Top Chef

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Block Party

Back to Padma, who reveals that the Quickfire involves taking a staple of Mexican cuisine and reinventing it as a fine dining dish. "We want you to take on the taco!" enthuses Padma. She then asks Bayless is he serves tacos at his fine-dining restaurant, and when he answers, "We do serve tacos, but with a twist, that's for sure," he sounds like a young boy in the midst of puberty's mortifying voice change, and I'm creeped out a little more. I'm sure he's a lovely man, but his voice grates like the proverbial nails on a chalkboard.

Taking Mexican food -- "about the people, about the streets" -- and making it upscale makes Erik cranky, and I agree with him. The quasi-sociopolitical aspects of his objection add some legitimate depth to my food-based argument above, although if one gets upset every time something 'of the people' gets co-opted for the pleasure of the bourgeoisie, one is going to spend a lot of time getting upset. As the Quickfire begins, there are several shots of the cheftestants cooperating and sharing with one another. Manuel explains, as he shaves off the prickly parts of a piece of cactus, that he's chosen nopales cactus since it is an esoteric ingredient that not may people know how to use (as a fellow Mexican chef, and an actual Mexican, he ought to know how to impress Bayless).

Echoing Erik, Spike flat out refuses to "go to a fine dining restaurant and order a taco," since tacos are inherently street food. He chooses pork for his filling, and vows to keep it real by keeping it street. He'll glance toward the upscale, but he doesn't "want to be somebody I'm not." And you are a man of the people, my friend. Andrew selects plantains and duck and expresses confidence that he will be the next Top Chef because of the "random and crazy ideas that pop into my head." It's amusing how many times in three short weeks they've made a point of showcasing the similarity of Andrew's and Richard's attitudes about being crazy and different. While Andrew has grown on me and Richard has -- what, ungrown? -- so far I think Richard has made some bolder choices. Plantains and duck, for example, are a pretty moderate, albeit tasty-sounding combo that could have been plucked from the menu at Asia de Cuba.

Richard, on the other hand, decides that "the buzz word is re-invent" -- see, he's the kind of person that uses the phrase "buzz word" -- and concocts a shell out of jicama. Adventurous? Check. Annoying? Check. Edible? Perhaps. Ryan takes inspiration from San Francisco's taquerias -- and there truly are none finer -- with a pomegranate and jicama salad, and squash tacos. I guess Ryan and I do not patronize the same San Francisco taquerias. He wraps his taco in a piece of paper, as Mark questions the logic of serving straight up street food in a challenge explicitly requiring a fine dining dish.

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Top Chef

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