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Top Chef : Season 8 - All Stars


KristiB50
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I liked the cookie challenge, although the pretense of having The Muppets (much as I love them, especially Coooooookie Monster) "judge" the challenge was annoying. I kept expecting the Muppeteers to come up and actually make themselves known.

The Target challenge was just stupid. They should've given them more parameters than just "cook for 100 people". Make brunch for 100 people. Make breakfast for 100 people. Make after bar food for 100 people. Some sort of common ground. Even "make soup for 100 people" which is clearly what most cheftestants chose. But again, it was stupid, and lame challenge.

But, I almost fell on the floor laughing when one of them, I think it was Mike Isabella, was looking for a fresh coconut.

I was like..........."dude.....you ever actually *BEEN* in a Tar-jay food section????"

--Roberta--

"Let's slip out of these wet clothes, and into a dry Martini" - Robert Benchley

Pierogi's eG Foodblog

My *outside* blog, "A Pound Of Yeast"

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A friend was complaining to me just this afternoon about the ridiculousness of the challenges this season. I tried to counter his point about the US Open challenge with Le Bernadin fish challenge (while we BOTH assiduously tried to pretend the Isaac Mizrahi challenge had never happened). But after tonight, I give up; this is just bad.

As for Angelo, I'm sorry to see him leave but I also recognise the irony in why he left. The man often accused of sabotaging others (unfairly, in my opinion because I never saw any intent or malice) or accused of accidentally screwing up their dishes got tossed out tonight because he trusted someone else's hand in his dish. But, ultimately, it's his dish at the end of the day and his responsibility. I knew he was a goner when they used the kiss of death, aka the "inedible" adjective.

I think he really was exhausted. (And that's the only explanation I can give for his Steve Urkel outfit, which so distracted me at times I could barely focus on the contestants' souping cooking).

"There are dogs, and then there are German Shepherds.... "- Unknown

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Wow. This is one crappy episode. I've defended product placement before, sort of. This is just rediculous though! I mean the whole thing is a Target commercial. It's beyond silly and pisses me off. I'm not sure I want to finish watching honestly.

While I was watching this episode, I imagined that I'd find this very post. But I enjoyed this challenge very much.

IIRC, Hubert Keller won a Top Chef: Masters challenge cooking in a dormroom bathtub. At the time, he probably would've killed for an entire Target store to work with.

A good measure of a cook is to limit them to what's in a house at a given time. An entire Target store should produce some good stuff.

I was a bit disappointed by what they came up with as a whole. But it was a fair test.

Regarding the product placement/Target commercial, I'd say get used to it. Thanks to my DVR, I watch Top Chef prectically sans commercials. And of course in Indy we have a traditional automobile race that Target (and formerly K Mart) is a big part of. Target will sponsor a couple of cars but will pay for much of it by their 'associate sponsors' (Energizer Batteries for instance)

But interestingly, no one really played up any of the products. And in fact, it could be argued that one of those products sent someone home.

[EDIT]And henceforth muppets should narrate all quickfires.

Edited by IndyRob (log)
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Wow. This is one crappy episode. I've defended product placement before, sort of. This is just rediculous though! I mean the whole thing is a Target commercial. It's beyond silly and pisses me off. I'm not sure I want to finish watching honestly.

While I was watching this episode, I imagined that I'd find this very post. But I enjoyed this challenge very much.

IIRC, Hubert Keller won a Top Chef: Masters challenge cooking in a dormroom bathtub. At the time, he probably would've killed for an entire Target store to work with.

A good measure of a cook is to limit them to what's in a house at a given time. An entire Target store should produce some good stuff.

I was a bit disappointed by what they came up with as a whole. But it was a fair test.

