'Top Chef: Texas': Let the silliness finally stop
The current season of “Top Chef” has been one of the least compelling in a long time. The show’s producers don’t deserve all of the culpability—they couldn’t have known when they cast the show so many months ago that most of the current chefs would have the effervescence of flat soda water.
But like chefs who fail to improvise when handed a batch of inharmonious ingredients, the “Top Chef” decision makers compounded the problem by steering the season away from cooking and toward gimmickry.
Wednesday’s three-step elimination challenge marked the nadir of absurd tests, a Winter Olympic-themed competition that almost seemed to parody a season of oddball trials. Cooking on a moving gondola, hacking ingredients out of blocks of ice and shooting a gun at ingredient targets might have sounded fun in the “Top Chef” production offices, but in reality it played more like British Columbia version of “Wipeout” than a highbrow contest.
If the show runners really wanted to have fun, they should have asked Paul to chop vegetables with speed skates, Sarah to beat egg whites with a curling broom, Beverly to skewer kebabs on a ski pole and Lindsay to cook salmon on a snowboard plank. All while flying off an 80-meter ski jump. Blindfolded!
Having thrown the equally bizarre real challenges at the four remaining chefs, the judges then had the nerve to forget what they had forced them to do. Paul was criticized for the uneven cooking of his lamb—meat that was grilled on an induction burner in an unheated gondola. Sarah was penalized for soup with frozen cream that separated as soon as it was thawed—as frozen dairy tends to do on this planet.
But even with so many inane obstacles, the real injustice was the selection of the third finalist. We have no quibble with Paul and Lindsay’s inclusion, as they have been the best “Top Chef” contestants pretty much every week. They deserve to be in the finals.
We’re far less sure about the judges’ choosing Sarah over Beverly. We know that the assessments shouldn’t factor in personality, which is clearly why Sarah wasn’t eliminated weeks ago. In her face-off against Beverly, Sarah twice complained that Beverly was cheating—once by intentionally tripping her up on skis, the second by somehow having more bullets to shoot at ingredients. “I feel like she had way more shots than I did,” Sarah whined. Maybe Beverly's targets were bigger, too?
While we obviously couldn’t taste their food, the judges seemed less impressed with Sarah’s rabbit than Beverly’s arctic char. Head judge Tom Colicchio praised both cooks for taking risks, but clearly Beverly took more—trying a new technique of slow roasting and avoiding her typical Asian influences. Sarah, on the other hand, did what she typically does, and played it safe, braising her rabbit (and, according to the judges, not at all well).
“I want this so bad,” Sarah said when she made the finals. “Thank you for seeing that.”
But “Top Chef” isn’t supposed to be a show about wanting. It’s supposed to be a show about executing. And the show itself, like so many of the season’s contestants, failed to do that at nearly every turn.
Photo of Beverly in "Top Chef: Texas." Credit: Beverly Sherwood/Bravo.