The quickest way for a chef to pack their knives on “Top Chef” is to present an under-seasoned dish to the judges. If you haven’t mastered Basic Cooking 101 with salt, pepper and spices, you have no business being in the kitchen. After watching Season Five, all the contestants were under seasoned. That was painfully obvious in the first episode, where 50 chefs from the New York area who didn’t make the show slammed the dishes presented to them for the first elimination challenge.
As the season wore on, I lost all interest in who stayed and who went home, didn’t read the blogs, and simply didn’t care while watching the episodes. The cooking and the drama were uninspiring. If you’re going to serve deviled eggs, the deviled eggs better be phenomenal because anyone can make plain old deviled eggs. If you’re going to serve tender lamb, you don’t butcher and hammer it to death. Even when there were eight contestants left in the “Restaurant Wars” episode, which pits two teams to create and execute a restaurant concept from scratch, they managed to blotch that with a lackluster performance. The moronic contestants from Season Two, who almost killed the series because of their reality TV antics, could cook circles around these contestants.
I did take a shine to Jamie from San Francisco (executive chef at Absinthe). For the first six episodes, she came close enough to winning something. That didn’t change until she won episode seven. When she got eliminated in episode 11, she looked bone tired. She had an opportunity for the semi-finals in New Orleans to come back into the competition, but she lost the Quick Fire challenge. She seems like the only one who had heart and soul behind her cooking.
When regular judge Gail Simmons left the show for her honeymoon, Toby Young, a British food critic with no professional culinary training, joined the judges table. His comments—”I have found the weapons of mass destruction in this bowl,” “the bland leading the bland,” “taste like cat food”—was unusually harsh. No surprise if you read his book and/or seen the movie, “How To Alienate People and Loose Friends,” where he comes across as being a total prick that shocked and horrified the contestants.
I’m disappointed that Young toned down his comments after his first appearance, adjusting to the Americans rather than the Americans adjusting to him. This season might have turned out differently if he had hammered the contestants rather than sugar-coating the truth about their lousy cooking.