Top Chef Season 5 in Review

7 Mar

“Congratulations, Hosea, you are the winner of top chef.” My ears bled as Padma Lakshmi, hostess of the cult reality TV show, Top Chef, announced the verdict of season five. The only reality TV show worthy of viewers, Top Chef is a grueling contest in which # contestants with varying degrees of culinary acumen compete in various “cook-offs,” every episode. Each show begins with a “quickfire challenge,” in which the chefs are presented with a culinary task that they must complete within a short period of time. The winner receives immunity during the elimination challenge, which determines who will go home that episode. Contestants are not sent home based on past performance—only the dish that they prepared that episode. A high-adrenaline program, Top Chef may not be as widely viewed as American Idol, but its fans sit loyally in front of the TV every Wednesday at ten PM.
Top Chef Season Five took place in New York, an exciting venue given its culinary offerings. Seventeen chefs, ranging from a young culinary student to middle aged caterers to European immigrants practically right off the boat met for the first quickfire challenge. Much to the viewers’ dismay, the challenge was nothing along the lines of, “Make the best appetizer you can using these monkey organs—fifteen minutes…go!” Rather, the chefs had to peel apples to see who was fastest and most competent. The last chefs to finish had to brunoise (finely dice) the apples and then use them in an impromptu dish. Lauren, a former culinary student, was simply too slow and too cliché, turning out a salad with apples on it. Really? Unsurprisingly, she was eliminated first.
In following culinary competitions, the chefs competed in a slew of challenges that forced them to up their ante more than many of them expected to. In the Thanksgiving elimination challenge, the contestants had to prepare dinner for the Foo Fighters using only toaster ovens and microwaves—in the rain! While none left from electrocution, no one could avoid the equally shocking wrath of the judges’ elimination, and that person was Richard. In other episodes, the chefs had to prepare a dish to cook during a two minute commercial; cook against chefs from previous seasons; cook at famed Eric Ripert’s restaurant, Le Bernardin; prepare a “last supper meal,” for a panel of eminent culinary figures; cook using ingredients from Blue Hill Farm; and finally, prepare the best three course meal imaginable. Each episode brought a new ring of fire through which the chefs had to jump.
Eliminations of each contestant brought the remaining chefs increased chances of winning, but it also ended various kitchen alliances. From the outset of the competition, small clicks formed among the show’s contestants. Like middle school girls, although perhaps with a lighter nature, the chefs created posses such as: team Euro, a partnership of Stefan and Fabio—both obsessed with the motherland; team rainbow, a triple entente of Jamie, Richard, and Patrick—the proud homosexual contestants; and finally, Leah and Hosea, two co(w)hor(e)ts further expounded upon below. Fortunately, such camaraderie gave a lighter tone to season five; the competition was less cutthroat. On the down side, it made the line, “(Insert name here), please pack your knives and go,” that much more difficult for all.
While in some cases elimination had to be based on nitpicking, sometimes the chefs made incredible blunders. A few of the contestants who did not deserve to be on the show or to progress as far as they did were Melissa, Daniel, Ariane, Hosea and Leah.
Melissa, a chef who bore an uncanny resemblance to Helga Pataki from Hey Arnold, was such a weak competitor that it was difficult to remember that she was even on the show. She prepared fish tacos in a comfort food challenge. If anyone is comforted by something that would inevitably poison him or her at a greasy crab shack on the beach, that person is severely confused. It didn’t help that the judges thought that it was bland and reminiscent of cat food. Goodbye, Melissa–you only made it as far as you did because the judges forgot you existed.
As for Daniel, there are few ways to excuse his presence on the show and fewer to explain why he progressed through episode five. Not only couldn’t Daniel speak clearly enough to articulate common English but he also failed to see that all of his efforts were bad ideas. During one challenge, he put mushrooms onto a teammate’s salad without telling her, and they turned out to be the bane of the dish. Luckily, he was found out and sent home for his inane and unskilled behavior.
A caterer from New Jersey, Ariane started out very low in the Top Chef competition. Bamboozled by simple concepts, she caused viewers to expect her elimination. However, after successfully preparing a turkey breast and some sliced tomatoes with feta (is that even cooking?), she rocketed to the top. However, even after winning a quickfire challenge in which Martha Stewart judged, this Joisey Gal could not hang on quite long enough. Nearly ruining a baby lamb that came from Blue Hill farms, Ariane was eliminated once and for all. She deserved to be clipped; there is no excuse for a chef who cannot properly truss (tie) a roast.
As alluded to previously, Hosea and Leah were a disastrous duo from day one. Not only did they lack true talent, but their passion lay more in each other than the food. Although each was in relationships at home, neither refrained from cuddling incessantly and ultimately sharing a kiss that both claimed was a result of slight inebriation. Yeah right! Multitudes of viewers watched the show only because of their impending romance.
During the Blue Hill farm challenge, in which Leah and Hosea both erred badly while together on a team with Ariane, they avoided culpability. The judges trimmed Ariane from the contest more thoroughly than another team did the silverskin on their pork that day. Leah deserved to go home as much if not more than Ariane, pathetic as Ariane was.
Leah seemed to be stoned 24/7, and every time she presented a dish, she ended up saying something like, “I guess this is like a chicken tempura…over like a sauce that I just put some sesame oil into…I don’t really know…” Bitch, please. Somehow, the judges liked her food enough to keep her in, although she was equally worthy of retribution in the farm challenge when Ariane got sent home. Finally, she was eliminated fifth, but there were plenty of contestants who deserved her place more than she did.
Finally, although Hosea won, he seemed to be such a clueless and soulless cook. Rivaling the European contestant, Stefan, Hosea’s sole purpose was to beat him. His food came from a shallow drive to beat Stefan and to own his own restaurant one day, never emanating from a love for the ingredients. The winner of Top Chef should be passionate about flavors and ingredients—not just a competitive machine. Early in the season, Hosea used canned crab in a dish that the judges loathed. He works at a seafood restaurant, yet it was clear that he would have rather sacrificed fresh ingredients for a concept with which he was complacent. Such folly explained the fact that he went to the final round with 0 quickfire or elimination challenge wins.
Ultimately, the outcome was displeasing. Stefan and Carla were the other two competitors left in the finale, and while Stefan was too arrogant and content with his cooking, Carla deserved to win. While she started out rocky early on, Carla progressed to win multiple challenges. Producing fun dishes like “green eggs and ham,” for chef Wylie Dufresne; pure ones like squab and peas for Jacques Pepin; and decadent ones like oyster stew and a shrimp and Andouille beignet for Emeril, Carla rose to the top. Unfortunatley, receiving an over-confident and deluding sous-chef during the finale, Carla was coerced into making dishes that clashed with her style. It cost her the title of Top Chef, and there is no doubt that viewers across the world are mentally casting the sous-chef into a culinary purgatory. Carla cooked with love and passion, something that Hosea can only hope to learn in order to live up to the title bestowed upon him. While season five of top chef was intriguing, the ending left an unpalatable taste in the mouths of many viewers.

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