Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tom Colicchio Is Sick of Team Challenges, Blames Jon Stewart for the Profanity on “Top Chef” and Among the Youth of America

Well, possums, we have to hand it to the Ursus Major himself. In the above clip, which was shot in Puerto Rico during the finale, Tom Colicchio fillets this season of Top Chef as if it were a monkfish, and stops just short of throwing the remains in the trash.

Granted, he does it very politely—this season “is a hard one to read,” “a hard season to sort of get your hands around,” “a funny season,” “lots of ups and downs”—but the import is the same: this season has been rather meh.

We couldn’t agree more.

At Judges’ Table, and elsewhere, Tom is rather fond of saying, “This is Top Chef, not Top [Fill in the Blank].” And yet, with a few exceptions, this season has been exactly that: Top Caterer, Top Block-partyer, Top Tailgater, Top Home Cook, and Top Single Mother.

Indeed, we found it particularly revealing when, during that ghastly kids’ challenge,** Gail Simmons said of Stephanie’s dish that it was typical of a restaurant chef who doesn’t cook much at home. Oh wait, that’s a problem? Because, you know, we thought this show was called Top Chef.

But that statement, we think, lays bare the ethos (and the problem) of this season. When it was first announced that Chicago would play host to this season of Top Chef, there was much excitement. In a way, it seemed additional confirmation, if any were needed, that, as the culinary world had been proclaiming for some time, Chicago had really and truly arrived as a food town and foodie destination.

But instead of cashing in on that promise, this season of Top Chef, it seems to us, has engaged in condescension and pandering. The city is home to Grant Achatz, Charlie Trotter, and Homaro Cantu, and instead we get block parties, kid’s meals, tailgate parties, police academy lunches, and cocktail parties at the zoo. They might as well have filmed the show in Any Suburb of Small City, U.S.A., that houses a Whole Foods. Surely Chicagoites don’t cling to sausages and tailgate parties instead of to guns and religion. Surely Chicago is not as bland, as insipid, as the show would have us believe; the daily reports we get from Miss XaXa would suggest otherwise.

And yet we have ended up with “a hard season to sort of get your hands around,” just a hair’s-breadth away from 30-minute meals. Indeed, with the boxed lunches and kiddie meals, the spirit of Rachael Ray seems to hover over the show like a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade depicting existential dread and gloom. We have no doubt that, if she hadn’t sold what remains of her coin-purse soul to Food Network, she would have been a guest judge by now.

As Tom suggests, another problem with this season is the surfeit of team challenges. “I’m more of a fan of the individual challenges,” he says, and though we love drama as much as anyone (well, actually, more than anyone), we might just have to agree this time. Out of the season’s 10 episodes, eight have been team challenges (and yes, we did consider having to cook with an adorably disadvantaged child of color a team challenge).

Still, our favorite bit in the interview is when Tom gets on to the subject of profanity and lays the blame squarely on the menschy, Ralph Lauren-clad shoulders of Jon Stewart:

I think this is more generational than anything else. I think this is a product of cable tv, where you’ve seen some people like Jon Stewart cursing on his show.

Wait, Tom, do you mean to say that you think Jon Stewart is hurting America?


**As you may have noticed, possums, we had little to say about the “Common Threads” episode. For starters, children are just not our thing. (We have previously pointed out that, as far as we’re concerned, Children of the Corn and Village of the Damned are documentaries, and our favorite children’s book is Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. Miss XaXa, as an aunt, disagrees, and helpfully points out that if people didn’t reproduce, where would we get hairdressers and shoe salesmen? She does have a point.) Also, what with the show being overseen by the twin spirits of Uncle Stereotype (i.e., Uncle Ben; where are the Quickfire Challenges sponsored by Aunt Jemima and Sambo’s?) and Uncle Paradox (i.e., Art Smith, a chunko who was Oprah’s personal chef, for heaven’s sake, trying to set the example for healthy eating), we simply had to cry uncle. (And for the record, the now-departed Mark Simmons did not, as some have said, butcher the name of his child sous-chef, Jesusita. His pronunciation was more or less on the mark, as it were, far more so than Padma “I’m fluent in Spanish” Lakshmi’s “JESS-oo-see-tah.” Oh no she didn’t; oh jess she did.)


Anonymous said...

i have re-watched all of season 3 on youtube and am beginning to re-watching season 2, and while the cooking here seems to be better than in season 2 and the people less catty, i don't see why season 4 is "meh," it doesn't strike me as much different from past seasons. i feel like what happens on reality shows is that if the first season gets popular, people declare it the gold standard and always say that any other season is crappy. then if people do happen to like another season, and switch the gold standard from season one to a later season, the season that immediately follows the new standard is declared much worse, and i'm not such these comparisons between seasons really mean that much.

