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.

1) 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.
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.
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.
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:

(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.
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

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.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 29, 2009

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