Thursday, October 7, 2010

WATCH WHAT HAPPENS: There's few things we like better around here than reality shows that become in part about the making of the reality show itself, with Joe Schmo 2 being the ne plus ultra because of the unexpected twist (even to the producers) it took a couple of episodes in. And, without spoiling anything, that's why we need a thread to discuss last night's Top Chef: Just Desserts. It hasn't been a great season thus far, aside from an uncommon degree of weepiness and "this is so hard" speeches, though Gail Simmons works out nicely filling Padma's shoes, but in particular the quickfire last night turned into something well worth discussing.


  1. What is it about pastry chefs? Why are they so much more high strung then other chefs? Honestly, it is not 'how fast can you diffuse this bomb?' 

  2. Adam C.9:49 AM

    I think a lot of the JD contestants have been cool under fire (Erica seems to be one of the most chill people ever, and Heather H. seems pretty comfortable at all times, and we haven't seen too much drama from many of the remaining contestants, other than Malika's crisis of confidence and Morgan getting inappropriately snappy with Malika in the kitchen one time).  Clearly, Seth walked into this competition with A LOT of baggage and issues.  I am certainly curious to know how much of his exit was an emotional inability to handle (a) the pressures of the competition or (b) just being out of control of the situation - his on-camera meltdowns mostly followed some situation that threw him a curveball -- and how much of it was a conscious contrivance to force his way out.

  3. Heather K10:00 AM

    I only watched through the quickfire last night, but I kept hearing all the other contestants talk about his maturity level which seemed baffling to me.  Not that I am in any way a professional who even has knowledge or background in these things, but on a spectrum from immature punk to struggling with serious mental illness, I would place him MUCH closer to mental illness than immature punk.

    I guess because if you go on a show like that, you are allowed to leave by choice (it has happened before), so wouldn't you either leave or stay in it to win.  And even if you are angling for a villain edit, wouldn't you end up being more coherent than Seth ended up?

    This led me to question how much of a psych eval you must pass to go onto TC, or if you even are confronted with that?  And the wisdom of not making that a requirement in a show that puts people in high pressure uber competitive situations with you know knives and other scary weaponish things?

  4. Marsha10:26 AM

    Seth came across as not just hgh strug but unstable. Of course, we only see what they show us, but the way they portrayed him as unable to get his own behavior under control was unsettling. I'm very happy to see him gone, though of course I don't like to see anyone gone in any way involving an ambulance.  I don't mind a little drama in my reality competition shows, but he was getting so much air time that i barely recognize the other chefs, and he's annoying.

    Malika annoyed me. I suppose it's better than all the people over the years who have whined "I'm going to ask to go home" over and over and then NOT done it, but what did she think this was going to be about? You leave your three kids not knowing yourself well enough to know whether you like to cook in a competitive atmosphere? I understand that even watching it on TV may not give you a great sense of just how hard it is, but at least you'd think she'd figured out that she'd have to compete with people.

    TC:JD is leaving me a little cold, perhaps because they're all making things each week that seem sort of similar to each other. There's much less variety when you only have one type of food to work with. I like the distinction between "pastry" chef" and "baker" - but they're not making the distinction very clear, and there's only one "baker." This week's challenge helped a lot, I thought, because it focused on some skills we haven't seen yet - the architectural showpiece thing, the cooking-with-a-non-food-theme thing, the a la minute aspect of pastry cheffery, etc. The conversation about how one is a good technician and one is a good baker was very good. We need more understanding of the nuances of different kinds of dessert makers, and this is really the first we've gotten a good dose of it.

  5. I'm not watching the show but pastry chefs/bakers- generally - do not have to manage people, a kitchen, service, etc.  They have to be creative and produce.  As such, I think they're slightly less stable. 

  6. Two thoughts on additional reflection:

    1.  What led to the "break" was apparently "no, you don't get to make your own ice cream."  Leaving aside that the big things of Breyer's were sitting on the table and Breyer's has been mentioned with anvilicious product placement before the Cheftestants, making ice cream from scratch is generally a multi-hour endeavor, and doesn't work for a quickfire.  "No making your own ice cream!" shouldn't have come as a surprise in a quickfire.

