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'Top Chef' Archive

Weekly analysis of the most recent wins, eliminations, judgements, and dishes.

Top Chef: My Predictions for Season 4 - Pre Week 1

Here’s how I think it’ll go:

Eliminations:

Week 1: Nikki

Week 2: Valerie

Week 3: Zoi

Week 4: Nimma

These first few weeks will just skim off the weak.

Week 5: Mark

Mikey, he might be, but I don’t think he has the focus to continue much further.

Week 6: Jennifer

There’ll be a curve-ball challenge where her lack of fundamentals will be her downfall.

Week 7: Antonia

The pressure will be too much for her. That or she’ll offer to make a dessert and get shit-canned.

Week 8: Erik

Likewise with the pressure. I have a feeling he’ll have been on the edge for awhile and maybe some part of a team work challenge will do him in when the others throw him under the bus.

Week 9: Stephanie

I think she’s going to pull a Leah and be too timid and fail to take risks. It’s a shame because she seems promising. This is usually around when Restaurant Wars occurs, always a shake-up for the show and a turning point where whomever’s left standing has “made it”.

Week 10: Richard

On the other end of the spectrum, I think Richard will try something crazy and it will fail. There’s a good chance he’ll have been doing crazy stuff the whole time, but this one will do him in.

Week 11: Spike

I’m sure he’ll be well liked by the others but I think he’s a little green and his naivety will cost him.

Week 12: Dale

At this point I’m sure he’ll be The Villain of the show. Over confidence with a guest judge who is not easily impressed will do him in.

Week 13: Ryan

A strong contender throughout, at this point there will be a coup d’etat when Bravo’s female viewers organize and march against the network for kicking off their eye candy.

Final three: Manuel, Andrew, Lisa

These three will be the clear leaders throughout the show.

Winner: Manuel

I can’t see how anyone else can win. He’s got the best shot from what I can see right now.

This is all speculation and I’ll update my thoughts as the season progresses. Stay tuned!

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Top Chef: Let the Flames Begin Indeed

I’m a Top Chef fan. That’s really no secret. With season 4 starting next week, the anticipation is palpable. This being the first season where I’ll be watching (and living) in NYC, I feel a closer affinity to the show since it gets so much coverage here (7 out of the 16 contestants are New Yorkers.)

Over at Bravotv.com you can get to know this year’s contestants. I decided to sit down and read each bio and watch each video. Here I’ve compiled my thoughts on each cheftestant based on a) snap judgment (the fun part) b) reflection after watching their video and c) parting thoughts. After all that, I make my prediction for the elimination schedule. I can’t wait to see how close I come to getting it right.

Let’s go alphabetically. Click their names to go to the Bravo page and watch the videos and read their bios (so you can judge too!)

Andrew

andrew.jpgSnap judgement: This year’s CJ

After watching the video:
Like him. He’s passionate about food, and treats it seriously. He’s confident but not pretentious. He’s an academic foodie, and really loves food as a medium. I like his cadence, his personality. Plus, he loves Jamaican food and hot wings, and duck confit–he’s just like me!

Parting thought: His strategy is to “cook with honor” I like that.

Antonia

antonia.jpgSnap judgement: Uninspired, first to cry

After watching the video: Boring… She loves to cook, but doesn’t come off as a chef. I’m not sure she has the desire or the strength to put up with the igorous demands of the show (Padma, Tom, and the Ripper ain’t your family for Sunday dinner.) She seems pretty tied into Italian, that’s going to hurt her when they demand she steps out of her comfort zone. She’ll pull a Camille and fall on the sword the first time someone needs to make a dessert. She loves Balsamic but hates Saffron? Puh-leez…

Parting thought: What’s with all the people liking the Japanese Mandoline?

Dale

dale.jpgSnap judgement: I hate you

After watching the video: Yeah, he works at Buddakan, big deal. He used to be at Morimoto, yawn. He’s young and cocky, which this show seems to require in at least one of its contestants. He’s this years Hung for sure–cocky and gaysian. Will he have what it takes? We’ll see. “You kinda never have to grow up”, yikes!

Parting thought: his motto is “expect perfection, because if you fail short your left with greatness.” Maybe so, but what is your right with? Zing!

