The worm turns on the latest episode of Top Chef, as Dallas chef John Tesar gets backed into the villain box on the fittingly themed Restaurant Wars segment.
The official plot line for this episode 8 centers on a battle between Tesar and fellow contestant Katsuji Tanabe. But there's a covert campaign by the show's producers, as they shift their portrait of Tesar from amusing goofball to the role of the guy you love to hate.
The scenes all present Tesar in an increasingly unfavorable light. Is that who he is? Or is he just the fall guy because it's the only narrative they can find in a cast that's otherwise a bore?
The other chef who gets drubbed is Emily, and they start in on her right away. The episode opens on her crying, ugh, about last week's outcome when Jamie gave up his immunity, thereby allowing her to stay. On Top Chef, the unspoken rule is that crying is strictly for losers. You can feel the scorn behind the camera.
With Restaurant Wars, the contestants split into two teams who must open a mini-restaurant. Everyone greets this challenge with strange glee, like it's free soft-serve. Tesar is pumped, since he missed out on Restaurant Wars the last time he was on Top Chef.
"I was one episode away from Restaurant Wars, and it's haunted me for the last four years," he says.
The leader of his team is Katsuji, who wants to go big by making three dishes. So Tesar is executive chef. He'll expedite orders, a task he takes so seriously that he dons one of those little rubber finger condoms you use if you're counting money or stacks of paper. They're called cots. Ex-Dallas chef Casey Thompson will do front of the house.
"I like a woman in the front of the house, and I'm not being sexist," Tesar says, seemingly unfamiliar with the very definition of the word sexist. "I could do front of the house, but I get a little kinetic."
But Casey doesn't mind. She cockily declares that she'll run a tight ship. On Top Chef, brags like that are always a red flag.
The other team, the team that does not brag, goes first, and everything's hunky dory. Not the case for Tesar's team. The kitchen is chaos, and Tesar and Katsuji spat. "I need tomatoes," Katsuji says. "I'm doing your tomatoes," Tesar says. Argue argue argue.
Teammate Sheldon referees, with a line destined for tweetness: "You cannot cook with hatred in your heart, the food will suffer for it." Right?
Tesar can't expedite — that cot is no help — and his odd crab pimento cheese is a bust. Casey flubs the front of the house, and Sheldon's dish is covered with a forest of edible flowers, like little purple pixies.
But it is Katsuji's over-reaching that turns out to be the fatal mistake. He wants to be the star. Judge Tom Colicchio says some ego is okay, but not that much ego. There's no I in team, people. Naked ambition cannot be tolerated. Katsuji must go.
He's a good sport about it. He probably knows that, without him, next week's episode will be irredeemably dull.