Culinary Showdown #7: 'Hell's Kitchen' vs. 'Top Chef'
Both Hell's Kitchen and Top Chef took on the idea of incorporating healthy elements into regular fare this week, although on Hell's Kitchen it was a minor detail (the faux meat snuck into the chef's taste test) and on Top Chef, it was the focal point of the elimination challenge.

This week also had Hell's Kitchen taking a turn at the palate challenge, which Top Chef covered a few weeks back. I have to say that I think Hell's Kitchen didn't quite handle this challenge as well as Top Chef did.

For one, Top Chef upped the sophistication element (per usual) by not just asking chefs to identify ingredients, but to actually distinguish between two different quality levels of the same food item. The Hell's Kitchen chefs couldn't tell that they were eating faux meat, though, so maybe asking them to discern levels of quality in cheese might be asking too much.

Then again, context can fool the mind, so maybe the inability to find the fake protein isn't as telling an indication of their palates after all. After all, the Hell's Kitchen chefs were told that the dishes were missing an ingredient, but weren't given the crucial piece of info that a different ingredient had been substituted in its place. That might sound like semantics, but there's a big difference between tasting for what's outright missing (a lacking of something) and tasting for what has been swapped (a difference in something).

And, to me, the palate challenge on Hell's Kitchen failed in comparison to the Top Chef challenge in another way. The final challenge involved Ben and Matt going head-to-head to discern the individual ingredients in a dish. Granted, once again they couldn't see the dish, but as soon as they tasted it, they could tell it as some kind of seafood chowder. I got that info visually and, just based on what I know of traditional chowders, was actually able to guess potato and thyme right along with them. Tasting thyme solo blindfolded might not be nearly so easy as guessing that thyme would be the particular herb you are tasting in the context of the chowder.

Top Chef had its own Hell's Kitchen moment, when Lisa Fernandes panicked and attempted to sink Andrew D'Ambrosi, as though they could, like on Top Chef, nominate a peer for elimination. Although the judges didn't seem impressed by this, they didn't take the Gordon Ramsay route: they actually eliminated the chef called out by his peer.

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

(Images courtesy of Bravo and Fox)