By Ezra Klein
Apparently there was no recap this week. Strange! Suffice to say I’m happy with the outcome. No one in the final four is an obvious mismatch. You could have seen the case for Jeffrey or Jamie, but in these last few episodes, the talent has bunched.
So, a few disconnected observations, few of which have any bearing on tonight’s episode. First, did anyone else notice Season Four runner-up Richard Blais talking some serious smack? He’s got one of those blog things — all the kids have them now, they come with your MyFace page — over at Bravo.com, and he’s taking an Attackerman approach:
I am, quite honestly, much more of a seafood guy than Hosea. I completed a fellowship at my alma mater, the CIA, in the fish kitchen. I’ve put to rest and cooked thousands of lobsters. I’ve filleted just as many salmon. And yes, I’ve pinned down eel, and cut everything from Opah to Shad. My first chef position was at a restaurant that had a fish tank where a poisonous blowfish resided. When that fish passed away, I cut it. Just to know I’d done it.
I filleted a deadly blowfish just to watch him deflate. Or something. More succinctly: Suck it, Hosea. But hey, Hosea’s easy pickings. A graf or two later, Richard steps to Stephan:
Lobster with asparagus and hollandaise might as well be a culinary school dish. Of course, that’s the shear beauty of Ripert’s cuisine. It’s so simple that it gets you mad some times. But I’d agree with Hosea. Stefan is on a tremendous run. One of, if not the best, the show has ever seen. It’s not cumulative, as we always hear, but have a little more fun, you’re a chef, there’s matsutake mushrooms over there! We are watching a diver, who has a few great scores under his belt, do a straight dive on his third attempt. A basketball player in a dunk contest doing a lay-up.
This isn’t Omar calling Marlo a punk, but it’s close. Blaise! We miss you!
Which brings me to a different point: Stephan might be the season’s best chef. Hell, he might be the show’s best chef. But he’s crap to watch. Technique makes for good food and poor TV.
I’m not defending excessive use of foam, but Top Chef should think about choosing contestants who make more visually and intellectually interesting food. Instead, the show goes to great lengths to ignore the fact that we the viewers can’t taste the food. The good dishes rarely look much better than the bad dishes. A perfect beurre blanc is hard to distinguish from a mediocre beurre blanc. Particularly given the absence of HD. That’s fine, so far as it goes. We trust the judges. (Except, of course, for Toby Young.) But the show itself could do more to compensate: To make the construction and creation of the food more interesting.
That’s what Blais brought to the table. My favorite Top Chef moment, to this day, was watching Blais think his way through the challenge of perplexed tofu. Watching him conceptualize the dish — Q: what would confuse tofu? A: to taste like meat, to have grill marks, to smell of beef fat — I didn’t need to taste that dish. I knew why it deserved to win. He showed his work. And that’s of value for those of us who cannot taste, but can only see.