This week on Top Chef, there were no Vine Stars, social media challenges, personal brands or thinkfluencing. The show went back to the basics — namely, trick challenges judged capriciously, and interpersonal DRAMA.
It all started with a breakfast Nutella challenge, in which the NINE cheftestants had to try to cook in their rental house’s kitchen for some reason (were none of the local chefs out of town that weekend? “Dangit, I guess we have to party in Dave’s basement again…”). That was guest judged by 2015 winner Brooke Williamson, and it was followed by an Olympics team challenge, judged by some Olympians (including an obnoxiously handsome freestyle skier) and Gail Simmons.
Brooke AND Gail? Why, it musht be my lucky day.
Or at least… it would’ve been, if the judges table hadn’t been a nightmarish tangle of passive aggression and hurt feelings. Remember watching old episodes of Lost, and there’d be two characters having a big argument and you’d be screaming at the TV JUST TELL THEM THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT HAPPPENED, because if they’d only offer a one-sentence explanation of all the stuff we’d just seen it would resolve the entire conflict?
Well, this was kind of like that, only real life, with two people getting pre-defensive with each other and making the conflict worse and worse out of hurt — like one of those trains that goes super fast using polarized magnets. In fact the last 10 minutes of the show was basically two characters sniping in front of the judges, intercut with a carnival of reaction shots by the other contestants as they tried to jump out of their skin to avoid watching the utter meltdown happening in front of them.
I did really appreciate the cringey reaction shots editing package, though. They really sold the unwatchableness! It was kind of the television equivalent of “Oh my god, you have to taste this, it’s TERRIBLE.”
Food Words Introduced But Never Explained
Brunoise, Batonnet, Urfa Biber.
I know what a brunoise is (very small squares!), because I’m very wise in the ways of food, and I think I can guess what a batonnet is. “Baton” means a stick, so I assume a batonnet means to cut things into little sticks?
But come on, “urfa biber?” What the f*ck is an urfa biber? Educate your audience, Top Chef. By which I mean me, the ignorant layperson.
Anyway, the great thing about this episode was that it gave every chef a quantitative score in the elimination challenge, which makes my job as a Professional Top Chef Handicapper (*polishes monocle, adjusts green visor*) a lot easier. The competition seems to have coelesced into three distinct tranches of competitor — the bubble, middle of the pack, and contenders.
9. (-5) ((Eliminated)) Tanya Holland — AKA The Professor, aka Waffles, aka Icebox
(Chef Tanya, celebrating a Bear Den victory)
Poor Tanya. Tanya clearly had a terrible no good very bad week this week, and the fascinating thing about it was the almost perfect 50/50 split between “I can understand exactly why she’s annoyed” and “she’s making this so much worse for herself.”
The editors seem to really play up the “Tanya being kind of a pill” angle this week, starting with her pedantic pep talk to Mustache Joe (coming off her win and his bottom three finish last week): “Yeah, when I was your age I did lots of dumb sh*t too. Put too much on the plate, tried to eat paste, pooped in my pants and spit up milk on mommy. Don’t worry though, stud, you won’t suck this bad forever. …Probably. (*looks around for high five*)”
Later she told Carrie to “get woke” in a situation that didn’t seem to have anything to do with wokeness, and told the “bears den” to stop monopolizing the conversation. Actually she was kind of right about that last one. I was sick of the bear den shit three episodes ago and I don’t even have to live there.
Like I said, a lot of her annoyance was understandable. She’s probably too experienced and established to really want to live in a house with a bunch of young kids and then have her cooking nitpicked to death by fashion models. Let’s remember, Tanya’s week involved being:
1. Forced to wake up early and cook breakfast in a cramped kitchen and then be judged on it all before the first coffee.
2. Being quizzed on what temperature her lamb should be, and then graded on the difference between her answer and what she actually cooked. Even though the lamb that she did cook was, according to Tom, “cooked perfectly.” Like what’s more “Top Chef” behavior in the grand scheme of things, cooking the food perfectly by feel or knowing the exact temperature of rare lamb off the top of your head? That second one I can do. First one might take some practice.
That gulf between what she said (145, which is off, but not drastically) and what she cooked was then used as a deduction, meaning that even if she cooked a perfect dish, the six judges could only give her a maximum score of 4 each. Her eventual score, 18.5, was just a hair more than half of the next lowest competitor (Carrie, at 35, on a full 10 scale), whose dish, according to Tom, was “maybe the worst thing I’ve eaten this season.”
Which really took the shine off the “bronze medal” they presented her for getting third out of three.
3. Judged based on whether her dish “showcased the proper knife cuts,” because God knows that’s what we all look for when eating.
4. Dissed by a handsome skier. “Her chiffonade was chiffo-not there.”
I have to admit, that was a pretty good burn. But maybe stick to the skiing and save the wordplay for us ugly folk next time, eh, Trent? I hope you smolder too hard and melt the snow.
5. Backstabbed by Claudette during the judge’s table, who blamed Tanya’s attitude for her (Claudette’s) dish lacking acid. Did Tanya have a bad attitude? Absolutely. But she was already pissed at not being able to cook in the speed round like she wanted. …Which was kind of her fault for not being assertive enough when they were choosing roles.
Like I said, it was almost a perfect 50/50.