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I Scream, You Scream, Marcel and Betty Scream on "Top Chef"

I'd like to begin by saying how very much Marcel irritates me. Possibly even more so than Stephen Asprinio last season. Well, about the same anyway. And anyone who knows me knows that Stephen irked me like very few people have ever done. Perhaps it's the way that Marcel endlessly pontificates about every little thing, from his love of molecular gastronomy to the fact that, yes, deep fat fryers tend to drop in temperature after several batches. We GET it. I always just want to slap that smug smirk off his werewolf-by-night face.

That aside done, I thought that this week's Top Chef brought us yet another fantastic episode, even if the challenge was a little... um, downmarket. That said, I do believe that Betty was correct when she said that someone with the title of Top Chef should be versatile to be able to cook in any style, not just four-star haute cuisine or, well, dessert (more on Marisa in a bit). Have I said how very much I love Betty?

My question for all of the Top Chef viewers this week is: what in the name of hell was Padma wearing? First, she had on hot pants and a rhinestone-bedazzled top that made her look like a Kitson-accessoried street walker and not like the knowledgeable host of a reality culinary competition. But the best had got to be the denim vest she was wearing... with nothing on underneath. Seriously, just a denim vest! I couldn't believe my eyes. I'm not sure if the producers/costume designers are dressing her in this fashion to make us forget her sloooooow, irritatingly hypnotic voice and general vapidness or if Padma herself selects these sartorial crimes. Either way they just make me question again why Gail or Tom couldn't fulfill her hostly duties as both of them seem more than comfortable in front of the camera and are filled with culinary knowledge and, more importantly, charm.

Moving along, the quickfire challenge this week was to develop an ice cream flavor and have it tested by everyday folk on the street. The key was obviously to construct a flavor profile that worked for everyday people, not foodies, and most of the chefs missed that point (especially Marcel who created an avocado and bacon ice cream that even made me squeamish). Many complained about the challenge, saying that they had never made ice cream before, which surprised me as (A) it's not difficult and (B) I make fresh ice cream from scratch all the time. Make a basic custard, add cream and flavorings, and freeze. Really not that hard. But still, it posed a problem for many. Ilan's bacon and waffle ice cream was... an unusual flavor combination but many seemed to like the salty-sweet combo; I would have omitted the bacon and focused on the maple syrup angle instead. Marisa, being a pastry chef, should have come up with a winning recipe, but somehow it was a no-go altogether. (I'm not sure what she brings to the table if she can't even win the freaking dessert challenge.) Cliff got the brief and came up with a delicious old-fashioned marshmallow and cookie ice cream, though I was also impressed with Carlos' avocado, vanilla, and marshmallow ice cream, which was both innovative and delicious.

Emily was an absolute disgrace in this week's episode and reminded me again of why she, er, reminded me of Tiffani in the first place, with her snobbish attitude and absolute disdain for comfort food, children, or customer service. She reached a new low for Top Chef when she commented on a customer's big ass and how she shouldn't even be eating ice cream... right after serving her ice cream. Even if you thought that, there was no reason to actually say that and you do realize that you're on television, right?

The Elimination Challenge was to create a dish for T.G.I. Friday's that took a familiar childhood dish and updated it for an adult audience. It was a weird task for an elimination challenge and one that threw the more "upscale" chefs in the group who couldn't even fathom cooking comfort food. While no fan of chain restaurants like T.G.I. Friday's, I was hoping that someone--Emily?--would refer to the dishes as peasant food. That would have made my night. Was it just me or was the Friday's guy... weird? Like really, painfully awkward and kinda creepy weird? He was just giving off that vibe to me and I found him really unsettling.

Very few of the chefs understood the brief at all, which was extremely simplistic. Ilan's dish, smoked bacon grilled corn, sounded absolutely mouth-watering but it was a side dish and not an entree. Likewise, Sam's dish, a spicy fruit salad entree, was delicious and everyone (including the firemen judging the challenge) were wowed by the flavor combinations and depth of the dish... but it had no relevance whatsoever to the "childhood food" aspect of the challenge and I couldn't imagine it to show up on a Friday's menu. Michael's steak sandwich was definitely one of the worst dishes ever prepared on the show, a greasy, messy, well, mess that underscored his laziness and terrible attitude about the whole competition and showed a lack of understanding about restaurant dining altogether. I have a feeling he won't be around for much longer. Marisa made a cobbler. Um, excuse me? Can you please stop making dessert? I understand you're a pastry chef but that showed no reach or vision whatsoever and a complete disinterest in the brief. While it was tasty, it again showed that Marisa is not up to the task at hand. Next time, make an entree.

Frank's Alice in Wonderland Mushroom Fiasco just terrified me. Really, really terrified me in a way that made me question his sanity. It was so completely over the top and ill-conceived that I began to wonder if he actually heard the challenge. These dishes are supposed to be made in a national-chain restaurant. Who is actually (A) going to want to order this monstrosity, and (B) what chef will have the time to actually prepare these when the dupes are stacking up in the kitchen? Scary.

Ultimately, it was Emily's over-salted surf-and-turf that the judges found to be the most hideous dish presented. Emily claimed at first that she did taste the components and when the judges said that every single element of the dish was over-salted, she backpeddled and said that it was sub-par. But a chef shouldn't be sending out inedible food and if they do over-season, they should be able to identify and fix the problem without sending it out. Shame on you.

