Wednesday, October 03, 2007

the egg timer runs out on Top Chef

Tonight is the season finale of "Top Chef: Miami", the show's third (glitizer, higher-production value) season. The show, which whittled its way through 15 "chefs" (Season 2 had a high number of do-it-yourself line cooks, the final four of which weren't any older than 26) has now made its way down to three for the final showdown in Aspen, Colorado.

Why, oh why did I get hooked on this show? I remember hearing write procrastinator's fair warnings in the past when I was still binging on the Food Network (a network whose very soul has hardened into a dry kibble of sensational trash). My introduction to the show came last winter when I was on a JetBlue flight from the Bay Area back to NYC, a red-eye flight no less, and instead of sleeping I caught Bravo's full-scale "Top Chef" second season marathon into the wee hours of morning. From that point forward I was able to watch the last four episodes as they aired each week, and waited with bated breath until it begun anew this summer.

And then the third season came. And I realized that perhaps the biggest draw (oddly) to the show are its judges.

Padma, of course, is the crowning reason why anyone should flip the remote to Bravo in the first place. She was a new addition to the second season, serving as host.... apparently Season 1's host, who I don't know because I haven't had the liberty to see Season 1, was either not smart enough or not food-related enough or not camera-friendly enough (or most likely not sexy in a I-want-to-watch-you-suck-whipped-cream-off-a-strawberry way enough). Padma (recent divorcee of fatwa-ee/knigthed/Booker-Prize-of-Booker-Prize Award winning author Salman Rushdie) has all the right moves, a delicious ease before the camera, and is certainly easy on the eyes. Probably helps that she's a model. She has a cute sense of playfulness (re: the episode where she has the chefs make her breakfast, and wakes them up by practically jumping on their beds) and a sense of humor (re: joking that the massive scar on her arm was inflicted whilst tiger hunting in Bengal) and a soft side (re: episodes closer to the end where you can tell she has a hard time, wincing even, when telling a chef to "pack [their] knives and go"). And hey, she looks pretty damn good. She has a perfectly-tuned radio voice (next career move: Padma as network television news anchor?), fits into remarkably tight pink jeans, and has a beautiful smile. Ah, the Padma worship.

But what about her food cred, you say? Why choose her to host "Top Chef"? She happens to be the author of two cookbooks (including the just-released-yesterday Tangy, Tart, Hot, and Sweet.... a title of which I'm sure the irony is not lost). Not sure if she actually does much cooking, but she used her clout to ink a book deal.... so good for her, I guess.

Tom Colicchio (also interestingly suave and sexy) is executive chef of umpteen glamorous restaurants in New York (and Las Vegas, and coming soon a stake in trade at Foxwood's forthcoming MGM Grand in Middle of Nowhere, Connecticut).... including one depot of his Craft kingdom on the ground floor of the very building I work in. Have yet to try the food.... guess I'm waiting for that next promotion.

Gail Simmons (sometimes there, sometimes not), irresistibly Canadian and the snarkiest of the good-ol'-standby regulars, is something of a down-market Padma. She's an editor at Food & Wine magazine, one of "Top Chef"'s benefactors, and she always shows up at the judges' table looking beautifully dressed up.... but you just can't shake the feeling that she's like the dowdy cousin who always looked up to the statuesque and nearly sexually-active older cousin, and thereby happily parrotted everything she said and tagged along mercilessly during family get-togethers.

Other judges that come and go include Anthony Bourdain, who in my opinion tries too hard to be shocking or sardonic or look-at-me-I'm-an-asshole! or clever with his tongue (I'm talking about what he says here, people), some dude from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" who's contract with Bravo apparently hadn't run out, and a motley crew of world-famous chefs (one per episode, please) who are all now independently wealthy and have indecipherable accents. I suppose their lives now consist of pool-side afternoons in the Dordogne and waiting for Bravo's phone call.

So, after tonight we'll have a winner.... with the conclusion of tonight's "live" finale. Why make it live? Seems like two steps too much fanfare.

Coming up to the finishing line:

Casey, who at first seemed like a bitch for criticizing poor Clay, he of Southern accent and broken home, for not knowing what an amuse bouche was, is packing heat. She seemed unremarkable at first but has begun wiping the walls with the elimination challenges towards the end. And you know what? She just seems generally likeable, one who would step for you because you've earmed her respect. And she's a great chef, too.

Dale, another quite likeable and quick-witted contestant, is slightly jittery but knows his food. He busted out on the restaurant wars where he worked the front room of a makeshift diner-from-the-ground-up-in-24-hours like he's been master of restaurant hosting for years. He claims breakfast is his specialty too, which is a refreshing change when cooking shows just show you how to make dinner and dessert. I rather like his soliloquy commentary because he's not afraid to call out douchebaggery on....

Hung, who has been my least favorite chef since Episode 1. I suppose it should come as no shock that Hung is friends with Season 2 runner-up and fellow douchebag Marcel (as revealed in the top-four-of Season 1 versus top-four-of Season 2 special aired this summer). This kid gets every chance he can to gloat about his skills, and when a judge isn't digging it, Hung simply just can't accept it, and instead has to whine about how they just don't "get it". That, and when a judge likes his work, he gets all goopy and blushy and too eager to please. I just want him to shut the hell up. It's some consolation, I guess, that the other contestants clearly don't like him.

Tonight's reveal will likely be good television because "Top Chef" knows how to milk the tension, especially for its viewers that have held on for this long. Who knew we'd get so excited about someone winning a chance to become a media whore for Gladware kitchen products? What do I care that this person gets to fulfill their culinary dreams? Simply folks, I'm in it to see Hung's face get rubbed into the Colorado dirt. Comeuppance is nigh, douchebag.


Writeprocrastinator said...

I am in agony because as of tonight's episode, I am two episodes behind.

I don't know why they don't have the previous two episodes on DVD, yet. Katie Lee Joel (Billy's wife) and Gail Simmons were to take up most of Season One, but Katie Lee isn't telegenic at all and Gail had a tendence to snarl.

They were almost in the background by the second episode of that season and Tom Colicchio had to play a bigger role than I'm sure the producers originally had envisioned. Padma provides the perfect foil and Ted Allen was better last season, he seems more suited as a semi-regular judge on Iron Chef.

Check out "The Next Iron Chef" on Food Network this Sunday. Traci DesJardins (sp?) and another San Francisco chef will represent us.

Dale said...

We don't get Top Chef here so I've been satisfying myself with reruns of BBC's 2005 Masterchef at Large.