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October 8, 2015

Review: Top Chef - Meat Natalie

by Allison Waldman, posted Oct 29th 2009 12:40AM
After last week's restaurant wars, which I found really disappointing, I was hoping for a really tough challenge tonight. As Hemal guessed, having Natalie Portman as a guest judge did turn this main competition into a vegetarian duel. Oooh, yum. Vegetables. More about the kale and mushrooms after the jump.

The quick fire was a TV dinner challenge; I don't know how guest judge Paul Bartolotta could relate to that. He's a James Beard award winner. TV dinners don't have anything to do with quality meals. Nada.

Still seven TV shows -- The Sopranos, Gilligan's Island, Flintstones, Cheers, M*A*S*H, Sesame Street, Seinfeld -- were supposed to be inspiration. Mike Isabella had never seen Seinfeld. Now I know why I hate that guy. His food had nothing to do with Jerry, George, Elaine or Kramer.

Kevin was lucky because The Sopranos was obvious -- Italian meatballs. He's such a good cook, I'm not surprised that he won again. Although I thought Brian's M*A*S*H meat loaf was closer to the TV dinner concept and the idea of the TV show.

It was fun to watch the chefs get all psyched about going to Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak at MGM Grand. The visions of beef danced in their heads. However, the twist was Natalie Portman as the guest judge. She called herself a foodie, but she's a vegetarian. No meat Natalie, not to be confused with the Patty Duke movie, Me Natalie.

Assessing how well the chefs could do without being able to use eggs or pasta or fish or anything but vegetables was difficult. Robin thought she was in her element, and Kevin compared this challenge to giving up meat for lent. But my favorite was the anti-Seinfeld Mike. Mr. Over-confident, he acted like this was no big deal. He even had an edge, presumably, because his mother is a vegan.

The cooking was very uninteresting because vegetables are boring. Really boring. They're not really appetizing. Every plate looked like a minimalist painting.

Robin made a hot mess and screwed it up by not getting the beans on the plate. What is that, Top Chef hari-kari?

As obnoxious as Mike was, Eli was nearly as bad. If I were a vegan or vegetarian, I'd be offended that he felt sorry for me. What was he thinking? Then again, he also felt that the only worthy thing Natalie ever did was the Star Wars movies.

The V brothers were super serious, as usual. Michael had the most interesting plate because he at least made the judges laugh. Apparently bananas in polenta is hilarious.

Poor Jennifer had a bad time last week and a worse time this week. She was nervous and second guessing herself. The judges wondered if she presented them a dish or a garnish.

Brian's artichokes did result in a funny exchange when Padma felt a "little prick on the tip of my tongue" when she ate it. Tom wondered about the little prick.

Kevin's plate was not pretty. It was not colorful, but the mushrooms, kale and turnips were considered a manly vegetarian meal.

Kevin, Michael and Eli were the favorites, and Tom tipped his cap to Michael for the banana polenta. But Kevin took the night. I think he might have won because he had the most filling meal. He won a big prize, too -- a suite of GE appliances. Wow!

When Brian heard about Kevin's veggies winning, he got all sore loser about it. Not classy, BV.

Robin, Jen and Mike I. were the bottom three. Mr. Overconfident resented being there, but couldn't explain why he left a protein off his plate. Padma was disappointed in him. His response was, "whatever, whatever."

Gail didn't like his arrogance. I didn't like Robin's babbling about the garbanzo beans. Jennifer looked resigned to losing. She may have TC burnout, as Tom suggested.

I thought this was the end for Robin, but instead it was Mike. "No soup for you, Mike Isabella." Go watch Seinfeld and figure it out. He was pissed that Robin outlasted him, but too frigging bad. Robin's not going to win the competition, but Mike won't either.

[Watch clips of Top Chef at SlashControl.]

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Tim Anderson

I would have thought the perfect meal for Seinfield would have been an empty place (signifying "nothing")

October 30 2009 at 1:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've noticed that the judges seem to get rid of anyone who stands behind a dish that they didn't like. When there are obvious problems, the worst thing you can do is say you thought it turned out well or you tasted it and liked it. Knowing and understanding your mistakes going into Judge's Table is often what saves chefs.

I was extremely disappointed with the vegetarian dishes at the elimination challenge. Why didn't anyone do homemade pasta or something with starch---rice/potatoes/etc?

Glad to see Mike I. gone...I wanted to see him go since the first episode.

