Skip to main content

Missing the Boat: Canapes on the Cheap Fail to Make Their Mark on "Top Chef"

I like hors d'oeuvre. The whole idea of a tiny little bite, passed along on a carried tray butler style, is one that always resonates with me, as it gives chefs an opportunity to wow party guests with some elegant and creative fare in miniaturized form. The possibilities, even with a limited budget, are endless.

Sadly, that's not the same aesthetic shared by the seven remaining competitors on Bravo's culinary competition Top Chef. This week's episode ("Chef Overboard") tasked the chefs with catering a cocktail party for some of Miami's most beautiful people aboard a beautiful ship. The catch: they'd only have a budget of $350 to split between all seven of them.

Personally, I love when this competition forces the chefs to work together but I didn't feel they were a cohesive unit at all last night. Not because of the leadership of Brian, per se, though he didn't help matters by creating a far too egalitarian environment, but because they didn't all see the bigger picture here. Some chefs created more than one dish, others wisely focused on just one, but there was no sense of uniformity going on here. Judge Tom Colicchio was right to call them out for their choices; with such a small budget, why spread it out over many sub-par dishes than to put that money ($50 per chef) into one, incredible dish? Foolhardy, in my eyes.

Also, one of the main focuses of the challenge was to wow these party-goers and I didn't feel that, for the most part, the chefs really followed through on that. (Why, I kept asking myself, was no money put aside for garnish?) No, they didn't have a lot of money to work with, but $50 is still $50 and when you're making bite-size canapes, you can stretch that out pretty far. The standouts? CJ's delicious seafood sausage perched atop a perfect little brioche crouton with a pickled ginger and radish salad, Sara's gorgeous savory tomato bread pudding with basil cream and balsamic reduction, and Casey's beef carpaccio with a fried caper and arugula, served in a spoon with a shiitake brodo. These were fantastic dishes that looked amazing on the plate and tasted fantastic to boot. One need not have a budget in the tens of thousands to create a series of bites that pleases the eye and mouth, and these three realized this quickly.

Still, one caveat to future Top Chef competitors: stop making dessert. It's usually not necessary, the judges could care less, and--unless you've got some mean pastry skills--it's not going to go over all that well. I didn't see why the guests "needed" to have something sweet as part of a series of hors d'oeuvre and I am glad that Casey and Sara realized that their chocolate mousse (made from a box and over-aerated) was a royal mess and tossed the dish.

I was really, really disappointed by Hung, whose dish--a piped smoked salmon swirl on cucumber slices with Meyer lemon and salmon caviar--was straight out of the 1980s. Yes, it was easy to make and, yes, it was cheap to produce, but it definitely didn't have any wow factor and didn't fit in with the Miami environs or the nature of the challenge. For such a promising young chef, Hung really does often miss the mark completely with his execution. (His "smurf village" breakfast, created for the Quickfire, was jaw-droppingly odd.) To Brian I say: dude, stop using seafood every single challenge! You yourself mentioned this earlier in the episode during the Aisle Trial Quickfire Challenge that Tom Colicchio was always on your case about using seafood, so why did you do yet another raw dish (ginger tomato ahi poke)? No more tartare, no more ceviche, no more poke. Enough with fish, altogether. Just a suggestion. Dale, giving up the goat cheese (or hell, using the more traditional gruyere instead) for your gougeres was a huge mistake, especially when it was sacrificed for an unnecessary and low-end chicken dish.

But my vitriol is really saved for Howie, who was finally told to pack his knives and go last night. (Thank god!) I've had it with his bulldog nature, his constant displays of aggression, his inability to be a team player or complete tasks within the given timeframe. Additionally, he's ended up in the bottom two more often than not for dishes that seemed amateurish and unappealing. That is, when he actually completed the task at hand. I could not believe that he didn't even serve anything during the Quickfire Challenge, stating that as a chef he had a responsibility not to serve something that didn't meet his stringent guidelines, but then turned around and served mediocre, greasy, and tasteless food during the Elimination Challenge. His two dishes--a "cigar" of asparagus and prosciutto and a duxelle tartlette--looked disgusting and vaguely institutional and seemed casually thrown on the plate with little thought for presentation.

