Gusteau_ratatouilleTop Chef: Miami took a rather dangerous top into self-parody on Wednesday (Aug. 1) night.

One of the summer’s most popular (and best) movies was the Pixar foodie comedy Ratatouille. In the flick, one of the major subplots is that after the chef of a top Paris restaurant dies, his predecessor decides to use the great chef’s image to sell a line of cheaply-produced frozen entrees. The movie makes it clear that this sort of commercialized reproduction of fine dining is nothing short of an abomination, the ultimate cheapening of food by a gastronomically challenged hack.

Enter Wednesday’s Top Chef, where the contestants were entrusted with following in the footsteps of featured sponsor Bertolli to produce knock-off frozen Italian/Mediterranean entrees under the guidance of Rocco Dispirito, whose claims to mainstream fame are his mother’s meatballs and an increasingly awful reality show on which he came off as a tool of ginormous proportions.

Over the course of the episode, the chef-testants learned nothing about international cuisine or technique. Instead they learned that in frozen dishes everything has to undergo an Individual Quick Freeze (IQF) and that the best path to teamwork is to be bullying and belligerent if you think you’re in the right.

Joey_topchefmiami_240Hung was able to easily figure out the first lesson, but his failure to understand the second almost got him eliminated in the special 75-minute Top Chef. Performing triage on a Bertolli package, Hung quickly diagnosed that the parts needed to be frozen quickly and separately, a fact he conveyed to Joey on several occasions that we saw on camera. Then he watched Joey pour their sauce all over the pasta before serving, all while biting his tongue. Do we criticize Joey for being a total dolt? Well sure. That’s why he’s going home, but for a chef as previously brash and arrogant as Hung to just sit back and let Joey ruin the task on several different levels was quite disappointing. It’s not like Hung didn’t care. When he realized how mushy the pasta turned out, you could almost hear him verging on tears. Maybe he felt so much shame after mouthing off and getting booted in the Culinary Bee Quickfire Challenge that he was skittish? Hung’s fall from early favorite has been precipitous in recent weeks and I really hope he gets his mojo back.

Joey’s tear-filled departure was so genuine that I wished the judges could go back and eliminate Sara M instead. Just as Joey’s errors were directly responsible for most of his team’s failings, Sara M made several key mistakes. And her partner, Howie, went out of his way not to blame her, but when Chef Tom put her contributions under the microscope, she didn’t hesitate to throw him "over the bus" (to use Joey’s malapropism from earlier in the episode).

Other thoughts from the episode:

  • Roccodispirito_240_2If you hadn’t told me that was Rocco DiSpirito, I might not have recognized him. He looks awfully different. He’s still a doofus, though.
  • The lack of respect the contestants showed for Rocco was also striking. Each week the guest judges come out and somebody will tell the confessional that the chef is one of their heroes. With Rocco, they just said he’s a celebrity and somebody called him something that got mostly bleeped out.
  • What’s up with cute female reality cooking show contestants and their perfect palates? Bonnie has ridden hers to the finals of Hell’s Kitchen and tonight we saw Casey earn immunity thanks to her.
  • Not only did Casey win immunity, but she and Dale finished second in the elimination challenge. Tre and CJ got a heck of a prize in the elimination challenge, earning two tickets apiece to Italy. I want to like CJ, because he’s a friend of a friend (or maybe a friend of a friend of a friend, I get confused), but what was he doing goading Howie on? One guy was riding high with a big victory under his belt, the other was freaking out and stressing about leaving the game. CJ should have just sat back and kept his mouth shut.

    What’d you think of this week’s episode? Did the right person go home?

  • Posted by:Daniel Fienberg