Well, it was bound to happen, despite a great season, Top Chef stumbled as the end game begins. I must say, that despite some fun parts and some nice looking food, this episode was a tad snooze-worthy. And I was surprised that it only resulted in one elimination.
Basically, the finale is going to be four episodes long – assuming they take a Final Three. This one, next week, the reunion and the Finale. If they take a Final Two, that’s five episodes. Bravo continues to milk the heck out of the Top Chef franchise.
I think that the goings on this week, coupled with the delay between the NY filming and the Bahamas filming really knocked the five of them for a loop. I think they were rusty, similar to how the National Championship game for college football is almost always sloppy since those teams haven’t played in over a month. There was about a three or four month delay from the end of NY filming to the beginning of the shoot in Nassau. The first several All-Stars episodes had already aired at this point. In almost every season, the finalists get to the new location and their first dishes suffer for the most part. This killed Antonia in Season 4, and it near killed her this week.
Second, I think the Quickfire messed with their heads. Based on what we have seen in the past, the logical assumption was that the four past winners were going to help the finalists cook. The first clue they should have had that hurt that theory was how was Steph going to be sous chef for both Antonia and Blais. As it turns out, the Quickfire was to compete against the past winner for $10,000. Is it a coincidence that the three who beat their season’s winner placed 1-2-3 in the Elimination challenge? Maybe, but I don’t think so.
Third, the twist in the Elimination challenge got to them, especially Antonia. Although I have little sympathy for that one. Instantly I knew there was not going to be some grand Disney-like ball for the King and Queen of the Bahamas where the chefs would be making an elegant meal. Why? Because the Bahamas was a British colony. Queen Elizabeth II is the “Queen” of the Bahamas. I know Top Chef got the Muppets and Jimmy Fallon this year, but I was pretty sure Lizzie was not showing up for the challenge. Anyway, those elegant dishes? Not so much.
Because the Bahamian royalty they were cooking for was the King of Junkadoo, which is a cultural event similar to Carnivale or Mardis Gras. Not so much the Chicken Speedie Fest and Balloon Rally. They would be using the kitchen in a local restaurant, Twin Brothers. The facility was not four-star, and thus, the equipment looked like it belonged in Mel’s Diner. As a result, Antonia set the fryer on fire. This ruined all of their food, as the chemicals from the fire extinguishers contaminated the meals. The chefs were forced to go back to the hotel’s kitchen, re-prep for 2 ½ hours, re-cook in the cleaned up restaurant kitchen, and serve all in the same night.
Antonia and Carla suffered the most here – I think the fatigue really got to Carla. Antonia and Blais changed their dishes with the re-boot of the meal, but Antonia’s whole downward spiral that day led her to make some execution errors. As Blais said, her strength is well-executed food, if she doesn’t do that, she’s in trouble. Carla, ironically, got eliminated for the same reason she lost her season. She didn’t do what makes her good. She is comfort food taken to a greater level. As she says, she cooks from the heart with love. It is hard to do that when you are uncomfortable and uncertain of yourself. We saw her self-doubt, but more importantly, we saw her use a technique she was not confident about. In S5, it was the sous vide that did her in, this week it was deep frying her pork. When she served it raw – despite trying to “MacGyver it” – that was it.
Besides all of this, the other very interesting development that had been happening this season, and was front and center this week, is Blais’ self-loathing. Boy, I bet every therapist in the greater Atlanta area is calling up his restaurant this week. Someone so very talented, who admits that he hates everything he cooks. He describes the 10 different ways his dish could suck. The funny thing is, I wonder if Blais would be Blais without this self-doubt. It reminds me of a story I recall reading in “The Late Shift,” the book about the Leno-Letterman war from the mid-90s. During the commercial break of a show in the mid-1980s, while interviewing Teri Garr, she asked how he was doing. He wrote a note on a pad, “I hate myself.” She tried to reassure him, and he took the note back and underlined it twice. Dave may be flawed, but he is the best at what he does. Blais, to me, is still the best chef to be on this show, even if he never wins a season. Fascinating.