Skip to main content

Revolution is the Mission: An Advance Review of "Restaurant Wars" on "Top Chef"

There are few series more stressful (in the best possible way) than Bravo's culinary competition series Top Chef.

And there are few challenges that are more stressful that that of the pressure-intensive Restaurant Wars, a highlight of each and every season in which the chefs are split into two groups of four and told to open a restaurant in a matter of hours, planning everything from the menu to the decor and service.

On other series, this could be the culmination of the entire season, but on Top Chef, it's the halfway point, with the eight remaining chefs forced to not only participate in a team challenge (with their individual dishes either making or breaking their continued participation in the competition) but also to work their station, stay true to their vision, feed a dining room full of hungry customers, and turn out inventive, imaginative, and delicious dishes. It should be a cakewalk for these talented chefs, many of whom work on the line professionally, but it's always filled with chaos, confusion, and often calamity.

This season's truly sensational episode of "Restaurant Wars" airs tonight on Top Chef but I was able to take an early look at the episode and feel that it is hands-down the best (and most intensive) Restaurant Wars yet, pitting the two teams in a showdown from which only one will remain victorious. So who triumphs? That would be telling. While I won't spoil the outcome of the episode (you'll have to watch tonight), there are a few (minor-spoilery) things I have to say about this year's fan-favorite challenge.

As if Restaurant Wars wasn't enough to throw at the chefs, this week's Quickfire Challenge must be one of the most disorienting and difficult of any season. Again, I don't want to say too much but I will say that it (A) involves blindfolds and (B) really puts the pressure on the chefs to adapt to some unknown variables... and quickly. For the viewer, it's a real treat to watch as it really gets into the mindspace of the individual chefs and allows the viewers to follow the process of concept and execution on a scale we haven't seen so far on the series.

As for Restaurant Wars, this season's big challenge has some minor differences to other seasons but each of them is a step in the right direction. Gone for example, is the onus of the chefs to design the decor of the space and purchase plates, etc. I get what the producers were going for with that aspect of the challenge but it was an unrealistic and unneeded pressure to put on them with such a tight timeframe. Yes, decor and place settings are important parts of a restaurant's overall atmosphere and concept but when they have limited cash, limited time, and limited access, the raw spaces are inevitably rather cheesy-looking. (After all, it's Top Chef, not Top Design, though in future seasons I could see producers pairing the teams with interior designers to transform the raw spaces.)

And so this year's Restaurant Wars removes some of the pressure of decor by setting the action inside one of Rick Moonen's pre-existing restaurants, which has two dining rooms, two kitchens, and two very different essences on its two levels. The move places the emphasis squarely on the food and the service itself rather than bread plates and napkin rings.

As for the teams' performances, it's truly remarkable to see how well they do with this crucial challenge. With Elimination at stake (as well as, um, other considerations), it's imperative that the two teams dazzle the judges with well-executed dishes while also pleasing the diners. But that's not exactly what happens on tonight's episode. There are some major screw-ups, some surprising downfalls, and a general excess of stress, nerves, and bad decisions. (Also look for some major sparks to fly between the two Voltaggio brothers, both in the Top Chef kitchen and at the house; the competition between the two siblings is heating up in some very nasty ways.)

When the chips fall, you might be surprised by who performs well and who doesn't. To say that this episode had me on the edge of my seat would be a glaring understatement. It's more truthful to say that my heartbeat was pounding through my chest in a way that you might mistakenly think that I was on the line in one of these kitchens.

All in all, tonight's fantastic installment is intense, stunning, and surprising. All of the things that really go into making Top Chef the addictive thrill ride that it is week after week. Just be sure to eat ahead of time and prepare to be spellbound in more ways than one.

Top Chef: Las Vegas Preview: Blindfolded Relay Race:



Top Chef: Las Vegas Preview: Michael V. vs. Robin:



Top Chef airs tonight at 10 pm ET/PT on Bravo.

Comments

foodie2d said…
Hurray! I love the restaurant wars challenge (even though it totally stresses me out every season). From the preview, it looks like the Voltaggio brothers are on one team and Jen and Kevin are on the other team, which means it's pretty evenly split in terms of talent. Should be fun!
Hadley said…
I'm so happy that they don't have to worry about the decor anymore. As you said, since they don't really have any time or money to put into it, it always ends up looking pretty lame. Let's just concentrate on the food!

Popular posts from this blog

Katie Lee Packs Her Knives: Breaking News from Bravo's "Top Chef"

The android has left the building. Or the test kitchen, anyway. Top Chef 's robotic host Katie Lee Joel, the veritable "Uptown Girl" herself (pictured at left), will NOT be sticking around for a second course of Bravo's hit culinary competition. According to a well-placed insider, Joel will "not be returning" to the show. No reason for her departure was cited. Unfortunately, the perfect replacement for Joel, Top Chef judge and professional chef Tom Colicchio, will not be taking over as the reality series' host (damn!). Instead, the show's producers are currently scouring to find a replacement for Joel. Top Chef 's second season was announced by Bravo last month, but no return date has been set for the series' ten-episode sophomore season. Stay tuned as this story develops. UPDATE (6/27): Bravo has now confirmed the above story .

Me Want Food: Jenna Gets Famously Fat on "30 Rock"

I don't know about you, but I've already ordered my "Me Want Food" t-shirt from the NBC store. Last night's episode of 30 Rock ("Jack Gets in the Game") was, in my opinion, one of the strongest of the series and has officially pushed the zany comedy into the realm of Arrested Development : deftly plotted and intricately layered, with so many jokes piled atop of jokes that it requires several viewings in order to catch them all. While at its heart, 30 Rock is a workplace comedy, it's left that narrow pigeonhole behind to become a witty example of how intelligent and taut humor can work (and flourish) on television... and exist in harmony with hilarious throwaways like the Thriller -inspired Werewolf Bar Mitzvah music video that would have done the AD crew proud. I want Will Arnett to appear on this series whenever possible. His gay exec Devin is hilarious, manipulative, and has an inexplicable weakness for Kenneth the Page, but he claims to have

"Gilmore" Guy: Who is New Showrunner David Rosenthal?

A few days later and I am still processing the news that Gilmore Girls showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino--and her exceptionally talented husband, writer and producer Daniel Palladino-- announced their departure from the whip-smart drama after six seasons. The news wouldn't be such a blow, save for the fact that Gilmore Girls is as much about Amy and Daniel as it is about Lorelai and Rory. In their capable hands, the show explored a supremely complicated family dynamic through the beautiful friendship of mother and daughter Lorelai and Rory... and did so with smart dialogue usually found in a Nick & Nora film rather than on television. Zany subplots abounded as did quirky, beloved supporting characters. And now, after six seasons (including this most recent--and very shaky--season where Amy and Daniel wrote less episodes than usual), Amy and Daniel are passing on the showrunning torch to... Dave Rosenthal?!? For those of you in the audience unfamiliar with David Rosenthal ,