Top Chef Masters Offers Fascinating Look At Real Kitchen Dynamics
Spoilers if you haven’t seen last night’s episode of Top Chef: Masters!
A kitchen is only as good as its weakest link. Top Chef has proved this again and again with its “Restaurant Wars” challenge, and now Top Chef: Masters is showing the importance of signing on a good crew to an even bigger extent. This season, the “Masters” have brought their sous chefs with them, and an early “Battle of the sous chefs” each episode can be the difference between immunity and being at an extreme disadvantage. It’s an exciting premise that throws curveballs from week to week, and this week it showed just how important having that teamwork is.
Each week, the sous chefs receive their own challenge which can be viewed online at Bravo’s site before or after the show. The winner of the “battle” earns immunity for his or her chef in the masters competition while those who land in the bottom in the challenge earn their respective masters chefs a disadvantage. Throughout the season, this has ranged from not being given knives to complete a task to having to sit out for a period of time or even exchange sous chefs during the final challenge.
For some contestants, this has been a huge boon. Douglas, for instance, nabbed immunity in the first week in a challenge he certainly would have gone home on, after he refused to jump out of an airplane to reach the task and lost an hour driving. His sous chef eventually was replaced by another, equally capable guy from Doug’s kitchen at home, and this week he nabbed immunity again in a challenge when the judges felt that creating a cocktail rather than a second dish was a copout.
Other contestants have seen obstacle after obstacle thrown at them due to sous chefs who have landed in the bottom, again and again. Sang’s probably the best example of this. His sous chef continually landed in the bottom, and while sometimes Sang managed to compete adequately despite these setbacks, he more often did reasonably in the quickfire challenge, when his sous chef was never around and he wasn’t burdened by the added obstacles thrown his way. This week, his sous chef’s misadventures caught up to him. Sang was stressed out and in over his head without his regular guy, and he was sent home because of it.
When most people think about high-end restaurant environments, I think it’s easy to believe that as long as you have a brilliant and creative guy heading up the restaurant, all of the puzzle pieces fall into place. After all, how often do we get insight into the inner workings of fine dining if we aren’t employees ourselves? What this season of Top Chef: Masters has taught me is that a master comes to rely on his or her sous chef, and they are only as good as the teamwork they exhibit. As I stated prior, a chef is only as good as his weakest link, and “Battle of the Sous Chefs” has provided fascinating insights into different kitchen personalities and where various sous chefs strengths lie.
These paragraphs have been a little harsh to Sang’s sous chef, but I think it's important to note that working in a competition-oriented, quickfire environment is not exaclty the same thing as working in a kitchen day in and day out. I’m sure all of the sous chefs the masters brought in are capable and bring something to the table in everyday life that they may or may not have exhibited during the tenure of Top Chef: Masters. Some people have more trouble in a competitive environment while others thrive, but the series has provided us a window into the relationship between a chef and a sous chef and given us insight into what happens when those bonds crumble under specific circumstances.
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