Erik

erik.jpgSnap judgement: Oh, scary. Nice chains dude. No motorcycles in the kitchen.

After watching the video: Are you wearing a chef coat with the sleeves cut off? Eww. This guy seems like he might have a little Howie in him but I think it’s more likely that he’s boring.

Parting thought: I like what he has to say, but he just seems kind of one dimensional.

Jennifer

jennifer.jpgSnap judgement: Good travel and experience under her belt. Looks promising

After watching the video: She has a “rustic” cooking style where she hides behind seasonal ingredients. I don’t think that’ll last long on the show. You won’t be working with fresh ramps and black trumpets every day honey.

Parting thought: I’m sick of these damn boring Californian chefs who love their lean proteins and seasonal produce. Bring me Sam Talbot who wants to “make love in duck fat”. Ramps are for rabbits, give me preserved meat!

Lisa

lisa.jpgSnap judgement: She seem likes she’s firey. I like it.

After watching the video: She’s kind of hot, in a mean way. She thinks lobster is overrated, awesome. I hope she takes Dale’s ball’s in the first episode and doesn’t give them back till Restaurant Wars.

Parting thought: I like this girl. She’s got what it takes to last on the show.

Manuel

manuel.jpgSnap judgement: His favorite simple spring recipe is “Crispy soft shell crabs with charred ramp vinaigrette”– now that’s something I can get behind.

After watching the video: Southwest/Mexican by way of classic French training and experience at Le Cirque and alongside Batali? This guy’s got what it takes. A winner across the board. He’s humble but confident, and sees food as an art. He likes fancy sea salts and hates raw peppers. I like him.

Parting thought: I love Dos Caminos so maybe I’m biased toward this guy, but he’s the man. He said it in the video: all these Asian influenced people will fall at his chile-slinging feet.

Mark

mark.jpgSnap judgement: This year’s Mikey?

After watching the video: He reminds me of that douche who threw a party? He doesn’t seem to be very focused? If he has a natural talent, it might take him a few episodes, but I can’t see him making it past the first half? Also, he has that habit of ending every sentence like it’s a question? which I hate?

Parting thought: He worked in a slaughterhouse…cool! I bet he won’t turn out seared scallops every week like all the other poofs. If he’s missing you can check the backroom where he’ll be toking up with Padma.

Nikki

nikki.jpgSnap judgement: Front of house experience - she’ll be good at restaurant wars, too bad she won’t last that long.

After watching the video: I’m not sure what it is but I can’t see us getting to know this woman. I think she’s off after the first week. Never trust a skinny chef.

Parting thought: I love when your mom wakes up in the morning and starts a pot of sauce too.

Nimma

nimma.jpgSnap judgement: She’s good looking, but her favorite food to cook is pasta? So is every other home cook’s. Not promising.

After watching the video: She sounds like a product of the Food Network. I dont see her being extrodinarily innovative or groundbreaking. Why do I think her favorite “Italian” food to cook and eat is fried and drenched in sauce and not so much good, fresh, Batali/Oliver Italian?

Parting thought: Why are these women all so boring? Lisa’s the only one who I actually want to watch.

Richard

richard.jpgSnap judgement: Can we RIP the faux-hawk? Please? This guy seems like a wanna-be Jaime Oliver.

After watching the video: This guy likes being in a kitchen, which is great, and one of the supreme joys of the trade, but you need more than that to compete here. He doesn’t seem to think about food as artfully as others.

Parting thought: Immersion circulator? Maybe this guy has a few tricks we haven’t seen yet. A surprise molecular gastronomist (who isn’t douchy) would be a good addition this season.

Ryan

ryan.jpgSnap judgement: Fan favorite. Philanthropist, frat-boy good looks, he’s a shoe-in.

After watching the video: This guy seems down to earth and passionate. I still say all the ladies are going to swoon for him. He seems to have a casual confidence and knowledge with food and his “seasonal” style seems authentic and not trendy. He hates bell peppers too. I smell a trend.

Parting thought: His favorite food is pizza but he lives on the west coast. How is that possible? Oh, ranch dressing.

