reality tv / television / Top Chef

The Night We All Cried Into Our Food (In a Good Way)

I have a healthy love for reality television shows of all sorts, particularly those that involve making something by the end of the episode.  I think it’s because thsi type of television makes me feel oddly productive. I can, at the end of an hour or half-hour, be secure in the knowledge that while I sat on the couch and ate sugar cereal (for dessert only), I technically learned how to do something like decorate a cake or build a specialty motorcyle.  I’d like to think that, if pressed, I could replicate the skills I’ve seen on television and sufficiently wow Tim Gunn or impress Padma Lakshmi.  I realize this is a complete delusion created to justify my watching preferences, but it makes me feel like an athletic, flexible, multi-skilled individual.

But anyway, I love (most) reality TV.  And I particularly love reality television that centers around competitive cooking.  As a relatively picky eater, I experience none of the frustration of the viewer with the more advanced palate.  I will never, ever order squab anywhere, so I don’t get mad that I can’t taste the squab or judge its seasoning and texture, so I’m fine if the tv people just tell me how it is. (A few notes on squab and me : First, it’s completely beyond my taste preferences.  Secondly, I looked it up on Wikipedia, so now I know what it is.  Which means any chance of me eating it is more or less out the window.).  I can be completely objective since, for me, watching Top Chef is almost the same as watching Project Runway before they moved it off Bravo and I didn’t feel like tracking it down.* 

And this season of Top Chef was pretty awesome.  It was actually about cooking, being a chef, and having tons of body art, which prompted me to ask the question: does a chef know that he or she has really made it when they finally say, “Heck, I’m going to fill in both tattoo sleeves?”  Most of the chefs were pretty standard Top Chef fare – relatively decent chefs who sort of choked and succeeded in equal measures until they were finally, mercifully cut from the show.  It was pretty clear from, like, the third week that the final four would be Jennifer, Kevin, and Bryan and Michael Voltaggio (I know! Brothers! Drama!), and the only real suspense was who was trying to figure out when the other thirteen people would be asked to pack their knives and go.  But it was still a great season because these four chefs were so badass.  I actually rewound my TiVo more than once to watch Michael and Jen butcher and prep rabbits.  It was crazy, silent, and filled with a strange energy that made me need to sort out my feelings about what I had seen.

And even though there were opportunities for Brothers! Drama! that Bravo looked for all season with quick cuts and response shots, the Voltaggios played it cool and churned out straight-up solid food throughout the season.  I appreciated both their coolness and skill, since it made it harder for me to pick which one I liked best because I tend to develop television crushes on intense, skilled professionals.  And while I’m still pretty mostly on Team Bryan (older siblings unite!), I was both surprised and pleased to see Michael win in part two of the two part season finale.  His meal was interesting – though, not I think, the best thing he produced all season – and I really thought Bryan was going to win, but the way Michael’s cool guy veneer just broke down when Padma told him he was Top Chef was really something to see.  Even more watchable was the way that both Tom Colicchio and Toby Young also started to tear up once they realized that Michael had dissolved into a triumphant blob.  I also appreciate how Michael pointed out to Padma that he was, in fact, capable of emotion.  I always enjoy the underlying, sometimes vocalized tension between the cheftestants and Padma and I love any moment when someone declares, I AM NOT A ROBOT.        

So, at the end of the sixth season of Top Chef, after many seasons of faithful viewing, I have only one question:  Where can I pick up a soundtrack?  Because I feel like I could find a place in my life for suspenseful, kitchen related tones.

*True story: Tim Gunn also gives remarkably good teaching advice.

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