So far, Top Chef: Las Vegas has been all about the food. And that's a good thing. The chef'testants are a strong bunch, with serious skills that have been put to good use on a number of interesting challenges. But not quite as flavorful as the dishes they present has been the on-camera interaction between the chefs. Quite frankly, they're a bit boring.
Or, maybe they're just bored.
Talk to almost any Top Chef competitor after their time in the kitchen, and they'll mention the down time filled with, um, nothing. No phones. No TV. No newspapers (who reads the paper anymore anyway, right?). Long-haired Season 2 chef'testant Sam Talbot once recounted to me an intense game of found-object bowling that went down in the Top Chef house during his tenure. You have to be pretty desperate to realize that a watermelon and soda bottles can double as a bowling ball and pins.
This season Bravo is satisfying fans' curiosity about what happens when the chefs leave the kitchen with an online only video series called "Stir Crazy in Sin City." To say that it's entertaining is an understatement. These videos are solid gold.
The approximately two minute videos all start with the same premise: "12 Competitors. 1 Sinful City. What happens after the producers go home? We left one cameraman behind to find out."
That intro suggests that the sin permeating Las Vegas somehow magically finds its way into the practically quarantined compound. It couldn't be further from the truth. Instead, "Stir Crazy" shows the mostly mundane but deliciously funny ways that the chefs kill time, amuse themselves and de-stress after the judges are done judging. It's like Real World before the houses were filled with attention-hungry alcoholics.
In one webisode titled "Top Complaints," the chefs sit in a hot tub bitching and moaning. Eli whines about the lack of sleep and cheap beer and the overabundance of meat. Awww, too much dry-aged steak? Poor guy.
Another video shows Ash and Ashley lugging a garden ornament of a ram up onto the Top Chef lawn and pool deck.
"Since we saw the ram we've all wanted the ram up there," Ashley offers as explanation. See what I mean about them being really bored?
And boredom also has a funny way of making the chef'testants appreciate the little things in life, like a late night delivery from Pepe's Tacos.
"Oh my God," Ash says delightedly as he chows down poolside, "it's got all the garnishes. This is the best food I've ever had!"
For my money ($1.39 each), the best tacos in Las Vegas are from Los Antojos (try the cochinita pibil; you'll swoon), but the chefs literally couldn't have been happier to dig into some Mexican snacks and Coronas.
Watching them ditch all prettied up for television composure and go bananas over some tacos, is absolutely priceless. Bravo, Bravo, bravo.