Spike

spike.jpgSnap judgement: For every stuffy CA chef making seared scallops they caught with their bare hands that morning there’s a NYC chef opening a burger and hot dog joint for his family and friends. Which is better? Where do I live…

After watching the video: I can’t get past that damn hat, and that blue-steel stare. At least he admits that he’s young and hasn’t figured out his style yet. Maybe this show will make a man out of him. I like that he wants to build relationships in the house. That’s a good sentiment.

Parting thought: Could he be the first true hipster on the show? I don’t count Ilan since I think he’s just a punk.

Stephanie

stephanie.jpgSnap judgement: This year’s Lia. That mean’s she’ll probably go home before we see her true potential.

After watching the video: She’s a sweetheart, and really seems to love food. She’s one to watch as I think she’s got potential.

Parting thought: Preserved lemons, good show sister!

Valerie

valerie.jpgSnap judgement: Personal chef spells “diaster”. You need at least one ball to win.

After watching the video: Another boring contestant. How did these people make it on the show? She doesn’t seem to even care if she gets kicked off.

Parting thought: Another Asian influenced chef. That’s trouble for her, it’ll be hard to stand out from the others.

Zoi

zoi.jpgSnap judgement: What’s with these people and the goddamn lamb in the spring? You un-creative assholes. My, a lot of the women this year seem boring.

After watching the video: Ok, now it’s gotten to the point where all these Italian-loving, seasonal ingredient using white women have meshed together and I can’t tell them apart.

Parting thought: I won’t be sure Zoi and Valerie are different people until I see them together at the same time on camera. Beat haters.

Parting thoughts for the season:

  • what’s with the sudden love for mandolins? They’re cool tools, but I don’t get it. Is there some sponsorship?
  • it’s good to see a new generation of chefs who grew up loving food and were encouraged to explore it as a career.
  • many of the contestants this year have obviously watched the show and have learned some “dos” and “don’ts”.
  • all the “Asian influenced” contestants are going to blur together and the people who use stand out, bold flavors will rise to the top
  • the “heart” of the contestants will come out again this season. many of these people seem to lack a certain NEED to create food.

This has been long enough. Here are my predictions for eliminations for season 4.

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Padma Doesn’t Suck on Toast

But she does drink single malt scotch. Rawrrr!

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Top Chef: Leah Leaves After a Lacking Latin Luncheon

Leah
I think Leah showed some talent (hell, she won last week, that must have been one hell of a roller coaster for her) and just needed to come out of her shell. This seemed to be taking awhile, too long apparently. When they focused on her and Casey’s ‘lifelong friendship’ I knew one of them was getting the ax.

Maybe it was residual angst over Camille’s exit last week, but I had a hard time getting into tonight’s episode. I found myself faltering for a new contestant to endorse. I think I’ve found him, but first lets talk about the people I take issue with since that’s more fun.

Hung
I found myself thinking today that it’s odd Hung is so thin, considering he seems to cook food only for himself. Speaking Spanish wasn’t enough to cover up a mediocre Arroz con Pollo (chicken with rice). I guess he gets some credit for being an arrogant, defensive prick directly to the face of Chef Collichio, a master of the diminutive glare. It was when he started jumping to defend his choices before Padme and guest judge Maria Frumkin even finished their sentences that my eyes glazed over. You can believe that the judges won’t forget. One thing I’ll say for Top Chef, the judges put as much stock into how the chefs present themselves as they do their food. Anthony Bourdain said it best about Hung in his guest blog at Bravotv.com last week:

For a guy with technique as good as his — as fast on his feet, as versatile and creative as he is — he’s not winning these challenges as often as he should. A little humility; a willingness to accommodate what people are likely to enjoy and appreciate, instead of pursuing that which honors only his own perceived genius, would be a good adjustment.

That same sentiment proved true this week. I don’t care if he’s from my home town, I think Hung’s in trouble.

Joey
Joey. Joey, Joey, Joey, Joey, Joey. What are we to think of him? One minute he’s selling out Howie’s pork that he never tasted, the next he’s ditching a dessert course one week and revealing he has pastry experience the next (enough to give him a victory in the quick fire challenge). Either way, at least he’s stopped referencing New York in every sentence. I was ready to write Joey off after what I felt was an underhanded quick fire win today. By the end of the episode I realized that “underhanded” probably meant “smart”, especially after watching Hung self-destruct with arrogance. Joey’s dedication of his dish to the Spanish cooks that work in his kitchen back home was a nice touch, the first sincerity we’ve seen come from him this season (besides some authentic tears at Camille’s departure last week).

