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[S9E13] Don't Hang Up _VERIFIED_

September 19, 2012Season 10 Announced... And Changes Afoot...Greetings, all!Well, that was a longer layoff than I expected. But a post is clearly in order because the big news of the day (well... aside from all of the actually important news) is that Top Chef Season 10 has been officially announced, it will be taking place in Seattle, and it premieres on November 7th.Here's the thing...I have reached the conclusion that it's time for me to hang up the Top Chef Power Rankings. It has been a huge amount of fun for, lo, these eight seasons (Top Chef 4-9 and Masters 1-2), and I've been waffling on it for months, but this thing takes an awful lot of time. In addition to family, work and Skillet Doux (which, unlike TCPR, is most definitely NOT going away!), I've managed to pile on even more obligations since season nine, and I'd much rather sign off than turn this into a chore... which is what I fear it would become.But here's the other thing...One of those aforementioned new obligations is a community food discussion site we've been trying to get started here in Phoenix called And dare I say, the best thing about TCPR hasn't been the actual rankings, but rather the little community and discussions that have sprung up around it. So I figured if I'm not doing the rankings, maybe we can keep this group going in another location that, quite frankly, is a whole lot better suited to discussion anyway.So let's officially make this the final missive from the Top Chef Power Rankings, and let me invite all of you to come on over to, where I've already kicked off a preseason thread, and will add a new discussion thread weekly once season ten is underway.Thanks for all of your support over the years, guys... and here's hoping this ends up being little more than a change of venue.See you there! Posted at 08:56 PM Permalink Comments (10)

[S9E13] Don't Hang Up

No, I didn't lose my will to finish the season recap. Though I don't know why I watch the reunion shows. It's like they take all of the stuff I hate most about the show and make an hour long special out of it. But no, this is not the reason for my extreme tardiness. It's just been a very, very, very busy week.In any case, I'm not sure that I have any great wisdom to share this season, beyond echoing the sentiment that it was a disappointing one. What's doubly frustrating, however, is that it got so much right while still getting so much wrong.First, the good:Last Chance Kitchen. Arguably more enjoyable than the regular show. Why? Probably because the challenges were mostly very straightforward, people were cooking for their lives, and the short format meant that what was missing was the usual dramatic BS. No fuss, no muss, compelling TV. InterTV. Whatever.The play-in round. Again, I hope this returns. It seems like it really helps to eliminate some of the clunkers that can make the first third of the season a frustrating joke. And it's good TV. I'm more than okay with this practice sticking around.The finale format. Seriously, bronze it please. One could argue with the inclusion of some of the dregs of the 29-person field in the sous cookoff, but that strikes me as a small sin in an otherwise fabulous structure. The whole setup made for just enough reality show intrigue while keeping things simple and straightforward and allowing the chefs to do their thing. If the show does exactly this for the finale every single season, I'll be thrilled.Showing off the location. Though the manner in which they did so wasn't always the most conducive to good cooking, and though I may be in the minority here, I really, really appreciate that they tried to get out of the kitchen a bit and show off the locale. Though it has little to do with the food, I think it makes for a more compelling show.Sadly, all of this good... and there was a lot of it... was derailed by the bad:Inconsistent judges. And by this I don't mean inconsistent judgING, but inconsistent judgES. For the first two seasons, we had Tom and Gail. Then, to allow Gail to handle some other obligations, we went to Tom and Gail and an occasional alternate, who the elves tried to keep consistent across seasons (Ted Allen in seasons three and four, Toby Young in five and six). Then the alternate judge started changing every season. Now we're up to Tom, Gail, Padma, Hugh and Emeril. I'm of the opinion that the guest judges, when they're good guest judges and not gimmicky ones, provide the necessary fresh perspective. But just as it's good when a viewer establishes a connection with the contestants over the length of the season, so too is it when they establish a connection with the judges. But other than Tom and Padma, it's like musical chairs. I wish there were a little more consistency here.The challenges. I appreciated the effort to work in Texas-specific challenges. Unlike many, I actually appreciated the chili cookoff. But BBQ is just too specialized and too touchy, I think. And while I have no problem with well-designed catering challenges, this season seemed dominated by tests of endurance and challenges where the chefs were set up to fail. The result? The instances where we got a true look at the contestants' food were few and far between. Time and time again, it's been proven that watching the contestants survive isn't nearly as enjoyable as watching them thrive, but this season's challenges seemed designed to give us more of the former and less of the latter. And don't even get me started on the culinary olympics. Like Rome before the fall. Let's feed some Christians to the lions while we're at it. Yeah, that'll be exciting stuff. Ugh.Drama. Oy. Yeah, it's high pressure. Yeah, stuff happens. Of course we're going to see that, and some of it is interesting. But the bickering and sniping just gets tiresome. Really, really tiresome. And while they can't control whether or not it happens, the editors can certainly control how much of a focus it is. More food, less childish BS, please. The suspense edit. Speaking of the editors, this has become one of the worst aspects of the show. Please, elves... the occasional amount of suspense we might feel at the end of an episode is far, far less compelling than actually seeing the judges' true feelings about a dish. Listening to them doing backflips over Paul's soup would have been a whole lot more fun than wondering if he was going to win by a little or by a lot. Editing out the passion -- positive or negative -- is removing one of the most compelling aspects of the show, and for what? A cheap surprise? Maybe on occasion? Plus, it undermines the credibility of the show by making it clear that there's no attempt to honestly portray how the food is received. We can't taste, so we have to rely on the judges. But we're learning that we can't rely on the judges because their comments have been selectively edited into oblivion. So what the hell are we watching, exactly? It's a terrible, terrible tradeoff. Please stop this.In general, I suspect it's an unfortunate matter of insecurity on the part of the elves. Top Chef has been around for a while now. Viewership isn't what it was at its apex. But now it seems as though they're just trying too hard, attempting to manufacture artificial excitement and drama rather than trusting in what made the show a success in the first place. This competition is compelling stuff! Seeing that food, seeing that passion, seeing the judges' reactions... THAT'S what makes this show compelling. Not sleep deprivation and childish bickering and manufactured suspense. That's why, for all of the good ideas to come out of this season, most of us here see it as unsatisfying. The spirit of the show is getting buried under a pile of crap. Find your roots, elves. Go back to what made the show a success in the first place. Let that passion and energy and FOOD come through. Please. Consider this post the final one for season nine, and home base for any off-season discussion. Though the fact that this is now its own blog means that I'll probably be less hesitant to post little updates here and there as news trickles out. Check back.Thanks again to everybody for making this a fun place to discuss the show, even during a down season. I LOVE that some of you might actually be getting together as a result. Community, community, community. And I apologize for the fact that an unusually busy schedule has meant that I've been a little less hands-on than in some seasons past. Hopefully that'll be remedied next time around.Until next season, all! Posted at 08:47 PM Permalink Comments (39)