October 30 2009 at 12:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The comments from the other chefs toward Robin are starting to border on unprofessional and cruel. I don't care if they don't like her food, she's lasted this long and got on the show in the first place, she deserves some measure of respect.

I don't think any of her food looks or sounds good, but at this point I kind of hope she just keeps going until the end if only to spite the other chefs.

She's probably gone next week though, barring a total meltdown from one of the others.

October 30 2009 at 4:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Actually, Tom C's comment regarding the double entendre was in after the comment about it "getting bigger in your mouth" which was the response made shortly after Padma's comment about the little prick. It was the naughty bits highlight of the show.

I was appalled by Mike I's arrogance and flippancy at the judging table, but still think the real loser should have been Robin. I wish they would just cut ties and let her go. Though I agree it might have been a "sausage fest" prevention.

I'm also tired of Mike V's 'my chit doesn't stink" attitude. I hope Brian wins or stays longer just to spite his sorry arse and I think if he was gone, Brian's cooking would get stronger.

October 29 2009 at 6:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brian Winkeler

If Kevin doesn't win this season over the a-hole V brothers, this will be a travesty of season two proportions (d-bags Marcel vs. Ilan instead of rightful winner Sam).

October 29 2009 at 5:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Carlos Rivera

Forgot to add Mike was not spongeworthy.

October 29 2009 at 2:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Carlos Rivera

I believe I know why they are keeping Robin in. This Top Chef season is showing that men are better cooks. From the very beginning you saw lots of women getting sent home first, if i am not mistaken the first 4 were women, Robin would have been the 5 in a row. I think some producer at TC said, we need to start sending some men home or this will become a sausage fest and we will lose viewers. Mike is way better than Robin.

October 29 2009 at 2:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The judges screwed this up. I'm no fan of Mike, but he was not the one who should have gone home. Robin's food was horrible, more so than Mike's. What got Mike sent home was his arrogance, but what great chef isn't at least a little arrogant. Every one of those contenders has an arrogant quality to them in some way or another -- and so does Tom Colicchio. Why they prolong keeping Robin in the picture is beyond me.

October 29 2009 at 1:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Did anyone else notice that there was no reward for winning the Quickfire? As far as I could tell, there wasn't even a leg-up in the main challenge...

October 29 2009 at 12:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Fauxpas360's comment
Carlos Rivera

I believe the reward was--they are going to feature his dish as a TV dinner in the future.

October 29 2009 at 2:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I stopped reading this horrible review when I got to the part about vegetables being boring. What these chefs cooked was boring because they know nothing about it, had no prep (thy thought they were cooking steaks, remember) and 2 hours! Deborah Madison or Annie Sommerville make amazing food without meat. I think it's a specialty like any other cuisine, it's not something you can just throw at people. I don't think throwing cooking real Indian or French without prep and only 2 hours would be valid. They need to know how to do it and yes they all failed because of lack of time, prep, and skill. Piles of vegetables are boring, but crack a Deborah Madison cookbook (like her goat cheese & red mole enchiladas? Soo yummy) or go to Greens restaurant in SF and that's not what you find.

October 29 2009 at 12:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to scazza's comment

I think you made an excellent point about vegetarian or vegan cooking being a specialty that you cant just throw at people and expect them to do well with no time to think it through and only two hours to prepare the meal. Obviously, in a competition, that is a valid and interesting challenge, but the food is not likely to be amazing or a true representation of the chefs skills. This applies in a broader sense to the competition as a whole. I'm sure all of these chefs can cook well in the controlled, comfort zone of their normal work place, but you start throwing obstacles in their path, like restrictions on time and ingredients especially, then you have a whole new ball game. How many times have you seen contestants sending food out to the judges on this show that you know good and well would have never left the kitchen in their restaurants, but they have no choice but to send it out because it is a competition and they only have so much time? It must be tough to be put in a position where you cant do your best work, then being reamed out by the judges cause it isnt good enough.
I figured Robin was going home until Mike commited Top Chef suicide by copping a nonchalant "whatever" attitude with the judges. That is almost always a kiss of death. Also, both of the V brothers, who I sometimes cant even tell apart, are getting on my nerves with their childish behavior. Its one thing to be competitive and confident in yourself, but these two act like they want to take their bat and ball and go home when they dont win, or things dont go their way. Very unprofessional and immature. Lastly, if, god forbid, I am ever in a situation where I need to torture someone to extract information, I think I would make and endless loop tape of Robin explaining one of her dishes, or just nattering and chattering. Anyone would crack fairly quickly under that sort of pressure.

October 30 2009 at 8:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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