Joshua David Stein is back briefly to talk about Bravo's Top Chef whose ninth episode aired last night. As Sam Cooke once sang (and Big Baby Huey covered later), "It's been a long time coming." On yesterday's Top Chef, finally, change did come. Nikki Cascone, proprietor of Soho resto 24 Prince and proud Italian-American, was sent home. This would be a spoiler but really who didn't know that little miss thing was just biding her time. The only surprise is that she lasted this long before being sent to make glue. I mean, mamma mia, how many times can one casalinga make a bowl of pasta? Last night's episode still held some signs of pandering to the Lifetime crowd. They replaced the popular restaurant wars with wedding wars, in which the competing teams were made to create a meal according to either the groom or the bride's specs. But, for the most part, the episode redeemed the show. After the jump, RELAY RACES, LEADERSHIP, and SCOTTIE PIPPEN!!!

A couple quick asides: 1. Padma Lakshmi, still hot, still high. 2. The relay race quick fire challenge is always my favorite. It is, to me, exactly what Top Chef should be about, a distillation of skill and ability. For all my hatred of her, the ugly lesbian lady with the bad attitude did supreme those oranges astonishingly well. Richard showed his prowess with the uglysexyscary monkfish. Stephanie, who somehow always seems to have just stepped out of the shower in all her interviews, showed herself a true champ whisking that mayonnaise. The same could not be said for Nikki who actually admitted to taking a break while making her mayonnaise. IT'S A RACE, LADY!!! She also hasn't made mayonnaise by hand since culinary school. Dale, one of her teammates, was not happy. When they lost, in part a cause de Nikki's torpor but also for Spike's manhandling of the artichokes, Dale punched a locker. He had, however, thoughtfully wrapped his hand in a towel.

Normally, I'm not a fan of team challenges or weddings but this one was actually okay. Mostly because the challenge (cooking for 125 people and making a wedding cake) moved the underlying dilemma along. Well set aside the winning team. Richard, I love you more and more. AND you are married!!! But, of course, it is to the losing team that our interest is attached. The breakdown of labor follows:

  • Nikki, after sandblasting it into our heads and that of the groom that she's Italian and therefore can cook anything from that region, refuses to take a leadership role on her team. I think she actually says, "If they fail, then at least it won't be on me." Instead she focuses on making pasta...again!!! Oh yeah, she fucking botches it too.
  • Ugly lesbian makes an ugly lesbian cake: tasty, solid, squat.
  • Spike spends the entire time making sea bass. It looked good.
  • Dale would not stop bitching and looking like an Asian Terrence Howard. He cooks just about everything. The only problem is that he doesn't do it well. He does nearly nothing well. He just does a lot of mediocre work.

Obviously it was between Nikki and Dale. The ruling would basically validate one of two very different principals. Either Nikki would stay because, as Russell Simmons wrote, "Do yourself." In other words, she made a wise decision by abdicating responsibility, by letting her crew drift stranded on their own pieces of jetsam, because at least she couldn't be accused of leading them to failure if she didn't lead them at all. On the other, hand Dale, who compounds being an asshole with being a peevish fucker, refused to delegate responsibility due to his utter lack of respect for U.L., Nikki and Spike as chefs.

The difference is Dale's approach still values food while Nikki's values only Nikki. Her legacy will be that of a Scottie Pippen who notoriously and often shied away from leadership positions.(Thanks, Will!) preferring to insulate himself from the danger of failure. At root, this is cowardice. Furthermore, her criticism of ball hog/tugboat Dale, "You don't throw someone under the bus up there," is particularly hypocritical since her whole program was to throw as many of her teammates under the bus as possible. Anyway, it was nice to see Bravo actually reward a values system I, and I think many people, agree with. And it's nice to see Nikki finally get her due.