Top Chef: Seattle Recap

By David Mumpower

November 27, 2012

She won half the challenges. Unfortunately, she also finished last in half.

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Previously on Top Chef, there were 15 contestants; then, there were 18 contestants. Finally, they were 17 contestants as a player named Jeffrey who seemed ambivalent about the competition was eliminated. The larger story is the addition of the three contestants, two of whom are well known Top Chefs. The presence of CJ and Stefan definitely heightens my interest in the season. Someone named Josie has also returned and I think I speak for all of us when I stifle a yawn.

The current episode begins with an appearance by Dana Cowin, the editor-in-chief of Food & Wine Magazine. Let me say in no uncertain terms that Dana Cowin must be stopped. She guest judges on Top Chef so often that she gets more face time than Padma. She has been at Food & Wine Magazine since the 1990s, which means that she is limiting the career opportunities of her co-workers. Also, who even reads magazines these days? They’re like printed on paper and stuff. This dinosaur needs us to be her comet. Who’s with me?

The Quickfire Challenge today focuses upon 17 different types of dumplings. They are a multi-lingual cuisine, apparently. The chefs must rush over to a map, retrieve a knife magnet representing a country and create a dish replicating the appropriate national dumpling. Immediately, Stefan has an advantage because his homeland is listed on the board. Given how close he came to elimination last week, he needs every advantage he can get.

Several other chefs have no idea how to recreate the dumpling of the country they select. Part of this is because the mad rush to the board leaves the stragglers at the back scrambling. The good news is that an awkward Kindle Fire promotion entitles the chefs to five minutes of research regarding the dumpling preferences of the appropriate countries. Micah’s situation is the funniest. He is left with the final knife representing Kazakhstan, which he had believed to be a fictional country for Borat. It’s not. I doubt that even Sacha Baron-Cohen knows what their dumplings taste like, though.

After a few moments of Kindle Fire camera shots – it’s like an iPad, only less functional! – Carla still has no idea how to create a representative dumpling. She is also still nursing an injury from last week’s episode wherein she reached into her bag and accidentally grabbed the wrong end of a knife. I always presume that chefs are used to working with injury yet every season on Top Chef, someone seems debilitated by such a wound.


Like Stefan, Kuniko has a homefield advantage during this challenge. Her country was one of the dumpling options. Unlike Stefan, Kuniko fails to plate her dish. This is a prime example of how Top Chef can cause a contender to go from the penthouse to the outhouse in a single challenge. Kuniko had been two for two in Top Chef: Seattle challenges. With no food to judge, she suffers an embarrassing turn of events. I maintain that the show needs a better system to punish chefs who fail to plate, but this is still not the case after ten seasons of such critical mistakes.

Dinosaur Dana Cowin delivers the bad news to a few participants. Brooke, who was a bit catty about others during the challenge, failed to include a wrapper with her dumpling. This mistake was more reflective of the Top Chef producers as they failed to garner enough ingredients for all of the contestants to create dumpling dishes. Still, Brooke produces a dumpling without all the requisite components. Carla turtled on her food, creating an Italian dish rather than an African dish. And Kuniko forgot the importance of serving food on Top Chef. All three of these were severe mistakes that should have some ripple effect in the elimination challenge…but they won’t.

Since this is the first individual challenge thus far, finishing on the top is more important than normal. The chefs who stand out for their dumplings are Josie (?!), Stefan and Micah. Ms. Cowin had gone out of her way to introduce herself to Sheldon, the reigning Food and Wine Magazine selection as Best New Chef. Also, she seemed to enjoy his dish so I am surprised by his exclusion. The surprise doubles when Josie, the unheralded returning player, wins the Quickfire challenge. She will be immune from elimination in this episode.

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