Top Chef: Free To Be Bland


[Photo couresty of]

A sugar free quickfire and an elimination challenge with no limitations left some cheftestants free to be bland this episode. And with the new regular judge Toby Young coming into play, the chefs seem to have a long road of criticism coming their way, so bland is surely not the way to go… unless you want to go out that is.


You see, I’m not one for fish tacos. I never have been, and I don’t foresee ever craving one in my near future (I do like ahi tuna steaks though – but I don’t think that’s a classic ingredient for a fish taco – anyone care to comment?). Of course I’m talking about Melissa’s fish tacos, the epitome of why Melissa should have been sent home a long time ago. To her credit, she said this episode was the first time she saw immediate reactions to her dishes (quickfires aside) and maybe she never realized what she was up against.


Frankly, Melissa  and Gene didn’t deserve to be around for much longer anyhow. Gene chose a daikon fettuccine and fried fish dish which, as noted by Jamie’s intuition seemed weird and crazy from the start. Oddly enough, when I saw Morimoto teach a cooking class, he made daikon fettuccine with a tomato basil sauce too. But either way, these two contestants  had yet to prove themselves while the other contestants were winning all sorts of quickfires and elimination challenges. (For the sake of the facts, I guess Melissa was on ‘Team Sexy Pants’ when they won the Foo Fighter’s Thanksgiving challenge?)  So, to the two of them, I say good luck and goodbye.


Now let’s get to the dishes that fared well this episode. First of all, Jamie won! Weren’t you just waiting for her to go on another tantrum if she didn’t? This time she was up against Stefan’s duck and cabbage dumplings and Ariane’s skate wing dish (seriously, has anyone ever heard of this fish before? I had to Wikipedia it and even they [the Wikipedia g-ds] don’t have much info but after reading this synopsis, I give Ariane credit – it seems like a hard fish to cook). But the judges chose Jamie’s scallop dish made with fennel and garlic cream. And it all sounds great, but scallops again? I guess the challenge was about making something that represents you…(I loved when Fabio said – “It’s Top Chef, not Top Scallop!”)

Oh and speaking of scallops, it seems that Carla was a bit confused this episode. She thought her pea risotto with scallops (the afterthought) would have been fine if she just didn’t add the scallops but from my impressions, the scallops were the only part of the dish anyone liked.


But the best part of this episode by far was that the chefs got to rate each other. In a blind tasting, the two teams got to talk about each other’s dishes with the judges without knowing who made what (hence the focus group title of the episode.) Awesome! They should have done something like this a long time ago. Some of the cheftestants were pretty relentless. They were better than the fiery new judge in my opinion!


And speaking of the new judge (Toby Young), I think a lot of his comments in judging the first group’s food were made to give off a scary first impression. If you noticed, he didn’t say anything too bad about the second group. No “cat food,” no “weapons of mass destruction,” no nothing.  Because he comes off so critical, I’m watching him with a critical eye . And I have to say, I was somewhat alarmed when he said he was overwhelmed by tasting so many things. That’s what his whole job is going to be! Only time will tell if I like him or not.



Official Episode Title: Focus Group

Challenges: Quickfire - Create a sugar-free desserts that tastes just as good as a normal dessert (judged by Jean-Christophe Novelli)

Elimination – Create whatever dish you want (for 12 people).

Winner: Jamie Eliminated: Gene and Melissa

Chefs Remaining: Ariane, Carla, Fabio, Hosea, Jamie, Jeff, Leah, Radhika, Stefan

Next episode: Former Top Chef Hung appears to be a guest judge and cheftestants appear to visit a farm.

For a list of ALL the Top Chef episode recaps on Chew on That blog, click here.

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  • Cynthia

    I TOTALLY agree with you re: Melissa. The minute she said “tuna tacos” I was screaming at the TV what Colicchio and friends have been saying all along about it being impossible to win Top Chef with simple dishes like that. C’mon, Melissa!

  • Brian

    I would just like to apologise for the whole of the UK for Toby Young. He has been much loathed in this country for almost 2 decades and has had to spread his overly thought out and self-scripted “humour” to another continent. Bring back Gail! Honesty is needed, not a sad Simon Cowell wannabe.

  • Brian
  • marye

    I want cable! :::Whimper::::
    Fish tacos sound gross to me. I am sure people like them somewhere but…not here.

  • Jessica@FoodMayhem

    Brian, thanks for the interesting article.

    Hilary, nice recap!
    I think most of this entire season has been bland. Everything Ariane (including the skate wing) has made is something you could find in a very average restaurant in NY. I haven’t seen much impressive plating and producers are more interested in product placement at this point. Sadly, I’ll probably stop watching after this season…

  • Bill

    Melissa has had plenty of chances to show some creativity and Gene seemed to try a bit too hard to be creative. Ariane’s skate wing looked yummy–it’s a very popular fish here in Dublin. Even the chippers offer it. Fish tacos, though not creative in the slightest, can be fantastic if made right. Warm, soft corn tortillas, grilled snapper, cabbage slaw, pico and some cilantro–heaven.

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