Top Chef New York: Lights, Camera, Kathie Lee Gifford

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Seeing as last Thursday was Thanksgiving, we didn't post our usual recap of Top Chef. But we're back with our thoughts on last night's episode, which had us getting pretty philosophical about the business of being a chef and how important it is to show some personality on television...

Note: We reveal the winner and loser below.

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For their quickfire challenge, the chefs had to make a breakfast amuse bouche for guest judge Rocco DiSpirito (speaking of someone who loves television...) and then, for the elimination challenge, each chef had to prepare a dish for a 2 1/2-minute, on-camera demonstration. Here's what we learned.

1. When Rocco says he likes bacon, cook bacon. We were a little miffed that Rocco mentioned his love of bacon right before the quickfire challenge. Obviously that cut down on the variation between dishes. We applauded Fabio for doing something different (and, gasp, bacon-less) but then he was penalized for it. Yes, the cappuccino shot was heavy, but Rocco still called out Fabio's dish for simply not being the tastes he preferred.

2. Leah's right about an amuse bouche. She sounded a little whiney, but we're with her on the fact that an amuse bouche should be one bite. Some of those dishes looked like full-on appetizers.

3. We thought we were watching The Next Food Network Star for a minute. Live demonstrations... mugging for the camera... Top Chef is usually less about the marketing of a personality and more about the food, food, food.

4. And yet, we think that was good. We think. We're still conflicted. But let's be honest, even Thomas Keller shows up on television these days. It's part of the business if you want to be well-known and sell lots of cookbooks. So for a chef to act like he's above it seems foolish.

5. Fabio gets it. He made a relatively sophisticated dish (seared tuna) but he understood the fact that he needed to keep it simple. In his words, "My mom is watching TV." He also seduced everyone who was watching him.

6. Simple steals the show. Ariane rose to the top in this challenge. She made a very simple, seasonal (we assume this episode was taped in late summer) salad of New Jersey tomatoes, watermelon, and feta cheese. When the top three chefs made their dishes for the Today Show, the hosts chose her as the winner. It was an interesting moment—a chef who seems unlikely to win the whole competition wins over an audience with approachable food. Which is more important these days? Good food that appeals to the masses or original, inventive food that appeals to a smaller audience? Or can you do both?

7. Kathie Lee Gifford did not show nice manners. We're sorry, but spitting your food out on national television? We're sure Jeff's dish was different, but it obviously impressed the Top Chef judges so it wasn't inedible. Kathie Lee could have showed some poise and kept her food in her mouth.

8. Stick to what you know. Alex thought making dessert would be an "easy way to the top," but he didn't give himself enough time to make his crème brûlée and the plan backfired. Goodbye, Alex.

So, this episode made us think. Do you have to appeal to Today Show viewers to be a successful chef these days? Is it a bad thing that that's part of the business? What did you think of this episode?

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Related:
Episode 1: Ethnic Foods Galore
Episode 2: Hot Dogs and Angry Chefs

(Images: Bravo)

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