This season of “Top Chef” hasn’t been very spicy. Yes, there has been literal spice (this is New Orleans, after all), but we’ve lacked chefs who are as colorful and creative as commentators as they are in the kitchen. When NIna grumbles of the recently eliminated Michael, “Boo Boo, you’re a douche,” it wasn’t especially witty (and definitely wasn’t nice), but at least someone got fired up about something other than andouille sausage.
That isn’t always a problem — after all, the food is supposed to be the star of the show. This week, not so much. I realize that television shows are increasingly relying on product placement to stretch their budgets. On “Top Chef,” we see the chefs driving around in RAV-4s, singing the praises of Reynolds Wrap, and I suppose we’ll eventually see them brushing their teeth with Crest, wearing Nikes and banging Martha Stewart pots and pans around the kitchen. But this week, I think “Top Chef” went a skosh too far.
The Elimination Challenge? Make a dish incorporating cream cheese. Every. Single. Dish. Thirteen chefs, thirteen dishes (appetizers, entrees and desserts) featuring cream cheese.
I like cream cheese. I think it’s great on a bagel, or in a cheesecake. I realize it can be used in savory dishes or in desserts. Fine. I also think if I ate thirteen dishes that tasted vaguely of cream cheese I would need a spit-up bucket after the fifth one. Let’s be honest — cream cheese is not butter. It does not make everything it touches a little tastier. When everything goes to hell halfway through the Elimination Challenge, the judges seem absolutely floored. Why aren’t all of these dishes delightful? Here’s a hint: CREAM CHEESE. While the judges very pointedly do not complain about the cream cheese itself (Philadelphia cream cheese would NOT be pleased if they did), I can’t help but think that many of the chefs struggled because they were trying to figure out how to deal with wadding cream cheese chunks into their lamb or whatever the hell they had to cook.
I know, I know. These are professionals. They should rise to the occasion. But I have to feel sorry for the judges, who probably will not be eating cream cheese voluntarily for many, many moons after this.
But before we get to the Elimination Challenge, let’s begin at the beguine. Padma and John Besh barge in on the chefs and demand they pack an overnight bag. Road trip!
The Quickfire Challenge is to make something delicious featuring the Creole tomato, which has a high acid level and a thin skin. To make things even more exciting (read: unpleasant), they have to cook outside under a broiling sun. This isn’t just uncomfortable — it screws with the food temperature of a lot of dishes.
Because this is a Quickfire, I’m not breaking out every dish. Basically, everyone either made tomato soup or tomato salad or roasted tomatoes. Brian does make a “toad in the hole” that impresses John, though he thinks he cheated to use an egg and andouille sausage for some reason.