Top Chef, Season 3: 2 Days Until the Finale
We are only two days away from the finale of Top Chef and are down to three chefs. Surprisingly, in the beginning of last weeks episode, the judges stated that three, not two chefs, will go to the finals. I hope that they dont do a twist in the beginning of the episode and ditch someone in the Quickfire. I think that the three left standing are amazingly diverse and I really want to see what they will show us when it really matters, cooking their food. At this stage it is really any ones game and it is going to come down to who is having a better day.
I was actually excited to see Dale make it to the finals. Dale has been touch and go, but I always felt that there was more there. This last week he explained himself. Before entering this season of Top Chef, the restaurant he was working at closed, his boyfriend left him and he stopped cooking. He said he was down, and had forgotten what cooking was all about. He entered Top Chef, thinking that nothing was going on in his life and he had nothing to lose. He also was secretly hoping that he would re-discover the reasons why he once felt so passionate about being a chef. Win or lose, he has re-discovered that passion. Dale also always takes chances. When he falls, yes, he falls big, but he always puts himself out there. I am looking forward to seeing what a re-invented Dale will show-off.
Casey I think has surprised many people, including me, and I am glad that she did. Bourdain dashes her critics in his blog:
Casey won the Quickfire. And for those commentators here who wonder what heart or soul means in relation to food (The judges frequently reward Casey with the remark that her food is somehow more soulful than others. That she has heart) let me make it simple for you. They mean her food has a pleasing FLAVOR. Chefs usually mean when talking about soul ( or heart) that the food has a depth of flavor that is both exciting and somehow, strangely, comfortingly familiar. As if the ingredients belong together the way macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly or other, similarly beloved childhood combinations feel just right.
You can go pretty far out onto the edge and STILL manage to create soulful food. Thomas Keller, at his best, manages to do this with regularity, combining flawless – -even frighteningly advanced technique and flavors which evoke the shared memories of childhood. That he recognizes that human dimension displays heart and appeals to that indefinable part of us we call (for lack of a better word) the soul.
Got it now, conspiracy theorists? Heart does not mean nice rack. Soul does not mean looks like Jennifer Aniston. The woman is GOOD. How many times does she have to prove it? Give her the respect she deserves.
Casey reminds me a lot of Remy from Disneys Summer hit, Ratatouille. She reminds people who eat her food, why they love food. I really like her, despite the onion debacle, and it would be nice for a woman to finally beat the boys.
Hung has always been a favorite of mine. I was shocked this past week when the fans said that they wanted him to go. Hung may not be the most endearing, but this is a competition. I frankly get sick of the contestants who whine about him not helping them when he gets done sooner. He is right, this is a competition. Especially, this past week it was only down to four. Hung admitted, if this was a restaurant he would help, but it is not. He managed to get it done, that is part of the contest. Anthony Bourdain also brought up another thought when it comes to Hung, it is all about his back-story. Hung comes from a family who fled Vietnam. If you have never read about the trials such people faced to get here, you should. What these refugees suffered only to chase a dream that I think many Americans forget exists is in a word, amazing. Hungs family left everything behind, came to this country, worked hard and made themselves a success. He probably knows nothing more than fighting and working hard to make it. I just hope that Hung listens to the judges and puts some of his soul in his food. They have told him that he is technically the best, but that a little something is missing. I think Hung has that something, but that during this competition he has been too focused on dazzling people with his technique and knife skills that he forgot the obvious love he has for food. Admittedly, there really has been nothing more amazing on TV then Hung hacking into those chickens with such precision.
Part of the soul that the judges are talking about is related to his Vietnamese heritage. Hung admits that his family is his biggest influence, but he neglects to show this with his dishes. I was never sure how I felt about this. My first reaction has been, just because he looks a certain way you expect him to cook a certain way?? But then Anthony Bourdain, a chef, foodie and extensive food traveler brought the point home:
Let me respond quickly to a valid question thats already come up twice: Why do the judges (and why do I) keep suggesting that Hung might benefit from incorporating Vietnamese flavors or ingredients or culinary traditions into his offerings? Simple answer. Because we (rightly or wrongly) see a Vietnamese heritage (particularly one with deep associations with the restaurant business) as an enormous advantage for a cook. Because most chefs I know are crazy about Vietnamese food and if lucky enough to have visited Vietnam, totally ga-ga over the place; the easy accessibility of excellent, fresh, startlingly sophisticated foodeven in humble homes, food stalls and markets. Hung comes from one of the foodiest of foodie cultures. Whether second generation, living in Texas or LA or Minneapolis, he has grown up withand aroundthat food culture. He has said as much. There is a tendency among chefs and judges to expect and even hope that hell show us some of that. Not that he has to. He could just as easily win this whole thing with his French chops.
To read Bourdains Blog in its entirety click here.
I hope that this week no one falls on their face. I want to see these judges work. I hope to see a range and a three horse race. I dont know if I have a favorite. The woman in me is screaming, Girl Power, though I like Dale and Hung is deserving. I going out there and placing my bets on Hung, but they all are great.
Who do you want to win, or think will take home the title of Top Chef?