That’s more like it.

Does this shirt make me look like a grape?

Does this shirt make me look like a grape?

Took a while to get to this post, but this week’s Top Chef was more like it. Unlike Week Two’s dull episode (Kiwi forgot something at the farmer’s market? What drama! And don’t let’s start with the excitable Willie Dufresne) Week Three offered gratuitous running around Chicago neighborhoods, a dunk tank, and the Speed Addict threatening the judges! And, do the contestants listen to Padma when she describes the challenges?

The Quickfire Challenge-re-imagine the lowly taco to be served in a high-end restaurant. Your guest judge? A chef who has forgotten more about Mexican cuisine than most of these contestants will ever know-Rick Bayless. And what do we get? A whole lot of dishes that look great (and to hear Rick, taste nice), but might as well be from the corner taqueria. A re-interpretation isn’t just throwing in an exotic ingredient to a particular dish; it also means altering the presentation of the dish. I’m not suggesting Manuel should have stuffed his ingredients into those nopales, but you have to make your mark somewhere. (Oh, and I love the repeated shots of Manuel during the taco challenge. Will the producers include a gong sound effect and show lots of shots of Dale if there’s an asian-themed challenge?) So, rooster-haired Richard wins immunity simply by serving his taco on bits of shaved jicama instead of the traditional tortilla. Well done, and he didn’t have to use any molecular gastronomy to pull it off.

The Elimination Challenge got off to what I thought was a surreal start. I mean, sending the contestants out to scour the neighborhood for food the producers had obviously squirrled away in peoples’ houses so the chefs could prepare it and serve it back to them at a block party? Odd. One of the packages of meat shown in an oh-so-brief cutaway was still in its Whole Foods wrapper. Since this ep aired after Easter Sunday though, I guess it was appropriate, like a giant Easter Egg hunt. Next, the usual three hours in the kitchen, the usual visit by Tom, but the unusual camaraderie among contestants turned teammates, and the makings of an obvious victory of one team over the other. The snooze potential is high until we get to the judges table. Then. Smackdown!

An unexpected winner from the Blue Team (what did Stephanie make anyway?) sets up an acrimonious discussion between the Red Team and the judges. Watch as Tom slaps down a cocky competitor. Watch Padma actually contort her face while upending expectations (oh, and she almost ate a marshmellow). And tremble as Andrew (who’s growing on me, darn it) threatens the judges if he’s eliminated. This is what we tune in for, and it’s also what Restraining Orders were designed to handle.


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