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Top Chef recap: Vegging Out

The chefs get thrown for a loop on a surprise vegetarian challenge with Natalie Portman guest judging

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Top Chef Kevin
Trae Patton/Bravo

Top Chef

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons
Reality TV

Bad news, readers: Archana had to catch a last minute flight to San Fran to console Laurine after her crushing loss last week. Such a do-gooder, that one. In her absence, I’ll be recapping the most unappetizingly titled show inTop Chef history: ”Meat Natalie.” Ooph. I love a good pun as much as the next guy, but that’s just plain wrong. Anyway…

After the bloodbath of last week’s restaurant wars, the cheftestants started this episode with a well-deserved lazy morning. Michael V. sharpened the knife he planned to use to slit his brother’s throat. Jennifer blow-dried her hair after a long night of flagellating herself with a balloon whisk (”Broken sauce? Bland trout? You! Stupid! Idiot!”). Robin sagely remarked that ”waiting for coffee is like watching water boil” (read that a few more times) and then commended herself for ”holding her own” (translation: ”squeaking by on dumb luck while others fail around me.”) Just another morning in Vegas.

And then they were off to the M resort, where Padma was waiting with this episode’s mentor, Paul Bartolotta, owner of Vegas’ celebrated Capisce Ricotta di Marcello Mastroianni restaurant. (That’s what she said, right?) And the challenge, sponsored by some other magazine that sometimes covers TV stuff, will be gourmet interpretations of TV dinners. The very idea made Jennifer smirk, visions of deconstructed oil-poached fish sticks dancing through her head. But it was not quite that open-ended. Each chef’s dish has to be inspired by a classic TV show. That’s it? No other limitations? Isn’t this begging to be one of those great microwave challenges that makes the chefs furious at the idea of having to reheat their work in a super-fun-awesome-tastic GladWare (R) container? Guess not. This one’s going to be a cinch for everybody.

Oops. Spoke too soon. Robin doesn’t watch TV. In fact, she’s never even heard of the concept and is still a little unclear on why the men with shoulder-telescopes keep following her around while she’s cooking in this fun competition. Luckily, she was assigned Sesame Street and was able to vaguely connect that to the names Cookie Monster and Big Bird. Eggs and cookies it is. Looks like the producers decided that today’s unofficial theme is Childhood Memories, so Michael V. told a poignant little anecdote about how he and Bryan stopped getting homemade food when they left their mom and moved in with their dad as kids. And then they both became chefs. Huh. Have fun in therapy, boys! Then Jennifer revealed that her favorite Flinstones character is Pebbles, because she thinks it might be fun sometimes to get dragged around by her hair. That breeze you just felt was Gloria Steinem sighing.

TIME! As Padma slithered back into the room, Michael I. and Eli high-fived just for funzies and Jennifer threw in the towel. Like, for real, she actually threw her towel on the ground. Her Flinstones-inspired chicken roulade didn’t come out at all the way she wanted, and she was not looking forward to another sleepless night in the cilice of her disappointment. Then Michael I. served up sausage and peppers inspired by Seinfeld, which he has NEVER SEEN BEFORE. What’s with these people? Even Padma is shocked, and the last thing she watched on TV was a rerun of Glitter in 2007, just for old times’ sake. Kevin won the Captain Obvious Medal of Literalness for doing meatballs in honor of The Sopranos, but Bartolotta said they were good because ”there are definitely peperoncino here.” Which is more of a statement than a judgment, but never mind.

NEXT: The surprise celebrity foodie