Top Chef: Not A Fresh Start


I considered many titles for this Top Chef episode 8 post, including “What the crap?” or something along the lines of this Serious Eats forum post:  “I may never watch Top Chef again.”  That said, I was SHOCKED at who went home this episode but don’t worry I won’t ruin it for you. Well, not until after the jump.

From chefs cooking with canned goods in the quickfire to using straight-from-the-farm produce and meat in the elimination challenge,  episode 8 was all about making the most of your ingredients, wherever they may come from.

And I have to say that in the quickfire, a lot of the chefs sounded like total snobs as soon as Padma unveiled the canned products. Leah was full of complaints, Radhika was pretty much above canned products, and Jamie pouted “I’m just not good with canned goods.” I thought this made the chefs look ridiculous because there are many of us at home watching that have to cook with canned goods everyday. I realize fresh is better but it’s often times more expensive and frankly, if you’re a good chef you can make something tasty out of any ingredients. Well that’s the test anyway, And not so ironically – with Hung as the guest judge – Radhika, Jamie and Leah were the bottom three. I’m not saying they are terrible chefs but as a professional chef, you really shouldn’t be an ingredient snob. Cooking with the freshest and already tastiest ingredients is not a measure of skill.

Random fact: episode 8 of the last season of Top Chef had essentially the same quickfire (create an entree in 15 minutes!)

Stefan, for example, grabbed his spam and Velveeta cheese with embrace and cooked the best damn baked bean soup and grilled cheese he could with what he had. As egotistical as Stefan can be, he is not a foodie snob and that’s actually what makes him a great chef. He knows what will appeal to the people – he doesn’t dumb it down, he just makes great quality classic dishes. (Looking back now, he did let out an “Ugh g-d” in response to the unveiling but he still at least attempted to make something out of them.

Moving on to the elimination challenge, this was one of those episodes where you had no idea who would end up at the bottom or top. It was so hard to gauge until the very end. If you pay attention to the viewer surveys during the episode, the viewers actually though the lamb dish was best! Clearly, the judges disagreed.

It is just ironic that you can butcher a whole lamb, cook it, make the rub and go home when some people can simply chop up some corn, call it a day and continue competing (Radhika). Or if you’re Leah, you can knowingly bitch about someone’s roast tying skills, reluctantly offer to help and then do a crappy job yourself when you do. It was just frustrating to see Ariane who is such a team player to go home for two people that were cliquey and who make bad decisions. Hosea and Leah dominated the team for no good reason and for no good outcome and Ariane was sent home because of it.

As Padma tried to iterate to the new judge Toby Young, Ariane has made good food before (good lamb in fact). Sure, she can be clueless about butchering the lamb from scratch, but she can cook it.

I mentioned here that it seems the judges criteria for each challenge shifts from taking prior challenges into account or not. Naturally, the new judge Toby Young would serve as a reminder that they shouldn’t, but I don’t think that sort of rubric is particularly fair.


The lamb dish also looked the best to me. It may not have tasted good, and it surely didn’t look like a 3 person job, but lamb itself is more appealing than chicken cutlets or pork tenderloin (ok maybe I have some bias with tpork tenderloin). That’s not to say that team chicken or team pig deserved to go home, it was just sad to see Ariane go.


Actually, the only thing that makes me feel better about Ariane being kicked off was her nasty looking quickfire dish: an open face turkey spam sandwich. It neither looks nor sounds appealing.

Now I have to realign my picks for who will be at the top. I used to think Leah but now I’m less than impressed. And Ariane is out of the running. So, here’s what I’ve got: Jamie and Stefan, Fabio and Jeff might be my final four.  Radhika hasn’t impressed me in awhile (sadly, since she’s my fellow Chicagoan), Carla can be wishy-washy (though I do like her, oddness and all), Hosea isn’t all that creative, and Leah is now on my Top Chef shit list.


Official Episode Title: Down On The Farm

Challenges: Quickfire - Create a meal out of canned goods in 15 minutes (guest judge: Hung Hyunh).

Elimination – Create a family style meal that honors the protein that came fresh from the farm. Chefs were in teams of Lamb, Pig or Chicken (guest judge: Dan Barber).

Winner: Chicken team (Jamie, Carla and Stefan) Eliminated: Ariane

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

Next episode: Restaurant Wars!

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

Photos courtesy of

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  • Carolyn Jung

    I, too, thought it was unfair that Ariane got the boot. The woman cut up all that lamb by herself — surely the hardest job on that team. So maybe she didn’t cut it up with panache. Then, someone on her team should have noticed earlier and either said something or lended a hand. But she’s right: Usually what goes around, comes around.

  • Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella

    We don’t get Top Chef here but I have to agree that open face SPAM sandwich doesn’t look in any way appetising!

  • Oxen Cox

    I am so with you on Top Chef. I wanted to mush my dinner on the tv screen. Okay, maybe not mush, it was pretty tasty. This season is sucking it hard. My boyfriend is tired of me bitching about it. I will form an anti-Leah campaign with you.

  • Erin

    I also agree that this season has been pretty lame. They just don’t seem as talented or interesting as chefs on past seasons. And Leah is at the bottom for me, too. She’s obnoxious! I feel like this season is a bust, and Bravo is really going to have to do better next season or this show will be over for good. I still can’t help watching it every week, though :)

  • Addie

    These chefs are mediocre at best. Not one has stepped up and wowed any one judge. They are all better at griping than cooking. I think they should all go home.

    They don’t seem to understand that the reason for the time limits is that you have them constantly in a restaurant and they should be able to accomplish something in the time alloted.

  • salt and pepper

    I have at least 2 or 3 “I’m never watching this show again” moments, but I always come back. Alas. I agree, not being able to cook from canned goods??? What’s with that?!?!

  • bryanD

    The last two episodes have gotten back on track (AMFAR, Christmas, and Today Show episodes were garbage).
    Now all we have to worry about is the hackery of Toby Young. Note to producers: the reason Simon Cowell (the TC producers’ obvious template for Toby) works so well for the AI model, is because Simon Cowell is the only sane one on the judges panel. Padma and Tom don’t need a reality check from a smirking midget with memorized lines.
    As for this weeks results, I like Ariane and I would have axed Leah or the canned crab seafood “chef”, but I can’t fault the judges’ decision. I can’t help but think that prior results, and the knowledge of the chefs’ skill set, figure into things when the purpose of the entire show is to produce a King Kong versus Godzilla foodie throwdown. I can’t help but think that Leah’s “difficult” white asparagus soup and perfectly executed breakfast amuse-bouche were considerations.
    Free advice to Carla: embrace the vegetarian angle at all times whenever possible. It’s your best route and Tom’s on a “respect” kick this year.

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