Why 'Top Chef' Judge Eric Ripert Should Be Replaced With Anthony Bourdain
by Joel Keller, posted Sep 2nd 2010 5:01PM
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.
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