Top Chef Las Vegas – “Vivre Las Vegas”

TopChefTitle

“Vivre Las Vegas”

September 9th, 2009

I think I’ve discovered the effect of watching Top Chef week by week.

As particularly obsessive readers of the blog might know, I went through the first five seasons of Top Chef at a pace of about two a week (that’s seasons, not episodes) over a period this summer, and obviously got a little bit addicted to the show. I was curious to see just how I’d react to not being able to turn on the next episode as soon as a chef got sent to pack up their knives.

What I’ve discovered is that it’s made me really impatient, although in a way that really defines how the sixth season is thus far progressing. There is some amazing talent in this year’s cast, and I think that’s the problem: the sheer gulf between those individuals and the rest of the field is so large that I want to be able to watch the next episode not because I’m desperate for more Top Chef but because I want them to cull the herd as quickly as possible so we can see that core group go head to head in what could be one of the most competitive Top Chef finales ever.

For this reason, I was quite pleased to see “Vivre Las Vegas” eliminate two chefs who were pretty well dead weight, as it means we’re that much closer to really getting down to business in Vegas.

I don’t mean to be cruel to Jesse or Hector; in fact, I feel really bad for Jesse, who honestly seemed like she had some decent ideas and even on occasion executed one well (like her very first dish, which competed with Jen for the first High Stakes Quickfire), but who just could not pull it all together. When they asked where she got the idea for her Escargot dish from, she had no clue: she didn’t think it through, and there wasn’t that sense of execution that is required to stay in the competition. It’s unfortunate that she hasn’t been able to execute since that very first challenge, as I don’t think she’s as much of a failure as the show made her out to be, but I think that it was nonetheless time for her to go home.

The same goes for Hector, although he’s been under the radar since his deep-fried steak sent him into the bottom. He was a victim of letting the clock freak him out to the point of bungling what was called out as the “easiest” of the processes – while some were working with proteins that seemed to be challenging or present a particular headache, Hector was cooking what Ash called “basically Filet Mignon,” so he really didn’t have an excuse for his rushed cutting job and bloody cuts. Ash was just sort of collateral damage, someone who’s never been in the bottom before and who knew when the plates were going out that something was wrong.

It was a really enjoyable episode on the whole: James Poniewozik points out that there is something about subtitles that lends it all an element of class, and I think that goes for the entire episode. Part of the charm of Las Vegas is that such class can exist within what can otherwise be a very baudy atmosphere, so for them to bring a touch of France into the show really highlighted the show’s ability to switch between fine dining and sheer chaos at a moment’s notice (which makes Las Vegas a suitable location – it even allows them to go out to the desert, as we see next week). The escargot challenge focused on a protein that some chefs have no familiarity with (Robin admitted it, and logically ended up in the Bottom Three), while the final challenge really was something that couldn’t have been done early in other seasons and really felt special with the presence of Joel Robuchon (who actually got a Chyron tag of “Chef of the Century,” which: awesome).

But really, at this point, this season belongs to the Brothers Voltaggio, Kevin (who won the Quickfire) and Jen. Mike might claim to be at the top, but he’s yet to impress me on his own and both the deconstructed sauce and the way of cooking the fish were both Bryan’s ideas. But the other four have proven themselves time and time again in a wide range of challenges: Jen might be a seafood specialist but she has yet to falter in other areas, Kevin’s simple brand of ingenuity (who can complain about bacon jam?) continues to win over the judges, and the brothers’ sense of sibling competition seems to be powering them to some really refined and professional cooking. It’s the kind of Final Four that would give me pause, if I were Top Chef producers, to let them all go through to the finale and see what each of them pulls out when it’s all on the line.

And everyone else just can’t measure up. Ashley’s been in the bottom for what seems like forever and found herself on the chopping block twice this week, so she’s just biding time. Robin and Laurine are capable but have yet to bring a standout dish to the table, and Eli has shown promise but like Mike seems to be struggling to really break through. Ash and Mattin ended up in the bottom this week (Ash for saucing issues, and Mattin for managing to botch the classical French challenge by adding too much bacon to his sauce), so it’s not as if they’re really proving themselves to be contenders either. And Ron, saved here by his French training, just hasn’t managed to put anything interesting on a plate as far as I’m concerned.

