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Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 14 – The Shadow Chef And The Fake Villain

So, I’m mad at Top Chef right now. I would love to blame the lateness of the column this week on my anger at Top Chef, but that would be a lie. I’m just crazy behind on everything in my life. However, I am going to go with a portion of my lateness as being part of the fact that I hated this last episode. And that makes a few episodes in a row where I’ve had a gripe. C’mon guys. You’re too good for this.

First item. Stop fabricating stupid rivalries. It is clear that the show is editing it to make Nick look like a villain. But really, this is ridiculous. The “rivalry” between Nick and Carlos is moronic in the first place, but really, if you had to pick a side, how could it not be Nick’s side? Carlos called him out for no reason to the judges. Carlos used his knife and didn’t clean it. And now, Carlos seemingly started to move Nick’s pots from the burners. Nick is a bit of a hothead and bubbled over. Does that make him a villain? No. To me, I am amazed he didn’t snap earlier if you factor in the pressure of the show and the lack of sleep that comes with it.

And as for the oven incident – the show tried very hard to make it seem as if Nick was implying sabotage, but at no time did we see Nick accuse anyone. He just said that he didn’t know how the heat was set so high on the quinoa. Haven’t we all done something like that before? We’ve all accidentally set a timer incorrectly, or an alarm, or chosen the wrong setting even though we were certain we did it correctly.

It is poor form for these shows to try incredibly hard to fabricate a villain – and to me, incredibly unfair to the person on screen to have that happen to them. There are enough times on these shows where someone chooses to Johnny Fairplay things and embrace villainy. But there are tons of other cases where the editing is done and the contestant is surprised to learn how they are portrayed. Granted, Nick’s Philly buddy seemed as if he would be the villain this season before his early exit – and maybe the two combined would have been too much. But from what I have seen this season – Nick is no villain. He just wants to win. And is there anything wrong with that?

The other thing that bothers me is the Roy Choi Quickfire routine. Roy Choi the Boy (go to my column from the last time he appeared on the show – the nickname makes sense) is the King of the Food Trucks and someone who made something of himself after a life of poor choices. He is a great role model for down and out chefs everywhere. The Quickfire is for the chefs to make their own take on a po’boy sandwich – a New Orleans staple. And that’s great; he wanted them to tell their story in this sandwich. However, I didn’t get a sense of how clear it was made to them that this needed to be straight from their souls – in 20 minutes.

Anyway, Nick made fried shrimp, Chung had catfish, BB made fried mahi mahi, Huskey went with lobster and Carlos was inspired by the Mexican taco. The Boy told them they all messed it up. They didn’t find their souls in the sandwiches. In 20 minutes. He slammed all of them – Carlos’ lacked flavor, Nick’s was too salty, Huskey’s Korean flavors were not found, Chung’s was pedestrian and BB’s didn’t pop.

Chung earned the default win and immunity. That’s another thing that bothered me. With all of the crap sent to Nick last week, now we are giving a pass to the Final Four based on a pedestrian dish? What if Chung was horrible in the Elimination – would she be pressured to give up immunity? At least last week’s immunity win for Nick was based on an excellent dish. Grrrr.

Anyway, all that being said, I would have just shrugged off The Boy’s outbursts as a diva moment or something – until Jon Favreau came out to present the Elimination Challenge. He is working on a new movie called “Chef.” In it, the hero losses his voice and cannot connect with food anymore, so he gets a food truck and travels with his son to find his voice again. Hmmm. Interesting.

I am throwing the penalty flag here. It is too much of a coincidence to me that an Elimination Challenge based on finding your voice, showing your cooking soul, and showcasing a turning point in your career comes on the heels of The Boy’s scolding of the chefs for not showing their souls in the Quickfire. It feels really contrived and done to elicit drama and accentuate the Elimination Challenge. It just left a bad taste in my mouth – and I wonder if that’s what really happened. The chefs seemed universally surprised by the criticisms they got at the Quickfire – and all of that combined makes me think that they would have been scolded for effect no matter what. And I don’t like that kind of skepticism.

I prefer to think that these shows are as legit as possible. I know that they are TV productions and some liberties are taken with things from time to time. But don’t Real Housewives it for me – let drama happen naturally, don’t force it down our throat with staging and editing. Is that what happened here? No idea. But it sure came across that way.

Quickfire Challenge – Does it really matter? They all were below standard and Chung won.

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