Top Chef’s Top Season…Isn’t This One

Written by Regina Berengolts January 19, 2012


Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi

It’s been quite a long time since Top Chef first aired in March 2006. Now in its ninth season, I can’t help but feel a certain sense of nostalgia for those past seasons’ glory days of genuine culinary innovation and excitement. Indeed, watching this most recent season has been a fairly disappointing experience coming off of three seasons of pure television and cooking enjoyment. (Fine, I’ll admit Season 7 may have actually been one of the worst seasons thus far due to ridiculous challenges and an uninspired location choice, but it introduced us to the delightfully wacky antics of Angelo Sosa, so I give it a pass.)

This season is the first to introduce the concept of Last Chance Kitchen which is eerily reminiscent of the recent Redemption Island from Survivor. While, I value the chance for one of my favourite chef’s to remain in the competition longer in the event they are chosen as the weakest chef of the week, I still feel that by incorporating this element, they are unnecessarily dragging on the drama. To me, drama in a cooking show is a little uncalled for. Just the let food do the talking. Unfortunately, and perhaps, explanatory, this season’s cheftestants and their food are a little on the bland side, leading to one of the least interesting season’s that I can remember.

So in order to get our minds off of the unoriginal dishes coming out of this season’s kitchen, I thought I would take you through the real Top Season of Top Chef – Season 6: Las Vegas.

The Cast

The final four cheftestants of Season 6 had quite possibly the highest level of talent the show has seen thus far. Brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, Kevin Gillespie, and Jennifer Carroll ended up as the final four and through those final episodes you can really sense the feeling of camaraderie and support that those four shared. More than that though, each finalist had a real personality and charm to them that made you want to root for them. Michael and Bryan obviously had a storyline of brotherly competition, but these two are amazing chefs, whipping out techniques and styles that have never been used on the show before. Kevin Gillespie is the epitome of the home-style country cooking boy who wins over the hearts of judges and viewers with food that makes everyone wish for their mom’s food again and his teddy bear-like persona. After seriously floundering throughout the middle episodes, Jen turned out dish after dish of amazing looking food. That, in addition to her strong, no-nonsense personality in the kitchen, really made audiences want to root for her to beat out the male front-runners.

Voltaggios, Kevin, and Jen

The Food

I’ve been watching Top Chef for a long time now and I have to say, every season has some delicious looking dishes put out in the front of the judges at some point. So it’s hard to define this season as having the best flavours, the best ingenuity, or the best presentation. But of all the dishes that I’ve seen and wish to have tasted, it’s still Michael Voltaggio’s deconstructed Caesar salad that sticks in my mind. Now, salad is a simple dish in of itself, so I remember watching this particular episode and thinking, “Michael is so screwed. How can you possibly further deconstruct a salad?” Well, ladies and gentlemen, he sure showed me how. (The trick was having the Caesar dressing release itself from small, self-contained spheres that popped when eating).

Voltaggio Salad

The Judges

This season had Natalie Portman as a guest judge – awesome. Not only was she judging, but she also shared some screen time with the always beautiful host Padma Lakshmi and decided to bond with her over a forkful of shallots and a side dish of fellatio jokes.

The regular judges this season were the most respectful towards the contestants than I’ve seen in quite a long time. Since then, Tom Colichio has steadily become unbearably smug, making me want to smack him at least twice per episode as he continues his power trip over the cheftestants, and even other guest judges.

Overall though, the judges were great in season 6, giving constructive criticism when necessary, and really allowing the audience to almost taste the deliciousness of the food with their positive commentary. The fact that both Padma Lakshmi (the voice of the challenges) and Gale Simmons (the voice of reason) were in every episode is just the topping on the delightful dessert that was Season 6.

My Rating for Season 9: 3.5/10

My Rating for Season 6: 10/10


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