Regarding the product placement/Target commercial, I'd say get used to it. Thanks to my DVR, I watch Top Chef prectically sans commercials. And of course in Indy we have a traditional automobile race that Target (and formerly K Mart) is a big part of. Target will sponsor a couple of cars but will pay for much of it by their 'associate sponsors' (Energizer Batteries for instance)

But interestingly, no one really played up any of the products. And in fact, it could be argued that one of those products sent someone home.

[EDIT]And henceforth muppets should narrate all quickfires.

I have no problem with product placement and as I mentioned, I've defended it before on these forums even when it is blatant. I am very much used to it as well. I just have no interest in watching a whole episode that is no more than a commercial for Target. It was a bad show. I'm also a bit tired of the whole argument about a true test of the chef is to "limit" them. Fine limit them, but at least be creative and maybe they will be more inspired. I'm not sure what the DVR has to do with it. Did you fast forward the whole episode?

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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I personally liked the long shot of the Swanson Chicken Stock during the cookie challenge. Maybe just a little out of place? that said... as long as the challenge involves cooking, I don't care about the product placement, store placement, location, whatever. The chefs are competing against one another head to head, they all have the same limitations, and this time the guy who went home left because he oversalted his soup, not because he got screwed by a broken hotplate or something. Not the most exciting or interesting challenge, but hardly as egregious as all that.

Chris Hennes
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I personally liked the long shot of the Swanson Chicken Stock during the cookie challenge. Maybe just a little out of place? that said... as long as the challenge involves cooking, I don't care about the product placement, store placement, location, whatever. The chefs are competing against one another head to head, they all have the same limitations, and this time the guy who went home left because he oversalted his soup, not because he got screwed by a broken hotplate or something. Not the most exciting or interesting challenge, but hardly as egregious as all that.

Chris, I agree with you practically. Yes, they needed to cook to win (I would hope this is always a given). Yes, they all have the same limitations (ditto). Is that all you are looking for on this show though? What would make it a bad show in your book? I am talking about general quality of the program and how it manages to (or not to) hold our interest. In that regard, it was crappy, IMHO.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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IIRC, Hubert Keller won a Top Chef: Masters challenge cooking in a dormroom bathtub. At the time, he probably would've killed for an entire Target store to work with.

A good measure of a cook is to limit them to what's in a house at a given time. An entire Target store should produce some good stuff.

I understand, and agree, with a lot of what you've said. I'm probably one of the few people who actually remembers nostalgically the vending machine/7-11 store challenge. And I really enjoyed the TC/Masters' Dormroom challenge (although that may be more because I adore Hubert Keller, not to mention that I think he's a total Silver Fox.).

I totally agree that a chef should be able to dig up something amazing from nothing, even under less than inspiring conditions. According to "Heat," Mario Batali did something similar early in his career in front of Andy Nusser one night while drunk and stoned using just some candy and a frying pan. And that sort of stuff is amazing. Once in a while....

BUT... my issue with Top Chef this season is that a lot of the stuff seems all about gimmicks (and yes, endless product placement) and less about actual cooking. The bottom line is this: there is a fine line between a show that is supposed to celebrate the best of cooking and a REALITY TV show that is just trying to squeeze money out of advertisers or endorsers while pretending to focus on cooking. Top Chef: All Stars needs to figure out if it wants the credibility or the money. I think we all know how they chose, if only because it's the nature of the beast.

I think that's why the whole "Chefs have to shine while limited" schtick is just going to seem disingenuous very soon. It's the same problem regarding how so many of the challenges are group-challenges. This shouldn't be so like American Idol. Especially at the All-Star's level. This is supposed to be about letting a person's INDIVIDUAL talent and gastronomic creativity shine, not about Isaac Mizrahi judging your food on the basis of looks JUST BECAUSE it's Fashion Week (and Padma is launching a line of (seemingly) Yeti-bib inspired jewellery).

The gimmicks are wearing thin, and, honestly, I think the show has suffered a little from the loss of Whatshername (from Season 1) who devised many of the challenges but who recently left the show. There are better tests of a chef's abilities than the Isaac Mizrahi challenge. Or endless group challenges, trying to fish for your food, doing group dim sum, etc.

