This season of Top Chef started out lost but now, Praise God, it is found. Let the light from its lighthouse shine on me, Oh Lord. The unclean among you may suspect this enthusiasm is because Padma "Tits McParvati" Lakshmi wore a revelatory tank top last night. But that's not it, or not it exactly. Ok, that's it exactly.
No it's not. Everything went well last night. It was a charmed evening. Toby Young kept his inanity to a minimum. In fact, I can't think of any botched one-liners. There were no obvious product placements awkwardly integrated into the challenge. (Other than the lingering shots of Calphalon, Monogram and Glad.) The panel of guest judges was uniformly kind and knowledgeable. Think of the Warren Court with Jacques Pepin as Chief Justice. And the challenge itself, the Last Suppers of abovementioned chefs, was sufficiently broad as to showcase the contestants' skills whilst being sufficiently restrictive as to demand discipline and creativity. It was a culinary sonnet, as opposed to, say a lipogram villanelle.
The contestants themselves shone outstandingly, especially Carla. Ms. Hall, who started off the season a Sesame Street character (in a bad way), has truly become one of the most enjoyable and heart-warming characters. Plus, she used to model though Google Image Search doesn't seem to know it. All in all, the producers knew they were sitting on a gold mine. And they pulled out all the stops. Thus the gauzy end-of-days lighting at the
exclusive event space douche vortex for hire, Capitale; the Biblical seating, in which Toby Young plays St. Bartholomew, Wylie Judas, Lidia St. Peter, Tom St. John, Jacques Christ, Padma St. Thomas, Marcus St. Matthew and Susan St. Simon; and Padma's tank top, the only pink slip I want, that article which reveals by obscuring, those shadows, that terrain untilled, that reward which awaits the righteous in the lands of milk and honey just beyond the valley of this world, Jesus is waiting, don't let yourself down.
But if those were the rosy moments, let's not forget the bloody ones. For instance, when Fabio breaks his pinky finger in two parts. The lower half was still attached to his hand but the upper portion of the Italian digit waved madly back like a windsock. Does he care? No, he doesn't care. As he aptly puts it in the Stew Room, in his charming definition-through-negation way, "It's Top Chef. Not Top Pussy." Ha, I smell (!) a spin-off. Another mess: What is Hosea still doing here? Doesn't Gary Larson want him back for the Far Side Gallery 24? Without Hosea the Far Side is just a bunch of talking cows and cacti.
Then there is the deeply problematic fact that, based on the dishes set before the judges and by their reactions to said dishes, it was adorable Stefan who should have met his end. Don't get me wrong, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. I'm ecstatic that Leah Cohen packed her knives and went home —hopefully to patch things up with her boyfriend. She was dead weight, a concession to producers who shrewdly calculated the very last moment at which she was bearable to the viewers before cutting her loose. But last night, her greatest sin was making overly thin Hollandaise sauce which ran weakly down a mildly undercooked egg. This would be a sin of omission and a venial one at best. Stefan, on the other hand, horrendously overcooked his salmon, a sin of commission and a gravely mortal one by any culino-theological standard. By the logic and conceit of the show—that each contestant must be judged not on the merits or demerits of previous dishes but on the current plate of food in front of the panel of judges—Stefan's obvious general superiority as chef as demonstrated throughout the entire season should have found no purchase at Judge's Table. But this, I allow, is a concession to be made in the name of a larger justice. As Dale Carnegie once said, "Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain - and most fools do." I'm just happy we're headed to the finale sans Leah. Carla, Stefan, Fabio and Hosea are good company enough.
[Mike Byhoff, thanks for the wonderful video. You have a future at Skinemax.]