Watch What We Say: Top Chef

By Jason Lee

January 16, 2009

We knew she was in trouble when Kathie Lee Gifford liked her.

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This week on Watch What We Say: Old MacDonald had some bad food, ee—ii—ee—ii—oo.

I don't know about you, but Hung was never one of my favorite contestants from past seasons of Top Chef. He's brash, he's boastful, he's arrogant, he's condescending...he's kind of like Stefan in this season, except with a lot more Quickfire and Elimination wins.

But like him or loathe him, Hung is back in the Top Chef kitchen, but this time as a Guest Judge for the elimination. He stands with Padma in front of the chefs, flanked by a huge table with something covered up by a large white sheet. Fabio, the all-knowing Italian, makes his guess.

"We all know that Hung loves seafood," Fabio says in his charmingly broken English, "so behind him, it must be an aquarium."

Close but no cigar. Instead, it turns out to be a huge cabinet filled with canned foods.

"Garbage," scoffs Jeff. "It's all stuff that most chefs wouldn't use."

But that's not the only twist. Not only do the chefs have to cook using ingredients that are neither fresh nor seasonal, in the spirit of Lightning-Fast-Hands Hung, they only have 15 minutes to cook their dish.

"C'mon guys, that's plenty of time," Hung says.


"For you!" retorts Carla. I'm starting to really like Carla. She's grown on me.

The chefs scurry to the cabinet and start rifling through the cans – it's insane. You gotta imagine that the chefs will spend at least two to three minutes looking at all the available ingredients and deciding what to cook. That in itself will use up a lot of their time.

As you can imagine, most of the dishes sound pretty simple so far. Jaime is doing a bruschetta, Leah is doing waffles, Fabio is doing mac and cheese . . . the only drama so far is coming from Stefan who wants to use some of Hosea's spam in his baked bean soup. Hosea, understandably, dislikes Stefan quite a lot and admits that while he'd really like to withhold the spam, he's sort of morally obligated to share ingredients and dutifully hands over the spam.

Hung strolls over to begin tasting the chefs' dishes. It's amazing how cocky and judgmental some of the past contestants can be once they're on the other side of the table. I remember quite clearly thinking that Hung was snobbish during last year's challenge in which the final five chefs had to serve dishes to the judges plus the winners of the previous three seasons. I'm wondering if that same elitist, I-know-more-than-you attitude will come out in this Quickfire.

The reactions from Hung and Padma come quickly – just like Hung's dishes. Leah's waffles are too crunchy, the inclusion of chili pepper in Fabio's mac and cheese is nice, Radhika's bean dip and tahini feels like canned beans with seasoning (which they probably are), the pork rinds in Hosea's dish are great, Jeff's conch dish is complex and has a nice use of fish sauce, Jaime's bruschetta is simplistic, Ariane's open-faced sandwich is "interesting," Carla's salmon cake has some nice mayo on it...I know we have nine chefs left but that was over really quickly.

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