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'Top Chef': Where are the great cooks?

July 7, 2010 | 10:40 pm

Medium is how some people prefer their steaks. It's not a good benchmark for cooking.

And yet, after four weeks of "Top Chef," that's just where we are: average cuisine from average chefs.

At this point a year ago in Las Vegas, it was obvious there were at least six legitimate and talented contenders for "Top Chef's" ultimate honor: Mike Isabella, Kevin Gillespie, Jennifer Carroll, Eli Kirshtein and perhaps the best Top Chef duo ever -- the Michael and Bryan Voltaggio brothers.  (Isabella and Bryan Voltaggio were among the judges this week).

So far in Washington D.C., the cream either isn't rising to the top or the show was starting with 2% milk.

No one can dispute that Angelo Sosa can be brilliant in the kitchen, even if he tries too hard sometimes. But who else is in his realm? Kenny Gilbert, who came thisclose to being eliminated in Wednesday's breakfast-lunch-dinner room service challenge?  Amanda Baumgarten, who clearly has talent (she's cooking at downtown's Water Grill, after all) but has yet to separate herself from the pack? Andrea Curto-Randazzo, who boasts that she was once named by Food & Wine magazine a "best new chef," but as far as we can tell came in a year in which there must have been painfully few applicants? 

It was around the same time last year that the "Top Chef" judges noticed they'd never been served such consistently good food so early in the season. If you were starting a restaurant back then, you'd be thrilled to be drafting one of last year's contenders to run it.

No one can make that case now about season seven's crew.

What's more, the rookie mistakes keep piling on, as both the quickfire and paired-chef elimination challenges proved.

Alex Reznik and Ed Cotton not only failed to sauce their breakfast dish, but also completely left off a prosciutto potato pancake from one judge's serving. Andrea and Kelly Liken used canned beans to accent their crispy skin red snapper, a time-saving trick best suited to harried parents. And Lynne Gigliotti, despite the increasingly desperate pleading of her partner Arnold Myint, waited too long to cook her pasta, an ultimately fatal decision that sent both of them home. If there's anything Gigliotti, an assistant professor at the Culinary Institute of America, should know how to cook it's noodles.  

Perhaps this season's challenges, filled with un-culinary gimmicks like aprons for two and pureed baby food, haven't allowed the cheftestants to show us how good they really can cook. Let's hope that's the case, because it's almost so uninspiring it makes us want to order take out.

--John Horn

Photo of "Top Chef" contestants Arnold Myint and Lynne Gigliotti: David Geisbrecht / Bravo