UPDATE: Read my interview with Kristen Kish.
Note to Top Chef judges — This has been proven time and time again: Always listen to Gail Simmons. Never has it been truer than this week.
Restaurant Wars, the signature challenge of Top Chef, often brings out the worst in the contestants, but this year, it brought out the worst in the judges. It’d be easy to point all the blame at Josie for this week’s shocker elimination, but really, you can’t deny that Kristen made significant mistakes. But still, given all the information, the judges had an easy decision on their hands, and they made the wrong one for reasons I can’t begin to imagine. The worst part is that the inevitable backlash to the elimination will overshadow the exciting showcase of Filipino cuisine we were treated to tonight.
To be fair, Kristen wasn’t entirely comfortable leading her team from the get-go. She seemed to be masking fear with confidence; as Brooke noted, she didn’t have experience heading up a restaurant. Even last week, I thought Kristen’s concept for Atelier Kwan was a bit amorphous. High-brow French food only kind of not? Sheldon, on the other hand, identified with his modern Filipino concept for Urbano so closely, and that really focused him and inspired his team.
The ever-so-brief battle for kitchen space at the beginning of the challenge was such a perfect illustration of Kristen’s mindset as a leader vs. Sheldon’s. Sheldon staked out his side of the courtyard quickly and decisively. Kristen immediately questioned it, more as a gesture of assertiveness than having a real opinion one way or another.
Then came the decorating portion of Restaurant Wars, which has rarely been a decisive or particularly interesting factor in the past and the chefs understandably seemed to not worry about it too much. Still, I enjoyed watching Stefan shopping for flowers — and no, Stefan, I don’t think people would mistake you for gay, although you’d fit in very nicely at certain gay bars I know of — and Brooke and Josie shopping for wares together was a humorous mismatch. If Brooke is the Posh Spice of the chef-testants, that makes Josie Scary.
Team Urbano got off to a quick start with prep, browning their meat early. On Team Kwan Atelier, Josie wanted to mise everything tomorrow — bad idea … doesn’t “mise” literally mean “preparation”? — with the explanation, “I don’t rush things.” No effin’ kidding! That’s been working so well for her. Instead of prepping your ingredients, just tell them bad non-jokes and laugh your loud laugh at them.
NEXT: A crucial mistake … Gelatin-gate …