At some point, the attempt to make things relevant for an attention-span-limited, reality TV audience, to meet marketing or advertising quotas, and the need to make the show be actually relevant and true to the cooking field are all going to come into huge conflict. I hate the annoyingly common expression, "Jumped the Shark," but this season of Top Chef has now started to come close to it in my opinion.

They've gone from schilling for Rocco DiSpritos frozen pasta in past seasons to a season where very little of it is about actual individual cooking. Yet, there are interesting options out there for someone not intent on promoting Target, Target's swill Isaac Mizrahi, or group cooking for toddlers at the museum under yet ANOTHER weird, boot camp cooking situation. This is not the Marines and Paris Island!

There are ways of focusing on the palate and the chefs that can be interesting to the (food-oriented) viewer and which doesn't involve silly gimmicks. For example, why not do (one of my standby favorites): a blind-folded taste test? It doesn't have to be just basic, blind taste-testing of common produce or ingredients (although Top Chef used to do some sort of heightened version of that back in the day). It could involve sauces, dishes and weirdly funky ingredients. It could be something similar to what Gordon Ramsey once did on Hell's Kitchen (or maybe it was more than once; I just watched one season before I decided it was beyond vile and would give me a heart attack) and what he did was this: make the contestants taste a dish with a gazillion ingredients, try to guess them, and then recreate or better the dish. It's a test of the palate, as well as of how quickly one can think on one's feet when faced with an unknown flavour profile and how well one can execute all that, let alone better it -- all in a short while. That's a much better test of a chef, IMO, than trying to be a baker for the Cookie Monster. After all, as Top Chef: Just Desserts just told us, ad infinitum, as if we didn't already know, bakers and chefs are totally different beasts. And this is the ALL-STARS! So why bring in baking a cookie for something like the Cookie Monster if this wasn't more about the schtick than the food.

Edited by Kafka Zola (log)

"There are dogs, and then there are German Shepherds.... "- Unknown

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I'm not sure what the DVR has to do with it. Did you fast forward the whole episode?

I, like many people, don't watch TV in real time much. I just let the DVR collect the shows I want to watch and I watch them as I please - fast forwarding through commercials. That's why I think product placement will become the norm.

I liked the challenge. I can relate to cooking in a Target store far more than I can to some Farm in Napa Valley. The only thing I didn't really like was the lighting. Target is definitely NOT a great dining atmosphere.

But it's entertainment. It's a game. It's not bocuse d'or.

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DVR here too. Fast forward not only through the commercials, but also through the inane, short chatty segment that Top Chef inserts about 40 minutes in so they can double the number of commercials at that point.

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

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I'm not sure what the DVR has to do with it. Did you fast forward the whole episode?

I, like many people, don't watch TV in real time much. I just let the DVR collect the shows I want to watch and I watch them as I please - fast forwarding through commercials. That's why I think product placement will become the norm.

I liked the challenge. I can relate to cooking in a Target store far more than I can to some Farm in Napa Valley. The only thing I didn't really like was the lighting. Target is definitely NOT a great dining atmosphere.

But it's entertainment. It's a game. It's not bocuse d'or.

You keep missing my point. I am very much aware what a DVR is used for. I watch most of my shows via DVR and I am not bitching about "product placement". Yes, advertisers need to figure out novel ways to get to their customers in the age of TiVo, but taking over a whole show and degrading the quality to the point of "well, it's not that bad" is not one of them. It's about quality. I believe we should support excellence, not mediocrity and this episode was beyond mediocre. I've never been to Napa either and I go to Target maybe 2 or 3 times a month. That does not mean I would like to see a cooking show set in Target. I prefer to expand what I relate to, not limit it to a 3 mile radius. Really Kafka Zola's post sums up my problem eloquently, to quote it:

I understand, and agree, with a lot of what you've said. I'm probably one of the few people who actually remembers nostalgically the vending machine/7-11 store challenge. And I really enjoyed the TC/Masters' Dormroom challenge (although that may be more because I adore Hubert Keller, not to mention that I think he's a total Silver Fox.).

