Young and Hungry

The ‘Top Chef’ D.C. Premiere: As Fascinating As Peeling Potatoes

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Well, that wasn't a promising start.

After all the celebrity stalkings and quick-fire guessing games during the show's filming, Top Chef D.C. premiered last night and laid a large goose egg on the White House lawn.

Sure, the decision to conduct the first quick-fire challenge atop the Newseum was a clever change of venue, a "kitchen" that offered vistas of D.C. (as if the producers offered us many), but the challenge itself was as boring as, well, peeling potatoes. Which is what the cheftestants were asked to do. That and brunoise onions and break down chickens. Good skills to know as a chef, no doubt, but watching cooks dice onions packs all the excitement of watching someone write a blog item.

And what was up with that elimination round broken into four groups in which the quick-fire winners picked their competitors, the worse chef the better? It was more convoluted than Senate procedural rules, which, come to think of it, may have been the point.

The four worst dishes in the challenge were likely going to be the four worst dishes, regardless if they came from a pool of 17 contestants or four groupings of chefs allegedly competing against one another within their own group. (The idea was that the worst chef in each group would stand repentantly before the disapproving judges and find out which one deserves a one-way ticket home.)  I guess, technically, one group could have produced two really crappy dishes, and one of those chefs who produced the crappy dish would have skated.

Follow all that? If so, please explain it to me. Because here's what I don't understand: Why force the "cheftestants" to compete against only a handful of competitors? Isn't the whole point that they compete against everyone on the show? The only excuse for this restricted format is TV drama, so we can watch chefs pick teams as if they were on the schoolyard playground, getting to humiliate their fellow cooks by selecting those who were deemed inferior.

During the elimination round, the judges asked the chefs to create a dish that reflected their hometowns or regions. It made for a nice window into each chef's background, but what did it have to do with D.C.? Other than, perhaps, the fact that the District is full of transplants from all over the country. I wonder if the producers even thought that deeply about the challenge.

Next week's episode will be slightly more D.C.-oriented, but only if you define D.C. by the federal government. It will ask the chefs, in the spirit of Michelle Obama's anti-childhood obesity initiative, to prepare a healthy school meal for only $2.68 per student, which as Obama Foodorama notes, "is the reimbursement rate schools receive for each child who is eligible for free lunch under the federal program."

The school lunch episode has already drawn the ire of Slow Cook, Ed Bruske, who takes issue with the math skills of Top Chef producers.

This is shaping up to be a long Top Chef season.

Photo courtesy of Top Chef

  • Mookie

    "The only excuse for this restricted format is TV drama, so we can watch chefs pick teams as if they were on the schoolyard playground, getting to humiliate their fellow cooks by selecting those who were deemed inferior."

    Duh! Even if Top Chef is good reality TV, it's still reality TV.

  • dan riley

    Previous seasons haven't showcased the host city in every single episode. Sometimes the setting is merely a backdrop for the cooking/food.

    That being said, I hate the show now because the chefs are too established. I liked it when they were sous and line cooks and wannabes. What's the point of a money prize to start your venture when you already have your own joint with your name on the sign?

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