Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Top Chef 4.9

Wherein overanalysis


Before tonight's wedding fiasco episode begins, I thought I'd take another look at the remaining chefs and my impressions. Note: For even-handed analysis, I'd recommend reading the power rankings at Skillet Doux. Two things have become clear watching this show: 1.) When in doubt, cook with bacon. 2.) Miso is replacing truffle oil as the foodie's ketchup. If the show forbade the use of bacon and miso, half the chefs would be at a complete loss for ideas.

As a reminder, last week's accumulative chart ranked them as:
  1. Richard, 6
  2. Dale, -1
  3. Antonia, -6
  4. Andrew, -7
  5. Stephanie, -8
  6. Lisa, -10
  7. Nikki, -14
  8. Spike, -18

This differs from how I'd personally rank them, based on who I'd most like to cook me a meal.

My personal top 4: Richard, Dale, Stephanie, Andrew.
Richard Blais. Previously mentioned many times, I'm a Richard Blais fan. The rested of the soquoted household are Richard Blais fans. The only reason we're watching the show in the first place is because of Richard Blais. And it's been fun watching him turn out food that mystifies and delights. Other than a minor misstep with the eucalyptus and a major misstep with the fish scales, he's been amazingly consistentin landing in the top group in ten out of the sixteen challenges. He's taken the lead, worked in support, worked a variety of styles, comes across as enthusiastic about the food and looks to have the respect of the other chefs and the judges. He's the obvious and consensus frontrunner and based on frequently Bravo uses him in the talking head segments I fear they're setting him up to be upset. I fully expect Colicchio to say "This is good, but we expect better from you," while Nikki escapes with another bland pasta dish.

Dale Talde. He's fought his way up the rankings. Again, reading around the various boards and sites, Richard and Dale are seen as the predominant favorites. Off to a slow start, Dale has put together a great run of inventive food that looks great. He's worked a variety of skills and cooking styles and is shown to be a good teammate. He's had a few outbursts, but they've occurred backstage. I always want to see how he'll approach a challenge.

Stephanie. Oh, Stephanie, what's wrong? One of my early favorites, she's landed solidly in the bottom group for three straight challenges. I still think she's one of the strongest chefs here, though I'm beginning to feel the competition just doesn't match her talents. I expect her food to look good and taste good, so when it doesn't I am shocked.

Andrew. While Andrew has dropped a bit in my personal rankings, I've come to like him more as a person. Despite the editing highlighting his twitchy McTwitchiness, he's also been shown as a valued teammate and very respectful of criticism. Though he's solidly in the middle of the pack, he's also the most inventive of that pack. He's capable of crashing and burning in the most spectacular way possible and of being good enough to snipe one of the other frontrunners if they falter.

One of those four SHOULD win. The others may be competent cooks, but after eight weeks have been shown to be lesser talents.
Antonia. She's gone from sixth to third on the misfires of Lisa and Stephanie. Last week's double win in no way demontrated she's one of the top chefs on the show. I can't think of a single thing she's done that's impressed me. Also has a bad attitude and a case od the snobs.

Lisa. She has a three week slide that equals Stephanie's. While I think Stephanie's is an aberration, Lisa's is a more accurate reflection. She's hung around with so-so dishes and her one win is completely due to the judges not knowing how little she actually contributed. Less impressive than Antonia with a worse attitude. Guaranteed to throw anyone else under the bus if given the opportunity.

These last two should be sent home right now. Anyone going home before these two would be a travesty. Absolutely no shot of winning. I said a TRAVESTY!
Nikki. She has an impressive resume, but in recent years she's more of a FOH person than a kitchen person and it shows. She's had some major malfunctions and even her best dishes haven't impressed that much; other than week 1's home-made pasta. On the Bravo site, there's an extra video clip from the Movie Challenge episode that showed Nikki complaining no one wanted to cook with her. I felt a little sorry for her. If this was "Top Hotdish" I'd be pulling for her casserole to win. Since it isn't, she's outclassed.

Spike. Nice hat, looks good on you. I'm...just...no. Go home.

Top Chef has aired eight episodes, let's split this into two halves and see how the remaining contestants are doing. see data. At the end of the first half (episodes 1-4):
  1. Richard +5
  2. Stephanie -2
  3. Andrew -2
  4. Dale -4
  5. Lisa -4
  6. Antonia -6
  7. Nikki -6
  8. Spike -10

Nothing surprising, there. Ranking the second half (episodes 5-8):
  1. Dale +3
  2. Richard +1
  3. Antonia 0
  4. Stephanie -4
  5. Andrew -5
  6. Lisa -6
  7. Nikki -8
  8. Spike -8

I find this to be interesting. While I'm beginning to like Andrew and think he's consistently putting out interesting dishes, he's had the 5th worst run in the second half. Despite that, he's still in the top 4. He happened to hit a run of dishes that were good, just not quite good enough to make it to the top group. The only bottom group he was in was the Episode 5, Element challenge. Somewhat interestingly, half the remaining chefs were in the bottom groups that episode (Richard, Andrew, Antonia, Spike).

