By Isaac Butler
So I've been making my way through this season's Top Chef, and a very odd thing has been going on that I feel needs mentioning, namely the treatment of Chef Beverly and the food that she cooks. For those of you who dont' watch the show, Beverly has staked out a reputation for herself by crying all the time, being impossible to work with, working at a very slow and detail oriented pace, getting bullied by the white female chefs of the show and making the same kind of food over and over again.
It's that last point that I really want to zero in on. For what gets raised in episode after episode (and in Last Chance Kitchen, where she' currently reigning champ) is that she keeps making "Asian Food" and that her dishes are the same-old same-old.
We don't get to taste the food the contestants make, obviously, and thus it's hard to tell whether or not Beverly's food repeats the same profile over and over. But I want to say that "Asia" is a huge continent with a wide variety of cooking styles, techniques and flavors. And if you narrow that down and go "Ah, well, clearly they're talking about East Asia" and you ignore most regional differences within the countries themselves, you still have several major cuisines that are commonly found in the United States (Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Malaysian/Singaporean, Cantonese and Sichuan) all of which are quite different from one another. (If you drill down deeper, it gets even more complicated. Malaysian cuisine has three dominant food subcultures within it, all with different ethnic/class backgrounds and very different histories etc.)
On a technical level, Beverly has demonstrated a diversity of techniques that some of the other chefs lack. No one said that Sarah was just churning out the same old same old when she made risotto twice in a row. Heather made the exact same cake for two challenges, and won once with it. My beloved Kevin-- the hobbity runner up to the Voltaggio Brothers-- made bacon-inflected comfort food for every single challenge.
Given that the complaint about Beverly's repetitiveness is overtly tied to the flavor profile being "Asian" within the show (whatever that means) it's hard not to see this as some kind of odd chauvanism towards cuisines that the judges are perhaps less familiar with. People who specialize in farm-to-table comfort food, regional Italian cuisine or other Western forms can bend every challenge to that and they're discovering and displaying little nuances. Add in that multiple chefs have said disparaging things about Asian food on the show and it just starts to feel kind of offputting.
In other words: Bring back Anthony Bourdain.