Oct 7, 2007

Top Chef 3: Another Male Wins the Title

Hung won the whole enchilada. In the finale he won the Top Chef crown fair and square with his fabulous dishes, including a chocolate cake dessert that he created in high altitude. Casey choked and Dale created a dish that was nearly inedible: so it made sense for Hung to win. However, by no stretch of the imagination does Hung deserve the title of top chef. The man can COOK, he CANNOT lead.

Besides, it's time a female, any female, won a Top Chef competition. Sorry, but I'm feeling peevish. Doesn't our fair sex comprise 50% of the population? So why is Chloe Dao of Project Runway Season Two the only female winner of a Bravo reality show?

I believe that female brains, talents, and abilities are equal to the men's. Oh, guys might have more muscle, but we have more stamina (one word: childbirth). So let's stop quibbling about men being better than women, especially in the kitchen. BULLSHIT.

Next time, Bravo, choose your female contestants with a more discerning eye. Third male chef winner? Pshaww!

Update: George's wise comments provide a thoughtful rebuttal to my take on Hung. He's almost got me convinced.


Marius said...

You know, Ms. Place, I neglected to consider Hung's lack of leadership skills. I called him Top Chef material, but your point is well taken. How can one be a Top Chef without being able to lead a team to success? It's pretty much impossible. He certainly can cook, but he needs to guide and inspire others in the kitchen as well.

And I am with you 100% when it comes to the lack of female talent on this and other cooking shows. Fortunately, you and I both know that phenomenal female chefs do exist. I have a cousin who's a pastry chef. She currently lives in Austin, Texas and is doing quite well. Although she graduated from culinary school a few years ago, she's been improving exponentially as the years go by. My family is extremely proud of her. There are others like her out there. And it would be nice to see one of them win the title of Top Chef. I'm cautiously optimistic.

Also, thanks for the link. You are very kind, and I appreciate your support. :)

george said...

i'm perplexed by your post and admittedly quite torn. on one hand i completely agree that bravo (and many other competition reality programmers) are ridiculous in their unchecked institutional/programmatic sexism. there are many times when i'm baffled by the fact that female contestants inexplicably get the boot far too early or seem to have been recruited from the bottom tiers of the best women out there.

on the other hand, i'm really frustrated by the fact that people bash hung endlessly for no good reason and in the process, completely disregard the fact that he is the first person of color to make it to the final two/three much less win. i don't think that sexism and racism are mutually exclusive or need to be pitted against each other in some sort of opression olympics, but by bashing hung in the same breath as bemoaning the lack of qualified female competitors, you set up this kind of comparison.

while i'm glad you stopped short of saying casey should have won, that becomes the implication, which quite frankly is bullshit. by the finale it became very clear he was the strongest competitor and almost all judges agreed that he would be someone they would hire because they know he had the skills to back that up. but regardless of whether you like hung, respect his skills or accept his win, his win in this case isn't the issue. while i guess it can be argued that in this case, because it's a winner take call competition, he takes the spot of a potential female winner, which of the women should have won?

from what i've seen, the only two really strong women bravo has pulled in are tiffani and leeann, and i think that this kind of half-assed recruiting is where their institutionalized sexism is most egregious. trying to bash the only person of color to win to make a point about Bravo's sexism does a disservice to your otherwise important point.

george said...

one other thought i forgot to address: i actually think hung showed excellent leadership skills when it counted and he was able to work with people not trying to backstab him--ie-the final episode. from what was shown, he arguably had the best working dynamic with both his sous chefs (rocco and sara m) and seemed to work efficiently but clearly with both of them. there were no complaints at the judges table that mistakes were due to the missteps of his assistants (like certain others). and i think it's notable that he worked with them well but also made sure it was his vision (there were also no questions as to whether the ultimate vision was his or his sous chefs'). in earlier situations he was working with competitors who more often than not, had a grudge against him. and one of the other major situations where he worked with a team, sara m. named him specifically as a strong team player and assistant.

so again, i really think the "hung is a bad leader" bit is far overplayed.

Ms. Place said...

Thanks, Marius. And George, thank you too! You have spoken eloquently, and your last post almost convinced that Hung is top chef material. I keep forgetting how much Bravo edits the shows. Still, Hung was not treated with respect behind the scenes by his team mates the way Tre was, for example. This might be due to the fact that he's young. He did show exceptional skills at the end, and I thought he won hands down. Not only did he have vision, he executed his dishes with the kind of professionalism that awed even the judges.

I would not even imply that Casey should have won. She totally blew the finale, and her performance has been uneven throughout the competition. Even though Casey showed her mettle at times and came on strong at the end, I would not have picked any of the females of this group.

From the start I thought this competition should have been between Hung and Tre. Interestingly, when it came time for Tre to lead the kitchen he faltered. When it was Hung's turn he shone. Food for thought.

All in all, I am very happy with the finale.

Though I still wonder: Why are there so few female winners over at Bravo?

Anonymous said...

I don't really see any conspiracy over at Bravo. I think they're just choosing people with talent, who would make for good TV, and judge based on their performances in challenges. After all, the head of Bravo is a woman.

ArtfulSub said...

Well, ignoring the grotesque cretins at Bravo, there IS some good news on the Gal Chef's front.

Next Food Network Star, a superior show in general, had TWO Female finalists last season.

I'd say there are three main reasons that "Top Chef" hasn't had one:

1) Bravo is run by woman-hating creeps.

2) As you noted, they tend to select very inexperienced females to be Cheftestants.

3) Bravo's whole ridiculous system dissuades REALLY GOOD chefs of both sexes from entering. And I think it's possible that more females than males are turned off by the rules. The WAY TOO LONG time commitment. The time away from family. The "let's make so-and-so the villian" editing games.

