Through the first three weeks of its season, “Top Chef Boston” has failed to come up with any sort of original concept for challenges. The Wednesday (Oct. 29th) episode continues the trend of embracing expected cliches in lieu of digging deeper into the city’s culinary heritage. Boston is a city with some of the best Italian food in the country courtesy of the North End as well as a long line of Irish fare dominating the culinary landscape in creative and interesting ways.
Instead, “Top Chef” is content to base challenges off the Boston Tea Party, Fenway Park, and “one if by land, two if by sea”. The challenges are actually entertaining, which is of course half the point, but it should not be the only goal. The nice thing about “Top Chef” bouncing around from city to city each season is that a new city has the opportunity to be highlighted every year in new and creative ways.
So far in Season 12 Boston has been highlighted, sure, but only for the most standard aspects of the city and with challenges that could be adapted for any other locale. Seafood! Update your first ever dish! Update [insert popular American sport here] food! Enough. There are so many other ways to show off the city and right now it seems as if the producers asked non-Bostonians what they think of when they hear the word “Boston”, then to write a list. Anyone in the coutnry could think of these things and it shows.
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This week’s episode is one of the best of the season despite the trip to Fenway (complete with Dennis Eckersley’s feathered hair tagging along and Dan Shaughnessy’s Boston Brahmin out in full force) and the reliance on been-there challenge inspiration. It is the first time a Quickfire Elimination Challenge has ended with the originally eliminated party staying in the competition after challenging a fellow competitor to a face-off, which lends confidence to the potential that twist has for the rest of the season.
It also cemented some presumably long-running feuds and storylines for the rest of the season, as the show is want to do every year around the 3-4 episode mark. The Aaron vs. Keriann battle seems to just be getting started with how both of them bounced back from poor showings this episode, and could shape up to be one of the best rivalries in the last few seasons.
Next week, “Top Chef” goes to Cheers with special guest George Wendt (Norm!). Is there any hope for an escape from this Boston banality on the horizon? One can only hope.