Top Chef Season 7: Episode 3 – All about the Grillz

Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of “Top Chef” contestants like the word “dessert.” Judging by the reactions of some of these guys when the show trotted out its shameless plug for “Just Desserts”….err…..I mean, “Bake a pie” quickfire challenge, you’d think Padma just told these guys they’d have to bake a cake with nothing but a cup of flour and the heat from a reading lamp.

“What did I get myself into??,” Tim moaned, which I think just highlights the main problem I have with this season. The whole cast is a bunch of whiny crybabies.  Instead of throwing themselves into a challenge, we get bunches of excuses from these guys. Even Angelo, Mr. “my food is sexy, sexy, sexiness on a sex plate,” had to pretend it was a curry challenge in order to make it through.  Just like guest judge Johnny Iuzzini (who looks like he’s auditioning for the role of Danny Zuko in the French Laundry’s production of “Grease”)bluntly stated, if a grandma can make a pie, a Top Chef should be able to do it. I think all of them need to read Michael Ruhlman’s “Ratio,” which basically tells you that if you can remember some basic ratios about ingredients, you can bake anything.

Luckily, Kelly and Kenny, with their respective dark chocolate ganache and Bananas Foster pie, managed to redeem this season. Between Lynne’s basil crust, Ed’s celery spuma, and Tracy’s overbaked blueberry and evidently wood chip pie, some of these people would be better suited to work with the hacks at “Hell’s Kitchen.” I’m glad that Kenny got immunity this round, because I was not looking forward to another episode of manufactured animosity between him and Angelo. Instead, we got treated to the weirdest segue in the show’s history, this time from Amanda; “I’m rushing around Whole Foods, so people better stay out of my way…by the way, I used to be a coke addict.” I joke, but it was a little odd as far as editing.

This week’s elimination challenge, a grill-out for D.C. interns at Mt. Vernon, elicited both more whining (Arnold about grilling, “It’ll clog up the pores way too fast.”) and the quote of night from Alex, who proudly boasted that, “I have never taken advantage of an intern.”

The focus was on Tracy and Amanda tonight. Tracy’s attempt to make Italian sausage failed immediately when she encountered issues grinding the meat, so she decided to forego making traditional links and do Italian sausage sliders instead. “Top Chef” talks a lot about if something doesn’t work the way you want it, to improvise and make changes, but as we’ve seen time and time again, it never works out quite well in reality. Meanwhile, Amanda was busy being a nuisance, both by loudly confronting Alex about using her non-labelled oven (evidently, it’s totally cool to take out someone’s dish from the oven while it’s cooking as long as you claim “prison rules”, whatever that means) and by frantically rushing around the kitchen. The show is setting her up to be the villain, but in a season of nothing but villians or invisible people (seriously, who’s Andrea? where did she come from?), it’s not that interesting.

The guys were overly confident that they would dominate the Grilling challenge, but there seemed to be some major misteps by the men in execution. Both Kevin and Tim had issues with their sides (pork cures all, but doesn’t save overcooked beans and rice), Stephen made another signature boneheaded move by undercooking his bacon-wrapped sea bass. But it was Tracy who was asked to pack up her knives, after over-fennelling her sausage, undercooking her patties, and, according to Chef Tom, insulting all of the Italians in the world for generations to come with her cooking. Man, way to kick someone when she’s down.

As for the winner, meh, who cares? I’m sure Arnold’s lamb kebobs were delicious, but it’s hard to root for anyone so far. The talent level was so high last year, this season needs to get off their laurels and step it up. It was nice that Angelo acknowledged that Amanda’s ribs were the best dish, maybe this is a turning point from the braggart we’ve seen so far? Maybe Amanda will morph from whiny psycho to the comeback kid? Jonathan Waxman said during this episode that this was “not a good day for American chefs,” and I really have to agree with him.

~Julia

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