The day before the Top Chef S5 season premiere, the NYTimes published a review of the show. Sprinkling hints that are almost spoilers ("letting a noodle get too gummy might do you in"), Ginia Bellafante provides a sharp analysis of Episode 1: Melting Pot and the show itself as a whole, identifying a central conflict.
She remarks, correctly but with a lack of any apparent self-awareness, that Top Chef is aimed at upper middle-class foodies, or "the rack-of-lamb demographic." The show's conflict lies in the difference between to iterations of the American Dream: the stubborn bootstrapping hard worker, and the educated, "obsessively gifted" chef. The former often succeed because they lack self-doubt, while the latter often fail. The idea that hard work can get you everywhere is a clear reflection of the American Dream, but what kind of work are we talking about? The supposedly better-educated have invested much hard work and money in an education that would theoretically give them an edge over the stubborn, bootstrapping chefs.
Adding to the list of spoilers, Bellafante predicts rampant xenophobia among the contestants (of course provoked by the show's producers), who hail from Finland (Stefan; but isn't he German?), Italy (Fabio), Long Island (Danny), and various other states in the union. Stefan is one of the elite, culinary-school trained chefs who makes himself unlikeable from the very beginning when he argues with Danny about whether a vinaigrette is an emulsion. The fact that he wins the first elimination challenge comes as somewhat of a disappointment, because although he most resembles what Bellafante identifies as the majority of viewers, who may therefore identify with him, he comes off as a jerk. So our loyalties may not fall along class lines, as Bellafonte first suggests, but along nationalistic ones.
Because Bellafante criticizes the show and Tom Colicchio in particular for being elitist, without any nod to the fact that she herself is part of this rack-of-lamb demographic, I was prepared to disagree with her argument. But after reading her review and then watching the episode, I'm prepared to agree with her - at least for now. But I still can't get behind her when she says Fabio seems to be imitating a Roberto Benigni impersonator. He seemed to me, instead, to be imitating his idea of a good ol' American frat boy, man.