I totally agree that a chef should be able to dig up something amazing from nothing, even under less than inspiring conditions. According to "Heat," Mario Batali did something similar early in his career in front of Andy Nusser one night while drunk and stoned using just some candy and a frying pan. And that sort of stuff is amazing. Once in a while....

BUT... my issue with Top Chef this season is that a lot of the stuff seems all about gimmicks (and yes, endless product placement) and less about actual cooking. The bottom line is this: there is a fine line between a show that is supposed to celebrate the best of cooking and a REALITY TV show that is just trying to squeeze money out of advertisers or endorsers while pretending to focus on cooking. Top Chef: All Stars needs to figure out if it wants the credibility or the money. I think we all know how they chose, if only because it's the nature of the beast.

I think that's why the whole "Chefs have to shine while limited" schtick is just going to seem disingenuous very soon. It's the same problem regarding how so many of the challenges are group-challenges. This shouldn't be so like American Idol. Especially at the All-Star's level. This is supposed to be about letting a person's INDIVIDUAL talent and gastronomic creativity shine, not about Isaac Mizrahi judging your food on the basis of looks JUST BECAUSE it's Fashion Week (and Padma is launching a line of (seemingly) Yeti-bib inspired jewellery).

The gimmicks are wearing thin, and, honestly, I think the show has suffered a little from the loss of Whatshername (from Season 1) who devised many of the challenges but who recently left the show. There are better tests of a chef's abilities than the Isaac Mizrahi challenge. Or endless group challenges, trying to fish for your food, doing group dim sum, etc.

At some point, the attempt to make things relevant for an attention-span-limited, reality TV audience, to meet marketing or advertising quotas, and the need to make the show be actually relevant and true to the cooking field are all going to come into huge conflict. I hate the annoyingly common expression, "Jumped the Shark," but this season of Top Chef has now started to come close to it in my opinion.

They've gone from schilling for Rocco DiSpritos frozen pasta in past seasons to a season where very little of it is about actual individual cooking. Yet, there are interesting options out there for someone not intent on promoting Target, Target's swill Isaac Mizrahi, or group cooking for toddlers at the museum under yet ANOTHER weird, boot camp cooking situation. This is not the Marines and Paris Island!

There are ways of focusing on the palate and the chefs that can be interesting to the (food-oriented) viewer and which doesn't involve silly gimmicks. For example, why not do (one of my standby favorites): a blind-folded taste test? It doesn't have to be just basic, blind taste-testing of common produce or ingredients (although Top Chef used to do some sort of heightened version of that back in the day). It could involve sauces, dishes and weirdly funky ingredients. It could be something similar to what Gordon Ramsey once did on Hell's Kitchen (or maybe it was more than once; I just watched one season before I decided it was beyond vile and would give me a heart attack) and what he did was this: make the contestants taste a dish with a gazillion ingredients, try to guess them, and then recreate or better the dish. It's a test of the palate, as well as of how quickly one can think on one's feet when faced with an unknown flavour profile and how well one can execute all that, let alone better it -- all in a short while. That's a much better test of a chef, IMO, than trying to be a baker for the Cookie Monster. After all, as Top Chef: Just Desserts just told us, ad infinitum, as if we didn't already know, bakers and chefs are totally different beasts. And this is the ALL-STARS! So why bring in baking a cookie for something like the Cookie Monster if this wasn't more about the schtick than the food.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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Wow. This is one crappy episode. I've defended product placement before, sort of. This is just rediculous though! I mean the whole thing is a Target commercial. It's beyond silly and pisses me off. I'm not sure I want to finish watching honestly.

