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Why 'Top Chef' Judge Eric Ripert Should Be Replaced With Anthony Bourdain

by Joel Keller, posted Sep 2nd 2010 5:01PM
Eric Ripert and Anthony Bourdain judge 'Top Chef' - 'Gastro-nauts'
People haven't been overly kind to 'Top Chef' this season. Either they think the cheftestants are inept, the Washington, DC locale is uninspiring, the guest politicians are annoying or, like me, they think the show has just become stale and predictable.

But something else has come up recently that's been bugging me: the judging. Not so much what 'Top Chef' vets Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio are doing; they're taking the same reasoned approach they always do. And when Gail Simmons is there, her criticism has always been constructive and kind.

No, I'm mostly looking at new judge Eric Ripert when I think the judging has suffered this year. He may be one of the greatest chefs and restaurateurs on the planet, but as a 'Top Chef' judge, he makes me long for the days when the oh-so-quippy Toby Young was subbing for Gail. Why do I think he's been so bad this year? Read on for my list of grievances...

1. Ripert is hard to understand,
and it's not just the accent that's a problem. Not sure if it's because of a language barrier or simply because he has trouble explaining his criticisms, but it seems that more often than not he has a tough time getting his criticisms across to both the cheftestants and the viewers.

2. He complains too much. Instead of imparting constructive criticisms, often Ripert just whines about things. Take Ed's Moroccan-spiced rack of lamb dish in last night's episode. "It's too complicated for me," he bleated. "There's too many textures and flavors going on." It was a notion he repeated more than once, which is a valid complaint but says nothing about how well or poorly the dish was cooked. Everyone on the panel, most vociferously guest judge Anthony Bourdain (more on him in a second), disagreed with Ripert. "I just wanted to express my disappointment with my colleague the Ripper over here," said Bourdain. "I've been to Morocco and I think Ed nailed it."

In last week's ballpark episode, it seemed like the biggest complaint that Ripert had about Kevin's not-great-but-not-bad chicken skewer with fried shoestring potatoes was that the stick was too long and it stuck him in the back of his mouth. He also complained that Tiffany's meatball sub was too messy. At least there, guest judge Rick Moonen playfully reminded Ripert that he's at a ballgame and a little messiness isn't so bad.

3. He's got no on-camera personality whatsoever. It's not like this is the first time Ripert has been on television; he's been a 'Top Chef' guest judge, has made numerous talk show appearances, and had his own public television show, 'Avec Eric.' But, for some reason, he comes off as monotone and flat at the judge's table. Could he be nervous? Doubtful, given his other judging stints. It might be that a little Ripert goes a long way, and the more we see him, the more he grates.

All three items above can be seen in this online-only extra, where Ripert comments on the show after he has watched it. Let's just say that after a couple of minutes, I'd was wishing he had written it in blog form instead:

Last night's episode pointed out exactly why Bourdain, if he somehow magically found the time in between trips for 'No Reservations' and appearances on 'Yo Gabba Gabba,' would be a perfect judge for 'Top Chef.' He hasn't guest-judged on the show in a couple of years, and his presence was missed.

We all know that Bourdain speaks his mind. He's like one of those friends we all have that's fun to hang out with, and is entertaining with his brutal truth-telling, but when the truth hose is turned on you, you want to punch him square in the face. But unvarnished truth is what the chefs need.

Yes, he can be wordy, but at least his wordiness is generally quip-free -- are you listening, Toby? -- and his humor comes from his naturally sardonic demeanor. When Angelo said he almost "made love" to the short ribs in his dish, Bourdain deadpanned that "I have no idea what you were talking about describing the dish, really. I just know that I loved it." That's a bemused reaction that generally doesn't come through with Ripert.

Could Ripert learn a few lessons from his culinary friend Bourdain? Sure. But I'd rather see Bravo attempt to bring Bourdain on board next season to liven things up. Sure, it's a pipe dream. Why would Tony cross networks and be an ensemble player on a show when he has a successful one of his own? But, maybe if Bravo and the Discovery folks let him keep doing 'No Reservations,' he could find some time to do both. 'Top Chef' needs a personality implant, and Bourdain's the perfect guy to accomplish that.

(Follow @joelkeller on Twitter.)

