What's Wrong With Top Chef This Season?


As I blinked through yet another episode of

Top Chef

last night, I had to wonder? Was it me or the show? Why do these 60 Bravo minutes not offer the pleasure they once did. Indeed it's not me. It's not you. It's the show. I've been trying to understand just what has gone wrong this year, and I've made a list. After the jump, ten reasons why

Top Chef

season 5 tastes a bit off.


The Talent Isn't There.

Despite the first year with an international group, this year's pool is shallow on talent. Of the six remaining chefs, only two--Stefan and Jamie--seem like top three material, and it's been a season of forgettable dishes. Leah is holding on for dear life each week, and Hosea doesn't thrill. Fabio and Carla are more personality than culinary talent.

2) There's too much personality.
Without the culinary talent, the producers seem to be clinging to Fabio and Carla, letting them hang around longer than they deserve to. I'm a sucker for a cute Italian dude, but Fabio's charms are wearing thin, real thin.

3) The Challenges Don't Challenge What Talent There Is.
Some of the most amusing challenges of last season made the chef-testants really step outside their comfort zone. They had to cook tailgating food for hearty Bears fan, prepare meals for children, or make healthy foods. These culinary limitations made the chefs actually cook interesting things and created the occasional amusing gems like when that Ryan guy got far too fancy for football fans or  everyone had to cook with kids. This season's challenges have had far less interesting limitations--20 minute face-offs, cooking outside for the Foo Fighters--that have led the chef-testants to cook safety dishes that just get by rather than making innovative creations. Remember when Richard made the beef-flavored tofu? I do. Remember anything like it this season? I don't.

4) It's too kitschy.
We should have known when the first episode had chef-testants peeling apples because they were in the big apple. The focus on puns and seasonal tie-ins has made watching the show feel like reading a stack of lifestyle magazines. What to cook for Thanksgiving! Let's do a super bowl show. Let's dress Padma as a sexy referee. You know what's sexier? Interesting cooking.

5) Bad B-roll.
Bravo's confessional moments and out-of-scene reactions have gotten too scripted. That might make the editor's job easier, but it's annoying to watch. Example, this exchange from last night's show:

Stefan (voiceover): We walk in the kitchen and what do I see--It's Padma and Scott Conant. He's a great chef, he does a lot of Italian food. So, I think Fabi should be fine.
Padma: Our guest judge for this round just won a glowing review from the New York Times. Three star for his new restaurant, Scarpetta, Mr. Scott Conant.
Hosea: Scott just opened a three-star New York Times restaurant, which is almost impossible to get, unless you're doing a perfect job. So obviously he knows what he's doing.

Did we really need three people telling us the exact same thing about Scott Conant? Could we hammer Conant's importance in a bit more softly?

6) The Foo Fighters Were Involved.
Enough said.

7) Gail is Gone.
Gail provided thoughtful, insightful criticism of the dishes. Her replacement, Toby Young, provides thin witticisms and a British accent.

8) Ted is Gone.
Kindly Ted kept the judge's table tone more conversational. It actually played out as an interesting discussion about food, rather than a string of barbs. He added to the chemistry without hogging the attention.

9) It's Inconsistent
Fabio really needed to go home last night. If a consistent theme was emerging this season, it was the importance of honoring the protein. Dude totally dishonored his venison and lied to cover it up. Shame on you Colicchio. Shame on all of you.

10) Leah and Hosea hooked up.
Enough said.

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