Very Bad Things: Blogging Top Chef
I\’ve seen a torrent of outrage unleashed in the last week, most of it along the lines of:
\”How could you send Dale home! Dale!!\”
\”Why not the sneering, contemptuous, less capable and unloveable Lisa?\”
\” Or the slippery, oleagenous Spike? He didn\’t even cook anything!\”
\”It\’s a fix, man! \”
So what did happen? How come the more talented Dale, with a far more distinguished record of wins than his teammates, was the one to pack his knives….and…go? Lisa, it appeared, had two seriously screwed up dishes. Dale only had one!
True enough. But oh, what a one.
Dale\’s \”Butterscotch Scallops were supremely bad. Jaw droppingly bad. So bad that there was a long, awkward moment at the table when all the judges just sat there, silent, stunned with disbelief that anyone–especially Dale–could serve something so…disgusting. It\’s the only time on Top Chef that I literally could not take another bite.
Dale was in deep, deep trouble from the judges\’ first mouthful of this luminously wretched gunk.
Lisa\’s laksa was screwed up. Unpleasantly smoky. But I could eat it. Her \”sticky rice\” dessert was awful. But not dig a hole in the ground-stick my head in–pour in Clorox bad. Like those scallops. They were distinguished by their sheer degree of awfulness, sucking everything around them down with.
Judging on Top Chef — as has been pointed out repeatedly (most recently and succinctly by my learned colleague, Ted Allen) is on a \”What Have You Cooked For Me Lately\” basis. We are not supposed to care what has been achieved previously. In fact, guest judges don\’t even know. The shows air long after filming. So Jose Andres, for instance, can in no way be expected to know–or care–if Dale won previous challenges, deserved to win them, loves puppies and long walks on the beach–or tortures hamsters in his spare time. After deliberation, the judges were unanimous in their feeling that it was Dale who–this week–f**ked up worst.
Let it be said that of the three knuckleheads who stood in front of us on that day, Dale is probably the one I\’d hire as a cook. (Given only those three to choose from.) As a fan of the show, who\’s been keeping up as they are aired, I think he\’s clearly more talented and versatile than the others on his team.
But as Dale (and anyone in the restaurant business) would be the first to tell you: Shit happens. And that day–a LOT of shit happened to poor Dale.
He had the misfortune to almost win the Quickfire. Had he lost, and not come in second, he would not have been team leader–and would not have had the additional burden of leadership.
(A burden he was ill suited to carry)
He was even more unfortunate in that he WON the coin toss, after which he made the regrettable and ultimately foolish decision to anoint himself Exec Chef. Looking around at who he had to work with, and knowing, one would hope, that he was unlikely to be able to either lead or inspire them, he could have put ego aside and stayed out of the line of fire and avoided the clusterf**k.
The Spike Strategy (and make no mistake, it was a strategy), while not to be admired, was smart.
Notice, by the way, that when Dale and Lisa asked about how things were going in the dining room, Spike lied, telling them everything was fine. He knew–believe me–otherwise. His shrug and \”I dunno\” when asked about the \”rice buying incident\” at Judge\’s Table is worth noting as well. He knew Dale picked the rice pudding stuff out. He just saw no reason to not keep both teammates twisting in the wind. His service in the dining room did not suck. And his rib recipe (which he, apparently, made and put on the fire but did not himself serve) was quite good. They were the best part of Mai Buddha\’s otherwise sorry-ass offerings.
The dumplings, by the way, though seemingly admired in the edit, were in fact kinda greasy, and unwieldy.
Chef Andres\’s comment that the halo-halo was something he wanted to try on his menu, reflected Andres\’s interest in perhaps adapting the concept of this traditional Southeast Asian dessert. It is unlikely that he and Dale will be swapping recipes anytime soon. As halo-halos go? Dale\’s was muddy-colored and otherwise okay at best.
Had Dale been a little more mature, a little better suited to lead…had he not fancied himself a crotch grabbing gangster genius..had he not been the sort of guy who unnecessarily calls temp waiters, hired for the DAY \”assholes\”, then he might well have seen the wisdom in adopting Stephanie\’s far smarter attitude over at Team Woodstock. Note the agreement on that team that whatever happened, no one from that team was going home that week. The whole concept, the menu, the division of labor was smartly designed to achieve just that. To protect the team–as a whole. To not f**k up–or allow anyone on their team to f**k up.
Dale–with many opportunities to do otherwise, just couldn\’t resist trying to shine as an individual. He reached too far–with a dish he\’d never even made before. And he neglected to guard his flanks.
A final note to conspiracy theorists. There is no pressure from the producers to either keep particular contestants–or send others home. In all my appearances on Top Chef, I\’ve never seen it, never felt it. I pity any producer who\’d dare suggest to Tom Colicchio that he send someone home who did not deserve it–or spare the poorest candidate for reasons of greater drama. In fact, it\’s his moral gravitas that makes Top Chef worth watching, in spite of all the heavy-handed product placement and occasional silly challenges.
As for me? I could give a rat\’s ass who the producers or Bravo want to win or not win . What I\’ve traditionally used the Glad Family of Bags for would probably not make a good commercial. When I read the surprising announcement that Michelob, a beer I don\’t drink and don\’t much like, was going to be \”sponsoring\” my Bravo blog, I advised them that I felt compelled to disappoint them.
Disagree with the decision to send Dale home all you like. But you delude yourself by thinking that judging is in any way beholden to sinister outside forces–or the market place. A decision on winners or losers can and has taken hours of argument and discussion. Not this time. The best chef on that particular day, won. The worst chef–on that particular day–went home.
Of the Terrible Trio, Dale will surely have a bright career. He\’s generally an excellent cook. His post-loss interviews have demonstrated commendable insight into where things went wrong for him.
Lisa, who\’s appearance and hostile, defiant-looking posture alone seem to have made her this season\’s designated villain surely does not deserve the hatred and vitriol seen on blogs and websites. Nor is it likely–barring the most freakish and flukey sudden realignment of the planets and spate of untimely deaths–that she shall win Top Chef. She\’s a decent cook–but a lucky one.
Blaming others ain\’t gonna take her far.
Spike, on the other hand, can look forward to a long career.
In politics. He\’s perfect for it.