    2.  What's fascinating is the difference between what we're told happened by the other cheftestants and what we actually see Seth doing.  The cheftestants talk a lot about "screaming," but we never hear Seth really raise his voice.  I suppose it's possible Bravo decided to use some degree of restraint, but this is the network that has given us "The Real Housewives," and recall the discussion at the reunion show of "you bet your ass we would have shown footage of the pea puree theft if it had happened."  I'm wondering if we have some unreliable narration going on.

  7. What intrigued me was that in his exit interview he said something like, "The producers [can't/won't/haven't] cleared me to return."  It makes me wonder if A. he still thought he was capable of continuing and B. if the producers went, "Whoa, this is beyond just a dramatic personality that we can milk for footage; this is a genuinely unstable individual and we need to think about liability at this point."

    I was really getting afraid that Seth was going to inadvertently physically harm himself - like punch his fist through a window in anger and end up with major lacerations or something.  I mean, I was scared FOR him and BY him.  It had gone beyond "Wow, that fellow's high strung and making everybody else nervous" to "Wow, he's dangerous and I worry for him and the people that have to work around him."

  8. Adam C.11:49 AM

    I'll disagree slightly on both points.  First, Seth said something about having a recipe to make his own ice cream in like 15 minutes, so he must have convinced himself he had a big advantage in the QF it it was make your own (putting to one side why he would have thought it would BE make-your-own, what with all the Breyer's cartons).  So given that initial self-delusion, I can at least get why he got so agitated to "lose" that perceived advantage -- again, it was something that he thought was being taken out of his "zone" or forced him to change his plans under pressure.  Not a strong suit, obviously.  

    Second, I think he did get inappropriately loud and yelly, out of nowhere, in the episode with the cocktails, and at least one other time in the stew room where he told everyone to suck it (and the other stew room scene recently after Danielle called him a dick - which he was being - he yelled back at her that her food sucked - which it maybe did).

  9. KCosmo's Neighbor11:56 AM

    I've been waiting for a post about TC Desserts because I have a great story about my recent brush with Bravolebrity greatness. Last week, I get into my elevator in my apartment building (shout out to KCosmo!!) with none other than Zac Young (of friend ice-cream fame). Of course I said, "'re on TC Desserts, aren't you?" Yada, yada, yada...his boyfriend lives in my building!!! He was coming over to watch the show with him. I LOVE NY! I did say to him, "That means you know who won, don't you?" He smiled. So now we are Zac fans in our home because he is our friend (in our heads, at least).

    As for the other cheftestants...I like Morgan and I'm sorry Malika dropped out. As for Seth, I think his presence was unfair to the other chefs...he was a distraction and needs to get himself together.

  10. I don't dispute that he had screamed and been inappropriate loud and yelly in prior events, but there didn't seem to be anything overly loud and yelly that we saw here.  Yes, he was ranting about how the rules were unfair, but in a fairly measured manner.

  11. KCosmo's Neighbor11:59 AM

    I meant to say "fried ice-cream," but I guess I'm so caught up with convincing myself that Zac is my friend.

  12. Heather K12:49 PM

    I am convinced he is my friend too, but I live in Chicago and have no reason to think this is the case.  I am super jealous!!

  13. I can see them being able to make ice cream in a quickfire, since really it's about making the custard - then it needs to chill for some number of hours before you can freeze it, but you could give them 30 min/an hour to make the base and then, through the magic of tv editing, make it seem as if no time had passed. Also, I am sure everyone there has a recipe to make a base that quickly, especially if it's not egg-based.

  14. KCosmo's Neighbor1:08 PM

    I love the use of words like "yelly" (Matt) and "weaponish" (Heather K). I look forward to adding them to my everyday discussions. Nothing like a homemade terminology to make this blog seem that much more warm and fuzzyish.

  15. My husband and I were talking about this as we watched the quickfire last night.  Based strictly on the shaving scene shots of a super-msuscled Seth shirtless, we are wondering if he takes steroids and the behavior we've been watching was influenced by that?

