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‘Top Chef': Jill goes home, Ariane barely escapes

November 20, 2008 |  7:36 am

JillIf ever there was a week when two contestants should have been eliminated on "Top Chef," this was it. In fact, I really thought they would get rid of both Jill and Ariane. I waited for Padma to turn her head and say, “Ariane, please also pack your knives and go.”

In the end, I think the fact that Jill used store-bought, pre-made hot dogs during a make-your-own-hotdog challenge tipped the scales in Ariane’s favor. But the judges must have wrestled with that one for a long time during Judges Table. Ariane, after all, was in the bottom two last week for a cooking 101 mistake.

Common sense was not a factor this week.

Even Hosea, who I decided to root for after his formidable performance in the premiere, deserved to be in the bottom three Wednesday after he served a crab salad made with canned crab meat. Canned! The man owns a seafood restaurant. Seafood! I find it hard to believe he’d put canned seafood on the menu there. Perhaps all that flirting with Leah affected his mind. He’s lucky that the word “canned” didn’t come up during judges panel (at least, not during the part that was aired).

It’s even more offensive when you consider that, like last week’s elimination challenge, this week’s task -- to create a New American-style dish and serve it in Tom Colicchio’s flagship restaurant Craft -- was virtually constraint-free. Contestants could pick which course they wanted, whichever ingredients they wanted, and whatever cooking method they wanted. They also had plenty of prep and cook time. You didn’t hear anyone, except for Jill, whine about being under the pressure of a ticking clock.

That said, it’s a rare occasion when I literally yell at my television.

I am still astounded, even after four seasons, when I see a contestant pick up an ingredient they have never worked with during a week when they can pick up anything. An ostrich egg? They don’t taste that different from the kind hens lay. And in a quiche? I’d like to meet the person who can discern the kind of eggs being used in different quiches. Jill must have been mesmerized by the sheer size of the egg.

Still worse, at least for me, was Ariane’s attempt at a dessert. Let me break down what she said during the episode: She’s not a dessert person. She doesn’t like sweet things. Yes, she thought her lemon meringue martini was too sweet before serving it. But, as she also said last week, she suffers from a strange condition that doesn’t allow her to taste her dishes too many times because she says, and I’m paraphrasing, it all begins to taste the same. (A chef who can’t taste what they’re serving to make sure it’s good? Kind of scary.)

Yet, Ariane chose to do dessert, one that she later said is served in her restaurant. Maybe it’s served there, but she certainly isn’t the one whipping it up. Not unless it's supposed to make you gag.

Melissa wasn’t called out to the bottom for her grilled avocado and peach dish, but she should have been. Here, I’ll go throw some avocados and peaches on the grill, tape myself doing it, and get on the show. Those New York chefs who didn’t make the cut had every right to be unimpressed.

How much longer will the amusing European BFFs Stefan and Fabio continue to trample their American competitors? From the look of things now, dethroning them will take some time. (You can read more about the hometown chefs' performance -- not to mention the bromance -- over at the LA Times food blog, The Daily Dish.)

-- Denise Martin

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Photo: Jill Snyder. Credit: NBC Universal