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"The Red Hots Were For My Mommy!": Sugar Shock on Top Chef: Just Desserts


I don't even know what to say after watching last night's tense and explosive episode of Bravo's Top Chef: Just Desserts ("Cocktail with a Twist"), in which contestant Seth Caro suffered some sort of emotional breakdown during the Quickfire Challenge, in which the pastry chefs were tasked with creating desserts that celebrated penny candy.

Yes, we've seen chefs cave under the pressure on Top Chef before but never this earlier and never this severe. Unable to freeze his passion fruit sorbet in time to plate it, the high-strung Seth began to openly sob and was unable to control his emotions, despite the assistance of fellow competitors and the kindness of guest judge Elizabeth Faulkner (of San Francisco's Citizen Cake and Orson), who attempted to take him aside during the judging process to give him a pep talk.

It didn't work.

Instead, Seth was unable to compose himself and instead uttered some words that will likely haunt him for some time to come. Gripping Faulkner tightly, he cried as he said the now immortal words, "The red hots were for my mommy."

Let's pause on that for a second.

Seth had already, tearfully, said, that the red hots used in his dish were an homage to his ailing mother, who loved the spicy candy. He told fellow competitor Morgan--who just last week had seemed to be the most unstable competitor and now seems completely balanced in comparison--that fact a few minutes earlier but it was the use of "mommy" that tipped things into an even more uncomfortable place.

Now, I want to be sensitive to the fact that Seth is clearly going through something. But a culinary competition series, with its intense pressure and ubiquitous cameras filming your every move, is probably not the best place to go about doing it. I'm also sensitive to the fact that his mother owes $100,000 in medical bills, but I have to question the fact that Seth is participating in this competition in order to win cash to pay off those bills, rather than use the money to further his "culinary dreams," as the opening credits remind us each week. (It also rubbed me the wrong way that Top Chef winner Kevin said that he was going to use the money to buy a house rather than invest it in his business.)

Yes, these chefs are meant to be ambitious and determined. But if you're having an actual breakdown on-camera because your dessert didn't freeze and because you used your sick mother's favorite candy in said dish, you might want to reevaluate your participation.

Because Seth's on-screen antics didn't just end with the "mommy" comment as he gripped Faulkner and sobbed into her neck like an emotionally overwrought ten-year-old might. He continued to act like some emotional whirling dervish, making everyone around him uncomfortable and refusing to promise the judges that such an outburst wouldn't occur again.

After seeing his behavior at The Tar Pit, it's no wonder that a promise won't be forthcoming. After his fellow competitors attempted to support him during his two-minute "shopping" period behind the bar--in which he again fell apart due to the lack of grapefruit juice for his Greyhound-inspired dessert--he railed against them, screaming at them right in front of Mark Peel and Gail Simmons. Badly, badly done. It didn't win him any points with the judges, with his competition, or even with his friend Morgan, who sided with the others against him.

Yigit was right to be angry. Seth has no idea what is going on in his fellow competitors' lives because he hasn't taken the time to find out. Everyone has some sort of trauma or hurt or loss in their lives and the other contestants are attempting to keep their own emotions in check. Seth's behavior is distracting, demoralizing, and damaging to them, just as much as it is to him.

I was impressed that Zac reached out to Seth and helped him plate his dessert in the Elimination Challenge, but that backfired completely with Seth seemingly knocked over a plate of chocolates for Zac's own dessert... and then made matters worse by not getting out of the way but continuing to linger and compound the situation.

Seth might be a talented pastry chef, he might have dozens of complicated techniques in his culinary arsenal, but he's also just come across as weak-willed and rather pathetic on-camera. I can't help but wonder how his career will be impacted by his emotional display in last night's episode. It's certainly hard to award this guy any real recognition... and it was apparent that all of the contestants were hoping that Seth would be the one to go home last night.

He'll be sticking around for a while, however. Just as long, one supposes, as no more red hots make their appearance.

Next week on Top Chef: Just Desserts ("Glee Club"), the contestants try to make the grade by competing in a bake sale to raise funds for a high-school pep squad and glee club.


Ben said…
That was a very uncomfortable episode.

It's also one of the only times that I've questioned the integrity of the Top Chef judging process. I thought either of the other two chefs' desserts were worse than the guy who went home's (can't remember his name). Seth's blue cake looked disgusting.
Spinning Girl said…
This outburst of his was beyond embarrassing. Watching a grown man implode like that is just painful.

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