Watch What We Say: Top Chef

Episode 4

By Jason Lee

December 4, 2008

At least he can plan his wedding now.

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This week on Watch What We Say: Cooking on TV is hard.

In recent years, the evolution of Top Chef has mirrored another landmark show in the genre of reality TV: MTV"s Real World. While the first season (and arguably the second season as well) was filled with experienced, hard-boiled chefs who were each supremely confident of their own individual mastery of the culinary art form, the third and fourth seasons (while still filled with exquisite chefs) seemed to include a few contestants that were not just interested in winning a prestigious cooking competition, but doing it in front of millions of people as a reality TV star.

Call me crazy, but chefs like Season Three winner Hung and Season Four contestant Spike Mendelsohn seemed to have been chosen as much for their cooking ability as for their divisive, egotistical personalities.

It is for this reason that I found this week's Top Chef Elimination Challenge so fascinating: conduct a two and a half minute cooking demonstration suitable for inclusion on a live morning talk show with a meal that the audience would find interesting and the hosts would find delicious. This challenge is almost a self-recognition by the producers that to win (or even compete) on Top Chef, you must possess some semblance of on-screen charisma and the ability to create a rapport with your audience. Consider that the numerous guest judges that have appeared on Top Chef, including some of the most influential chefs in the world, have all been relatively charming, well-spoken on camera and frankly, attractive. This Elimination puts this unspoken requirement for culinary greatest to the test.




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But I'm getting ahead of myself. The Quickfire Challenge for this week is an awesome one: compose a breakfast amuse-bouche. For those who aren't familiar with the term, an amuse-bouche is a culinary term for a single, bite-sized hors d'Ĺ“uvre that typically introduces a diner to the chef's culinary style at the beginning of a meal. Well, the chefs are going to have a chance to try their hand at creating their own amuse-bouche, except in the style of breakfast.

I'm loving this challenge for two reasons. Number one, I love breakfast. I love everything about it. If I could, I'd eat breakfast all day long (except that by Friday, I'd probably be struggling with cardiac arrest). My second reason for excitement is the fact that we've seen some spectacular failures with amuse-bouches in past seasons of Top Chef. I fondly remember Clay's hollowed-out apple amuse-bouche from the Season 3 premiere.

In any case, there are no outright failures with this breakfast challenge (but how can anyone REALLY fail with breakfast? It's so yummy!). There are a number of chefs who cater directly to the admission by Rocco diSpirito, frequent Top Chef participant and acting as Guest Judge this week, that he loves bacon (who doesn't?). Our favorite underdog, Ariane, does a French toast with bacon amuse-bouche, Leah does a bacon egg and cheese amuse-bouche, etc.


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