“The challenges on Top Chef pushed me to new culinary heights,” two-time Top Chef finalist Gregory Gourdet said right before Top Chef World All Stars episode 3’s judges’ table.
Gregory wasn’t on the episode: he was in an ad for dishwashing detergent, but it was an unfortunately placed ad—unfortunate for season 20, because I think it’s just fumbling its challenges.
Are the challenges on Top Chef World All Stars pushing its chefs to new heights? It doesn’t seem like it.
Two of Top Chef 20’s three elimination challenges so far have been catering challenges—cooking outside of the Top Chef kitchen, in crowded and/or inadequate spaces—with the extra people they fed having absolutely nothing to do with anything. The cameras picked up their scattered feedback, but otherwise there was no reason for them to be there.
Why is Top Chef World All Stars becoming Top Chef Catering?
On Top Chef, catering challenge are kind of like Drag Race’s sewing challenge: expected, challenging, but not really the best way to test the talents of its cast.
And nothing against caterers: that’s a heck of a skill. But I just don’t understand why that’s the one that’s been tested for two-thirds of Top Chef 20’s challenges so far, and is also ignored during judging.
The episode started well: Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons showed up after last episode’s elimination to tell the chefs that, the next morning, they were not having a Quickfire challenge, but instead would go on a pub crawl.
Of course, this was completely transparent. Sara said, “they’re not that nice” and “this is going to become an elimination challenge.” Yep!
But it was still a good time. When the chefs showed up at the first pub, the Lamb & Flag, Tom and Gail were already halfway through their pints.
Between three pubs, they samples eight different classic pub dishes, from Yorkshire pudding to shepherd’s pie. They also kept drinking beer—or sipping it, as several smartly did. I cannot imagine eating all that heavy food and drinking early in the morning!
There were fun moments, like Gail asking: “Victoire, how about you? Do you like how it tastes?” and cutting to Victoire who just remained completely silent.
“We couldn’t come to London without celebrating their cuisine, obviously,” Tom said. It really wasn’t obvious, considering last week the chefs cooked with goddamn Ritz crackers.
So how did Top Chef’s producers decide to celebrate the cuisine? By having the chefs re-interpret and modernizing classic pub food. We’re off to a good start!
Alas, then they started piling things on: They had to serve the judges and 40 people. They had to work in a restaurant’s kitchen. They had to work in teams. And it was a double elimination.
“An entire team will be going home,” Gail Simmons said, and Luciana spoke for me: “Oh, fucking hell.”
On episode three, we’re going to send two chefs home in a team catering challenge? Ugh.
What it came down to, ultimately, was “basics—you just gotta nail the basics,” Tom said. Padma told the bottom two teams—Ali and Amar, and May and Dale—that “we enjoyed eating both of your dishes immensely.”
Amar and Ali screwed up their fish batter, which was doughy and not crispy, while May and Dale had a beautiful scotch egg without a crispy exterior. “Basic technique,” Tom said.
Tom called his elimination “devastating and disappointing,” especially “over something as stupid as a scotch egg.”
While I’m devastated May—one of my early favorites—was eliminated, at least it was because of technique, not a teammate’s incompetence. (I don’t understand why that was worse than the lack of crispiness on the fish and chips.)
Yet I still desperately wanted the judges to link that basic technique screw-up to the challenge itself. Something like: It’s incredibly hard to be consistent when preparing 40 dishes! or We stuffed you in a tiny, inadequate kitchen to see if your skills could overcome those limitations.
Ditto for the best dishes. I wanted to know how the constraints of the challenge—everything other than just updating pub food—helped them do so well.
It was Buddha and Luciana, and Gabri and Begonia, who were the top two teams, with Buddha and Luciana winning for their take on a fish pie.
May and Dale do have Last Chance Kitchen, which I hope will just allow them to cook instead of piling on all these unnecessary complications that even Top Chef seems uninterested in.
Monday 27th of March 2023
Are we perhaps complaining about the "catering" challenges too early? Thus far we've had 2 compared to 1 panel challenge. And while that is a large percentage right now, we are talking about a small sample size.
With that said, I get what you're saying about having to create multiple dishes to randoms. Overreliance on this type of challenge does not necessarily pull the best cook out of the chefs. But at the same time, you do have to have those challenges in addition to ones where you're just creating plates for the panel. Part of the appeal of Top Chef for me is that variety of challenges, whether it be a panel, catering, or team challenges.
In a way, I'd look at Top Chef as a decathlon, compared to TOC, which is like a 400m sprint (including the heats). Both difficult, but in differing ways.
Friday 24th of March 2023
Agree about the formula being stale and boring. Anyone whose watched Top Chef throughout the years could’ve figured out the plot.
However, I disagree about the Dale and May team. Every time May tried to bring up some thing about how to make scotch eggs differently, Dale said no. He refuse to entertain any thoughts or ideas of May’s. So no I’m not surprised his team went home, but I have to agree. The loss of May really hurts.
Friday 24th of March 2023
Totally agree with you. I hate the catering. I hate watching them cook in an inadequate kitchen. And I HATE that May got eliminated!
I'm curious, do you know if this is the first season they filmed after covid restrictions were relaxed? Wanting to bring Top Chef back to crowds of people is the only reason I can think of to have 2 catering challenges already.