Of the two, Ilan really is the better “chef”. His food was more consistent and he knows how to work in a kitchen. Some might argue Ilan is a one-trick-pony with the whole Spanish cuisine thing – but I think he demonstrated that given time and exposure to more cuisines, he will branch out. Maybe he played it safe at times, but being a Top Chef isn’t *just* about innovation in concept. You have to be able to execute. Marcel showed very frequently that he could not. And I’m not talking about the crazy challenges in which failure was almost assured.

Ilan “gets” food more so than Marcel. Marcel’s food is too focused on presentation. I’m all for making it pretty, but I want to eat it, and it’s going to end up a mush swilling in my stomach anyway – please leave all the preservatives and chemicals out of it, and focus on the purpose of food (sustenance) over its aesthetic value. If you want that level of art in your restaurants – put it on the walls. Marcel gets food construction – you have to in order to successfully deconstruct it. The difference seems to me to be that Ilan understands the utility of food, as well: people want to eat.

Now, obviously, this competition is supposed to be about the food. But kitchen harmony is important. Marcel failed at that in the end just like I thought he would – just like he did all season. He couldn’t lead the team he had because he had “played” the competition throughout. To be fair, I think Sam & Mikey were being passive aggressive and let him fail in ways he would not have had his team been fully supportive. But that’s what I mean about kitchen harmony. Maybe he was putting on an act to manipulate the competition, but honestly, if the only personality you ever show a group of people is manipulative, are they just supposed to take your word for it that in your everyday life you are a “really nice guy”? The restaurant industry is full of people with big personalities who take shit from customers all day long and DON’T want to take it from their co-workers. There are ways to subtly sabotage a chef as one of the lesser chefs in the kitchen. If you don’t treat people right … expect they will give what they get.

I’m just ticked at the producers who made the show all about the hatred of Marcel and then copped-out by handing the prize to Ilan. If they’re making it about the entertainment value, Marcel winning would have been better TV. Of course, they probably would have alienated a good bit of their audience in doing so. It’s hard to say.

Taking the personality out of it, I can describe in three words why Marcel should not have won: BACON ICE CREAM.

In the end, I really think Sam should have won. Regardless of his pettiness over Marcel, he performed consistently. And let’s face it: no matter how gracious we are, we all have people that get under our skin. And these are all kids (except Betty). Sam’s food was interesting, pretty, and yet still seemed edible. He was personable and a good leader. And you have to hand it to a guy who can’t eat sugar and manages to create desserts the judges love.

I worked in an Italian bakery for about a year. I learned about all sorts of ingredients, including regional pronounciation of said ingredients (and by “regional” I mean “New York” which, I believe in turn means “generally accepted as the right way to say that Italian word in the United States”).

Mar/scarpone

And I was shocked — shocked! — to learn that the cheese I thought was called “maR-sca-pone” isn’t. It’s actually “maS-car-pone.” (But I am not going to be the one to tell the rest of the Eastern seaboard.)

As for the rest of Top Chef, um, oh right…um, What the fuck?

I think our persnickety judges have maybe been doing their homework. That between the airing of the first episodes and the finale, they used their break to maybe read some message boards and blog comments and take to heart the fact that viewers don’t like their smirking hypocrisy and constant bitching.

Because last night, the judges were downright sweet. Helpful. Complimentary. Nice. Too little too late, if you ask me, but it gives me hope for next season.

On the other hand, I’m shocked that Sam didn’t go all the way. I wonder what sort of decision happened there. Does Ilan make better television? He must, because I can’t believe he makes better food. And he’s certainly not a better person.

I never thought I’d say this, but Marcel, I’m (taro?)rooting for you!

p.s. any ideas why they decided not to do a reunion show?

First of all, was it really necessary to tack on an extra 15 minutes so that we could see them ride on a plane? We were more than halfway into the show before anyone started cooking. Boring!

Elia, Elia… you were my favorite, but now you’ve ruined it for me, no matter how cute you were with that shaved head. Yes, Marcel is annoying, but sometimes you just have to let it go. I was embarassed for you.

Tonight I actually had more respect for Padma than Tom. (Which doesn’t mean that I’m starting to like her, but rather that I’m starting to really dislike him.) His criticism of Sam for “not cooking” was ridiculous. Something else is going on there, and I’m guessing it has something to do with Sam’s hotness. I’ll miss him, but whatever– we probably wouldn’t have gotten to see him naked anyway.

