This week on Top Chef, the chefs traveled up the coast to my home base, San Francisco, which I assumed meant the usual suspects: Thomas Keller, Michael Chiarello, Chris Cosentino, etc. But the producers threw us a curveball! Instead of Cosentino’s charm and Chiarello’s smarm, we got… Jonathan Waxman and MC Hammer? I didn’t even know Johnny Wax had a restaurant in the Bay (opening soon, subsequent Googling revealed). Or that MC Hammer was using the “MC” in his name again. I’m not sure when that happened, it could’ve been 15 years ago. Surprisingly, this made for a great episode.
The quickfire, in honor of Oakland’s own Mr. Hammer, was to “Come up with your own rap name, and create a dish that expresses that name,” said Padma. “Rap names should personify who you are,” added Hammer, who mostly just played “yes and” throughout this entire segment.
This challenge is actually a lot like when I was on the golf team in high school and we all gave each other rap names. I was Busta Balls, my friend Cameron was Vanilla Slice, Deric was 2-Putt. Boy, I really wish this wasn’t a true story, please stop wedgying me ow ow.
Anyway, this was a clever little challenge that gave most of the contestants some awesomely dopey soundbites, and allowed Carl (who?) to finally come out of his shell a little. At which point the viewing audience breathed a collective groan of “please go back into your shell, Carl.” Carl actually exclaimed “awesome sauce!” when he found out MC Hammer was going to be judging the challenge, I swear I’m not making this up. How perfect is it that the world’s most boring white guy was galvanized by the appearance of his idol, MC Hammer? “It was MC Hammer who first got me into rap, and the Olive Garden that first got me into zesty Italian cooking.” (That wasn’t a real quote, but it’s not far from the truth.)
Carl even attempted a little freestyle. Padma’s face should give you an idea how that went:
Incredibly, Carl’s rap managed to not include the words “My name is Carl and I’m here to say.” Narrowly, friends. Very narrowly.
The Elimination Challenge
“Create a dish that evokes a culinary period in history.” All the chefs drew knives to determine order, and then chose their period. Isaac got to go first, taking “Viking,” an option that really seemed to stretch the boundaries of what’s considered a “culinary period in history.” Did you know Leif Skullsplitter held a pinkie out while he raped and pillaged? It’s true.
That being said, this might’ve been the best challenge in the history of Top Chef. Not only did we get to learn something, it forced the chefs out of their comfort zones and forced them to experiment, and required them to go to the library. I remember an episode of Project Runway that required the fashion designers to compete in a physical challenge, which was incredible. This wasn’t quite as funny as that, but forcing a bunch of chefs into the stacks like they were writing a term paper held similar appeal. Said Jeremy: “I was definitely not a ‘book guy’ in school, but I had the coolest electives. I had a surf class.”
I love that quote. That’s like saying “I was definitely not a ‘sports guy’ during football practice, but one time I fed some ducks.”