Thursday, September 10, 2009

One of Atlanta's chefs out on Top Chef

Spoiler Alert: don't read if you haven't watched this week's Top Chef yet!

Can't say I didn't see it coming...

Poor Hector Santiago, of Atlanta's Pura Vida, seemed doomed from the start. I saw him a couple days before the show premiered, and when I mentioned how excited I was to see him on the show, he seemed, well, not very excited at all. That was the first hint. Then the very first episode went badly for him - a deep fried steak seemed to start him off on bad footing indeed. And he never quite regained his mojo.

Hector just seemed uncomfortable cooking outside of his Latin repertoire, and alas South American cuisine can only get you so far on a show where cooking out of your comfort zone (cook with offal! serve food to girl scouts!) is de riguer. So when his number was up on last night's episode, it didn't come as too big of a shock.

I feel for Hector. He's clearly a talented guy, and Pura Vida puts out some great food. But another disastrous beef dish did him in (this guy probably seriously hates cows right about now), and now we're down to two Atlanta contenders.

Is it just me or are there only five chefs with a legitimate chance of winning Top Chef this season? Never has there been a season where a few chefs so clearly dominated every challenge. I could envision one or two of them getting upset earlier in the season, but it seems rather obvious that brothers Michael and Bryan Voltaggio, seafood guru Jennifer Carroll, resident d-bag Michael Isabella, and Atlanta's Kevin Gillespie are the ones to watch.

There are couple of other chefs who have been neither awful nor amazing throughout the challenges, but these five have so thoroughly dominated that it seems inevitable that we'll watch the others get picked off one by one before the competition really heats up.

Similar to how people lament the presence of singers who've previously had recording contracts on American Idol, I do have to wonder if it's really a fair competition to put a caterer or a sous chef up against someone with a Michelin star (the inkier Voltaggio) or someone Eric Ripert would trust to run one of his restaurants (Carroll). Clearly the majority of the cheftestants are completely outmatched, and I'm glad to see that at least Kevin Gillespie is holding his own and showcasing Southern cuisine to boot. Hello bacon jam!

So sad...just watched Hector's video on the Bravo website in which he says he thinks this might diminish his career. I certainly hope not! There's a place for his style of cooking, whether or not he's cut out for Top Chef stardom, and I for one hope the show helps garner more attention for him in Atlanta! Poor guy needs a hug...



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