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There's No Place Like Foam: The Seven Deadly Sins Battle it Out on "Top Chef"

Let it not be said that I am a fan of Top Chef's Marcel.

Sure, the kid might not be anywhere as infuriating as Season 1's Stephen, but Marcel is egotistical, self-absorbed, and frustratingly pretentious. Hell, even Tom and Padma were making fun of the way he tops every single dish he's made thus far in the competition with some flavor of foam. It might be his signature touch (and a constant reminder that he did study with Joel Robouchon), but it's usually completely out of place with whatever he's making.

Case in point: his two dishes on last night's episode of Top Chef ("Seven"): for the Quickfire Challenge, in which the chefs were assigned a single color and had to create an entire dish in 30 minutes that was solely that color, Marcel drew brown and created a tower of steak and eggs with crispy croutons, topped with (bien sur) coffee foam, surrounded by a molten bowl of coffee grinds? I understand that he had some difficulties with his French press, but that just looked disgusting. In the Elimination Challenge (in which chefs had to create a seven course dinner based on each of the Seven Deadly Sins), Marcel made a duo of cherry desserts: a cherry tarte tatin (with foam) and a cherry gelee (that both Betty and Ilan said had no flavor).

Foam, foam, foam.

After nine episodes, the fact that Marcel continues to do the same thing, week in, week out, is incredibly frustrating. Yes, his food always looks very... elegant, but like Season 1's Stephen, his plating is always way too over-the-top and doesn't always reflect the food or the brief that he's been assigned.

But I will say this for Marcel: he doesn't ever get flustered.

Even when someone is exploding in his face, whether that be Sam, Ilan, or Betty (who have all at one time or another or, hell, in last night's episode) started screaming at Marcel. Is Marcel annoying? Undoubtedly. Would I want to hit him over the head with a bain marie if I had to live with him in a confined space? Most definitely. But I will say that the 26-year-old chef always manages to keep his cool, even when everyone around him is attacking him. Whether that's an innately cool head or his way of playing the game, I'm not sure, but it doesn't reflect well on Sam (who, armed with the course exemplifying "wrath" at the dinner party, exploded at Marcel at the fixtures store), Ilan (whose personal vendetta against Marcel took a turn for the ugly when he insulted Marcel in front of Debi Mazar's dinner party guests, as he explained that Marcel's "lustful" cherry dish had lowered their libidos), or Betty (who seemed like a crazy person when she and Marcel had a confrontation a few weeks back).

Marcel, on the other hand, seems to walk away unscathed from the constant rage and emotional violence heaped on him. Which might not be such a good thing, either. Sure, it's helping him seem like a stable person, but it's also underpinning perhaps what I find most lacking in Marcel: his lack of feeling. Cooking is all about passion (hell, call it lust) and I never see that coming from Marcel. As I mentioned, his dishes are always elegant, but they, like their creator, are never passionate. Instead, they are cold and clinical, remnants from Marcel's fascination with molecular gastronomy. Beautiful, but indifferent, dispassionate dishes.

I thought Michael foolhardy when he traded away the "Lust" course for "Envy," but in the end, he won the challenge for his gorgeous trout and salmon course, finished with basil aioli and asparagus (and went down in history as the winner of both the Quickfire and Elimination Challenges), while Marcel ended up in the bottom three for his cherry dessert, which all of the judges found to be lacking in passion or ardor. Even Debi Mazar made a slur against Marcel by saying that perhaps he hasn't really had enough sex to justify understanding what lust means; a comment continually echoed by Ilan throughout the episode as he keeps referring to Marcel as a virgin.

Was Ilan justified in calling Marcel out like that in front of the dinner guests? Absolutely not. Despite his hatred of Marcel, his actions only reflected poorly on himself and, with so few chefs remaining in the competition, was not the smartest thing he could have done, especially as he lacked anything redeeming about his own dish (a rich chocolate cake with a funnel cake, macadamia brittle, and Creme Anglaise).

Ilan ended up with Marcel and Betty (whose "Sloth" trio of slow-roasted soups in wine glasses were an absolute disaster) and all three were called out in front of the judges for their respective culinary sins. But in the end, both Marcel and Ilan were spared by the judges, who decided to send Betty home. I was very impressed with how Betty handled her elimination, as she expressed her happiness at having made it so far in the competition and in having the honor to meet the people she did. If only Marcel would learn something from that display of humility and graciousness, maybe he wouldn't vex the others as much as he does.

Next on Top Chef: the chefs are split into two teams who must each get a restaurant up and running but (of course) end up fighting with one another while judge Gail Simmons chastises the chefs for their disastrous performance.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS); My Name is Earl/The Office (NBC); Smallville (CW); Ugly Betty (ABC); 'Til Death/The War at Home (FOX); Wicked Wicked Games (MyNet)

9 pm: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS); Scrubs/30 Rock (NBC); Smallville (CW); Grey's Anatomy (ABC); The O.C. (FOX); Watch Over Me (MyNet)

10 pm: Shark (CBS); ER (NBC); Grey's Anatomy (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8 pm: Ugly Betty.