Howie
As I said, I’ve found a new contestant to support and his name is Howie. He doesn’t have a personality that shines on television, but with food that good, he doesn’t need to. He comes off as authentic, sincere, and humble, traits many of the others could benefit from. He also wins Best in Show for the grace with which he took the win tonight. After having received a bottle of wine as prize for winning, he immediately handed it over to Joey because, to him, Joey’s was the superior dish. I guess he already had the week at The Gotham to look forward to so the wine was easier to depart with. I may be wrong, but he’s quietly become the leader as the only chef to have won two elimination challenges. If he can get over his timing hang ups, we’ve got a contender.

P.S. I want to know what’s happened to Tre. An early favorite, he demonstrated a good amount of swagger and talent but has now been reduced to bedazzling a fruit tart. What’s up with that?

Padma
Collichio
P.P.S. Padma was looking good tonight. I dug the double tank top with the racer back and the tight braids, very complementary for her lithe figure. She wasn’t sexy enough to win the viewer poll for the “sexiest judge” however. When the results were tallied, Tom Collichio won with a decisive 48% lead over Gail and Padma, the Bravo version of Marianne and Ginger.

Photos via Bravotv.com

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And the Kitchen Loses its Flavor. Goodbye Camille.

Not since Sam’s dismissal last year have I been so sad as I was this week when Camille Becerra was eliminated from Top Chef. For those who haven’t seen it, the chefs were split into groups of three and each were responsible for an individual course in a four-course tasting menu. Camille’s team went last, and Dale decided they needed to do a dessert. Good idea, if any of them had pastry experience, but they didn’t. The entire course was seen as a failure and Camille was chosen as the worst of the worst for her pineapple upside down cake.

If memory serves, the dessert course is always problematic for contestants on Top Chef. They may think they’re venturing out and taking chances, but it’s best to play it safe this early in the game. As soon as I heard Camille timidly mention she could do dessert I knew it was all over for her team. I suspected she’d be the one to go since the cut-aways in the episode were almost all her. I blame Huong for being a douche about switching teams. If Camille had staid on her original team and prepared a savory course, she’d still be here.

This has left me very vexed. I liked Camille. Not only was she beautiful (pictures provided below), but based on what little we saw of her, she had a wonderful personality. We never saw her flustered. Watch at the beginning of the quick fire challenge while Huong and company run around like cockroaches with the lights turned on and Camille calmly walks to her station, sipping her drink. Her respect for her fellow chefs and lack of arrogance prove what a class act she is - she was eliminated after taking one for the team when no one else wanted to try making dessert.

She’s also adorably positive. In a previous episode the chefs had to pick an American classic to re-invent. Most approached the cart of food like it was toxic waste but Camille exclaimed “I love tacos” with a smile as she picked up her dish. Later in the episode, as the other chefs squabbled and fought around her, she was almost bouncy with smiles as she presented her dish to the judges. This week, we see her kneeling up on a counter top while she whisks over a double boiler. When she told the others she would be going home she did it with grace, tears, laughter, and well wishes for all. It would seem she’d made quite the impression on the chefs due to the hugs and sobs we didn’t see the other eliminated contestants receive.

Her Bravo bio and exit videos mention her five year old daughter whose birthday Camille missed because of the show. We never saw her cry or falter in her cooking because of that. Yeah, I’m talking to you Micah.

In the end, I think Camille’s departure is a big loss for the Top Chef kitchen. I’m not going to stop watching, but I will have to find a new favorite contestant. The next time I’m in New York you can bet I’ll be eating at her restaurant, Paloma, where I don’t have a doubt I’ll enjoy her food as much as I enjoyed her personality on the show.






P.S. What’s up with the uneven screentime anyway Bravo? Give some more time in the beginning to the contestants you know don’t make it past half-way. I can tell you a half dozen different hats that Brian owns but Camille is only worth bikini shots at the hot tub? For shame. Don’t insult the audience by thinking that only the braggadocios are interesting.

P.P.S. There’s an interview with Camille at Grub Street. Still classy, as always. I wonder when her new restaurant will open up.

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