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'Top Chef': Pablo Picasso versus Norman Rockwell

October 29, 2009 |  4:04 pm

Jrkwdsnc This week on Bravo's "Top Chef," yet another admirer made reference to Michael Voltaggio being similar to Picasso. True, he's innovative, but it's Kevin Gillespie's Rockwellian classic American culinary art (and a down-home personality to match) that may win judges over.

Michael V.'s unabashed confidence works to his advantage in the kitchen, but it doesn't do much for endearing him to an audience. Mike Isabella suffered the same last night, boasting that at his restaurant, "20 of the 60 dishes were vegetarian," so he had nothing to worry about. Wrong.

Drio7fgy Where Michael's cooking can be complicated and highly conceptual, Kevin's is sensible and personal, each dish relating to family history (his grandmother's big breakfasts inspired this week's TV-dinner quickfire dish) or personal experience (he's no vegetarian but has abstained from meat during Lent, which inspired the entree prepared for Natalie Portman's veggie dinner party). He seemed more excited that his grandmother might someday be able to purchase one of his "Sopranos"-inspired "Top Chef" TV dinners than the quickfire win itself.

The mushrooms, smoked kale, candied garlic and turnip puree he made for Portman evoked Rockwell's bucolic portraits of classic Americana. In an era when people are struggling, maybe even a starlet is searching for the comfort, simplicity and nostalgia that Kevin delivers.

-- Krista Simmons

Photos: Top: "Weeping Woman" by Pablo Picasso courtesy of Tate Gallery, London. Bottom: "Freedom From Want" by Norman Rockwell courtesy of Curtis Publishing Co.