While I was watching this episode, I imagined that I'd find this very post. But I enjoyed this challenge very much.

IIRC, Hubert Keller won a Top Chef: Masters challenge cooking in a dormroom bathtub. At the time, he probably would've killed for an entire Target store to work with.

A good measure of a cook is to limit them to what's in a house at a given time. An entire Target store should produce some good stuff.

I was a bit disappointed by what they came up with as a whole. But it was a fair test.

Regarding the product placement/Target commercial, I'd say get used to it. Thanks to my DVR, I watch Top Chef prectically sans commercials. And of course in Indy we have a traditional automobile race that Target (and formerly K Mart) is a big part of. Target will sponsor a couple of cars but will pay for much of it by their 'associate sponsors' (Energizer Batteries for instance)

But interestingly, no one really played up any of the products. And in fact, it could be argued that one of those products sent someone home.

[EDIT]And henceforth muppets should narrate all quickfires.

Totally agree with all of this. For me, it annoys me more when a show says "you will go to a large department store" or some other generic statement when it is obvious they are in a Target or Walmart or whatever. The whole point of the challenge - just like the dorm room challenge in Top Chef Masters - was ingenuity. I wonder if people would have less of a problem with the "ridiculousness" of the challenges if the goal of the challenge or the skill being tested was labeled as such, which is what The Next Iron Chef does, I believe, with all of their challenges. Lets face it, just "cooking the best dish" with all of the equipment they could want and all the time in the world - that would get pretty boring pretty fast, IMHO.

And I loved the muppets. It was silly, but a good tension break this far into the competition. By taking away immunity, I think it allows the competitors to relax a bit with the Quick Fires and if they need to just space out a bit on a challenge to keep their sanity, that is the place to do it.

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Its not the product placement I object to as much it is the sleep deprivation challenges. This is the second time they've had unannounced all night cooking challenges and it shows in the dishes that have been created. I think it was the lack of sleep that made Carla wander about wasting time looking for tablecloths when she should have been cooking and may have "fatigued" Angelo's tongue. Unfortunately the inconsistency of the judging and the sometimes lame challenges have lost the show to me. It has turned from a cooking show to reality tv.

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I was, again, disappointed so little attention was paid to the best dishes. They spent a whole lot of time showing them wandering the aisles of Target and not much time on the cooking. Dale's soup and sandwich won, but other than the fact he used an iron, I never saw much more about its components or why it was good. I don't recall seeing anything about how he made the soup. I'm assuming he didn't just open a can of Campbell's? And I don't think I saw anything about how Richard did the braised pork ribs to go with the tenderloin.

Bourdain had a blog post about how sometimes the judging discussions go on for hours. I know they need to keep the suspense for the end, but it would be interesting to see more discussion regarding both the winning and losing sides.

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Its not the product placement I object to as much it is the sleep deprivation challenges. This is the second time they've had unannounced all night cooking challenges and it shows in the dishes that have been created. I think it was the lack of sleep that made Carla wander about wasting time looking for tablecloths when she should have been cooking and may have "fatigued" Angelo's tongue. Unfortunately the inconsistency of the judging and the sometimes lame challenges have lost the show to me. It has turned from a cooking show to reality tv.

Here's how I imagine the planning of that episode going:

Target Sponser: "What's the challenge?"

Writer: "The chefs have to cook... At Target, using food and equipment they find in the store!"

Target Sponser: "But what's the twist, don't you guys have to mess with them, make it harder?"

Writer: "..."

Being a big sponsor, I don't think Target wanted the 'Challenge' to be cooking in their store with crappy equipment and an even worse selection of ingredients. So they went for sleep deprivation. Oh, and lets make people run around on a shopping spree too, at 3 in the morning, shoping sprees make our store look fun!.

So, 3 twists,

creative use of crap ingredients with crap equipment,

sleep deprivation,

and a time limit... ugg.

