6 Texas-Sized Problems with Top Chef
Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio
Top Chef wraps up Season 9 on Wednesday with its reunion episode (9/8c, Bravo), and if you ask us, it couldn't come a moment sooner.
That's not because we want to see Heather and Beverly square off, but we want to move on as quickly as possible from this underwhelming season. The series proudly boasted about its biggest season ever — 29 contestants! three cities! — in the state with the biggest motto of all, Texas, but it turns out bigger is not necessarily better. Between the new twists and the umpteenth team challenge, Season 9 was but a shadow of its former Emmy-winning self — and that's not even counting the overwrought drama between Beverly and Heather, Sarah and Lindsay. (Let's be real — there'll be drama every season.) Here are six reasons Top Chef: Texas has been a big letdown.
Top Chef's Paul: I felt the pressure to win
1. The format: Too many cooks in the kitchen — literally! Airing a preliminary round for the first time, the season's first two episodes featured 29 chefs who competed in heats in hopes of making the Top 16. It's one of those ideas that seems great on paper, but instead we were inundated with too many people milling about and too much information about those who don't advance — why do we care about people who won't even be on? This semifinal format works on, say, American Idol because it airs two-hour shows, it's live, and fans get invested because they can vote. On top of that, the curveballs and time constraints were unnecessary. Making risotto in 40 minutes? Really?
2. Enough with the crazy challenges: Tom Colicchio has always said it's only about the food — except when it's about pulling an all-nighter in the sweltering Texas summer heat, or biking around San Antonio to find a kitchen to use, or chipping ice blocks and competing in a biathlon. What do they have to do with cooking? The grueling, inane nature of the challenges just led to mistakes, heat stroke and average, sometimes unappetizing food that we have no interest in eating or trying our hands at making. Lest we forget about these Quickfire dishes. Worst of all, they undercut the chefs' sterling résumés and abilities, especially at the later stages. "At this point [Top 6] in the competition, it should focus on our style, doing absolutely beautiful dishes, which I think people want to see," Chris Jones told TVGuide.com. "And they're wondering why some fans are disappointed with the season. It's not the chefs' fault. Give us the opportunity and we'll create a wonderful dinner." Case in point: the Charlize Theron episode. The parameters demanded creativity and allowed the chefs to just cook.
3. Enough with the team and catering challenges: They are good every once in a while (see: Restaurant Wars), but they should not consist of half the season. The most problematic ones are those in which multiple chefs make one dish. Not only can the chefs not fully show off their skills, but they can find themselves on the chopping block for a mistake their teammate made. In Nyesha's case, she got the worst break of all: axed as part of a double elimination for Dakota's undercooked venison. Which brings us to...
Top Chef's Sarah: I feel like I won too
4. No good twists: Did the judges really have to eliminate Nyesha for Dakota's error? Why couldn't they cut the two worst people from two different teams? Rules are made to be broken — and they have been broken before on Top Chef. Remember in All-Stars when they took the Top 5 into the final because they couldn't bear to eliminate anyone from the stellar Ellis Island episode? Or in Season 3 when the teams had to re-do Restaurant Wars because they both sucked the first time around? Reward the good; punish the bad — those are the twists we like.
5. Texas bust: A big to-do was made about the fact that Season 9 was taking place over three cities in Texas (San Antonio, Dallas and Austin). But all the traveling was rendered moot when the locales, cultures, cuisines and dining scenes seldom factored into the challenges. On the other hand, producers went completely overboard with the Texas angle. There is so much more to the Lone Star state than barbecues, meat, rodeos, cowboys, chili and big money, and it's a shame the season did more to perpetuate these clichés than negate them.
6. Last Chance Kitchen: The Redemption Island-like online series — booted chefs cook head to head in secret to earn a spot back in the main competition — was good in theory. It should have been integrated into the regular show more (how about a recap for those who don't watch LCK?), the challenges were simpler (if an LCK winner were to ever win Top Chef, some fans might attach an asterisk to it), and not every eliminated chef participated. Ed, who is not a fan of the concept, was the only one who didn't get a shot. Why? We still don't know. Colicchio was the sole judge of LCK, but we wish he did it blind. When it came down to Beverly and Grayson, the conspiracy theorist in all of us figured he would pick Beverly to return for the drama quotient alone. Despite LCK's issues, the offshoot embodied what Top Chef ought to be: chefs cooking against each other in a fully equipped kitchen with no gimmicks. It will be interesting to see how LCK unfolds if it continues since now everyone knows it exists.
What did you think of this season of Top Chef?