Gail seemed less cranky than usual. I wonder how many rum-filled pineapples it took to get her in a good mood.

I have to agree with their critcism of Elia– her dishes didn’t seem Hawaiian. It would have been nice to know how important that was supposed to be. I wonder if the contestants get a more complete explanation than we viewers do.

So now it’s down to Ilan and Marcel, the arch enemies. I wonder if the fact that Sam was eliminated has anything to do with that? But I’m sure the producers wouldn’t make that decison just to squeeze some more drama out of the show. Uh-huh.

Dear Top Chef,

Enough.

Bravo comes up with the classiest, most dazzling version of a reality television show ever — oh, Project Runway, how I adore thee! — and then you come along. You’re like Project Runway’s bitchy little sister. You wear your big sister’s clothes and mimick her walk, and then get all pissy when you’re not asked to the dance. Well, I got news for you. It’s not the clothes and it’s not the walk; it’s about the bigger picture. It’s about the attitude.

And your attitude? It sucks.

Anyone else concerned that I’m writing a letter to a television show? Mm, yeah.

Project Runway did it first, did it right, did it better. Why do you feel the need to alter their formula? Pardon the punnery, but you’re messing with a winning recipe, and it’s leaving quite a bad taste in my mouth.

Project Runway’s formula works:

  • Find contestants who are talented
  • Give them challenges that test their abilities
  • If you give them really difficult challenges, with extra twists and turns, be fair when you judge them
  • Give them someone they can turn to for a little objective advice and support

I’m not saying that the judges on Project Runway are all sunshine and lollipops, but they offer fairly balanced feedback — even with the disasters — and recognize when challenges were tricky for everyone. They show compassion.

With the exception of Ted (we love you, Ted! Doo doo doo do do doo doot dooooo*), Top Chef’s panels don’t do the same. It’s as though the judges take an “us against them” attitude. Every time Tom and Gail approach a challenge, they seem to walk into it with the expectation that the contestants will have sucked. “I wonder how bad they’ll be THIS time.”

They are smug and snide and unhelpful.

They are surprised, visibly and verbally, when contestants do well.

Their critiques are probably correct from an objective standpoint, but they never take into account how challenging the circumstances were. “If this were a real restaurant, we would have left.” Um, if it were a real restaurant, it wouldn’t have been BUILT IN 45 MINUTES.

Bitches.

I think it’s ridiculous that during the restaurant challenge, Tom declared that there WERE NO WINNERS. That they had all failed.

Yeah, hi. Red flag. If a manager, or director, or coach, or CEO sets a challenge for her entire team and the entire team fails, guess who is responsible? (I’ll give you a hint, Top Chef: it’s not the team.)

Last year, I started off loving the show just as much as this year, but by the end I was just as pissed off. Remember last year’s wedding challenge? Let me remind you:

For the Quickfire Challenge, you asked the chefs to come up with a unique and gourmet menu for a wedding. The winning menu would be selected by an engaged couple.

Given the openness of the challenge, the contestants came up with some really creative and difficult ideas.

But when the winner was selected, and you dropped the bombshell: that the winning menu had to be served at a wedding. THE NEXT DAY. You gave them extremely limited time and resources to pull something amazing off, they busted their asses to do it, and you? Rather than acknowledge how impossible the task had been, you GOT MAD WHEN THEY CUT CORNERS.

And then, yes you did, you said they’d all failed.

Don’t you think they would have come up with different menus if they’d known they had 24 hours to pull it off, with only one overnight supermarket to buy from, with limited funds? Don’t you think you were unfair? Don’t you think you could have taken ANY of your limitations into account when judging?

Yeah. I noticed you didn’t let them spout off about that during the reunion show.

So in looking back throughout this season and the (again with the punning) “meltdowns” that more than one contestant has had, I no longer thing it’s their fault. I blame you.

Of course I think that there are more mature ways for contestants to handle themselves. Obviously they are under a lot of pressure and it’s no wonder that they snap and spout off now and then. A reasonable amount of “losing it” happens on Project Runway every season. (Say it again with me: Where the HELL is my chiffon!)

But. As I’ve re-watched Mia’s breakdown (since the first time it seemed bizarre to me), and the Lord Of The Flies-like treatment of Marcel, and Cliff’s complete undoing, I can’t believe it’s just them being sensitive.

I think it’s you, Top Chef, and your petulant, hypocritical, compassionless judges.

