While I no longer do weekly recaps of Top Chef, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to talk some Restaurant Wars. This challenge has been a highlight of many a season and has often resulted in some surprise winners and some surprise departures. As the Las Vegas crew speeds toward their dinner with destiny I thought it would be a good chance to recap past seasons’ wars and preview Wednesday’s episode.
The original Restaurant Wars episode not only introduced the concept but also was the home of season one’s most memorable line as Dave told Tiffani, “I’m not your bitch, bitch.” Despite the lack of team harmony Dave, Tiffani, and eventual winner Harold took the challenge leading to Miguel’s departure. It was also the episode with guest judge Jeffrey Chodorow who might be best remembered as the jerk that wasn’t Rocco DiSpirito on The Restaurant.
In episode 10 we saw another edition of Restaurant Wars although the term was not used. This was one of the few wars where the eliminated chef was probably the least talented at the time as Mike went home. Overall though both sides turned out really lackluster products that left the judges flummoxed. This episode again produced one of the most memorable moments of the season when lady-killer Sam tried to talk trash about Wylie Dufresne. Karma kicked Sam in the butt down the line.
This was the season where Restaurant Wars truly became the defining point of a Top Chef season. After both teams initially turned in horrible efforts the judges declared no winner or loser and said let’s do it again. This was also the challenge where we saw a favorite to win head home. Tre who had been neck and neck with eventual winner Hung, took charge of his kitchen and thus took the blame when his team failed. I remember feeling just horrible as he packed his knives and walked out the door especially considering some of the riff raff that remained. I still wonder what a Tre/Hung finale would have looked like.
No one seemed to learn from Tre, as Dale stepped up and then stepped out. His failure to harness his kitchen which featured classic Top Chef villain Lisa ended his rather promising tenure on the show. He also paired scallops and butterscoth...yuck! Meanwhile, the other team scrapped out a win in large part thanks to future winner Stephanie. This was really Stephanie's coming out party as a contender. My favorite part of this episode was that Anthony Bourdain filled in for Chef Tom although he did dial down the venom a bit.
Looking back on last season, I’m more and more impressed with this year’s crop of chefs. The New York cast was mired in mediocrity and that really showed when they did Restaurant Wars. Leah was pigheaded and ignored the most talented chef on her team and Radhika chose to work the front of the house despite it being her concept. It came down to these two and Radhika exited thanks to her horrific service and complete loss of control in the kitchen. Sadly this episode will also be remembered as the one where Hosea and Leah did the tongue tango.
Wow season 5 had some slim pickings in terms of quality. On the other hand season 6 features a top four of chefs that cannot be rivaled from season’s past. For that reason I’d expect the B team of Mike Isabella, Laurine, Eli and yes even Robin to survive (speaking of surviving did you hear that Robin survived breast cancer). I’m guessing we’re going to see one of the big four exit this week. From the previews we can see that the Voltaggio brothers are on a team and Kevin (aka Yukon Cornelius) and Jennifer on the other. This will be about who can manage their staff better. The brothers will have to contend with Robin based on the preview, so that could be dicey. Early money is that unfortunately one of them is going home.