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Top Chef: “Restaurant Wars”

Doug Adams
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At some point it would seem like the producers of Top Chef completely forgot how to make compelling television out of Top Chef. Tonight, watching what should have been the highlight of a forgettable season in “Restaurant Wars” the only true emotion the episode managed to spark was stultifying boredom.

The problem, it would appear, centers around a weak contestant pool. While season 12’s competitors have been largely fine, no one has really stood out. Even when someone had a streak of good dishes, like Gregory or Katsuji have done, it was strangely boring to watch. Everyone cooks within their comfort zones at all times, there’s no true conflict between chefs, and everyone has the largely unremarkable personality of a competitively shallow contestant pool.

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That said, as much as bland contestants are to blame, the editors of this season have been even more lackluster. The entirety of their job centers around finding people to build a story out of, be that person a hero or a villain. This season can’t even commit to whether or not we’re supposed to be rooting for someone or not. Katsuji was a bumbling underdog, now he’s a catty contender. Gregory was a dominant, if tedious, frontrunner, but now he’s merely competent and eschews conflict at every turn. Mei seemed from the jump to be someone destined for greatness and has never managed to produce. Things are not going well when it’s becoming clear that the new frontrunner and person to pin all of the season’s story-building hopes to, is tiny, scrappy Doug, reality show nice guy. There is nothing worse than a reality show nice guy. They’re good. They’re competent. They may actually be there to make friends. But they are boring.

But this was “Restaurant Wars” so if ever there were going to be an opportunity for this mostly middling batch of chefs to battle supreme, this was it. After a quick knife draw Melissa and Katie were put in charge of picking teams, with Melissa (Team Grey) choosing Doug, Mei, and Adam, and Katie (Team Orange) choosing Gregory, Katsuji, and Keriann. On the surface, those are pretty evenly matched teams, but the orange team quickly proved their secret talent was self-destruction and things started falling apart quickly after that. It’s hard to say where the orange team went wrong, really. Perhaps it was that they let Keriann take on front of the house. Perhaps it was that they let Katie be executive chef. Or perhaps it was the fact that their idea of coming up with a restaurant theme was each of them saying what they wanted to make and glue-sticking a concept to it. “Hm, some of us want to make Asian food and some of us want to make whatever and one of us is a dumbass and wants to make crepes. Fuck it. It’s global.” Shockingly, this didn’t make for a very cohesive menu.

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The episode wanted us to believe that there was potentially trouble for the grey team in Adam’s front of house, control freak ways, but the rest of his team was so chill that they basically went the toddler route with him and let him tire himself out. Doug, gentle Doug, was a consistently cool head in the kitchen and a dynamite executive chef for the grey team’s Four Pigs restaurant and who remained unflappable in the face of Adam’s clam histrionics. Meanwhile, Keriann is unsurprisingly incompetent when it comes to instructing the wait staff for the orange team’s Magellan restaurant while Katie was similarly ill-equipped trying to run the show in the kitchen. Gregory and Katsuji kept their heads down and while it may not have been the kindest move, it was certainly the wisest.

Things went so well for the service at Four Pigs there’s really little to say about it. All of the dishes were tasty, if a bit ill-seasoned at times. Doug’s dish was the standout, a beautiful homey dish of braised pork shoulder with baked beans, red onion and pickled mustard seeds. His lovely way of taking very simple food and elevating it seems to translate in most every challenge and he’s perpetually turning out food that just looks really tasty to eat, something that not everyone can manage on this show. Adam also stood out running the front of the house, a generally thankless, if Herculean, task in previous seasons that.

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The food at Magellan was mostly fine as well, save for Keriann’s dessert. Her plan for serving a cool, pre-prepared vanilla crepe with banana pudding and cherries seemed fine, I guess, but it clearly wasn’t executed properly. The judges seemed appalled at Katie’s decision to warm the dish to try to make it something vaguely appetizing and while, yes, she probably should have tried to conference with Keriann about it first, time was of the essence and she made the call. If it had worked out, she would have been a hero but clearly that wasn’t the case here.

When all was said and done, team grey was the clear victor and team orange, the loser. Doug’s superb leadership made him the winner at the end of the day and the new, likable, boring frontrunner. As for who would be eliminated, it was a toss up. Complicating matters significantly was the fact that Katie had the second worst dish of the night so choosing between her and Keriann was practically impossible. In the end, the judges sent Keriann home a decision that was probably the right choice, though Katie will almost certainly be following next week. While there aren’t many truly strong chefs in this season, Katie is still clearly not on the same level as most of the remaining contestants.

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Next week, at the very least, promises more excitement, what with the return of the SUDDEN DEATH QUICKFIRE, Last Chance Kitchen, and Richard Blais. Heaven help us.

Elimination Challenge Winner: Grey Team; Doug

Elimination Challenge Loser: Orange Team; Keriann

Bitchin’ ‘Bout Blais:

  • Guys, why do we even have this section?

Stray Observations:

  • This season is so into pickling. Enough. Enough with the pickling. It’s weird.
  • No, but really, what do you think happened to Adam’s clams? At least they didn’t show up in someone else’s dish, a la the infamous pea purée.
  • This episode was brought to you buy CHASE SAPPHIRE and TERLATO WINES.
  • Terlato sounds like toilet. Just sayin’.
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