Let's take a closer look at the three women who still have a chance to win (sorry, Nikki). Stephanie and Lisa are -6 for the last three challenges and Antonia is +2. That's a huge shift. In fact, after the Quickfire, Ep6, Stephanie (-2) was in second, closely followed by Dale (-3) and Lisa (-4); Antonia was a faltering -8. I'm still having a hard time giving any credence to Antonia's ascendance. She won the tasting quickfire and the $10 family meal challenge. While nice, these are not the type of credentials that lead me to believe she has what it takes to win.

Richard, Dale, and Stephanie are the only ones in the top 4 in both halves. Richard and Dale are the only to improve their scores in the second half. They should be safe until the final. It's up to the middle four -- Antonia, Stephanie, Andrew, and Lisa -- to make a move and show some cheffing assertiveness.

And Tonight's Episode.......

Loving Dale:
  • "We don't have the strongest cooks..."
  • "Why are you still here."

Still, the relay race was closer than I thought it might be. If Antonia hadn't been so slow, the relay race could have been a blowout. Nikki again demonstrates she's spent too much time out of the kitchen.

Nooo! I want restaurant wars! Top Chef, you suck! Ha, Spike, you just exposed yourself as total chickenshit. Too scared to take the bride.

Not loving Dale. Now he's being the whiney bitch. Yeah, you're the strongest part of your team, now shut up and cook. Do your job well and Nikki goes home.

What I hate about shopping at Whole Foods is that they only bag in plastic. Buy 10 items and you somehow walk out with 12 bags. I usually shop at Publix and end up dumping everything out so I can rebag in paper bags, because I swear to god even if you specify paper they're only putting three things in a bag. Yeah, I'm that dick.

Oh, the show. Excellent, they're actually showing kitchen time. Team Loser so far looks disorganized and disgruntled, meaning they'll probably win. Preview of Andrew and Richard conflict. Though if it's anything like episode 1 it'll be Andrew whining to the camera and not doing anything in person. Yeah, what I thought. I got a $1 that says Nikki starts crying. Even money that Dale and Lisa yell at each other.

C. Spike

First impression is that Team Loser is getting their ass kicked. I preferred the look of the Bride's side.

Time for the cake. Both look good.

Ooh, maybe Spike will pull a knife on Dale. We've seen how good Dale's knife skills are, Spike would be filleted.

Awww! Richard takes the blame for screwing up the spinach, then gives the win to Stephanie. What a guy. I'm giving both of them 2 points. Sounds like a solid victory.

Here's comes Team Loser with a heaping dose of grumpypuss. Time for the bullet points:
  • Nikki running from responsibility. You can run, but you cannot hide!
  • Good Cake.
  • Dale burning bridges. He's right, so he should have done something about it.
  • Main problem is no one took the lead. As long as Dale is fine with acting the asshole, he should have taken control.
  • Still, this a big kittenball thrown right at Nikki's sweet spot. Time to cut her loose and set her free.
  • Keep Dale around to answer for his actions.


Yes! Nikki goes home. I didn't dislike her, she was just out of her league on this show.

Chart 1 -- In the screenshot below, I screwed up the Week 9 colors for top group and challenge winner. They are correct if you click the Chart 1 link.



Chart 2
Blais with a commanding, almost stunning, lead. Basically a four person tie for second. Dale and Andrew were monsters in the kitchen, though Andrew clearly shined tonight. I'll need to watch again to see if Antonia did anything of note, or if she was carried by the team. Lisa is done and Spike is the walking dead.

  1. Richard +9. Trying to think of something not completely positive to say about the guy. Ok, he's a little quick to always assume the executive chef role and push everyone else into a subservient role. Then again, it usually works and no has stepped up to challenge him. The problem in trying to identify someone to compete against Richard is that he's the only one shown actively choosing a leadership role. While Stephanie has been a decent collaborator, most everyone else is sitting back and sniping.

  2. Antonia -4. Still not impressing me. Very weak link for the relay race and she contributed pizza. A great pizza, but still a pizza. Biggest problem for me is her admitting that Andrew making breaded chicken was a bad idea and she couldn't be bothered to say something. Richard and Stephanie should also be dinged for not challenging this, but this is not the first time Antonia has been prepared to watch a teammate get run over. As far as the show is concerned, I don't trust and her food isn't interesting. She's a slightly less annoying version of Spike -- more interested in playing the game than plating winning food. Though if you can't do one....

