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.)