Top Chef Recap

By Jason Lee

January 9, 2009

Two guys, a girl and a bitchy face.

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This week on Watch What We Say: Weapons of Mass Destruction

After a long wait, it's finally January 2009. The day is finally here. The day that Americans across the country have been waiting for. Change has arrived. You can smell it in the air.

Yes, you're right. I am, of course, talking about the return of Top Chef and the introduction of our new judge, Toby Young, who's taking over for Gail Simmons up until the Top Chef finale while she's on her honeymoon (by the way, congratulations Gail!!!). After leaving me stranded for three weeks with nothing to watch but old Charlie Brown holiday specials and insipid dance-reality shows, I've been ravenous for a big slice of Top Chef to kick off the new year.

My expectations for this episode are understandably high. For one thing, THERE'VE BEEN NO NEW EPISODES. ‘Nuff said. Secondly, new judge. ‘Nuff said again. Thirdly and probably the most important, no one was eliminated last time. What does that mean? Well, the last time that happened (back in Season 2), we had two chefs eliminated in the subsequent episode to make up for the judge's generosity the week before. As the opening credits roll, I'm almost salivating at the idea of two chefs getting put on the proverbial chopping block.

Off the top of my head, based on past performance of the last couple of weeks, my predictions are that Eugene (who seems oblivious to any previous mistakes that he may have made in terms of constructing the flavor profiles of his dishes) and Melissa (who has made so many basic culinary mistakes in past challenges that my mind boggles to the fact that she's still around) will be the two to go home, but as the episode opens, they seem both raring to go. They both profess disappointment as the last challenge but portray themselves as more motivated than ever to win the competition.


They get tested early on with a challenging Quickfire Challenge conceit: indulge the sweet tooth without expanding the waistline by creating a "tasty treat" for guest judge, Jean Christophe Novelli (an acclaimed French pastry chef) without using any sugar in the dish. This is introduced as the "Diet Dr. Pepper Quickfire Challenge" but Padma never explains how Diet Dr. Pepper is supposed to play in the dish (I did, however, see a Diet Dr. Pepper commercial during the break).

Overall, I'm impressed with the creativity from the contestants – they didn't just try to make desserts, they made little, sweet play on familiar food items like Eugene's mini blini that was arranged to look like a hamburger and fries, a baked dessert burrito from Melissa and a sweet cheese Napoleon from Jaime.

Novelli is incredibly harsh on all of the desserts – even the tasty ones solicit a mere, "Interesting" or "Surprising combo" in approval from the terse French judge. Who's on the bottom? Carla with a bland baklava and banana dish (though she was somewhat hampered by an inability to freeze her banana due to the rampant opening and closing of the kitchen's freezer), Ariane with a whole wheat crepe that "was missing a twist" according to Novelli and Jaime, whose cheese overpowered her dish.

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