When Tom Colicchio was first approached to do Top Chef nine seasons ago, the restaurateur’s main concern was that it not be frivolous. As he told me last week, he did not want to be ridiculed by his peers. Colicchio had reservations that first season because some of the contestants were not restaurant chefs but rather home cooks and other amateurs. As he pointed out, these contenders were the first to be eliminated. By the third season, the talent pool had become a hard-core group of cooks—sous chefs, executive chefs, chefs de cuisine, and restaurant owners. Likewise, the guest judges included Daniel Boulud, Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, Emeril Lagasse, Ming Tsai, Jose Andres, and even Thomas Keller. (In fact, the only celebrity chef not under contract at the Food Network who has not appeared on the show is Mario Batali, who previously told Colicchio he “didn’t want to be that guy.” But Colicchio says the two have come to an informal agreement in which both are planning on appearing on the other chef’s show.)
But tonight’s episode is a bit different. The Quickfire Challenge involves pancakes and the guest judge is Pee-wee Herman—yes, as in 59-year-old actor Paul Reubens, still playing the part of the awkward tween and wearing more make up than Padma. If you don’t believe the series has yet to jump the shark, tonight’s episode may come awfully close.