Some thoughts before Top Chef season finale tonight!
Feb 25, 2009
One of the interesting things about reality cooking competition show Top Chef is that the judges favor quality of the dish over innovation or complicated techniques. The way the dishes are judged is simple: it just has to taste good.
So what if you've used the ultra-new method pioneered by Grant Achatz of freeze-drying the duck before gently dousing it into the fryer? It still tastes like shizz compared to this simple leafy salad with honey balsamic dressing and candied walnuts! More so than other competition reality shows (like, say, Hell's Kitchen), the judges' decisions on Top Chef seem to be pretty fair, even if I don't agree with them all the time.
That being said, I think I've been right many times in the past. So, before tonight's season finale of Top Chef, here's my assessment of the three remaining contestants:
Hosea In my mind, Hosea is the most tepid chef on the show, having come through with a few lucky breaks. His knowledge of cooking techniques can be very specialized, but it's not very well-rounded. For instance, though he cooks at a seafood restaurant, he only knows how to fillet large fish. When it comes to filleting small fish like sardines, Hosea is practically useless.
This example is very telling: While Americans consider sardines a "garbage" fish, they are enjoyed and regularly incorporated into dishes in countries like Italy and China. Hosea's inability to fillet a sardine tells me that he's not even passingly familiar with other cuisines. Anyone can sear salmon and plate it with a nice side salad in that annoying nouveau-American kind of way. But can you de-bone some sardines and stirfry them with vegetables?
Also, I find Hosea's demeanor very passive aggressive. Though he makes out with another female contestant Leah on the show, he's ready to throw her on the bus. And even though Stefan comes off as an arrogant bastard to everyone, Hosea is the only one who wants to pick a fight. Oh yeah, and also he wants to win Top Chef so that an American wins the competition, not a European (ie Stefan). Who cares? Nationalism is beside the point when you're competing on a show that regularly utilizes French, Chinese, Italian, etc cooking techniques.
Who wants a passive-aggressive Top Chef who's only familiar with handling big hunky slabs of Grouper? Not me!
Stefan Stefan seems to be the best-trained and most talented of the chefs. His fluent knowledge of techniques rival just about any contestants on the show. The difference between Stefan and other talented contestants, like Fabio and Jeff, is that the latter two try to show off their cooking techniques all at once, sucker-punching the judges with their dazzling, magnificent talent in one stupendous dish.
Stefan knows the same techniques as Fabio and Jeff, but it's his application of them that shows how he's more in control of his talent. He naturally intuits which techniques would most suitable to which dish. He shows off his talents meticulously, in small subtle doses, knowing he only needs to show a little bit of leg, so to speak, for the judges to get it.
His drawbacks? He's kind of an a**hole and he's getting lazy. If Stefan is given the option, he'll pick the easiest dish to cook or the most underskilled contestant to cook against. His worst enemy is himself.
Carla The once-aspiring actress and model originally started out as a fluke in the kitchen. Her skills initially seemed patchy, her confidence was clearly flagging, and it seemed like the only thing she could do well was make a proper pastry crust — and even she effed that up, at least once!
Yet slowly but surely, Carla has been getting better and better. After winning her first challenge late in the competition, she's been racking them up. It seems like she'd had the skills and talent all along — but not the confidence. After all, this is someone who attended culinary school in France, but also knows how to make some great "down home" Southern food.
She might be just as talented as Stefan, but she's more familiar with American dishes. Also, what she has that Stefan doesn't seem to is a sense of soul in her cooking. She sends food out with love.