Thursday, October 22, 2009

Top Chef Restaurant Wars 09

I have two ideas to convey in the post the first is the idea that a reality show in which contests are judged on their cooking skills should not eliminate a contestant based on things other than their cooking skills. The other idea I have is that in a restaurant, as a whole entity not just a kitchen perhaps the chef and his/her cooking is only a piece of the puzzle that needs to come together for a complete experience.

From the beginning I thought Laurine was a middle of the pack kind of cook. I’m happy for her that she made it as far as she did. From listening to her exit interview I can see she is a pleasant sincere individual who most likely isn’t cut out for cut throat reality TV. Chef Colicchio confirms this in his blog where he writes,

“It is noteworthy that while questioning the chefs at the Judges’ Table, we got the very distinct sense from Laurine that, as she herself confirmed at the very end of the episode, she was ready to go home. Cooking for a competition is, indeed, very different than day-to-day cooking at one’s home restaurant, and we have seen people tire of competing at different stages of the competition every season. While we certainly wouldn’t send Laurine home for such an intangible reason, I think her performance in this week’s challenge reflected that she was done with the competition and wanting to go, and we did send her home for the work she did this week. So it all works out: we don’t want to keep someone who doesn’t want to compete.”

All this personal information aside, the job of FOH was made even more difficult in that that person was made responsible for a dish on that night’s menu. Wow, that is a lot to put on one persons plate. Let’s imagine this….you’re a cook and come into work to find the chef in a suit and tie. He explains he is going to run the front of the house for the night. He will host, expedite, and he has a special that needs to be prepped and served to his specifications. Oh and it’s a very busy night with a VIP 8 top at 7pm. Would I expect the night to go smooth? Yeah, smooth like Pamela Andersons chest. You’re asking someone to do three things they aren’t good at. Why can I assume that a chef is not good at those things? Well because if they were then they would do those things and live a less stressful and more financially sound life on the other side of the line.

I think in future Top Chef seasons they should have a quick fire in which there are two winners who have immunity, but are forced to perform the FOH duties. It’s heart breaking so see someone compete as a chef and lose as a host!

On to the second point. While the chef is responsible for the food, and increasingly so the vibe and reputation of a restaurant, there are many other factors that go into a quality dining experience. I don’t think I’m touching on anything unique here. From the host to the bus buy to the sommelier to the prep cook there are a lot of hands that go into even a few diners having a quality experience. You are going to say to me, “yeah, but the show is Top Chef, not Top Restaurant Team,” and I can see that viewpoint. But this is my opportunity to open even a few people’s eyes to the fact that a chef, no matter how great they might be, what medals or awards they’ve won, or how many hours they spend on TV, they too have a great many of people surrounding them that are getting their hands dirty and deserve more of the praise than they will ever get.

If Laurine would have smooched the judges table, checked on the lamb temp. and buttered them up out the door then I guarantee the outcome would be different. Then again if she was a top chef she wouldn’t have allowed herself to leave the kitchen and leave her comfort zone. I guess it all works out in the end.


Scott Sebastian said...

I was hooked for a season and a half. Now I csn't stand to watch it.

I'm growing more uncomfortable with the bastardization of the proffesion.

Dine O Mite said...

As my wife and I watched this episode, as soon as the first dish was served I turned to her and said, "She's gone."

While it may not be a chef's job to serve at the front of the house. When that food came out and was put in front of the judges and she walked away without telling them what it was, I knew she was D-O-N-E.

I don't think they were expecting witty banter or a mastery of table service. Her job was pretty simple:
1) Explain what they're eating (and show a little interest in it)
2) Get the food to the judges table in a timely manner.

Failed miserably on both criteria. Michael would have been a better choice, but as a chef he likes to hide behind the others, so he stayed in the kitchen. His time is coming.

Can someone please explain to me why a prospective contestant wouldn't master a versatile dessert, or two, "a la" Carla, before appearing on the show? It took her all the way to the finals. Completely blowing off dessert puts serious pressure on the other dishes to be flawless. If one of them is just "meh" the first thing they'll say is, "You should have made a dessert instead of that dish."

Michael Walsh said...

Scott, I have to admitt that Top Chef is my guilty pleasure of reality TV. It's the only non-sports show I go out of my way to keep up on. Trust me there are plenty of other shows (just about anything on Food Network) that make me cringe like fingernails on a chalkboard, and send me flying across the room in search of the remote. For whatever reason I enjoy Top Chef?

Michael Walsh said...

Dine-o-mite, I agree that Laurine didn't do a very good job, and she easily could have touched up her performance and lucked out on the episode since Jennifer really dropped the ball this time around.

I can make this analogy. Say you had to decide who did a worse job at baseball, and A-rod strikes out 4 times swinging in a game, but his competition is Jeter, but Jeter is the starting pitcher and gives up a ton of runs, yet you have to judge him on that performance.

I don't understand the desert thing as well. I don't understand why nobody has a notebook of recipies or ideas. You have to assume some of the challanges are consistant from season to season, why doesn't anyone have any organization they can rely on? Perhaps these are the rules we don't know about.