Top Chef Episode 4: Failure To Analogize

This week’s Top Chef revolved around being able to cut vegetables and watch movies. These are things we do in our spare time! We can be Top Chef!

Okay, so in addition to chopping vegetables, we also need to learn how to: blanch, grill, curl, chiffonade, tournée, brunois, and supreme them. These are not all verbs, but you get the drift. The classically trained chefs did well (especially the ones who worked under Boulud! More Richard than Ryan, who couldn’t take the heat), and the self-taught ones mostly underperformed. Tellingly, Manuel’s effort was called “Level 1,” which is totally harsh (and probably true!)

Dale wins with a dish that Boloud decided “showed something amazing.” But the most fascinating part of this challenge was that Jennifer and Zoi, the show’s resident lesbian couple, both made vegetable plates that involved poached egg. That is so Freudian we don’t even know what to do with it! Delightfully so. We were told that this episode would feature “a big editorial focus on the lesbian relationship and the competitive advantage of having your significant other on the show,” which seemingly happened in one or two sentences at the very beginning of the episode. But the real commentary was in the eggs, most certainly.

Padma (whose blue dress nearly stopped time) reveals the main challenge to be…creating a dish inspired by a movie. Uninspired, to be sure, but maybe Richard Roeper really wanted to be on Top Chef? The people we were watching with think he’s a horrible movie critic, while we have no opinion on that front. As a food critic, though, we do not approve of the little we heard. His gustatory populism has no place at the judges table! But we digress.

The real tragedy of this challenge is that half the battle — the easy half — was coming up with a narrative that links the movie to the dish. So many of the chefs failed to understand this! Maybe they didn’t think it mattered, but the deciding factor in these early rounds often comes down to which chef more closely hews to the theme, rather than the tastiness of the dish itself. So when Spike and Manuel chose “Good Morning Vietnam” as an excuse to make a crappy summer roll, we totally wanted them to lose. And they did! How gratifying.

But other things happened on the way. The dream team of Richard, Dale and Andrew won with their inspired salmon-faux caviar-wasabi-chocolate whimsy complete with fizzy lifting drink — sufficiently appropriate to “Willy Wonka,” but couldn’t they have made it in gum form? Stephanie continues to be able to do no wrong. Zoi and Antonia pick a good movie (“Talk to her“), but their narrative about two strong women being represented by two skinny lamb chops is pretty stupid. Nikki and Jennifer get away with choosing “Il Postino” because at least their Italian dish is “rustic.” Mark and Ryan deftly steer clear of “Dumb and Dumber” and manage to pull some crazy-ass sh*t out of the bag with a scene from the “Christmas Story” involving Chinese food, and a well-prepared quail. See, because it’s all about creating a narrative!

Anyway, it was time for Manuel to go. His “Level 1” skills simply were not paying the bills, as evidenced by his real-life dismissal from Dos Caminos a few weeks ago. Plus, he was way too beta for this crowd of preeners. Oh well! Next week promises to be a huge bitchfest, which we’re excited about.

[Photo: the winning salmon/chocolate dish. Not much to look at, but evidently very impressive, via BravoTV]

Top Chef Episode 4: Failure To Analogize