Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Top Chef Confidential

Ever notice Otto is a palindrome -- a word that is spelled the same way front or backwards? That applies here because any way you look at it, the culinary instructor from Las Vegas (who says he has no formal culinary training) crossed a moral line as depicted in tonight's episode.

Was Team Korea over budget at the grocery store and did they all know it? Yes. Did Otto know before he left the store that the clerk forget to charge the team for the case of lychees sitting on the bottom of the shopping cart? Who knows. Did he know by the time the shopping cart was being unloaded into the car at the curb right in front of the store? Definitely. It is all on the tape.

Speaking of the tape, how could he even think of let's say misrepresenting the conversation he had with Marisa when they were before the judges. Didn't he realize the camera crew was there filming and it was all on tape? It boggles the mind.

In the end, he did technically bow out (perhaps before he could be told to pack his knives) and show acceptance of responsibility, but Noah, Blog Appetit's 15 year old future pastry chef, and I wonder what happened off screen with the producers. Was he offered this face saving option?

It did seem that poor Marisa would go for her rubbery panna cotta if not for Otto's lychee issue. That didn't seem fair to me since I think she was the most upset by having to be the whistleblower and I believe the lychees were originally part of her dish, so she may have had to change recipes mid-program. I also think if a pastry chef wants to be Top Chef, she has to focus on excelling in non-pastry areas, so her just taking on the dessert was not politically astute.

Other observations -- It does seem like the producers have cast to replicate some personalities from Season One. Marcel, of course, reminds one of Stephen even down to wearing ties in his post-cooking interviews. Michael has the good-time, junk food appeal of a Miguel, but apparently without the cooking chops (it was his pork that brought down the judges' opinions of Team Vietnam's efforts), and Josie and Emily have the look and assertiveness of Le Ann and Tiffani. At first I thought Ilan might be the new Harold, but now I don't think so, as presented on screen he seems to lack Harold's seeming lack of manipulation and cut throatness. Betty seems a bit like Cynthia in terms of being to the point, older and blond, but her skills and personality are on a whole other level.

Some differences -- Having a pastry chef this time makes the mix different. Also, last time some of the chefs didn't seem to have as strong a kitchen production experience as this crew does, although it seems like some have less all-around experience than others. (Mia's sushi hand rolls, Michael continually saying how he doesn't know how to do this or that). Oh, and the biggest difference --new host Padma Lakshmi doesn't make me cringe every time she speaks.

Want to see a two-and-a-half minute preview of the quick fire challenge in episode three? Click here.

Want to read more about what Lee Ann is calling "Lycheegate" as well as her take on episode two and a comment that she shows up on episode six? Is there a hint at that end that Marisa doesn't go the distance? Check out her blog here.

Some recipe notes: Josie's Vietnamese dish was not what I or many others would consider pho, which is primarily a noodle soup dish. If you'd like to try my "faux pho," please click here. If you would like to try making fresh Vietnamese spring rolls (called summer rolls on the show), check out my version with vegetarian, shrimp, mango and cucumber variations.


Photo credit: Bravo TV


winenose said...

Interesting take on the Otto thing. However, giving credit to Marisa for being a whistleblower is an odd choice. Marisa knew the lychees weren't paid for because she (and Elia) heard Otto say so BEFORE THEY GOT IN THE VAN to leave the store. She and Elia are equally guilty. All three had the EXACT same knowledge. Further, Marisa altered Otto's original statement from 'I think we got a free case of lychees,' to the much more damning, 'I got us a free case of lychees.' Very clearly the first statement strongly implies passively accepting an unintended error (which is still not acceptable) whereas the second strongly implies a deliberate attempt to not only steal but to subvert the rules of Top Chef. Nonetheless, ethically, morally, and probably legally Marisa and Elia are exactly as guilty as Otto. What person of integrity would simply jump in the van after being told they were getting a 'free case of lychees'?

FJKramer said...

Thanks for taking time to leave such a long and thought out comment. I thought I would take a few minutes to respond.

I think Otto's I think was not a think, but I know. I think he was kind of proud of the situation. I've watched the reruns today to clarify it all and it is true he did say think, but I don't think that "think" makes as much of a substantial difference in his moral lapse as some make out. If he only thought, why didn't he get the receipt from whomever had it and check before they drove away? Or announce it himself to the team when they got back and have the lychees set aside?

Yes, it would have been better for Marisa to have said something right there at the store, but human nature being what it is, it sometimes takes time to process. As shown as edited she spoke up soon after arriving back. Perhaps the exact consequences of what Otto had done had not sunk in yet. Perhaps she needed to wrestle with her own feelings about the matter. Maybe she needed to remember it was all on tape and could come out in the end so it was better to speak up, who knows her rationale. She seems kind of like a timid person so perhaps she just needed processing time. In the end she did bring it up to her team mates and later with Tom, something Otto who definitely knew what was going on didn't do. In the end that makes him culpable and turns the "accident" (which it may have been, who knows) more into a "hit and run."

A lot of comments at the Bravo blogs also feel she should have spoken up at the moment. Socially that can be difficult for some. Have you ever been with someone who got on a bus without paying. Did you make him go pay right then. Why or why not. If it was my kid I would, because I would want him to know right from wrong even if it was embarassing. But what if it was an adult, a colleague from work say. It's just not that clearcut for me.

Personally, I have gone right back into the store to pay for the rolls of toilet paper or cases of soda that the clerk missed immediately no matter the inconvenience, but not everyone shares my sense of right and wrong.

I don't think Marisa's case is helped by her pitiful dessert and the fact Otto seems more popular with fans than her. What if Cliff had been the one that had to wrestle with the issue? I don't think he would be blamed for Otto's lapse nearly as much as unpopoular and possibly untalented Marisa has been in the blogosphere today.

Certainly I have read some comments today that made it seem that Marisa was more responsible for what happened morally than Otto. To me that's just twisting responsibilities to make things so that popular Otto gets to stay, dour and questionable Marisa gets to go.

What if team Korea had won. Would the judges have still thrown Otto out. Gosh, I hope so. My son watches this program, I'd hate for him to learn that it is okay to take things you know don't belong to you just because it was the heat of competition (one of Otto's excuses).