Only three episodes in and the fourth edition of "Top Chef" has a mano a mano flavor that distinguishes itself from the predecessors.

Only three episodes in and the fourth edition of “Top Chef” has a mano a mano flavor that distinguishes itself from the predecessors. This is a lab experiment, the sort typically conducted with rats, in which one species recoils and the other claws to a role of dominance regardless of their place in the food chain. Assimilation with these cooks – are you kidding?

Third episode opened on aggressive notes of male bragadacio that only ramped up as the segment progressed. Credit the astute editing and the less than scintillating tasks – a gourmet taco and a block party picnic – for making this one more about personality and less about food. (And “soggy” was the word of the day even if Padma did not repeat another judge saying it).

Spike, Andrew and Erik have taken on roles of imperious aggression and we have yet to see the cooking behind it to give them a pass on their behavior. It’s Type A instead of an A game, and it ultimately tripped up Erik who packed his knives after making a ghastly looking taco plate and miscalculated the effect of time on a corn dog.

Enhancing the positions certain males have assumed are the selected shots. It’s one thing to show a competitor cheering “yay, us!,” but here they’re slamming beers and basketballs, flailing about as they compliment themselves and boasting before a task is started about the genius of strategy. It’s the apes of “2001″ in chef’s jackets.

Women and the non-alpha males, meanwhile, are captured in passive lounging positions – the lesbian couple in bed, Richard seated on a folding chair in the street slightly bewildered; Manuel being silent; Stephanie being selfless. Perhaps it will get back to food next week when Daniel Boulud visits.

KATHY: Everyone from the contestants to the network folks who come up with the phone-in polls seems to be deeming this the season a woman finally wins this thing. Is it possible that they tapped just enough self-destructive male cretins to ensure that it will happen? Stephanie has won twice already so it looks as if we have a female front-runner.

PHIL: I agree with Erik and Spike – tacos are street food. Interesting that the one guy who avoided the tortilla won. It could just as easily been an entry into a nouveau crepe competition.

KATHY: Tacos are street food but I think nearly anything can be made more elegant. I thought both the duck tacos and the ones with the chick peas were creative and upscale. It’s interesting that the contestant who admits to routinely serving lobster corndogs gets bent out of shape about being asked to upgrade a taco. There is no excuse on any reality show to say “Screw him” about a visiting expert. I’m glad Erik is gone.

PHIL: In previous seasons, Tom Colicchio has been the gentle master. Now he’s not only more of a task master, but he is also displaying more food knowledge. Paella is all about the crust, for example. He appears to be dropping his Tim Gunn tendencies to be simultaneously questioning and supportive.

KATHY: Cause and effect, Phil. Populate the show with abrasive macho creeps and the judges must also step up their aggression. Andrew’s little “this is my house” tirade was particularly pathetic and childish.

PHIL: So, is lavender sexy?

KATHY: In a bath, yes. In lemonade, not so much.

PHIL: Did you notice Padma struggle to keep a gooey substance in her mouth?

KATHY: Now I’m embarrassed.

Top Chef: Season 4 - Episode 3

Bravo; Wed. 10 p.m.

Production

Produced by Magical Elves, Inc.

Crew

RUNNING TIME: 1 HOUR

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more