  3. Andrew -5. Dude busted serious ass in the kitchen and kept it together, unlike Dale. Of course Andrew had the luxury of not having to worry about lame teammates. For all his bluster, Andrew has consistently worked well with others. Two things. First, skipping the relay race, this is the third consecutive challenge he's basically made chicken fingers. Like his earlier faux caviar tapioca pearls, he's in a major rut. Next, after Richard took the bullet for the spinach it was a bit ungrateful to then admit it didn't like the taste. Let it go -- why did you want to draw attention to the fact that you let another chef take over your dish? If they'd been the losing team, this should've been enough to get Andrew sent home.

  4. Dale -5. Dale, Dale, Dale, Dale, Dale. This is where he could've stepped forward and provided some much needed leadership and focus to the group. Dale has shown himself to be a hard worker and an asset when working with chefs he respects; however, with this challenge he forfeited the opportunity to be considered a top chef rather than a top cook.

  5. Stephanie -5. I'll just copy what reader_iam left in the comments: Amazing how Stephanie managed to do so well--to stretch and perform beyond expectations--in an area that's unfamiliar. It's as if it set her free, or something--which is not all that great a thing, given her consistent underperforming in context of the talent and skill she possessed. That's her flaw, Bill. She's a consistent underperformer vis a vis potential and ability, and we're far enough along in the competition for that not to be fluke.

    She won't go out on a limb enough to show her stuff in her actual areas of strength.. How can she possibly be enough of a manager of risk & talent (and the weighing of each/both) to truly be a "Top Chef"?

    She's no Richard. She's not even a Dale (on his game). What a shame. But that--unlike talent--is within her control, so I can only feel just so sorry.


  6. Lisa -14. Wasn't Lisa the one who earlier said she had no intention of doing a dessert? And here she is cranking out a great tasting cake. Good for her. What did Dale call it - situational negativity? Yeah she's got that, but I'm also thinking she's probably gotten the least sympathetic editing highlighting her bitchiness. We've seen bits and pieces of a very good cook and the attitude to fight for her position. But like Dale, this was an episode where she squandered an opportunity to take control and earn some major points for initiative.

  7. Nikki -18. I've had some sympathy since that video clip two weeks ago when she complained no one wanted to cook with her; and she tries really hard to be nice to everyone and promote a "can't we all just get along" attitude. But this episode she was nothing but bad. Freaking out over making mayonnaise, then her total abdication of any responsibility for the wedding menu. That was sad. You can't, on one hand, promote yourself as the Italian event expert, then on the other hand when asked for an opinion on an Italian menu item just give give up and say "I dunno." Then at the judge's table when asked who was in charge shout out "I have no idea but it definitely wasn't me, wasn't me, not me, please pick someone else." It isn't like the judges needed to look very hard for a reason to send Nikki home, so when she hands them an engraved invitation requesting to be booted off the show, it would have been rude of the judges to decline. Bye.

  8. Spike -22. While I think Lisa is getting an unfair unsympathetic edit, Spike is probably as loathsome as portrayed. His goal is to do slightly better than the worst person. Unfortunately, for him, looks like the judges have seen through his me-first slacker game plan and have put him on notice. I was kinda surprised he did so well with the fish considering he wasn't able to turn it into an orange-colored soup. Should be the next to go home.




Added: In addition to Skillet Doux, I also enjoy the recaps at Addition by Subtraction. Saw that the same asshole I deleted from my comments has also comment spammed there.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops.

See data should link to this: http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pPXfH6rkqyHL7msrqcemRIQ

I'll fix it later.

5/07/2008 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger reader_iam said...

Setting aside all of Richard's other strengths and assets:

I would willingly work with him on a team that required cleaning out the droppings underneath a latrine--using a spade, if required.

Shorter: I'd shovel shit with a spoon on a team lead by that guy, and consider myself lucky.

Total class; totally rocks.

And then he's got all that OTHER stuff goin' for him, too ... .

5/08/2008 12:45:00 AM  
Blogger reader_iam said...

Amazing how Stephanie managed to do so well--to stretch and perform beyond expectations--in an area that's unfamiliar. It's as if it set her free, or something--which is not all that great a thing, given her consistent underperforming in context of the talent and skill she possessed. That's her flaw, Bill. She's a consistent underperformer vis a vis potential and ability, and we're far enough along in the competition for that not to be fluke.

She won't go out on a limb enough to show her stuff in her actual areas of strength.. How can she possibly be enough of a manager of risk & talent (and the weighing of each/both) to truly be a "Top Chef"?

She's no Richard. She's not even a Dale (on his game). What a shame. But that--unlike talent--is within her control, so I can only feel just so sorry.

5/08/2008 01:09:00 AM  

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