Top Chef 2: Episode 10

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Episode 10: Michael Gets The Shaft

In the Quickfire challenge, in which the chefs were asked to prepare a snack from a variety of foods and a selection of Kraft condiments, guest judge Mike Yakura chose Marcel's Lamb Kebab with Curried Kraft Mayo, Endives & Tomatoes and Sam's Southern Kraft Sandwich with Tempura Shrimp Pickled Peaches & BBQ Aioli. As a reward, both winners were allowed to choose teams for the Elimination challenge: to design a restaurant from concept to menu and serve customers within 24 hours.

Sam's team of Ilan and Michael opened Lalalina, a rustic Italian restaurant. Marcel's team of Elia and Cliff opened M.E.C., an up-scale diner. The judges deemed both efforts so poor that no winner was declared, and both teams would be at the judges' table.

Episode 10 Judges Table

Judges' Table: No Winner

Marcel, Elia, and Ilan were excused from the judges' table, and the elimination decision came down to Cliff, Sam, and Michael. Of the remaining three: Cliff bombed horribly in his attempt at front service, contributed almost nothing to the food production effort, and displayed disrespect and arrogance that seemed even out of his normal rude, self-confident manner; Sam created and produced what may be the single worst dish in all of Season Two and spent more time taking over Michael's work than stepping up as the team leader he was designated to be; and Michael made no obvious mistakes for which he was solely or uniquely responsible.

In the end, the judges eliminated Michael for failing to purchase side plates for bread and olive pits and for making no obvious contribution to the cooking efforts. Both charges are specious.

On the former, Michael simply purchased supplies from a list that the team as a whole put together based on their chosen dishes. If anything, lack of foresight of the need for side plates should fall on the team leader, not the person simply purchasing supplies on the list. This failure was a team failure, not an individual one. In the worst bit of irony, had Michael realized the omission and bought the dishes on his own, the judges would not have credited him with the effort; they simply would never have realized that anything was ever amiss. The judges erred miserably in making Michael the scapegoat for the missing plates. For that matter, the judges noted the egregious lack of wine served at Lalalina's Italian restaurant, yet completely overlooked that Sam and Cliff (who purchased food while Michael purchased supplies) were solely responsible for the omission. Which is worse: an Italian restaurant that offers no wine or fails to provide a plate to discard olive pits?

On the latter, considering the disaster of a dish that Sam concocted, the raw chicken Marcel served, the bacon that Colicchio himself observed Ilan burning, and the over-cooked hamburgers Elia served (thanks to Cliff's inability to serve them in a timely manner), and Cliff's apparent lack of doing, well, anything in the kitchen, the judges again made the wrong decision. Their critique of Michael was not entirely incorrect; he was the least talented of the remaining chefs. However, if the chefs are judged based on current performance, then Michael had no business being eliminated this round. Clearly, either Sam (for poor team leadership and a horrendous dish) or Cliff (for complete failure in front service, lack of contribution in the kitchen, and utter boorishness at the judges' table) should have been eliminated.

Michael's downfall began as early as the Quickfire challenge, when the guest judge inexplicably bemoaned Michael's use of seafood and cheese in his Brie & Crab Quesadilla with Chipotle & Mayo Salad:

Episode 10: Michael Quickfire

Mr. Mohawk blatantly dismissed Michael's dish simply because he disagreed with pairing seafood with cheese. Yakura must have shaved off some brain cells when he gave himself that ridiculous 'do; regardless, he unfairly biased himself against Michael in the Quickfire, and that bias undoubtedly bore itself out in the judges' elimination decision.

Tom Colicchio didn't address the elimination decision, but discussed at length his disappointment with the overall effort. Key points:

I was truly disappointed to see that none of the chefs stepped up with a deeply personal vision of their food, and the environment that could showcase them to the judges and to the world. We’re down to only six chefs, and its safe to say that each of the six hopes to win and use the victory as a stepping stone for their own culinary career. Here, at last, they were given a chance to show who they were. If even one of the three on each team had done this, and the other two had provided support, it would have been a revealing window into the soul of these chefs and a chance to see who led and who followed.

But for reasons I can’t even fathom, Lalalina, Sam, Ilan and Michael’s “rustic Italian” restaurant and Marcel, Elia and Cliff’s M.E.C. Diner seemed like theme restaurants -- each representing an idea devoid of the personal connection that a real chef needs to bring to his work to make it unique. And on top of this, neither one was done particularly well.

He's right, but not addressing the judges' elimination decision in the post-episode blog was as much of a cop-out was was the decision to eliminate Michael for failing to purchase olive-pit plates.

In contrast the Colicchio's blog, Gail Simmons epitomizes the ridiculous rationalization of the judges in hers. She spends one page discussing the unacceptability at this point in the competition of producing bad-quality food and lack of people skills or charisma - which she somehow segues into her critique of Michael. Here is her explanation for the decision:

We decided to eliminate Michael this week for the same reasons. We no longer doubted his passion or his basic ability, after all he did set a record by winning both the Quickfire and the Elimination round in the same episode, but when placed in a team environment Michael did not attempt any kind of leadership role or show resourcefulness at all. This was apparent in both his purchasing of equipment (over $100 leftover in his budget and no bread plates or bowl for olive pits! No wine glasses! No wine!), as well as how he worked under Sam in the kitchen. None of us could be sure what, if anything, he actually contributed to the meal. He was at times infuriating but always fun to see on set, cheerful and positive. Maybe he should have been doing the serving at Lalalina that night? At least then we would have laughed a little.

She actually blames Michael for Lalalina failing to serve wine - something he had absolutely no control over and for which Sam and Ilan were completely responsible! The rationale for eliminating Michael was a complete non sequitur with the overall criticism of the teams' efforts. Michael didn't fail as a front man. Michael didn't serve under-cooked or horribly created food. Michael didn't overspend on food and decide not to purchase wine.

Gail's blog demonstrates that the judges were - for whatever reason - looking for an excuse to eliminate Michael, and found one suitable enough to justify the decision in their own minds.

Padma Lakshmi's blog echoes the judges' sentiment:

Sam’s team had bigger problems with stray olive pits, no bread plates and no wine; their team was the worse of two losing teams. Their biggest weakness was Mike. Finally Mike’s lackadaisical attitude caught up with him. Relying on his list, he failed to think on his own and take responsibility for at least the shopping. He kept saying he followed the list, I think "Top Chef" is looking for leaders, not followers.

Again, which is worse, a team player who follows more than leads, or a leader who fails miserably on all fronts? Were not Lalalina's failures a direct reflection on Sam? Utterly ridiculous reasoning.

Overall, the Episode 10 blogs were as disappointing as the show itself. The only redeeming entry was from Harold Dieterle, who appropriately bagged on Yakura for being a complete jerk.

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One Response to “Top Chef 2: Episode 10”
  1. Stephanie says:

    Honey I think you are addicted to this show now!