I will say that I was surprised that Howie addressed the judges to announce he was removing himself from the competition, allegedly to save Brian from getting sent home. (Loved that Padma told him that it was the judges' decision, not his, who would pack their knives.) But I felt it was less an altruistic move that a pre-emptive strike. It was fairly obvious that it was either Howie or team leader Brian getting the sack, so I could definitely see Howie trying to assuage his wounded pride by quitting before he was fired. In any event, the judges decided that it was time to kennel this bulldog and sent the chef packing. Whew. My prayers and dreams have finally, finally, been answered.

Next week on Top Chef ("Snacks on a Plane"), the six remaining chefs hit the road as, in a Top Chef first, they are sent an unknown location. But first: a mile-high challenge aboard an airplane and everyone's favorite enfant terrible chef, Tony Bourdain. I can't wait!


Anonymous said…
FINALLY! I couldn't stand Howie so I was glad to see him get the boot. And his decision to "sacrifice himself" was total bullshit. He even said that HE wanted to decide when it was time for him to go and didn't want to give the judges the satisfaction. WTF!!! You're on a comepetitive reality show you jack ass. What did you think was going to happen?
Why oh why do they always insist on doing desserts?!They never turn out and are a complete waste of time and resources. Especially at a cocktail party.

I was astounded by Hung's boring choices for this challenge, especially as he is usually over the top (smurf village, anyone?) in his execution. This is the one time he should have really gone for it. And then to be so rude to the judges? Not cool.

It's sad. I felt that, overall, this group of "Top Chefs" had the most potential but, as the numbers dwindle, I am less and less impressed. They really need to step it up and keep the judges from regretting their decision to send home Tre!
Anonymous said…
It was definitely time for Howie to pack his knives. He completely overstayed his welcome. Despite his bluster, I didn't see much potential or talent inside him and he bugged the hell out of me. I was pleasantly surprised by Casey for once though.

Popular posts from this blog

Have a Burning Question for Team Darlton, Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly, or Michael Emerson?

Lost fans: you don't have to make your way to the island via Ajira Airways in order to ask a question of the creative team or the series' stars. Televisionary is taking questions from fans to put to Lost 's executive producers/showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and stars Matthew Fox ("Jack Shephard"), Evangeline Lilly ("Kate Austen"), and Michael Emerson ("Benjamin Linus") for a series of on-camera interviews taking place this weekend. If you have a specific question for any of the above producers or actors from Lost , please leave it in the comments section below . I'll be accepting questions until midnight PT tonight and, while I can't promise I'll be able to ask any specific inquiry due to the brevity of these on-camera interviews, I am looking for some insightful and thought-provoking questions to add to the mix. So who knows: your burning question might get asked after all.

What's Done is Done: The Eternal Struggle Between Good and Evil on the Season Finale of "Lost"

Every story begins with thread. It's up to the storyteller to determine just how much they need to parcel out, what pattern they're making, and when to cut it short and tie it off. With last night's penultimate season finale of Lost ("The Incident, Parts One and Two"), written by Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, we began to see the pattern that Lindelof and Cuse have been designing towards the last five seasons of this serpentine series. And it was only fitting that the two-hour finale, which pushes us on the road to the final season of Lost , should begin with thread, a loom, and a tapestry. Would Jack follow through on his plan to detonate the island and therefore reset their lives aboard Oceanic Flight 815 ? Why did Locke want to kill Jacob? What caused The Incident? What was in the box and just what lies in the shadow of the statue? We got the answers to these in a two-hour season finale that didn't quite pack the same emotional wallop of previous season

Pilot Inspektor: CBS' "Smith"

I may just have to change my original "What I'll Be Watching This Fall" post, as I sat down and finally watched CBS' new crime drama Smith this weekend. (What? It's taken me a long time to make my way through the stack of pilot DVDs.) While it's on following Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars on Tuesday nights (10 pm ET/PT, to be exact), I'm going to be sure to leave enough room on my TiVo to make sure that I catch this compelling, amoral drama. While one can't help but be impressed by what might just be the most marquee-friendly cast in primetime--Ray Liotta, Virginia Madsen, Jonny Lee Miller, Amy Smart, Simon Baker, and Franky G all star and Shohreh Aghdashloo has a recurring role--the pilot's premise alone earned major points in my book: it's a crime drama from the point of view of the criminals, who engage in high-stakes heists. But don't be alarmed; it's nothing like NBC's short-lived Heist . Instead, think of it as The Italian