Top Chef Meets a Barber

S

o we tune into Top Chef, as we do every Wednesday night, and who do we see? Chef Dan Barber gracing my dirty, shameful little televised pleasure. Words uttered, as we spewed root veg chips all over ourselves? “Holy crap—is that Dan?” – or a close-ish facsimile.

Yes, folks, it was Dan—who was joining two other super-dignified culinary eminances, Eric Ripert and April Bloomfield, to act as sous chefs to the hapless, sweaty cheftestants. We were chuffed: Westchester in the hizzz-ouse of Top Chef.

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Actually, there was a certain smiling, embarrassed quality to Chef Barber’s performance on Top Chef—as if he were dressed up in an absurd costume ‘for the kids’. Yet we also sensed that Barber was enjoying himself, too. Here was Chef Barber loosening up, and stepping away from his mission for a moment to participate in what has become THE foodie spectator sport. Why, even Adam Platt of New York Magazine and Frank Bruni and Pete Wells of the NY Times offer regular opinions about the culinary game show. It’s a big, somewhat goofy, deal in our world.

While Chef Barber was only on Top Chef for a moment—enough to cruelly allow his poor cheftestent “boss” to believe he’d have his help for two days, and then not showing up for the second—the funniest thing was who picked him: molecular gastronomist Richard Blaise wound up with Barber. ‘Pocket-smoker’ Richard, who probably sleeps curled beside steely tank of liquid nitrogen every night, could not be more opposed to Chef Barber’s staunchly local, staunchly ‘farm to table’, staunchly un-chemical aesthetic. What a pair! I kept waiting for the moment for Chef Barber to promote local, ethical eating—but it never came. He was simply on a game show! For grins!

Also charming was super-dignified Chef Eric Ripert’s clear enjoyment of being a lackey/sous-chef for the sweetest cheftestant—and ultimate winner—Stephanie. (Thank god he didn’t get the cheftestant everyone loves to hate, Lisa Fernandez—AKA “The Gorgon”.) Ripert found it relaxing and pleasant NOT to be in charge, calmly and graciously doing sweet Stephanie’s bidding. Meanwhile, Chef Barber found that his lack of control in Blaise’s kitchen made him anxious. Control freaks ourselves, we empathize. I’m sure it didn’t help when Richard started choking under the pressure—which Blaise, quite nobly, and quite painfully, even recognized himself. Such absurdity, such pathos, such comedy—Top Chef is like a culinary Edward Albee play, only with prizes.

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