  16. Maret1:40 PM

    I haven't watched last night's Just Desserts yet but heard what happened. I had a conversation recently with someone who said they knew a therapist that was employed by a TV network specifically to evaluate reality show contestants and clear them to be on shows. I wonder if this is standard practice for networks who have reality shows and exactly where the line falls for clearing people.

    Unrelated to last night but since this is a TC:JD post -- at some point in the next couple weeks there will be a challenge that I got to go be a guest on along with a slew of co-workers (one of those "your dessert will then be eaten by guests at blah-blah-blah") challenges. I won't say more so as not to spoil specifics, and there were enough people there and they show so few party guests on those episodes that I doubt I'll be on camera personally, but it was pretty fun to get to go and try stuff out and see in person how they set up and film those kinds of parts of the show. I can tell you that everyone I know who went, including myself, got the biggest sugar high of their lives, and then had a massive crash that left us all somewhat hunover, with headaches and needing naps.

  17. bella wilfer2:24 PM

    I went to summer camp with Zac years and years ago - he was a sweet kid and has grown up to be a cool guy, clearly.  I'm Team Zac all the way!

  18. bella wilfer2:24 PM

    ...and will we please then get a behind-the-scenes guest blog when that ep airs? Pretty please? :)

  19. KarenNM2:37 PM

    I'm seconding bella's request for a guest blog when that episode airs!

  20. Marsha2:45 PM

    I'm thirding, but I'm guessing it won't be hard to convince the gurus at Thing Throwers Central Office to make this happen.

  21. bill.2:52 PM

    I'll just stick in my experience with a 9 and a half minute ice cream. This is from a Richard Blais cooking demo back in 1996 (after he had filmed Iron Chef America but before it had aired).

    He took a basic recipe for home use:

    1 quart cream
    5 egg yolks
    1 cup sugar
    3 scraped vanilla beans

    ...and started the clock. Heated the cream, vanilla, and sugar until the sugar dissolved. Tempered the yolks, mixed the rest in, strained, and added to a KitchenAid. At this point, the clock has been running for six minutes and this where you'd add the mix to an ice cream maker. Instead, with the KitchenAid running he slowly pours in an equal volume of liquid nitrogen. Boom. Done. Nine and a half minutes. And it was the creamiest homemade ice cream I've ever had.

  22. bill.2:52 PM

    should be 2006

  23. Heather K3:10 PM

    I wondered that too!

  24. Maret4:22 PM

    It also will not be hard to convince me to do it if the Thing Throwing Gurus are willing.

  25. isaac_spaceman4:37 PM

    Maret -- I formally invite you to do that writeup. 

  26. Reminds me of my idea for a Slow Cooker Top Chef Quickfire.

  27. Maggie5:16 PM

    And also - was he shaving in their kitchen?  Or was it simply a weird open-air reality show bathroom?  Because shaving in the kitchen - ew, gross.

  28. Maret6:55 PM

    Done. Don't know when it's airing but there were a decent number of contestants left so it'll be soon.

  29. Genevieve8:25 PM

    Also, please tease it ahead of time when that ep is airing (if you can tell from promos etc.) for those of us who aren't watching TC:JD but would watch it to see your episode and then read your backstory!

  30. Adlai1:09 AM

    Can I take a minute to make fun of "Lucent Dossier"? That is what happens when you have to choose the name of your avant-garde theater troupe from the contents of a McKinsey & Co. attache case.

  31. Maret1:49 PM

    I've just heard -- it's the October 20th episode. If you see a curly-haired blonde stuffing her face saying "NOM NOM NOM" that might be me.

  32. We were thinking Seth might be bipolar. I have a friend who is, and they act like this under stress at times. They also suffer from panic attacks a lot. Who knows?

    As for why everyone's crying: We figure it's like football. Line cooks/chefs are like most players: They can do a bit of everything, adjust on the fly and they are used to taking a beating. Pastry chefs are like the field goal kicker: They can do one thing well, they haven't been toughened up by a lot of hits, and once the ball leaves their foot, they can't fix it.