We enjoy watching the show Top Chef (BRAVO), because it pits young chefs against each other and features some of the leading culinary kings in the world as guest judges. Now in its sixth season, it is the most popular reality cooking show on TV. Every season, they do the show from a different city and this year it’s in Chicago.
San Francisco initially featured four chefs (out of a total of 16) on this season's Top Chef. As a food lover's/top restaurant town, it just seemed fitting to see that The City was so well-represented.
Well, the only problem is--the San Francisco chefs are falling off the board like flies. They are being sent back to their Bay Area kitchens like bad entrees. After six weeks, three are gone and the one that remains may not be around much longer.
The first to go was Erik Hopfinger, the executive chef at Circa in San Francisco. During the first episode, the bald, barrel-chested chef was cocky and seem self-assured--until they asked him to make a soufflé, at which point he looked like a rank amateur.
Making a soufflé is not easy; but surely it’s something an executive chef should be able to pull off. What Hopfinger created was a disaster. One of the judges described it as "glorified nachos." He actually put tortilla chips on top of the savory soufflé. It was like something you might find at Hooters or Chevy’s. It was disgusting.
Then, in episode number three, Guest Judge Rick Bayless (considered one of the world's top experts on Mexican cuisine) asked the contestants to create an upscale taco. Interesting variations included a vegetarian taco wrapped in a jicama tortilla from the challenge's winner, a non-San Francisco chef named Richard Blais.
Bayless' least favorite tacos included attempts by Hopfinger and fellow San Francisco Chef Ryan Scott (a Chef/Consultant at Myth Cafe in SF). Hopfinger's taco looked like bad street food. Think Taco Bell meets Roach Coach. Instead of being humble, Hopfinger later commented. "I don't think fine dining and Mexican go together," not something that was terribly smart to say in front of Bayless, a man who has successfully introduced high-end Mexican food to the United States. Hopfinger lost the challenge.
Then, in the elimination round, chefs were split into two teams and had to go door-to-door in the suburbs of Chicago and ask to raid their kitchens for ingredients that they would later use for a neighborhood block party. All four San Francisco chefs ended up on the same team.
It was a sad day for the SF chefs, three of whom were responsible for the worst rated dishes. When questioned about their menu choices, Zoi Antonitsas (an SF chef/restaurant consultant and Jennifer Biesty's, another contestant's-- lover) (see photo) said, "We just decided it was Middle America..." Another stupid thing to utter. Like people in Chicago are unsophisticated and won't enjoy the cuisine we consume in foodie-town San Francisco? She came off as pompous and stuck-up.
In the end, the worst dish was Hopfinger's corn dogs. They didn't transport well and ended up being cold and soggy. Erik was eliminated from the show, having failed to win one single challenge.
The other two worst-rated dishes were Scott’s mushy Waldorf salad and Antonitsas’ oily and bland pasta salad. (Come on --how hard is it to make a pasta salad?)
Pretty soon, it was Zoi’s turn to pack her knives. She failed to put salt on a mushroom dish she said was properly seasoned, and the Top Chef judges told her it was bland and flavorless, which meant she had to go. Antonitsas was not going to last that long anyway—her incessant complaining was getting old and she always seemed put-upon throughout the first four episodes.
When Zoi got the axe, it did not sit well with her lover, Jennifer (an executive chef at COCO500) who blamed team member Spike Mendelsohn (a NYC chef who cooks at Mai House) for the problems that existed with the dish. Spike wasn’t asked to season the dish-it was Zoi’s screw up and she blew it. Making excuses and blaming another chef just made her (and her girlfriend) look silly.
Zoi was visibly shocked when she heard the news, but anyone who was watching the episode could see it coming. Antonitsas was not plating impressive dishes. Seasoning food is one of the first things they teach you in culinary school.
When asked what went wrong with her dish, Antonitsas replied, “Sun chokes are tubers grown in the earth and mushrooms are very earthy.” Yes, but they still need to be seasoned. It’s Cooking 101.
The next San Francisco chef to get the cleaver was Ryan Scott, who should have been eliminated back in week one when he couldn’t even make a chicken piccatta. What he served was a breaded piece of poultry without capers or a butter sauce.
Luckily, someone else made a scampi dish that was worse, so Scott survived, until last week.
The challenge in week six involved feeding 80 football fans at a Chicago Bears’ tailgating party. But, instead of serving proper tailgating faire, Scoot made what he called “California Tailgate.” It included a bread salad and a poached pear dessert. It didn’t go well with the football fans or the judges. Scott was the third San Francisco chef to hit the long road home.
So, now after six episodes, three of the four Bay Area chefs are history. Jennifer Beisty is the only one left. How long will she last? I give her three weeks.
It just goes to show you—you can be a fancy chef with a lot of tricks and frills, but in the end, it all comes down to knowing the basics. Real chefs know how to do it all—including making soufflés, chicken piccatta and seasoned mushrooms. And that’s why the San Francisco chefs of Top Chef have been bottom feeders this year.