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Agree with everything said here. But I do have to add, I loved Eric Ripert on his previous guest spots, and was very excited to see him as a regular this season. I do agree that it seems entirely different with him there full-time though. Just not the same. I worship Anthony Bourdain and would love to see him there permanently although I doubt he would do it.
I agree that Gail is good. She knows how to offer criticism constructively, whereas Toby was just nasty and just wanted to bash people. Toby offered nothing, you already knew he was going to hate every single thing offered to him, which he basically did. He was horrible to watch, and I think that added to the excitement this year when it was announced he was gone and Eric was replacing him. Maybe that is why it seems like a letdown a bit with Eric, our expectations were too high and we were too excited that Toby was gone.
Tom is the rock of the team, he doesn't need to go anywhere. I can't imagine watching a Top Chef without him.
Also, I think the reason this season is crap is because Kenny was kicked off. He should have won this season, but they kicked him and left Alex there of all people, who couldn't cook his way out of a paper bag. Huge misstep for this season, and I think it made a lot of people start questioning the show in general. In previous seasons, the bad cooks were weeded out and no matter what you thought of contestants, the right ones were the last ones standing. That didn't happen this time half-way through the season so a lot of people turned.
Can't wait for Just Desserts though.

September 07 2010 at 5:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've really enjoyed Eric Ripert as a judge on "Top Chef" and have even started watching him critique each episode online. I have no problem understanding him, and I value and respect his expertise.

I'll second that Bourdain and Ripert are friends and their back-and-forth on the recent episode is just Bourdain ribbing Ripert. Bourdain didn't really offer chefs commentary; instead, he shut up and then called Ripert harsh for the comments he offered. It made for an strange show, but I place that at Bourdain's door.

September 07 2010 at 12:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The problem with the world today is that people just don't respect the proud traditions of the Pompous Sick Snob community.

September 04 2010 at 1:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We think the theme is great fun this year...loved the mystery boxes delivered by a James Bond type spy...loved the Space food odyssey....hated that Alex got away with stealing pea puree and Tiffany didn't get credit for saving Colorado/French girls rice dish then got kicked off...Tiffany has been great all along...so why did she get kicked off in a challenge that they couldn't really criticize her food? We pegged Tiffany and Angelo as the finalists....Tiffany WE LOVE YOU and wish you great things!

September 04 2010 at 7:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Padma is on their as the token sex kitten because she shows lots of cleavage and a lot of men watch this show. Tom is awesome and usually makes good decisions. The show is kind of boring this time around, no drama, no craziness with the acception of the pea puree thief Alex. Why didn't someone bitch about that? He clearly stole it. He should have been kicked off way in the beginning. Tiffany was a good chef, I think that was a bad decision to let her go.

September 03 2010 at 8:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think it's the contestants who are so boring. Any of the top 5 chiefs from last season are so much more experienced than all of the chiefs from this season. And Anthony B has a judge, atleast Eric is all about the food. Anthony is all about Anthony. I love that Padma is still a judge, even with her extra baby weight. This show is about cooking, not the next American Idol, where the the contestants plan second to the ridiculous behavior of the judges.

September 03 2010 at 7:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have to agree with the article, the show sucks now. I feel these 'chefs' who judge on any of the cook shows, have gotten to thinking they are some superior beings in this world. Hey, its food...cook it. You are not suppose to put down the chefs trying to be Top Chef, just critique their mistakes and praise their perfection. I hate to watch 'Chopped' anymore because those judges have gotten to just put down these chefs who are trying to win. Hey you open a basket of different ingredents you dont know is going to be in there and YOU make some spectacular meal out of some of that crap in the basket. They all do a pretty good job at what they make and as a chef, you all are going to cook differently. But geezz that dark hair witch judge, I don't think ever smiles, she is rude to the contestants too. Food channel....your judges are ruining your cooking shows.

September 03 2010 at 7:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oh this is hands down. No offense Ripert, I just have to go with my man Anthony Bourdain. It is true. The Ripert accent is just too difficult to understand. However, that is beside the point. ANTHONY is a great American Chef who I can understand, respect, admire, and REALLY love to look at!!!! LOL Hey, I am just being honest. :-)

September 03 2010 at 6:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think they shoud have a top chef show where the likes of Bourdain, Ripert and others who do all the judging instead do the cooking and lets see what others think of what they can do in a kitchen. Be nice to see someone tell someone like Ripert that that dish they cooked wasnt edible.

September 03 2010 at 6:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I like Tom, he is knowledgeable and fair. Keep him, I really think they all do a good job. If it's not broke, don't fix it!!!!

September 03 2010 at 6:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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