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Thursday, August 27, 2009

'Top Chef' Las Vegas, Episode Two: Battle of the sexes

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Oops, she did it again. And she really, really shouldn't have.

In last night's Vegas style battle of the sexes, the girls served up a heaping helping of repeats – an impressive feat for the second episode – practically handing fuel to Michael Isabella's fire. Eve, the midwest complicated/simple girl, served the judges and a cabana full of bachelors underseasoned and over complicated (not to mention over cooked) shrimp, this time with salsa instead of curry, and still couldn't explain a lick of it. Jesse came up with another decent idea for chicken and did everything wrong again. Not even Jennifer's snotty octopus ceviche could save the day for the girls' team, no matter how much I was rooting for them.

Thankfully, Atlanta fared much better than the ladies, with both Eli and Hector winding up at the top during judge's table. Despite missing out on the elimination challenge victory (it's pretty hard to beat a macaroon filled with guacamole after that many shots), Hector's tequila lemon-lime tofu proved he still had plenty of huevos, earning accolades from the judges and even more sighs of envy from my couch. Fellow Atlanta representative Eli also scored with his thai-inspired tuna tartar with wild rice, winning over Gail Simmons and the bevy of “so hot” bachelorettes (Thanks, Mattin).

Aside from Eli and Hector's brief moment at the top with the dueling Voltaggio brothers, whose food was the real star of the evening (Goat cheese cookie dough? Yes, please), the Atlanta trio seemed to fall out of the spotlight right along with the episode's focus on cooking. With the boys easily taking the challenge, the real battle of last night's episode became the concept of the challenge itself, with cheftestants landing in every which direction.

While I respect Ashley's issues with a challenge surrounding marriage, I think the bigger issue of the set up was rooted in her later comment about the difference in knowledge and experience between the two teams: the boys were using ingredients some of the girls had never heard of. Save for Jennifer and maybe Ashley herself, this season's crop of female chefs aren't packing much girl power, and after seeing them pitted against the boys, it makes me wonder just where all the great female chefs are. In a season where James Beard nominees meet Michelin star recipients, shouldn't there be a bevy of equally talented female chefs instead of bachelorettes?

Overall, I am still impressed with the quality of this season's group of cheftestants and even with the majority of their food, which at best has been innovative and mouth watering. But last night's episode was scatterbrained, trying too hard to fit in each of the story lines from marriage inequity to sibling rivalry, creating an impression a little too much like that damn chile relleno, clunky and poorly presented.

(Photo courtesy Bravo)

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