Top Chef: The Watch What Happens Special

Episode Overview:  It's time for a mid-season break on Top Chef.  Instead of a new episode, this week we get a relaxed chat with the judges and chefs from all three seasons.  While there are no shocking disclosures or revelations, it's a chance to see the chefs outside the pressure cooker environment of competition, and get a few behind-the-scenes laughs.


Andy Cohen, Bravo's head of production, is acting as host for tonight's festivities.  He's joined by Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons and Ted Allen on the panel.  Although this is a friendly event, per usual the judges are a safe distance away from the chefs.  On the chef side, from Season Three, are Lia Bardeen, Camille Becerra, Micah Edelstein, Sandee Birdsong, and Clay Bowen.  From Season Two, Ilan Hall, Sam Talbot, Cliff Crooks, and Michael Midgley are attending, and from Season One, it's Harold Dieterle, Lee Ann Wong and Dave Martin.

First off, a foodie fan weighs in.  It's Jean-Georges Vongerichten, from the famous Jean-Georges restaurant in New York.  He's there to support his sous chef who's in the competition. Oops.  Guess no one told him she was voted off last episode.

But enough with the bad news!  Onto something positive.  Andy asks the judges to list their favorite dishes from all of the seasons.  For Tom Colicchio, it's Tiffany's risotto from the Season One finale.  For Padma, it's Ilan's dish from Santa Barbara.  Gail loved Harold's beef, while Ted is torn between Sam's ceviche and Season Three Howie's pork.

And then a montage of the worst of the lot: Clay's gazpacho, Macrel's bacon and avocado ice cream, Betty's curdled cocktail, Sam's gorgonazola and watermelon dish, Michael's vending machine creation. 

Some fan favorites give the judges and chefs a chance to clarify some areas.  Padma explains that although they eat often, their servings are small, which is how they keep from ballooning up each season.  Micah clarifies that although she made a comment about American's preference for ketchup, she wasn't slagging off on the Yanks, and that she is actually half South African and half American.

Another funny montage follows, this mainly focusing on the verbal tics of the judges.  Tom LOVES to say some variation on "There will be finger pointing" when talking about the cheftestants assigning blame.  All the judges - even the guests - love to use the phrase "This is Top Chef" to indicate that a chef has gotten distracted in the game (i.e., Miguel acting like "Top Sous Chef" or Stephen acting like "Top Sommelier").

Another tidbit?  Tom can be a dainty eater, with some clips of the surgical precision he uses to finely cut his tastings.  He seems slightly embarrassed, saying he never realized he ate like that.  One wonders how the judges feel to have the scrutiny on them.

But it's not all lighthearted. Sandee confronts the judges on her elimination, and the practice of eliminating a chef with one bad day.  Padma defends this, saying that's essentially the experience of a customer taking their first trip to a restaurant.  Tom also points out that this is the rule, and it's basically beyond the judges' control as well.

A quick check in with Season One.  Harold's restaurant is featured, with Tom confirming its quality, and that Harold is a chef's chef.  Yes, the Season One folks do sometimes hang out together, but no, Lee Ann and Harold are not dating.  She laughs uproariously at the idea of dating Harold, which is either a) kind of a big insult to Harold or b) a girl with a crush protesting too much. 

No worries for Lee Ann if it's the latter.  She's got a fun new gig - planning the challenges on Top Chef.  Also, she was always a pretty woman,  but she has slimmed down some and it suits her even better.

Another celeb question for the group.  Tim Gunn from Project Runway wants to know: was Stephen for real?  Yes, Gail replies, Stephen seemed affected and over-the-top, but he was for real.  The overall opinion of his peers and Gail is that he's a sharp guy you would want on your team.

"Was anyone cast for looks?" is another question some viewers might have.  Tom isn't toeing any Bravo party line, and flatly says he thinks that Candice from Season One must have been.  She was too recently out of culinary school to truly compete.

Ilan and Sam have been keeping busy since their season.  Ilan competed against Jacque Pepin (and lost) in a Food and Wine event in Aspen.  Sam was there too, mainly, it seems, taking pics with the ladies.  The judges get the chance to clarify why Sam was sent home during the elimination where he was up against Ilan.  It was a hard call, but Ilan's use of the native ingredients really put him over the top.

And now, Marcel.  Marcel Marcel Marcel.  In a montage about Top Chef fights, he's a major player in several. Michael says he was worse in person than how he was portrayed.  Cliff talks about the Marcel-forced-head-shaving bit.  Cliff continues his dignified handling of a very undignified situation and doesn't hesitate to say it was totally fair that he was kicked off.  Takes a big man to admit something like that, especially with Tom Colicchio saying he could been a serious contender for the win.

There was a light-hearted moment that same evening from Season Two.  The remaining five spent some time goofing around with a mock Judges' Table.  Elia did an excellent Padma imitation, and Sam delivered the best judging line ever, Colicchio-style: "Why did your beef taste like beef?"

Other tidbits:  Ken from Season One kept up Dave with his night terrors.  Lack of other entertainment options leads the chefs to do lots of boozin'.  Padma refuses to feel self-conscious about her wardrobe/lack thereof, no matter what anyone says, and she got the scar on her arm from surgery following a car accident when she was 14.  Tom has become an icon in the Bear community.  Bears, Ted Allen helpfully explains, are burly guys (although they are usually a might hairier than bald Colicchio) who are quite sought after in some segments of the gay community.  Tom is awkwardly flattered, but ensures he sneaks in a reference to his wife right then.

All the chefs seem to think it was an amazing learning experience - both personally and as a chef - and most would do it again.  As to whom they think will win this Season?  Harold thinks Hung (odd, since Hung's been in the bottom so much lately), and Ilan says Tre.

Next week, we will be back on the path of finding out who will be right.

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist

(Image courtesy of Bravo)