And it backfired on Target too. Note to sponsers: If you are not selling equipment/ingredients the chefs would pick normally, you ARE the challenge, not the setting.

Edited by Werdna (log)
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...It has turned from a cooking show to reality tv.

It's been primarily "reality" tv from the start. The cooks may be there to cook but the people making the show know who their majority audience will be and what they want to see.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Did anyone else get creeped out by the way all of the cooking and serving implements went from hanging on displays and sitting on shelves to prepping/serving food to guests without first being washed? Especially towards the end of the cooking, when one of the cheftestants grabs a ladle from a wall display and it goes plunk into his soup?

Even Glad/Ziplock containers are supposed to be washed before first food service use - you don't know where this stuff has been and what it's touched in the manufacturing/distribution/retail process.

"Life is Too Short to Not Play With Your Food" 

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Did anyone else get creeped out by the way all of the cooking and serving implements went from hanging on displays and sitting on shelves to prepping/serving food to guests without first being washed? Especially towards the end of the cooking, when one of the cheftestants grabs a ladle from a wall display and it goes plunk into his soup?

Even Glad/Ziplock containers are supposed to be washed before first food service use - you don't know where this stuff has been and what it's touched in the manufacturing/distribution/retail process.

yes. i couldn't stop thinking this, as they gathered and chopped and cooked. "nothing has been washed!" and all the target team members who stocked the shelves must have known that....yum!

"Laughter is brightest where food is best."

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Getting upset at who gets sent home here *sigh*

Angelo and Dale (and Richard) are the ones I wanted to see compete in the finale the most. Not that the other chefs are not talented, but they are just not as interesting.

I'm ready for the next generation of cooking challenges. One where the contestants don't get sent home at all, but instead accumilate points. Each point being worth a thousand bucks or something, so they have incentive to continue to do their best even if they are behind. Maybe a nice big prize for the winner of each episode too? Kick people if they get too far behind, but even in the judges eyes I can see the "shit, is there any way we can not send em home for this one?"

I know some people are in love with the idea of giving the axe to someone every episode for the great drama, but while that's cool for idiots in shows like survivor who contribute nothing -but- drama, in Top Chef they are killing part of their show (good food porn) each time they do it.

*Edited to add*

I have to expand on this a bit more, it's sounding like a really good idea to me:

Give points. Keep track of overall points. And, at the end of every episode, raise the bar required to stay on the show. Hell, you could have a show where everyone does ok and no one goes home. You could have a show where 3 people get sent home at once. You could have a great season where everyone cooks well and you raise the bar faster near the end to narrow it down if you want. Just staying on the show give the contestants the ability to earn points ($$$) so people on the bottom can fight just as hard as those on top.

heh, I would totally watch that. Feel free to use this idea anyone, all yours :D

Edited by Werdna (log)
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I really have to hand it to Mike; he was very gracious regarding his comments post-Marcel getting the ax (when he easily and justifiably could have torn him a new one). I would think that that's the key being on a show like this; always being diplomatic because you have no control over your sound bites.

When do you think Mike Isabella was so gracious with regard to Marcel? Are you referring to his comments at Judges' Table or, subsequently, in the bar as shown at the beginning of the next episode?

Personally, and speaking only for myself, "gracious" is not a word I would associate with Mike. IMO, *TRE* was very diplomatic and gracious regarding Marcel after his departure.

Yeah, Mike is pretty obnoxious. I'd surely have a hard time getting along with him BUT I do value people who will criticize you to your face rather than snipe behind your back.

Swiping an idea? It's difficult to justify while sitting in front of a computer, typing at my leisure but imagine the pressure that they're under. I'd have to say that Richard shouldn't have shown it to him just like Richard probably shouldn't be helping his competitors as much as he has been.

That being said; I'm not a chef (although I have worn the whites in my college days) and I'd hate to come across as Team Mike here. 'Nuff said.

Maybe I would have more friends if I didn't eat so much garlic?

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