Well, the season two Top Chef finales are tonight (10 o'clock, Bravo). The bloggers are blogging, the leakers are already leaking who won -- I


Top Chef Ends, With Much Kibbitzing

Ilan vs. Marcel = lots of pontificating from fans like me.

Well, the season two Top Chef finales are tonight (10 o'clock, Bravo). The bloggers are blogging, the leakers are already leaking who won -- I don't want to know, frankly -- and the critics are doing what we do best.

Frank Bruni of the New York Times (warning, registration required) loved the show, writing, "It’s a look at the imagination, desperation, judgment and serendipity that inform any great meal." On Slate, Sara Dickerman hated it, and said that the drama was canned and that, more damningly, "the challenges have little to do with the real demands of the profession."

I think Dickerman's more right than Bruni -- the show should really be called "Top Cook," because the finalists are both line cooks in their early 20s and not chefs, who haven't won based on any leadership qualities or responsibilities that make a great executive chef -- but I have enjoyed every moment of the show. It's my Wednesday night ritual, when my neighbor and I gather in front of her big-screen TV and talk back to the screen. Okay, I talk back to the screen, and Kelli snickers at me.

What I loved about Top Chef is that among the contestants I recognize every species of cook I've ever met: The happy-go-lucky schlub (Michael). The mile-a-minute-talking, cocky, annoying culinary-school grad (Marcel). The sour, trash-talking line cook who's not as good as she says she is (Emily). The bipolar caterer who's charming for the customers and a screaming harridan backstage (Betty). How attached I got to the contestants was a clear sign to me of how much I miss hanging out with insane, hard-living restaurant people now that we're on opposite teams.

Plus, I thought the "drama" on the show that disgusted a lot of viewers seemed relatively muted by restaurant standards, or at least the restaurants I worked in. I was more impressed by how much class the contestants showed. Up until the semifinals, they were still reassuring one another about their dishes and helping competitors plate and deliver food.

And yeah, I'm pissed that Sam didn't make it to the finals; he and Cliff were clearly the best chefs when it came to running a kitchen as well as cooking well. It was obvious as the season went on that the producers were weeding out not only the loser cooks but keeping in the folks who made for good television. Whether or not the ending Marcel-Ilan brouhaha was concocted, I've always found the last shows -- the final American Idol showdown, the final New York fashion show on Project Runway -- anticlimactic, disappointing, and frankly, boring. Because a contest between two people is never as entertaining as the wild creativity, grotesque mistakes, and high drama that happens before.

Though I don't care who wins (sure, Ilan's hot and funny and probably a great cook but I'm more interested in Marcel's pretentious, innovative food), it's sure been a hoot. Now I can't wait for Top Design to start.

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