It's Televisionary's favorite new show. On tonight's episode ("Swag"), Christine sends Mode magazine's assistants into a frenzy when she announces she intends to clean out the magazine's closet... and, before you can say free swag, everyone begins stabbing one another to get their grubby little hands on some couture.

8 pm: My Name is Earl.

On tonight's episode ("Our Cops Is On"), Earl, Randy, Joy, and Darnell relive the day that they were filmed as part of an episode of that long-running FOX hit COPS.

8:30 pm: The Office.

Over on The Office ("Back from Vacation"), Michael returns to work after his "all-inclusive" Jamaican vacation and an email containing a rather racy vacation photo makes the rounds. Just who did Michael take with him? Tune in tonight to find out.

9 pm: Scrubs.

Finally! Scrubs is back on NBC's schedule, where it belongs. And on tonight's episode ("My House"), Dr. Cox suits up as Dr. House in order to solve a troika of medical mysteries, Carla suffers post-partum depression, and J.D. tries to convince Kim to stay.

9:30 pm: 30 Rock.

On tonight's episode ("The Baby Show"), Liz is forced to think about both her marital and maternal future while Jack has to deal with Mommy issues of his own. Who cares what it's about tonight; this show just keeps getting better and better!

10 pm: Afterlife on BBC America.

It's the sixth episode of the supernatural thriller Afterlife, starring Leslie Sharp and Andrew Lincoln, on BBC America. On tonight's episode, Alison believes that she is being haunted by the victims of a train crash from six years ago. Can't this woman ever catch a break?


Anonymous said…
Last night, Ilan went down many points in my book. It was completely unprofessional for him to insult Marcel's dish in front of the dinner guests. And yes, as much as I can't stand Marcel, he really does keep his cool. I totally agree that it points to a lack of passion for cooking.

I still like Cliff, though I like him less every week. His cockiness is overwhelming sometimes. At this point, Sicilian temper or not, I am rooting for Sam. Michael right behind him, because damn - that guy is a survivor. I loved Tom's comment that he should cook on Vicodin more often.
Eric said…
I think if there hadn't been so much bad blood already between Ilan and Marcel, his cherries comment would have come off as harmless tweaking, not mean-spirited sabotage. I still like him.

Marcel seems to me (and I haven't read his bio) to basically be a spoiled rich kid who went straight from some high-end culinary school to working in top kitchens, and never had to worry about actually making a living at cooking.

My sense is that he's got all kinds of molecular gastronomy knowlege that he wants to show off, but he doesn't have access to the specialized equipment needed to replicate what he's seen, and his understanding isn't deep or broad enough to come up with new, original ideas based on food chemistry. So he's stuck with foams.
I thought it was pretty cool that Michael won last night. Especially as he was all doped up. But I still don't really see how his dish (as tasty as it may have been) encapsulated "envy."

Marcel was annoying as usual. But everyone just needs to ignore him and concentrate on their work. I would hate to see Sam or Ilan ruin their chances at winning the competition because of him.
Anonymous said…
"that display of humility and graciousness"

I didn't see it. Humility and graciousness would have been not using her exit to spite Marcel. Petty Betty pointedly hugged every contestant but Marcel. In her last interview she mentioned her disappointment in not beating Marcel. Grow up. You don't like him. We get it. But it's not about Betty versus Marcel. Don't hug him. Whatever. Just don't expect the Miss Congeniality crown.

I like Marcel. He's a prick, but he's now the underdog (and I can't help but root for the underdog). He's arrogant and inexperienced. But he's young and it's a false bravado. Ilan's diatribe about salt and pepper and virginity exemplified true arrogance. And why take Marcel to task for his dish's lack of lust when Michael's wasn't particularly envious? "Trout and salmon and vicotin and stuff…"

What I find most enjoyable is that their hatred for Marcel insulates him as it provides more drama. It's not all about the cooking.
Jennifer said…
From what I've seen, Marcel hasn't really done a lot in particular to deserve that much hatred, but I feel like the fact that he's getting it must be an indication of something. I think that he's one of those people that slowly gets under your skin and this week was the breaking point for Sam and Ilan. That doesn't mean what they said wasn't completely unprofessional and uncalled for but I still can't like Marcel. I wonder if we'll get to see another side of him at the reunion a la Stephen though...

(BTW, I really like your blog. I like that you've tagged all your posts according to show...I should really do that on my blog too)
Anonymous said…
Marcel is an ass and he's getting what he deserves. He honestly thinks that the others are threatened by him while the others just plain hate him personally. I don't know what the producers are not showing but to instill that kind of rage from not one, not two, not three but four people (Betty, Ilan, Sam and don't forget Frank) makes me believe that Marcel deserves everything he's getting.
Anonymous said…
Marcel is an ass and he's getting what he deserves. He honestly thinks that the others are threatened by him while the others just plain hate him personally. I don't know what the producers are not showing but to instill that kind of rage from not one, not two, not three but four people (Betty, Ilan, Sam and don't forget Frank) makes me believe that Marcel deserves everything he's getting.
Rachel Rubin said…
I LOVED the 7 deadly sins theme!

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