Tension between Betty and Marcel came to a head during the elimination challenge after Marcel went on a tirade about how Michael had made three batches of onion rings and the temperature of the oil in the deep fat fryer had dropped to 200 degrees, etc. Dude, stop harping on it and move on. Your dish (pork chops and mashed potatoes) went over well, so stop complaining. But he just got under Betty's skin and everything that had been festering this whole time for Betty just exploded. (Betty, you should know better than to engage Marcel, who feeds off of attention.) And then when it was Betty's turn in the firehouse kitchen, Marcel was needling her the whole time (she didn't utter a peep while he was cooking) and then turned smug when the grill didn't get hot enough for her grilled cheese. But, guess what? She persevered, internalized her annoyance over the grill, and still managed to get out her completed entree on time and the way she intended it.

I was thrilled to see Betty win for her portobello mushroom grilled cheese and roasted pepper-tomato soup. Betty makes a delicious variation on that (called at Afterschool Special) at her restaurant, Grub, in Hollywood and I was glad that she stuck with that and took it to the next level, adding the portobellos and roasting peppers for the soup to create a dish that absolutely fulfilled the brief 100 percent. (Runners up were Sam and Cliff for his fish fingers and mac-and-cheese.) I was especially pleased that Betty won (the second Elimination win in a row, mind you) when I saw Marcel's face. Ha bloody ha.

Next week on Top Chef: the chefs must create an entree, a side dish, and a dessert, but naturally there's a twist; Michael's commitment to the show is again questioned; and suspicions of foul play (read: cheating) come to the fore. Sounds delicious.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Ghost Whisperer (CBS); 1 vs. 100 (NBC); WWE Friday Night SmackDown (CW; 8-10 pm); Grey's Anatomy (ABC);
Vanished (FOX); Desire (MyNet)

9 pm: Close to Home (CBS); Las Vegas
(NBC); 20/20 (ABC; 9-11 pm); Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy (FOX); Fashion House (MyNet)

10 pm: NUMB3RS
(CBS); Law & Order (NBC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Doctor Who on Sci Fi.

It's the second season of Doctor Who, with the latest incarnation of the Doctor played by the talented David Tennant. On tonight's episode ("The Age of Steel"), the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey launch an attack on the Cyberfactory in order to save, well, everyone, in the second half of this two-part episode.

8 pm: Saxondale on BBC America.

It's the fourth episode of Steve Coogan's newest comedy, Saxondale, reviewed here. It's quirky, it's bizarre, and it's got Steve Coogan as a former rock roadie turned animal pest control operative. So do us all a favor and tune in.

9 pm: Battlestar Galactica on Sci Fi.

On tonight's episode ("Torn"), a deadly virus rips its way through the Cylon population, leading the Cylons to make some Very Important Decisions about their survival, while turncoat Baltar is sent on a mission.


dancr777 said…
Just had to comment.. i realize you "loveeeee" Betty.. but after last night she fell to the bottom of my list.. she was extremely unprofessional.. and i was just floored by her "venom"... really turned me off of her completely.. and her flirtatious ways with the judges.. really irritates me.. so hopefully her "true colors" will emerge more and more.. and that "grin" she had on her face.. after she verbally abused Marcel (who i am not saying didn't deserve being taken down a peg) reminded me of high school clicks.. looking and getting any type of attention she could get on national T.V. if you were serious about putting him down.. do it in private... sorry ... can't shake the feelings of "FAKE" when i watch you week after week.. so GO CLIFF!!
Anonymous said…
Wow, I really can't stand Marcel. I think I am with you - i think I actually dislike him more than Steven. I didn't think such a thing was possible.

And I love Betty. Love her. She listens, which is important.

I really like Cliff, too. He seems to really get the challenges and actually listens.

Padma's outfits - don't get me started. At least KLJ had some taste. Sometimes.

As much as I disliked Emily in this ep (and truthfully, the three of us watching all went "Who is that" when she first came on screen. I guess she wasn't too memorable), I really felt that even a very bad, over-salted misstep, and terrible attitude, was no match for Mike's combination of really bad food/presentation and a REALLY bad attitude. He's not a jerk or a snob, but he doesn't seem to be taking it seriously. Emily was, even though she was very Tiffani/Harold about the whole challenge. I would have given her another chance.

Also, even though I can't stand MArisa, it should be pointed out that she is a PASTRY chef - that doesn't necessarily translate to her ability to make ice cream. Though, it does mean that A) she should have been better at last week's dessert and B) she should show that she can do more than dessert. This is an all around competition.
Anonymous said…
The thing about the ice cream challenge was that they weren't told they were cooking for actual people on the street, so they created more adventurous flavors. Cliff (as much as I LOVE him) won because he made marshmallow and cookie ice cream, and kids like marshmallows and cookies. Not saying that I would want to eat bacon and avocado ice cream (ew), but I'm just sticking up for some of those flavor choices. The ice cream I wanted was Sam's -- citrus and ginger crumble. Yum.
I'm pretty sure they were told that they were making "street food" for the ice cream challenge. Which is why Marcel's bizarre concoction made no sense. But you can be adventurous with your flavors and still have a common appeal (like Carlos' avocado, vanilla, and marshmallow ice cream). I just think that Marcel likes to show off and this time, thankfully, it bit him in the ass.

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