Top Chef Review: A Game of Strategy

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After last week’s sad double elimination (bye-bye, cute Dale and obsessed-with-fashion-Stephen) the chefs jump right into the final episode of 2011. 

It's a game of strategy this week, as contestants go head-to-head against one another.  While I appreciate that Top Chef is employing new and exciting themes for the season (i.e. sending chefs to some of New York's best restaurants) the U.S. Open theme fell a bit short.  Let's go over the reasons why, shall we?

Laughing All-Star

The Quickfire Challenge
The Quickfire is partly a plug for the Swanson brand and partly a tasty seasonal treat for the viewers.  In a stuffing cook-off, the chefs are robbed of all of their tools.  No knives, no utensils, no nothing... but with the incentives of immunity and $20,000.  That definitely perks the chefs right up. 

The chefs are all quite innovative, with Fabio grating cheese on a rack and Tiffany cutting her quail with a pepper grinder.  Meanwhile, Antonia stirs with a corn husk and Marcel squeezes gravy and fat from an improvised plastic squeezer.  Super impressive to see the chefs plate beautifully without any actual utensils.

Carla and Casey’s Asian-inspired stuffings do not impress sweet Tony Mantuano, but Tre’s savory and hearty Texan stuffing with bacon, chedder, and chili powder wins him the generous prize (courtesy of Swanson).

The Elimination Challenge
The main task is to cook for the players of U.S. Open. Of course, there is a catch.  The chefs are divided into two teams: Orange and Yellow and each “player” of the team will face off against the player of the opposing team. 

It is a tad distracting because the chefs must create their best dishes, but also be concerned about whose dish is the weakest within their team and who will be the sacrificial lamb.  As Spike conspiratorially whispers, “It’s a game of strategy,” as opposed to simple great cooking.

During prep time, Carla cuts off half of her fingernail (ouch!!), but “mans up” and decides to continue her prep and proceed with the challenge, much to the approval of Dale and Antonia.  I hope Jamie feels some shame at her own (lack of) battle wounds.

Jamie (of the blank face) refuses to go first for Team Yellow (anyone else really tired of how selfish she is this season?) so Casey takes one for the team.  However, she strikes out against Fabio, who wins with his whole-wheat gnocchi.  It’s so adorable to see him fist-pumping out on the tennis courts.

Richard Blais on Top Chef

Team Orange takes the cake with Carla’s African spiced vegetarian soup.  I blame Team Yellow’s loss on Jaime, honestly, who is so sneaky and conniving that she manages to get out of judges table TWICE this season, both on dishes that are probably worst of the worst. 

Despite having lackluster, undercooked chickpeas, she throws her teammates under the table and doesn’t even show at the challenge; even if it’s about strategy, she should be more than a little embarrassed.

Judges’ Table
Carla is rewarded for sticking with her guns and not backing down on her soup idea.  Good for you, Carla!  Meanwhile, despite Tre’s disappointing dish, he has immunity and is spared.  The judges are baffled at the breakdown of Team Yellow’s strategy since Jaime isn’t even at judges’ table, while Spike explains how Angelo meddled with his dish. 

I feel badly that Spike went home since Angelo’s overenthusiastic plating might have cost him.  It was a bit of a skewed challenge based more on sheer chance and Spike just got handed the shorter straw.

Overall, I was disappointed with the episode because it focused so much on strategy, as opposed to actual good food.  Moreover, it’s a flaw in the structure that Jaime and Mike didn’t even present their foods. 

What are your thoughts?  Do you agree with Spike’s elimination or do you think someone else should have gone home?  Sound off in the comments!

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