Top Chef Thoughts

Loyal reader Zeep wants me to weigh in on “Top Chef.” Here are my thoughts so far.

– Last year, when I did my impression of Top Chef, I thought the product placement deserved only light-hearted mockery. Now it’s obscene. Especially the new Glad stuff. Did you notice when Padma told everyone to clean their stations last night that she told them to use a specific Glad product? I forget what it was called but it’s so shameless. And yet…I keep watching!

– Howie and Joey have to go. Seriously. Pack them together in a Glad bag and ship them back to New York. There’s an image from next week’s show of Howie leaning over a pot, sweat dripping off his forehead, and my stomach turned. This is no comment about Howie’s looks–I’m sure some gorilla somewhere finds him very attractive–but I find the idea of him touching my food repulsive. And his personality is repulsive. I guess that means the producers will keep him on for weeks and weeks…

– The chick they kicked off last night was really likable, and you can tell how much everyone loved her when she came back from judge’s table and they all applauded thinking she was still in. That was kind of touching. But she needed to go: she wasn’t up to snuff, even by her own admission. That’s a place where the Top Chef producers are a bit evil: they pull quirky characters from Central Casting to go head-to-head with fierce chefs from top restaurants. Then, in the first few weeks, all that riff-raff gets weeded out, so the strongest characters (and hopefully, the strongest chefs) survive. Frank Bruni made a similar argument on his blog, which Tom Collicchio apparently denied, but my roommate works in reality TV: trust me, it’s a pretty corrupt business.

– I liked Norman Van Aken as a judge. You know, it always fascinates me how shocked Americans are by criticism: Simon Cowell gets booed on Idol when he offers criticism to anyone, even if they deserve it. There was a sense with Chef Van Aken, that the contestants were a bit taken aback by his rough approach. But that’s what they need:it’ll make them better chefs. And honest feedback is refreshing to see, especially with so much reality tripe–America’s Got Talent?–where the judges pander to geriatric jump-ropers and tell them that their skipping around in their skivvies is “magical.” Bring on the Van Akens.

– Hung is setting himself up to be the villain, but I like him so far. He’s focused, smart, energetic, enthusiastic, and his food looks great. That’s ultimately my litmus test for who I want to win: who would I want to cook me dinner? That’s NOT the same question as: who would I want to have dinner with? I mean, just look at last season. I’d rather starve for a week than eat dinner with Ilan. But his food looks pretty sweet.

And those are my thoughts, for far, on Top Chef Season III.

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