And before you go defending yourself about “some” cruel judges on “some other well loved reality show” being popular, I’ll put it out there for you. I actually think Simon Cowell is kinder to the top 12 American Idol competitors than Tom is to his contestants. Simon has announced on more than one occassion that the contestants have had an off night, but he never calls them all failures. He doesn’t always feel the need to qualify good performances. He doesn’t go in expecting to be disappointed. And you know? Even when he is tough, he has a different job than your judges do, because he’s not the one sending contestants home.

Yep. I think Simon is a more “palatable” judge than Tom. And that is really saying something.

Honestly, I believe it comes down to this: no one wants to watch a show where everyone loses. No one wants to watch a show where everyone is declared a failure. It makes your judges seem mean, and it turns us viewers off. It makes us uncomfortable. And angry.

The show is set up to have us rooting for our favorites, and so we do! And then when you slap them down, over and over, our spirits are diminished, too.

Don’t you think that’s kind of stupid?

::spoiler::

I do. And I feel like your machinations have left me so that I almost don’t care who wins anymore.

Marcel is weird and a little creepy, and obviously egotistical. But exactly who on the show isn’t? Every single one of the contestants believes he/she is good enough to be there. Maybe editing has saved me from having to see all the really horrid aspects of Marcel, but he was ostracized early and completely. He’s shouldered it pretty well, and he’s never really lost his focus. I don’t think he’s ever even raised his voice, while I can count at least five other contestants who have outright yelled at him. I’m not saying I want him to win, but at this point, why not?

I really like Top Chef (and Project Runway) because the show, at least in pretense, focuses more on talent than interpersonal relationships. Marcel is the only one who has said more than once at the judges’ table, “Can we just talk about the food?” Bonus points for that.

I’m surprised Elia is still around, except that I figure they can’t very well send ALL the women home and none to the finale. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think the show is sexist, but I don’t think they found very strong female competitors this year.)

Elia is young, and I think she shows it. She has not handled the pressure very well. Her decisions have been very inconsistent — she’s missed the mark completely as many times as she’s been spot-on. She is not (yet) a good leader, and has not seemed to make very good interpersonal choices (she has consistently befriended under-performers). She has professed all along to like Marcel, but has been inactive and silent in his defense, especially in the last episode. Overall, I think she’s cute, smart, interesting, multi-faceted and talented…but still learning. She comes across as too timid and unsure of herself to be a good leader.

And I don’t think someone who tried to flambe with red wine should be Top Chef.

Ilan is now my least favorite, and I really liked him in the beginning. He’s clearly a talented cook with sophisticated ideas and tastes. However, his complete inability to get over his dislike for Marcel is childish and annoying. If he were Top Chef material, he’d stay above the fray. As it is, he seems way too preoccupied with Marcel. Why is that, hmmm? Obviously, Ilan feels threatened…I wonder if it’s because he’s afraid of Marcel’s talent, or if it’s because Marcel hits a little too close to home? I suspect Ilan is afraid of being everything he accuses Marcel of.

And his crush on Elia is cloying.

Did anyone not think Sam would win from the very beginning? I mean, the winner might very well be an upset (because this whole season has gone south and who’s to say anymore, really) but he’s clearly the favorite. Unfortunately, he, too, can’t seem to get over his hatred for Marcel, and it makes him seem petty. Harold — last year’s winner, who Sam certainly resembles in many ways — kept his mouth shut and his focus on executing flawless challenges. Sam has not been able to do that. He’s also off-puttingly cocky. A degree of arrogance is required, I think, but if he were really THAT sure of himself, he wouldn’t feel the need to constantly put Marcel in his place.

Eh.

In the end, Top Chef, I want to see the personalityless-(but-oh-so-much-better-than-Katie-blink-blink-Joel)-Padma turn to Gail and Tom and, quoting them as often as possible, thank them for their time but tell them they have been a complete failure. That waltzing in at the end of a challenge to offer nothing but smirks and raised eyebrows is in poor taste, and that they should have been able to offer more. That shaking their heads disapprovingly and laughing at your contestants is unnacceptable. That you don’t understand why their feedback was never more balanced.

And then tell them to pack their knives and go.

Short of that, at least (pleaseohpleaseohplease) let Ted serve as Top Chef’s Tim Gunn.

Let me know what you think,
k


*That’d be the theme song from Queer Eye, obviously. Duh.