Friday, June 22, 2007

Imagine My Surprise and 'Top Chef 3' Thoughts

Was up a little late with Ryan last night so I didn't get to log on and check e-mail and blog stuff till a bit later than usual this morning. With coffee still brewing and my eyes still a bit bleery I had to blink twice when I saw my nome de blog in a headline with that of 'Top Chef' judge Tom Colicchio over at TV Food Fan.

After watching Wednesday night's new episode of 'Top Chef: Miami' I happened to post a comment at TVFF regarding the dismissal of Sandee rather than Joey or Howie (who appear so similar that they should just be combined into one contestant called Jowie). Frankly, I felt that the decision to let her go was based more on the dramatic potential of the simmering conflict that is Jowie than the actual cooking that was done.

Let's recap. In the show's season premiere, Howie bungled the exotic meats elimination challenge by failing to plate his frog's legs. Frankly, this seemed like a ticket back to his day job as far as I was concerned, but he was helped greatly by the fact that Clay's dish was apparently inedible (making we wonder about the deep level of talent Colicchio refers to in his blog entry about the cast) and the potential shown in Howie's half-completed dish.

Of course, it didn't hurt that Howie had a snarky comeback for guest judge Anthony Bourdain when grilled about failing to serve the entire dish. By the way, Bourdain has already set the bar high as far as judge's comments go. In discussing Clay's boar chops and fish cake he remarked, "It's got a home cooking thing, but a home I wouldn't want to live in." Priceless.

Clay got sent packing and I hope they sent him straight to a psychiatrist. His father was, to paraphrase his words, a great chef but eventually took his own life over the pressures. Hope his kid deals with it better.

With the debut under our belts it was time for the second episode, a fruit and BBQ (actually "grilling") theme, and guest judge Norman Van Aken (who looks like he could be FOX commentator Jimmie Johnson's younger brother). The cream definitely started rising to the top early with Hung already being edited into this season's Marcel with Tre and Micah also establishing themselves as tough, creative competitors. There's also a bevy of people whose names and faces I can barely remember because they've done so little to make themselves standout.

The elimination challenge in this episode was to take $200 and buy enough ingredients to make "Upscale BBQ" for a party being given the next day. Right off the bat I knew there was going to be trouble. First off, what the contestants were being asked to do in a period of four hours (two for prep the night before, two for cooking the day of) was not "barbecue". It was "grilling". There's a difference.

Naturally, results were all over the place with Sara scoring big points with her Korean beef dish and Brian creating a seafood sausage which definitely married the challenge's two concepts.

On the other hand, the judges (and guests) didn't seem to care for Tre's grilled salmon (unevenly seasoned), Joey's drumsticks (hot, hard to eat, not upscale), Sandee's poached lobster skewers (not bbq to them), and Howie's sawdust dry pork tenderloin.

It seemed obvious to me that the judges weren't going to junk Tre simply for inconsistent seasoning and his selection seemed more like their attempt to give him a wake up call than anything else. So that meant half of Jowie or all of Sandee had to go.

Is it a bigger sin to make food that's bad or doesn't fit the "upscale" criteria like Jowie or to definitely go "upscale" with the lobster but get dinged for heating the dish up on the grill like Sandee?

Personally, I probably would have let Howie go. He'd already blown one elimination challenge and only survived because Bourdain liked his moxie and Cletus, er, Clay was totally out of his element. How long can one person be allowed to skate by because of some "potential" seen by the judges?

But as soon as I saw the in-fighting between Joey and Howie I knew Sandee was doomed. Yes, 'Top Chef' is a cooking show and has always seemed more about the food and the cooking than 'Hell's Kitchen' (which I still love largely for Chef Ramsey) and 'Next Food Network Star' (which I find unwatchable for a variety of reasons). But it's also a television show, television shows need drama (and ratings) to survive, and two hot-tempered meatheads who just might come to blows over who gets to use the blender next are far more interesting than the strong, independent southerner Sandee.

Amazingly, Colicchio actually addresses the episode and the judging issues at hand in his blog. (Just another reason why this show and this judge are great.) While I believe Colicchio's claim that he will "not be dictated to or used as a tool by a team of 'creatives' looking to manufacture drama at the expense of honesty" I also believe that neither he, nor Padma, nor Gail are idiots. You didn't need to see the backroom bitching between Joey and Howie to know that their incendiary relationship had potential while gentle Sandee was a bit of a reality dud.


Mike said...

"Jowie." That's awesome! Trademark it RIGHT NOW!


Susan said...

Woo-hoo Dan! You are somebody! (But we knew that.)


John said...

Which half of "Jowie" was the whiny one again? I don't know. But I like this crop better than TC2's. That Hung, though, seems more like a combo of Marcel fromTC2 and psycho Wendy Pepper (from Project Runway 1) to me.

I'm also finding NFNS to be unwatchable, but a little less so I guess. I'm hoping their winner isn't yet another party planner/generic grilling-Italian-carbon copy of what they already have on Food Network. I'm just itchin' for a Latin food show or a veggie program. Their selection is mostly just predictable and irritating these days, with few exceptions.

Dan said...

Which "half of Jowie was the whining one"? I find them almost indistinguishable except for the fact that one of them *always* makes pork. Dude, mix it up now and then.

Anybody see the behind the scenes show they aired last week? I was glad Sandee stuck up for herself when the question of who was surprised they went home came up. I'm still convinced her dismissal was producer influenced.