Thursday, September 06, 2007

Top Chef: Every party has a pooper

Previously on Top Chef, Sara feared that everyone would start asking awkward questions about her prodigious chopping skills, acquired while she was a child chef for the mob. The secret love of Casey and Howie remained very, very secret. Hung got amnesia and forgot that he was better than everyone else. CJ continued cooking to make his parents happy, even though his real dream was to join the Harlem Globetrotters. Dale, due to an accident involving sweet and sour pork, developed split personalities: one friendly and smiling, the other bitchy and awesome. Brian confessed his addiction to uppers, weeping to Zack that he was "so excited… so scared!" Tre discovered Gail's evil plan for world domination, but she shut him up for good by dropping IQF blocks of capellini and alfredo sauce on him. Ted had a meeting with the mysterious Blog Lady. And Tom ran upstairs two at a time, flung open the door, and shouted, "Ha ha! Caught you, Padma!"

Or none of that happened, and we got a week off after Tre was cut.

We started out this week with what was probably the most entertaining Quickfire Challenge ever. It was also the most needlessly complicated Quickfire ever, as the chefs were all charged to make dishes using items in only one aisle of the supermarket, with $10 and a small selection of items from the pantry. But whatever, the rules didn't really matter – it was what the chefs created that was the point, and what they created was hilarity. Brian had a Spam epiphany (no, for real) and won the challenge, making a "Spam believer" out of the guest judge. CJ cracked everyone up when he mentioned that he'd sweetened his dish with salt. And then there was Hung, who completely let himself go and made what Dale called a "Smurf village" out of food. It was truly amazing. Unfortunately, Howie ruined all the fun by not making anything at all. Boo. It was all going so lovely, too.

The Elimination Challenge challenged the chefs to cater a party on a yacht, using the tiny yacht kitchen. Before you ask, it was indeed high enough to accommodate CJ, but that didn't stop him from banging his head on the ceiling a few times just to prove a point. The chefs made a wide variety of hors d'oeuvres, which was both good and bad: they were scarfed up almost as soon as they left the kitchen, but Tom complained because the appetizers were all average, and he wanted them to do three really well. And if they had done three, Tom, you would have complained about the lack of variety. Your job is to find fault.

However, I can't fault the judges for finding the hors d'oeuvres uninspiring, for the most part. I've actually made one of them – Hung's salmon cream cheese spritz on a cucumber, to be exact – myself. And I can't cook worth a damn. That is how mindless that particular appetizer was. So, even though the judges always seem to be disappointed in the contestants, I think they had some justification this week. And anyway, it was only Hung, Dale and his runny yogurt, Brian the team leader, and Howie and his two gross-looking appetizers who were really in trouble. Casey, for making the hors d'oeuvre that pleased the judges the most, won the challenge and was rewarded with a laptop. How bad must the chefs who won wine and books be feeling right now?

As for the one who went home – it wasn't Brian, who I feared it would be after he interviewed about how much he missed home. Noooo, Brian! Interview and ye shall receive! Instead – well, here's the thing. One of the storylines this week was "Howie becomes a team player, finally." Howie made an effort to work with everyone else, didn't complain so much or make as many difficulties, and felt so much a part of the team that he decided to quit to save Brian. Of course, the judges don't like having the power of elimination taken away from them, so they denied him. And then they ended up eliminating him anyway. The judges' point: their word is law!

So did Howie really become part of the Top Chef team? Probably, He certainly seemed to work better with everyone else this week. But he also wasn't really into the competition anymore – he looked listless and couldn't have been too interested in winning anymore if he was willing to quit. I think his change of heart had everything to do with losing his competitive drive. He didn't have to be a jerk anymore, he didn't have to finish the Quickfire if he didn't want to, and he could make up his past behavior by trying to do something nice for the others before he left. It seemed to be Howie's intention all along to leave.