Anonymous said...

i do agree with you on the chicago stereotyping, but that happens on all reality shows (and all dramas) about all cities. "oh, new york, it's so wonderful, it's where everything is!" "oh, paris so so pretty!" ugggg.

hughman said...

1. "hard season to get your hands around" heh heh.

2. does andy have a pocket square in his shirt pocket? um... no.

3. andy's job as Prez of Teh Gayz in Manhattan is getting him grayer. i like it.

4. yeah, this season does seem very Mall of the Americas. is it really that hard to think of better and more interesting challenges? really? would it kill them to have to use foie gras in a Quickfire Challenge? chicago, as a whole, seems to have really very relevance to this season, so what was the point? pizza promos? then for the finale they leave and go to Puerto Rico? yeah, that REEKS of chicago.

5. tom talks about "new Zealand cuisiine" but frankly. who really knows about NZ cuisine? maybe the hobbit could have enlightened us a bit. for all i know it involves head bands and bubble baths.

6. cursing is a part of "this generation"? huh? where do Gordon Ramsey and Anthony Bourdain fit in that generalization? they both curse like sailors but are of Tom's "generation" at least. that makes no sense.

overall, i thought this season was meh-a-go-go. i can't even remember one dish anyone cooked overall. it was mostly constructed drama and cafeteria food. that even a sous chef at Le Cirque came off so poorly says a lot.

Buzz Kill said...

I too thought the Common Threads epissode was one of the worst in TC history. It had nothing to do with being a top chef and everything to do with making a feel-good, aw-look-at-the-kids-cooking, Oprah and Uncle Ben's promoting shmarm fest. I really felt sorry for the chefs when that heard of slobbering kids came hoofing into the kitchen and they realized, "crap, this just turned into a bad Brady Bunch episode."

I'm the aledged father of 2 boys and they know better than to come int the kitchen when dad's cooking (and drinking). And I whole heartedly agree that "Children of the Corn and Village of the Damned are documentaries." That's funny.

Anonymous said...

I with Buzz Kill, as the father of a young girl, I do, from time to time, try to cook with my kid. I hope it helps future woman accept that household duties should be shared and its quality time with the kid. But these periods do not result in high cuisine. Pasta, baking, etc. When daddy is six burner deep in a dinner party, sweeties knows to stay in the play room.

So, I find it really hard to see how cooking with kids is Top Chef material. Cooking FOR kids, maybe.

As for the swearing, I haven't done a statistical study of all the episodes, but it seems that aside from the occasional anger outburst with screwed up burners and quickfire losses, that the swearing is down in the last few episodes. Maybe they re-edited?

Anonymous said...

@4:16 - it's "meh" because it's BORING as hell. the challenges are mostly blah, product placement insane and inept (Uncle Ben's to the rescue for a 15 min dish? really?) and overall not testing chefs but cooks

AB is spot on with the post and overall Rachael Ray spirit of mediocrity and commerce looming large. guest chefs picked are mostly an outrage with the exception of Gale Gand and Paul Kahan. why drag Wylie Dufresne to CHicago is you have Achatz, Cantu, etc. right there?

Maya said...

I guess with good manners, understanding dry humor is out the window as well. Oh yeah, Mark LITERALLY expected Tom to knock on the door and buy him a beer. He was obviously kidding, something our culture does not get at all.

Oh yeah, the swearing is generational. I couldn't possibly be because:

1. Reality shows are like the worst version of high school, with bullying (a-hem) and judgemental attitudes, except you're on freakin' television where everyone can see you screw up.

2. Cameras are following you into your bedroom and bathroom filming you doing yoga, putting on underwear or brushing your teeth.

3. You get one outlet - booze - to help you feel better.

No, these things wouldn't make me curse. Not at all. (Dry humor. Get it, America?)

Mary said...

It was "meh" because it was one long commercial! Uncle Ben's, GLAD, and whatever else was being hawked. This is my first and last season with the show, because it's boring. I only watched because I went to culinary school with Ryan. I do think Chef Tom is cute though.

2Partydrag said...

"I only watched because I went to culinary school with Ryan"

Mary, please spill the beans... is he really that full of himself? what a blowhard!

Anonymous said...

