"Top Chef" is a really engaging reality show, but it can also be surprisingly frustrating to watch. Have you ever noticed that half of the chefs who appear on the show act like they've never seen an episode of "Top Chef" in their lives?
The one notable exception was Jamie Lauren from Season 5. She was savvy enough to realize that she should intentionally lose the Quickfire before Restaurant Wars. Having seen the show before, she knew that the two people most likely to go home were the leaders from each restaurant. If she won the Quickfire, she basically "won" a 50/50 chance at elimination.
Sadly, Jamie proved to be the exception and not the rule. Here are some prime examples of challenges where the chef'testants blundered because of their lack of knowledge about the show's standard format.
In Season 7, chef/mentor Tom Colicchio revealed that many contestants didn't bother to bring sharpened knives to the kitchen when they were summoned. A chef without a sharp knife is surprising enough, but these chefs really should have known better, given the fact that the previous season of "Top Chef" started off the competition with a mise en place relay race that relied on knife skills.
Another hole in the skill set of many competitors is the lack of dessert training. Granted, "Top Chef" is more about savory dishes than sweet, but contestants who have seen more than one season of the show must surely have noticed that knowing how to make a simple pie or cake would be helpful during Restaurant Wars or the finale challenge.
It's understandable for some chefs to not know how to make pastry: It's less understandable as to why a chef who knows they are going into a cooking competition wouldn't take the time to learn how to make one single dessert.
Another common mistake that always gets chefs eliminated is buying pre-made or frozen components for a dish, usually because they want to save time. It happened to Art Smith, who was done in by store-bought rice "ice cream." John Somerville, the first contestant eliminated from Season 7, got the boot after using frozen puff pastry. And Season 9 contestant Ed got kicked off when he used canned oysters instead of fresh ones. Why do chefs get so surprised when they get eliminated for cutting corners?
The bottom line: "Top Chef" contestants would do well to actually watch the show before going on TV. Chef'testants keep making the same culinary mistakes year after year, and it's getting sad.