I'm sure there are people who were hoping for a different outcome... buuuuuut I don't know any of them.That's a great finale. Two great chefs, both bringing it, even if the finale judges are starting to sound like Pee-wee ("I have to say, these are the best [pancakes] I've ever tasted."). And a close call, it would seem. (It's been suggested below that it perhaps wasn't as close as the edit would indicate... but I wouldn't know because video on the Bravo site is flaking out as usual... *facepalm*) And though I'm probably in the minority here, I would have been cool with Sarah winning after presenting a meal like that. It looked freaking fabulous.As with the routine recurrence of Restaurant Wars, can we write this finale structure in stone?I love the sous chef blind tasting. No, it doesn't necessarily demonstrate what they're looking for in sous chefs. It's probably more important to have somebody who can take and nail instruction, and is easy to collaborate with. But I do kind of like the notion that the food speaks. If Marco Canora doesn't put one of the best dishes on the table, he doesn't get selected. And if Tyler Stone does, why shouldn't he? The reason Sarah ended up with him was precisely because she was trying to game the system rather than playing along. It adds a little bit of reality show interest and fun while still keeping it about the food. And though others have expressed reservations below, I like the fact that two judging teams trade off. One of the most important parts of running a restaurant is consistency, and if you can serve a fabulous dish in the first half of the evening but can't pull it together in the second, I'm more than okay with that potentially having a bearing on the outcome. In general, this format is an excellent way to gauge how these chefs perform in a real world setting. No BS, just run a restaurant for the evening, and serve your best menu.If every finale were structured like this, I'd be a happy, happy camper. Please don't change a thing, elves.No rankings this week, obviously, but I'll put up a season postmortem after the reunion episode.Discuss!UPDATE : I have to share this, just because it kills me. From Hugh's blog:"Nobody picked Marco Canora. WTF. This man eats young chefs like this for a midday snack. He burns his own cuts shut. He poops saucepans." Posted at 08:21 PM Permalink Comments (79) 041b061a72

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