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Thursday, June 12, 2008

"Top Chef" finale: bland, boring and a Blais-down

It couldn't have gone to a more deserving chef. Chicago's own Stephanie Izard walked away with the honors on last night's "Top Chef" -- besting the She-Devil and Richard "Faux-Hawk" Blais with a simple and creative menu that wowed the judges -- but the finale was as bland as Richard's underseasoned first course. The create-a-menu challenge felt flat. Where were the fiery hi-jinks? The obstacles "Top Chef" loves to throw at its contestants? The sabotage? Intrigue? Random ingredients no one has ever heard of? Nowhere to be seen. Come on, "Top Chef," throw us some jicama!

Discounting the Doo-Rag-Wearing-Porker's somewhat admirable effort that caused a few panic attacks during the final minutes of the judges' table discussion (Gail's adoration of Lisa was downright frightening), the two-way contest we expected soon crumbled into a clear one-woman show.

Stephanie's win was well-deserved, but the real story became Richard's spectacular free fall that lead him to ruefully admit during final judging that he had "choked" on executing his experimental flavors and had no justification to be named "Top Chef." He was hardly the same guy who confidently mixed wasabi and white chocolate! As Ted Allen notes in his blog, "somehow that loose, improvisational, 'listen-to-the-Force, Luke' spirit unraveled for him in the kitchen. You could see the writing on the wall when Tom visited during prep, and Richard seemed shockingly unsure of where his story was going -- at the worst possible time in the contest."

Someone pass Richard a doo-rag, please. He's going to need it for those tears.

Channel Surfing bloggers Thomas Rozwadowski, Malavika Jagannathan, Sara Boyd and Adam Reinhard would like to present our Top Ten ways to improve the tepid "Top Chef" finale.

10. Food Poisoning. So it may have sucked and it probably would have been edited down, but a fine case of food poisoning could have been just what the doctor -- er -- bored viewers ordered. Watching Ted Allen vomit all over Padma and Gail, then preferably direct it on Lisa would have added a little pizazz where there was none. Plus nothing says creative cooking like a little salmonella poisoning. Tomatoes, anyone? -- Malavika

9. While heading to Puerto Rico was certainly a nice reward for the three finalists – but not the viewers thanks to Saggybottom McFlabbyarms and her lack of fashion sense in the warm weather -- where was the love for the Windy City in the end? Couldn’t they have done something to incorporate the flavor profiles of homebase during the final challenge? While the freedom to do whatever they wanted in the finale seemed like a good idea, oddly enough, the lack of restriction seemed to bury Richard. Plus, they really should have just made She-Who-Spits-On-Those-Who-Eat-The-Food-Of-Peasants work with polish sausage again. Oh, that’s right! She didn’t actually work with polish sausage because it was beneath her during the improv challenge. Rules are for suckas. My bad. -- Thomas

8. In honor of my boy Blais, I would like to say nothing here as a silent symbol to the most poorly timed crap-out ever on Top Chef ... choke on, Brother Blais. Choke on. Better luck next ti ... er, good luck with the new baby! -- Sara

7. A vegetarian menu item. "Top Chef's" focus on proteins is all fine and well, but even the most successful chef is often thrown off by the concept of a meatless dish. Why not require at least one of the courses in the final menu to be totally vegetarian? A less-creative thinker like Lisa would have thrown it away on a crappy salad, but I'd bet Stephanie and Richard could both have come up with a unique twist on veggie fare. -- Malavika

6. Lisa slices off her own hand while trying to dice shrimp and Richard cooks it with liquid nitrogen. OK, that may be a little far fetched, but my point being ... dear God, where was the fight to the death? The thrill? The climax?! (That's what she said.) I'm quite disappointed in the previews because they did make it look like something might have gone down in the finale between The-Bandana-Wearing-Rice-Burning-Hack and Pink-Croc-A-licious.