How many REALLY GOOD Female Chefs with young children and/or some other family responsibility have been dissuaded from entering the fray?

I didn't like Amy, the NFNS winner, but I think she fits the profile of someone who WOULD do Next Food Network Star and WOULD NOT do Top Chef. Where the time away from her kids is roughly 3x as long.

ArtfulSub said...


Something that would boost the quality of BOTH Female and Male Cheftestants would be to boost the chintzy $100,000 (for almost a year's work) Grand Prize.

I.E. Guy Fieri, season 2 NFNS winner, had far more accomplishments than ANY Top Chef candidate to date.

The year before he took a BRIEF hiatus to enter NFNS, he earned about $230,000. Does anyone think he'd have taken a hiatus 3x as long to win 100K?

He might be an extreme example, so there's this:

The average STARTING Salary for a Cornell Grad with a Hotel and Restaurant Manager Degree last year was $66,000.

Add a few years of industry accomplishments and pay raises and perhaps a Spouse and child. You're looking at someone who is NOT going to want to enter "Top Chef".

Katyola said...

Artful Sub, can you explain (and give examples) your comment that Bravo is run by "woman-hating creeps"? That's a pretty strong charge. I would say that although Project Runway has had only one female winner, there have been some strong women (some of whom are not of ratings-boosting demographics) who have reached the finals:

Laura Bennett, Wendy Pepper, Kara Saun, Uli Herzner.

Top Chef is another kettle of fish — I'm not using this as an excuse, but the field of chefs is still dominated by men, especially once you get into fine dining. I suspect it's because being a restaurant chef and working nights is not the most family-friendly job.

I read, though, that half the enrollment at culinary schools (as of 2005) is female — so it's possible that Top Chef, if it lasts several more seasons, could have stronger female competitors.

That said, though, I think the show's judges/producers would have loved to see Casey win — if her performance in the finale had not been so clearly below those of Dale and Hung, she would have won it. Why else would they have allowed that undercooked elk through the week before?

Ms. Place said...

Thank you all for some really thoughtful and insightful posts. I am thinking more deeply about this topic. Yes, many females have reached the top echelons, and I would say that Laura and Chloe and Tabatha have thriving careers as a result. I wish I could say the same about Tifanny (does anyone know how well she is doing?) or Mia, whose diner apparently closed. Amuse Biatch wrote a heartbreaking post about this.

Art does have a point: chefs who are moms might not be willing to be separated for so long from their children, and thus those women would be culled from the start.

Let me reiterate: I think the best chef won. Is Hung a top chef? I think not yet, but the master chefs that have judged him think he will mature and grow and learn to lead. As George said, Hung certainly performed well in the finale, and kudos go to Rocco and Sarah, who were positive and cooperative throughout their parts in the competition.

iamnot said...

Hey there...I followed you over from “She’s” blog.
Another vote in defense of Hung.
When it came down to it, he had the best skills and the ability to consistently deliver excellence. While not being “Mr. Personality,” I don’t feel he was so handicapped that he could not run a great kitchen.

Anonymous said...

You know what I realized after watching the finale a couple of times?

Casey had altitude sickness. That's what happened.

george said...

thanks for kindly considering my comments ms. place. i hope i wasn't snippy because i do think your primary point is very important. i was just watching "next iron chef" last night and seeing traci des jardins get cut first in a dubious competition felt like de ja vu. i wonder sometimes if the way tiffani got treated in the first season finale (not that she wasn't abrasive but...) has deterred a number of other serious female chefs from jumping in.

i've worked in grantmaking and other "judging" situations where a primary value of the organization was to support marginalized folks while making sure that judgements were evenhanded and fair. and in those kinds of situations, it always seems important to not only recruit well, but to make sure that the panels assessing applicants are carefully selected. this season it became more clear than ever before that another failure of top chef in addressing the ingrained sexism of the industry is the fact that their judges are many of the same macho guys benefiting from that system.

sigh. thanks again for your season-long posts.

Anonymous said...

Any question about Hung's "leadership skills" should have been resolved by Rocco Di Spirito's and Sara M.'s experience working with him in the Finale, and their respective comments relative to it. Both praised Hung for his firm control of the space and menu, the precision and clarity of his instructions, his patience in explaining particular techniques, and his extraordinary energy. They, at least, were inspired; as was I watching it on TV.

The charge that Hung lack leadership ability is without merit.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention in my 6:18 post that Hung would be the first to agree that he is not yet ready to create and run his own establishment. In fact, in a recent interview (TV Guide, I believe), he emphatically states that he would not consider such a thing for at least 3-5 years -- he wants to get more experience under his belt.

BigAssBelle said...

hung won, no question.

and yet, the truth is that we still live in a country where most folks ~ in 2000 fucking 7 ~ say "we're not ready for a female president." what? it's not even about this female candidate; the topic is always "a female president" and that infuriates me.

so yes, there is sexism in this. there is racism. it sucks. one would think that the outfit that creates such innovative programming would manage to do better.

Anonymous said...

It should also be noted as executive sous chef at Guy Savoy he probably has a whole crew of people working under him. Hung is the Top Chef, more so than any of the winners thus far id say, although with Ilan thats not saying much. Hung has the most potential, and the ambition and drive to achieve it, i really do think he's going to achieve some great things. I mean in his last interview he was talking about maybe working at El Bulli.

Ms. Place said...

Anon, you and the other commentators have been eloquent in your defense of Hung's win.

I shall address this issue of his being worthy of Top Chef in my Wednesday post. Thank you all - great comments, fabulous logic, and food for thought.