I'm going to play devil's advocate here and say that the reason people think the show has become "blah" and "meh" is that, for once, the women are coming out on top and not the men. Antonia, Stephanie, and Lisa can all cook circles around Dale even while drunk and/or stoned and with both hands tied behind their backs. And even Richard "Everyone Acts as Though I am the Second Coming" Blais is no match for Stephanie, the strongest of the women. I'm sorry, but the "haute cuisine" world is incredibly sexist. (You left scales on your fish homeboy?! That's the most boneheaded "first week of culinary school" mistake EVER)

And, ummm, HELLO, contradiction much? Colicchio himself posted on his blog that he recognizes that chefs are a "salty breed" (with examples like Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain, as Hughman pointed out, the breed is QUITE SALTY INDEED). And now he's pointing fingers at the MTV generation for the constant swearing on TC? Give. Me. A. Break. Methinks it's time to pick a new head judge. Monsieur Colicchio, as far as I'm concerned, has worn out his welcome.

One last thing: Charlus, kitten. If children ceased to exist, then where shall we find the next generation of catty Gay men? ;-) When you leave us (a long long long time from now, of course), who shall remain to fill your (no doubt expensive and quite stylish) shoes? ;-) Has that thought ever crossed your mind?

hughman said...

well Diana, i agree (since you mentioned me!) and disagree on some points.

my thinking the show has become meh has nothing to do with the women involved at all. in fact, an All Female cast would be totally a cool idea. however the show has pushed even the women to the role of "mother cook" and "saver cook" to the forefront and not given them the showcase they deserve. indeed it seems it panders to the Food Network ideal of meals in thirty minutes and how to make do with hamburger for your family.

i don't know if Tom should be booted (he has become, after all, part of the "brand") but i agree he's out of his mind about the language and MTV/Jon Stewart. when you think of Jon Stewart, you don't think of curse words off the bat. so that was a weird reference.

kids are cute. over there. in someone else's care. as a gay man, i applaud others efforts to raise kids - straight and gay people alike - but i'm not interested in one eating my nibbbly things at cocktail hour. so keep pushing out the gay kids and keep a steady stream of Project Runway finalists coming out of the school system and we'll all be happy.

Yay team!

Anonymous said...

I totally disagree with your assessment of this season being worse than others. Of course, if you loved the seasons where they could barely cook (season 1) or they tried to kill each other (season 2) I guess you would think this season was boring.

As for the cussing this generation certainly cusses more than others. I believe it is because they have gotten so dulled by the constant cussing in songs and cable.

hughman said...

yeah, i think the term "cussing" says it all.

Anonymous said...

If the swearing is generational, then is Tony Bourdain an anomaly for chefs in his age group?

Maria said...

This season is meh because they haven't had the opportunity to show how good they can be. Give them limitations (like working with offal, or other unusual foods), but not straitjackets (like the stupid common threads thing). Ideally, the conditions would be such that you send home the least good. At least when you're down to eight chefs.

stevie said...

chicago is also a place with great ethnic markets in most of its neighborhoods. and yet, they only shop in whole foods boystown. reliable sources tell me that it is the most fabulous whole foods in existence (of course it is!) but i'd rather see them at paulina meat market or stanley's produce, really doing something interesting and interacting with the culinary community here.

Anonymous said...

I hate Andy Cohen with a vengeance. I almost threw up trying to watch that interview as he continually says, "yeah, yep, yeah, yeah, yep". God he is an objectionable little queen. Stay off the air.

Ms. Place said...

You hit the nail on the head: the challenges are dreadful, trite, and boring. Look, these chefs are no more obnoxious or less talented than chefs in other seasons, but I am sick of the team competitions and contests that stand in for barely concealed advertisements. Let's get a meaty show in there. On top of which, why give the chefs such a short time to create the wedding buffets? What was the point? I want to see them shine, not droop and look half dead. Would one extra day have hurt Bravo? It certainly would please this viewer to see great cooking as opposed to a race to exhaustion finish. Also, why place the show in Chicago when they take so little advantage of that city? The fault for this lackluster season lies squarely on the Bravo producer's shoulders.

As for kids in the kitchen? Meh. I don't even like to see them in commercials. And Andy Cohen? Will someone drag him away from in front of the camera - please?

Mary said...

Mary, please spill the beans... is he really that full of himself? what a blowhard!

Yes, he was actually worse than what was shown on Top Chef. He was a horrid chef and just ass kissed the teaching chefs. He was jealous of the good chefs in our class and would try to sabatoge them. He was too dumb to do that well, though. He thought/thinks he is God's gift to women and if you happen to be a woman who disagrees, "there is something wrong with you or you are a lez." He is a douchbag. He has a horrible reputation in San Francisco. Did you notice how many chefs did not like him and had a history with him? That was no accident. He is a fake and dumb ass.

hughman said...

yay mary!