October 31, 2009

Top Chef 6.10: Meat Is Murder

Like other viewers, I'm getting worried about Jennifer. She started out so strong, but in the last few challenges has been getting overwhelmed by the stress of the competition. She wouldn't be the first contestant on the show to break down under pressure, but it would be a shame if she went home before the remaining also-rans (hint: rhymes with Schmeli and Schmobin) did.

Speaking of going home, Mike Isabella's leek dish looked awful on the plate, and apparently tasted awful too, so it was no surprise that he was sent packing. Of all the contestants this season, however, it seems like he got the worst rap: Yes, he made a bunch of sexist comments and his cockiness was off-putting at times, but there seemed to be an underlying decency to him (note how he got everyone to wear red neckerchiefs after Mattin was eliminated) that got obscured. Of course, that may have been of his own volition. And in any case, his dishes seemed good, but not great, at least by Top Chef standards: The show rewards hot-shot, experimental cooking, even though a lot of great food is neither.

The range of vegetarian meals offered was pretty disappointing: Like others, I was puzzled that no one thought to use things like cheese or risotto to make a more satisfying meal. Kevin, the winner, actually got closest to the mark with his mushroom/kale duo: if you're looking for meaty, umami flavor without meat, mushrooms fit the bill quite well. I'd also have liked to have tried Mike Voltaggio's banana polenta; now if he can just keep his player-hater tendencies in check.

So next week is something called Top Chef All-Stars Dinner, which appears to be the usual assortment of petty rivalries, but without the reverence for the craft of cooking that makes Top Chef proper such a good show. In other words, it'll be like all the other reality shows out there.

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