The biggest challenge for the producers of French Top Chef is to fill an entire evening of programming. Unlike the 45 minutes of US Top Chef, the French version has almost 3 hours to fill each week. Standard operating procedure is to begin with a quickfire, at the end of which one person earns immunity. Depending on whether they need that person to round out the teams in the remaining challenges, the immunity winner may or may not participate.
The main section of the show requires the cheftestants to be divided into two groups, each of which will compete in a different challenge, first one group then the other. In each challenge, one or more chefs may (or may not) qualify for the next episode, while the others have to face off in a last-chance challenge back in the studio kitchen. This challenge is usually quite straightforward, like "make an egg dish". This last-chance challenge is judged via a blind tasting of all the chef judges.
This week was the last episode before the finals, with four cheftestants fighting for three spots in the finale next week.
As a semifinal, this episode did not follow the SOP. Instead there was a series of challenges, each judged by two sets of judges: the four regular judges one one hand and a guest judge or judges on the other. In order to qualify for the finals, a cheftestant had to be the first choice of each set of judges.
The first challenge was to prepare a Meilleur Ouvrier de France challenge, a rack of veal stuffed with a duxelles and a bread coating served with braised stuffed lettuce and pommes soufflées. The challenge was set by a top chef who happens to appear on the network's version of Kitchen Nightmares. The guy is himself an MOF and a real tough guy. At the end of the challenge, the two judging panels disagreed, meaning no one qualified and everyone moved on to the next challenge.
The second challenge took place at the very posh resort restaurant of last year’s winner. The cheftestants had to invent a dish based on the guest chef’s signature dish, a rather fussy red mullet thing. The "twist" is that each of the regular chef judges will be giving the cheftestants a test on identifying stuff (varieties of apples, regional specialties, etc.). The tests are tough, with most allowing for only one wrong answer. For each test failed, the cheftestant loses 15 minutes off the 90 minutes alloted for the main challenge. One cheftestant failed all four tests, leaving him with only 30 minutes. Dumb.
Once again, the two judging panels disagreed, so no-one was qualified for the finals and everyone moved on to the third challenge.
At this point the viewer is wondering just what the point of these challenges is, since they produce only losers and no winners. And if you were confused by the pointlessness of the first two challenges, the third one will drive you absolutely nuts. It's a total joke. The cheftestants are put on a yacht rented by a couple of perfectly dreadful millionaires These clients express dismay that the fake buffets they’ve planned for their imaginary guests are just oo boring. There are four buffets: campagnard, seafood, cheese, and desserts. The four cheftestants rotate from one buffet to the next to produce a new canapé using only the existing buffets as their raw ingredients. They have no heat, no utensils except for the spoons and butter knives already on the buffet, leqding to a mango being peeled with a pie server. The result will be a dish from each cheftestant with four different canape/amuse bouche things on each.
So recycle existing dishes with no utensils and no heat. This is a challenge suitable for the very first episode of the show, when the cheftestants meet for the first time over a drink and are told that their surprise first challenge will be to use the saltines at the bar to whip up a fantastic dish.
In any case, as you may guess, none of the cheftestants qualify for the finals, meaning that 2 hours and 12 minutes of the show have not advanced the contest a single step. And so the entire episode is decided by the last chance-challenge (make something with duck) that lasts 26 minutes...
Tout ça pour ça....