A few words about Top Chef 3

As long time readers of Just Hungry may know, I used to recap every single episode of the Bravo TV reality show Top Chef. The first season had me glued to my…er, computer screen. However for various reasons I did not do so for the third season that just concluded. I did watch it though, and have just a few thoughts.

First some general comments:

  • Season 3 was better than season 2 mostly, because there wasn’t as much silly behind-the-scenes shenanigans. In other words no one tried to force-shave someone’s head. It was also nice to see more professional women chefs in the mix - if you recall in previous seasons half the women there seemed to be glorified short order cooks or just there for self-PR/eye candy purposes.
  • However, overall the food cooked was not that memorable or innovative. The main things I remember are that Hung sous vide-ed everything (well, he used that method a lot), and that Casey had an interesting Japanese twist to a several of her dishes. I think there was less chi-chi going on in the dishes this year though (less foam, less gastrique-something).
  • Ted Allen sucks as a judge. Sorry Queer Eye fans or Ted Allen fans. He seemed so naive or something, even more than Padma. And his mouth bothered me every time he spoke. On Queer Eye the fabulousness of the other guys covered up for him, but here he’s exposed.
  • Padma is highly annoying, and I don’t know why people seem to like her (by people, I mean the interweb commenters.)
  • The prizes for winning each elimination challenge were hilariously uneven. Anyone want a signed copy of Padma’s book over a trip to Italy? Anyone?
  • I missed Gail when she wasn’t there. I liked Bourdain though I wouldn’t say I loved him. As for Tom Colicchio…I don’t know, at times I found him quite (that word again) annoying. Maybe it’s the editing.
  • What’s with the hot tub boobie shots? Geez.
  • After a while I grew numb to the persistent product placement. This is not good news for the product placers if a lot of people had the same reaction, since I barely remember which products were pushed in the viewers’ faces, and the couple of names I do remember I have a strong negative reaction to. There was one particular product placement that was so laughably obnoxious that the editors cut out most of it and put it on the Bravo TV web site instead (it was the breakfast-for-Padma in their suite challenge, and the product was a blender.) I am going to seek alternatives to the Glad family of products consciously whenever I have the chance.

About the contestants:

  • Even though he screwed up royally in the restaurant challenge, I loved Tre and stopped being bothered either way about the results after he was eliminated.
  • Howie of course was Villain No. 1 of the season, and he was quite obnoxious quite often, but I did like his passion and commitment. And he seems to be have mastered the art of cooking meat, which is pretty hard to do. (I really screwed up some spare ribs last night. It made me so sad.)
  • I barely even noticed Dale until the final two or three episodes. Despite the hair.
  • When I see how gorgeous Casey is, and how she is also an awesome chef with a great palate too, plus she has a great haircut, I think how unbalanced the universe is. I think the competition was hers to lose, and it’s too bad she collapsed in the final challenge. On the other hand if the first female winner had been a model-gorgeous girl like her, I think it would not necessarily have been good, in the artificial and superficial world of TV. (Notice how the sole female Iron Chef is the equally gorgeous Cat Cora, who doesn’t even own one restaurant?)
  • I’m glad the attempts to make Hung Villain no. 2 didn’t drag him down enough to prevent him from winning. Hung is a very familiar type to me - a lot of the Japanese chefs I know are sort of like him in terms of energy (not that they all go running at full speed around the kitchen with a knife in one hand). The snarky comments made against him by other, more laid-back contestants, were amusing - it showed how they saw him as competition I think. And all the ‘lack of team spirit’ comments by people like talentless and colorless CJ were pretty silly - except for team challenges, what reason at all do any of the chefs have to help another competitor?
  • Speaking of Hung, the judges frequently complained that he didn’t show ‘soul’ and ‘didn’t see Hung in his dishes’. Subtext: he didn’t make everything Asian/Vietnamese-ish. I wish that at some point Hung would have said ‘I’m trained in classic French cuisine, but I’m Vietnamese so I have to make everything Vietnamese? Since your last name is Italian you should only be running Italian joints, Chef Colicchio!’ Or something, you know. Hung is a multicultural American, like most Americans - or indeed, most people - are, with lots of food influences in his life, and should be allowed to use that in his cooking. (It seems fine when non-Asians like Casey use Asian influences in thier cooking though. Shouldn’t she be sticking to her ‘roots’, whatever they are, too? How dare she use things like mirin, that’s not in her ethnic-socioecononic background! (Just in case, I’m being sarcastic.)) [Update: Tom Colicchio explains himself on the ‘soul’ issue.]

As for future seasons of this show, it seems that since Bravo is owned by NBC-Universal, I won’t be able to legally download it anymore from the iTunes store, without going through a lot of annoying hoops. (The NBC site blocks non-US IPs, and I’ve no doubt something like that will happen with Bravo shows.) Oh well. I don’t really think I’ll miss it too much.

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