home for her bacon-and-eggs, which lacked texture and seasoning; she exited with a bitter laugh and near-hysterical rant off-camera about how stupid everything was. To Jen’s credit, the chefs seemed genuinely surprised and upset to see her go. That’s the Top Chef I’d rather watch—one that respects talent and allows the chefs to really cook to the best of their ability.

Grade: B-
(The beginning was quite entertaining, but took a nosedive during the elimination challenge.)


Stray observations:

  • Shortly following my reassurances last week that Scott Tobias would return, he asked me to take over on a more permanent basis. He’s done an excellent job covering the past four seasons of Top Chef and a season of Top Chef Masters. Those are some big, critical shoes to fill, and I’ll do my best in his stead.
  • Back to the fun stuff. Dale L on kids: “They will cry in your face if you don’t give them what they want.”
  • Mike on chocolate lasagna: “I wanted to throw up when I heard that.” Italians!
  • I didn’t know the shorthand for all-purpose flour was “AP flour.”
  • Rooting for Casey to exit soon.
  • Jamie cutting her thumb! I thought maybe they’d eliminate her because she didn’t do anything; then again, I was surprised that all the chefs were so quick to criticize her pansy-ness.