By Doris Bravo
Whoa. At two and a half hours long with commercials, last night’s episode of Top Chef Chile was an absolute epic. With the first ever restaurant wars in Chile, tempers flared, pots were banged, flames flew out of every corner possible, and there was A LOT of crying. Back, after trying to get some sleep, with a poignant look at last night’s episode that lasted well into the wee hours of the morning, is our own resident pop culture expert Doris Bravo, and she’s not happy. If you watched last night and have something to say, let us know in the comments. We’ve been getting them all morning.
Most of the guests on last night’s episode of Top Chef Chile left their dining experience angry and annoyed. I went to bed with the same sentiments. But in my case it was because the show had held me hostage for 150 minutes, finally rolling the credits at 12:40 am this morning. For a show that is meant to begin at 10:00 pm and end at 11:45 pm (according to my television guide) I don’t understand how it can balloon into a Titanic-like epic. This is actually something that has been happening little by little over the past weeks; every episode seems to grow by 10 minutes. And this by no means is improving the show. An hour is enough to tell the story on the U.S. version of Top Chef but the Chilean incarnation is a protracted sink into the nebulous waters of reality television. It should come as no surprise that as the show becomes bloated in time, it runs over its initial time frame. Of course no one is setting the clocks in Chile, which explains why it’s nearly impossible for operating hours to ever be respected. I’ve grown accustomed to a store’s nebulous start time—“yeah, Falabella opens around 10:00 am.” But shouldn’t television programming be on autopilot? Why can’t the tape start at 10:00 pm? To say that I am a stickler for time would be an understatement. I revel in beating deadlines and coming in well before the wire. Of course I appreciate that not everyone is like me, but wasting someone’s time is a grievous offense in my book.
At least I had the option of eating, which was not the case for the guests on episode 7. I had high hopes for restaurant wars. It seems like the guests did, too; a small selection of the most loyal and frequent visitors to two Santiago restaurants—“Juan y Medio” and “El Palacio Danubio Azul”—were selected to participate in this episode. Without the “prueba de fuego” the six contestants were divided into two teams, again based on Byzantine rules (female leaders, chosen by the judges, selected the members for the other team). Team Orange—composed of Carolina Erazo, Pilar Astorga, and Juan Morales—took on the venerable Chilean institution of “Juan y Medio.” Meanwhile Team Gray—Alicia Rodríguez, José Luis Calfucura (“Mapuchef”), and Sergio Medel—were off to a Chinese restaurant with an Austrian-German name. Both teams had 90 minutes to prepare five dishes (two appetizers, two entrées, and one dessert) for 50 guests. Read that over again, the math is correct even if it is appalling.I have spoken at length about the ridiculous time constraints of this show—unreasonable time limits for the challenges, too much time dedicated to fluff like demos. But last night’s episode was a true disservice to the guests and the owners of the restaurants. I have it on good authority that 90 minutes is not enough time to execute that amount of food for that amount of guests. Especially if meal planning also needs to happen within that period. On Top Chef in the U.S. restaurant wars is an all-day affair, with more than three contestants cooking. True, the Yanks need to set up the restaurant’s front of house. But they have loads of people helping during this preparation as well as during service.
With around 30 minutes left on the clock, Mapuchef was sent out to the dining room to take orders leaving two cooks in the kitchen. There were only two waitresses helping him, and to be honest it didn’t look like they were doing much. José Luis isn’t the most organized person so naturally this was all going to blow up in his face. It didn’t help that the guests were being mouthy, snapping their fingers and complaining about the wait. The most dramatic among them complained that they had never experienced this type of service at “Juan y Medio.” Are we really supposed to surrender entirely to the ruse? Are the cameras invisible? This is a television show, people, not a typical day at “Juan y Medio.” Let me offer you some advice: never complain about a free meal. Also, if you are ever invited to a soft opening or what seems like a half-baked pop-up, bring snacks or eat beforehand.
Of course, the worst among these guests were the judges who were sending their food back. Little wonder Team Orange had to stop their service since there was no way to keep up with the ridiculous demands. Judge Carlo von Mühlenbrock made matters worse when he dramatically pulled aside one of the waitresses at “Juan y Medio” in order to issue an apology on behalf of Top Chef Chile. I didn’t realize restaurant wars required a degree in diplomacy worthy of the United Nations. Judge Carlo was so offended by the behavior in the kitchen—cooks yelling at the waitstaff, clutch the pearls—that he chastised Alicia, Mapuchef, and Sergio in front of this lady. Sergio, now showing his true stripes as a brown-noser, apologized to the offended parties which earned him praise from Judge Carlo. Yuck! There’s nothing worse than forced apologies; to this day I regret watching that Tiger Woods press conference. All of this shaming is not only out of place in a kitchen, but it reinforces an outdated Chilean social hierarchy. In a later scene the waitress called Judge Carlo “Don Carlo,” which only casts him as some sort of benevolent authority figure who had to come down off his horse to set right the relations among his peons. Of course, all the episodes are rife with this type of behavior. Judge Pamela Fidalgo insists on calling the contestants “Don” and “Doña,” though from her conspicuous mouth this honorific comes off as a jibe.
With a twist that we all saw coming, neither Team Orange nor Team Gray prevailed which meant all six contestants found themselves in the last round. Finally, everyone cooked one dish for a decent amount of time (50 minutes). The challenge was to prepare a monochromatic dish based on the color one selected during the beloved knife pull. Juan and Pilar, brown and white respectively, prepared the most uninspiring dishes and thus demonstrated they had “no amor por el sabor” (no love for flavor). Pilar, after having spent the season neither triumphing nor failing, could no longer hide her apathy and was sent home.
Next week, everyone’s mom comes for a visit. There are many tears as the contestants view their favorite childhood dishes and then their mothers appear to surprise them. But things get serious when the participants needs to cook for their moms since in most Chilean households, they are the original top chefs.