When Richard said, "I'm just going to come out and say it ... " I thought for shizz he was about to spit some Blaisin' fire at Miss I-Can-Make-Coconut-Soup-So-Give-Me-The-Gold-Medal-Ugface. There should've been a fight. Richard kept talking about how she shouldn't have been there ... my God man, get some danglers and say it to her face! I know, I know ... part of the reason I "hearted" Richard in the first place was because he had respect, he had pride but was humble and an overall good guy. But if there's no drama during the finale, then when? Dale should've been there -- at the very least, he would've punched a wall! -- Sara

5. Where was salesman Richard? EVERYONE on the Internet has pointed out how frazzled Brother Blais looked when Tom made his kitchen visit. And while I didn't want to say it at the time, yeah, the dude looked about as comfortable as Ewan McGregor experiencing a cold turkey heroin withdrawal in "Trainspotting." Remember his corny "Do you like burritos?" pitch back in the day. That's the Blais that needed to show up last night! C'mon, say it with me: "Do you like foie gras?" SOLD! -- Thomas

(From last night's Channel Surfing "Top Chef" gathering: "Do you like burritos? Question of the day." -- Thomas)

4. Food fight. Would it have been too much to ask during that stuffy, WASP-ish dinner party for Colicchio to jump up on the table like the very reincarnation of John Belushi, yell "FOOOOOD FIIIIGHT!!" and proceed to hurl braised lamb medallions and bacon ice cream all over Padma's dress? What better way to transform that dull assemblage of culinary snob zombies (or snombies) into the kind of relatable, down-to-earth food lovers you see every night at your local Applebee's than to see scallops bouncing off heads and clam broth drenching tuxedos? Miss Manners might have frowned, but Bluto Blutarsky would have loved it. Frankly, so would I. -- Adam

3. "Top Chef" veterans -- so, yes, none of my fellow bloggers -- may remember the infamous scandal that ensued in season 2 when Cliff tried to shave heinous Marcel's head after a night of partying and subsequently got kicked off the show. A few well-timed booze-induced college antics -- a simple Sharpie to a sleeping Lisa would have sufficed -- could have at least livened up the snoozefest of a finale. Nothing says reality television like a contestant waking up with "balls" written on their face. Even Bravo's gotta know that. -- Malavika

2. Not to beat a dead horse – and really, I'll stop blaming Frumpasaurus Rex for this one – but Dale needed to be in the finale, and not just at the end of the show in a random shot. Not that Richard didn’t respect Stephanie’s talent. But in terms of technique, I think the Blaisinator only saw Dale as his closest competition. Remember when those two went blade-to-blade in the monkfish portion of the relay race? Game. Freakin’. On. From a creative standpoint, those two pushed each other like no other pair on the show. It was especially evident when they teamed up during the improv challenge and killed it with a ridiculous tofu steak and green curry double-whammy. When you respect someone like that, you want to beat them, if only because it makes you feel that much better to take out the best. So while Stephanie still may have won due to her main course, if Dale had reached the finale – as he should have, butterscotch debacle or not – Richard would have been laser sharp. Or make that, Blais-er sharp. -- Thomas

1. Let Lisa win. OK, before you aim the lamb medallions at my kisser, hear me out. Regardless of how you feel about Ms. Fat Fat Ugly Fat Fat (these nicknames are getting hard to come up with), her meal last night was the most consistent, and, from what I saw, the most lauded. Since the judges had already proven willing to forego past performance in favor of resting a contestant's future on a single dish, then rightfully the "Top Chef" crown should be sitting on that smug, condescending, fat fat fat head today. -- Adam

(Editor's note: four percent of viewers said Lisa should win "Top Chef," according to Bravo's online poll. Adam's cell phone bill will be carefully scrutinized for potential rigging of said poll).

If you're interested, check out this Q&A Stephanie did with the Chicago Sun-Times after her win and a live-chat with the Chicago Tribune in which she graciously sidesteps the Lisa question.

-- Malavika Jagannathan,
-- Thomas Rozwadowski,
-- Sara Boyd,
-- Adam Reinhard,

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Man, that interactive chat is hard to watch. I mean, I'm sure the Trib guy is nice and all, but is it any wonder print is WAY behind when it comes to online video? "I am a robot. I am talking like a robot." I'm not Mr. Personality either, but if The Izard was sitting across from me, I'd at least try to make her feel comfortable with the format. During that intro she's almost like, "Er, what is this high school project I signed up for."

That said, I've had Bon Jovi in my head all day. "Shot dowwwnnnnnnn, in a Blais of gloooooooooory!"

MJ, when you do want your greasy Baconator? And do you want extra bacon?

-- Tom

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At June 12, 2008 at 6:34 PM  

That finale was so lackluster that I can't even come up with a good comment. Top Chef has effectively stolen my wit.

By Blogger Ms. Quarter, At June 13, 2008 at 8:37 AM  

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