Oh Top Chef, you were doing so well.
Just when I thought that you had shirked your irritating, shark-jumping ways, you heave all of your lamest tricks into the first 15 minutes of this episode. I can just imagine the producers meeting now: “Ok guys…we caught a lot of flak last season for really overdoing it on the cheesy product placements, unnecessarily gimmicky quickfires, and completely irrelevant judges. So, this season, lets fake out the audience and wait until the 6th episode to unleash the lame.”
Where should I start? Ah yes, the Olive Garden lady.
In case you found yourself Googling “Grand Forks” to see if there was one in Washington State, you were likely disappointed. Instead, this week’s guest judge is Marilyn Hagerty of the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota, most famously known for her viral review of The Olive Garden.
Ms. Hagerty is certainly a sweet woman, and an unpretentious and honest judge, which is more than you can say for most of the judges that show up on this show, so this is nothing against her. But…WHAT?! You really couldn’t find someone more relevant to the city of Seattle or the national dining scene in general for a guest judge? You had to grab what amounts to an unintentionally-ironic internet meme star, six months past her fifteen minutes?
For this week’s quickfire, the focus is holiday foods, specifically a sweet and savory dish based on the chef’s family’s lineage.
And cue the next big fail.
The chefs have to use Truvia© Baking Blend, a stevia based sweetener. I can deal with a little product placement, but at least shoot for subtlety. Suggested first step: skip the canned, obviously scripted lines like Ms. Hagerty’s declaration that Truvia’s extra sweetness with “help with your holiday waistline, for sure!”
Next, the chefs draw knives, to find only one in the block that isn’t labeled as “off-limits.” That is because there is only one knife available for all of the chefs to share during the Quickfire. Because that is a totally reasonable test of the chef’s skills, much like giving them only a Zippo as a heat source to cook for an entire wedding reception.
So, let’s recap…a totally random judge, a shameless product plug complete with scripted lines on this “reality show”, and a Quickfire twist that proves nothing about the chef’s talent, only their ability to cut onions with a cheese grater. And that was all in the first FOUR MINUTES.
Bart didn’t impress Ms. Hagerty with his busy version of chicken and Belgian waffles, and Micah’s “tacos” were too dry. Of course, Micah made tamales, leading him to the same head-smack that I had when Marilyn was introduced as the quest for this QF.
On the other hand, Josh’s Johnny cakes with a sous vide egg really hit the marks for Marilyn, and Stefan’s smoked salmon tartar was “attractive and tasty.” Brooke was really sweating the initial feedback on her apple pie after Marilyn calls it “homey.” Unsurprisingly, the critic that reps Olive Garden loved homey, and Brooke wins immunity.
For the elimination, a pregnant Ana Faris and hubby Chris Pratt are the real guest judges for the elimination challenge. (What’s that? Actor/judges? Of course. Why leave any of the Top Chef clichés out of this episode?) This is their coming home party, and the cheftestants will cater the event, tailored to Faris and Pratt’s tastes, which happen to be heavy on wild game. And the winner gets the second egregious plug of the evening, a Toyota Prius.
And cue the predictable “Oh, look at all that trunk space” sound bites from the chefs, oohing and aaahing over their prize.
The good news is that this week, a lot of the chefs made up for their horrible showing last episode, with many of the dishes knocking it out of the park.
Kristen’s tortellini dish earned the comment of “I think it’s the perfect bite” from guest judge Rick Moonen, John T.’s former boss. John impressed his old employer with Moonen’s own chowder recipe. Brooke, feeling brazen with her immunity, impressed everyone with her risky lamb-stuffed squid, and Ana Faris thinks that Stefan’s goulash is “what a pregnant woman craves.” Sheldon, who is really becoming a standout in the crowd, also impressed with his pork and rice porridge dish.
However, not everyone killed it this week. Josh just needs to stop screwing up pork, especially since that is his “thing”. His portions are huge and under seasoned. Micah’s braised pork ribs were overly creamy, and Eliza’s elk succeeded, but the rest of her dish was far too bland. Danyele’s wild boar was boring, almost as boring as her whole “low self-esteem” shtick.
Well, this week’s big winner was Brooke, taking both a Quickfire, elimination challenge, and a Prius. And, much to my surprise, it was actually Eliza’s elk that sent her packing. Considering how strong of a reaction the judges had to Micah’s dish, and the fact that Josh can’t stay out of the bottom, I thought Eliza would get a pass.
- By Jon Watson, Food & More blog