Thursday, January 15, 2009

Gail: Please pack your notes and go

Since it was announced that Toby Young was taking over for Gail Simmons on Top Chef, many of my fellow TC fans have been disappointed.

In some cases, more than disappointed.

"I hate him," several people have said, in no uncertain terms.

Toby is one of those persons who has made a career out of being a professional asshole (witness the title of his book, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People).

And in this latest interview with Toby, Matt Whitfield wonders if this represent a terrible new trend for Top Chef? Is it going the Simon Cowell route? Smug, British criticism intended to wither (and show off) rather than enlighten?

Personally, I'm not worried.

In fact, even though I could never really stomach American Idol (too many commercials, too many awful singers, pop songs that I generally hate, etc.) the one point of light in that show was Simon. You might not like what he had to say, but he was mostly right. And he refused to coddle people without talent. Hearing any sort of criticism like that -- from an intelligent source -- is always somewhat thrilling. (Provided, of course, that you're not the one being criticized.)

And, most important, he was funny.

It's one of the things that Pauline Kael had going for. She was a merciless -- and extremely entertaining -- servant of the truth. If I wanted dry (and uninteresting) criticism, I would have gone to grad school.

One of Gail's problems was that her criticism was a little technical.

(I also suspected she didn't have the greatest taste in the world. As proof I point to this interview. When will people be disabused from the idea that Shake Shack is a good burger? I think Danny Meyer is a hell of a nice guy and has created some terrific restaurants, but Shake Shack isn't one of them. And her pizza choices are all banal and predictible. ((Grimaldi's? Really?)) Does she really think Veselka is a good restaurant? Aki is "undiscovered"? Feh! I grudgingly admit that August has a very good breakfast. But Balthazar's full English is better. )

I say, bring on somebody who's witty and cutting. I say it's a cooking competition, for chrissakes. It shouldn't be taken that seriously.

In the first episode Toby had two great lines ("I've found the WMDs!" and "Tastes like cat food") which are already way more memorable than anything Gail has said over the course of the last two seasons.

Welcome to Top Chef, Toby!