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Top Chef: Seattle – Episode 5 – The One Where No One Could Cook

This episode goes to show you that even the best of the best have really bad days sometimes. You know those days in your job when nothing goes right and disaster seems to follow disaster? Well, our merry band of chefs had one of those days right there in Pike’s Place Market. It was so bad that Tom had to disgustedly march into the Stew Room and take the $10,000 prize off the table – no one made a dish worthy of victory. And in addition, instead of one elimination, both members of the losing pair would be sent packing. They were just that bad.

Now, I’ve made my share of terrible dishes before. Because, you know, I’m just not good. I also remember my mom accidentally seasoning her mushrooms with cinnamon. We all make mistakes. The interesting thing is that the chefs didn’t seem to think it was the same kind of disaster that the judges felt it was. Is that the arrogance that comes from being a great chef? Perhaps. But they had to know this wasn’t their best effort. Unless they were failing to taste as the food was being made, they had to know the taste just wasn’t right.

I think what made it worse for Tom and the judges was that the artisans who made the key ingredients were there for the tasting. It was like a parent being embarrassed by their usually well-behaved children during a public outing. The judges felt bad that the artisans did not have their creations properly respected, and they were pissed that they just had this happen on their show. The result was a nobody’s safe feeling as the Judges Table was delayed for a day.

When the dust settled, we had a case where someone cool or interesting was going to be sent knives a-packin. The duos of Thumb/Brooke, CJ/The Wiz, and OTV/Monkey were chosen as the worst of the worst. That meant that one of the returning chefs would go, good-looking Brooke, or the two hotheads who had garnered so much attention early on. Personally, I thought the hotheads were safe all along – I just couldn’t see that building rivalry being snuffed out so soon. The show had built up the Real Housewife early on before she was cut, I couldn’t see it happening again. So, I was resigned to the fact that we would lose a returnee, and stunningly the first one cut would not be Josie.

Where did it go wrong? The challenge was to take some unorthodox artisan snacks and incorporate them into a meal. Thumb and Brooke had rose petals to use – something very sweet and delicate. They chose to make duck and include cabbage – however, the sweetness of the cabbage, coupled with the sweet main ingredient, just made it too much. Thumb made the cabbage, and thus became the main reason the dish failed. That makes a few challenges so far where Thumb has faltered – a stark contrast to his season where he dominated more often than not.

CJ has played this season with far more confidence than he did in Season 3, and it has not served him well. He’s also found himself in the bottom more than the top. This time, when given the spicy dill pickle as his team’s ingredient, he totally misread the challenge. He thought Tom would ding him for not making a burger, because it is the traditionally best way to highlight a pickle’s flavor. Of course, everyone else – including The Wiz – saw the fallacy here. Tom would see it as a safe, copout dish. The Wiz had suggested making a soup – but CJ, and his burgeoning confidence, shot it down instantly. The Wiz let himself get walked over, so he is also at fault here. The result? Tom hated the decision to make the burger – “How freakin’ original!”

The battling boys of OTV and Monkey amusingly would up paired together during the pair-ups for the Quickfire, and thus had to continue working together during the Elimination. They both, independently of each other, decided to tone it down a bit and try to work together. They each deferred to one another; they each chose to back down from their instincts simply to avoid conflict. And as a result, their dish sucked. Monkey made some awful grits and served them to grit-expert Monobrow. OTV didn’t care for the cut of meat but didn’t speak up, and as a result, the meat wasn’t good. These two may annoy, they may yell and scream, but that’s who they are. It is that passion that makes them who they are, and in turn, what makes their food so good. Absent that passion, they have mediocrity.

In the end, CJ and The Wiz got the axe, and as much as I enjoy CJ’s wit, he really did have it coming. The Wiz seems as if he could have been fun over time, but we never really got a chance to get to know him. I am pleased for him that he is newly sober and hope for the best for him, but as far as good television is concerned, I’d rather keep the others. Even if it means more weeks of Monkey’s stupid forehead glasses.

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