And so, while I’m finding waiting a week for episodes fine in terms of spreading out the Top Chef goodness, right now I just want to fast forward to when we only have the final four standing, and when the show can really get down to business.

Cultural Observations

  • Fun editing mistake: They show a shot of the holding room with Kevin sitting in it, and then show Kevin’s grand entrance.
  • I thought it was interesting to see the judges quite correctly deconstruct Ashley’s Judges’ Table behaviour: she had a chance to throw Mattin under the bus for basically vetoing her idea and instead making the sauce a baconized mess, but she chose to just sit back and keep quiet. She is clearly not in their good books, and it’s like she doesn’t want to give them any excuse to kick her off: a sound strategy, should she improve the quality of her cooking.
  • While I think spending more time with Robuchon (considering his title and stature) is right and all, I hate to see Hubert Keller stop by and barely get to speak. I love me some Hubert, so I demand he return at some point in the future.
  • I like the way the show uses little interstitials to get across normal life in the house: it kind of hearkens back to Season One’s playful house environment, as opposed to the drama with relationships and physical confrontation that seemed to have taken place since then. Mattin’s drunken birthday ramblings seemed like a hell of a fun time.
  • I haven’t posted about the show since the premiere, so I’m curious: who’s everybody’s favourite? I’m kind of rooting for Kevin, since picking between the brothers seems premature and he just seems so much friendlier than the talented but curmudgeonly Jennifer.
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5 Comments

Filed under Top Chef

5 responses to “Top Chef Las Vegas – “Vivre Las Vegas”

  1. Howdy – I’d like to say that I’m rooting for Kevin, myself. I think I like Jen the best after him, though I’ll admit that part of it comes not from her cooking, but from her blunt straight-shooting (sometimes to a fault). I loved it when she griped about how being split boys and girls made no difference in that challenge earlier in the season.

    It’s refreshing, given how frequently the show resorts to other non-cooking-based devices for drama – the ridiculous make-out sessions from last season, the continued focus on gayness and its effect on a chef (see “team rainbow” from the past and a few chefs this time around too). It’s all sort of irrelevant to whether or not you can put a well executed, nicely plated dish in front of the judges or not.

    But hey – that’s the flaw in most reality shows. We start judging as an audience by likability and empathy instead of on merit, while I suspect the producers keep some weak contenders or dramatic characters in play just to make sure the next episode is juicy. Ha ha.

    Here’s how the current cast of characters breaks down in my mind.

    Kevin – golden bacon bbq boy can do no wrong
    Eli – the mediocre “other guy from Atlanta”
    Jersey Mike – coat-tail riding rude dude
    Ashley – constantly fretting, whiny
    Mike V. – the brother I’m rooting for a little less
    Bryan V. – the brother I’m rooting for a little more
    Jen – great chef, needs to polish people skills
    Laurine – the female Eli backgrounder
    Robin – spunky, ADHD, maybe out of her league
    Mattin – unremarkable token European
    Ash – nice guy, just hanging on

    I think that’s it. Anyway, I agree with your call for the final four. And definitely hope they’ll cut two an episode a few more times.

  2. Kevin is my favorite. At my house, we call him Beardie. He has such a nice face, and he’s only 26!

    I like Bryan, he seems classy, and Jen has talent, but other than that, she makes for kind of boring TV.

  3. Greg

    Kevin is quite enjoyable. But would he know if Bumbles bounce? Really, he looks like Yukon Cornelius (from Rudolph the red nose reindeer). On a side note, Jen is kind of hot (when not suffering from blemishes).

  4. e

    I just love Kevin. He is a fountain of ideas, but manages to polish those ideas in the short times and heavy pressure to produce winner after winner.

  5. javixas

    Definitely Kevin. I think that by far he has the best ideas, attending perfectly to the topic. Like this weeks quickchallange where he did the “escargots” Snails very simply with earthy stuff, mushrooms… Simple, elegant and great. Just what cooking should be.

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