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''Top Chef'': Reversal of fortune

On ”Top Chef,” Micah’s roller-coaster ride comes to an end with an abominable take on an American classic, while Howie wins his first challenge; plus, CJ finds more things to whine about

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Top Chef

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

”Top Chef”: Reversal of fortune

Micah? Micah gets whacked? Hard to see that coming, this soon. I remember all the way back to two weeks ago, in the first episode, when Micah was the one to beat. (The female one, at least.) Now she’s gone? This startling development reminds me of when top-liner Samuel L. Jackson got eaten by the shark only halfway through Deep Blue Sea.

Take a moment and think back to episode one. Micah waltzed right into the mansion where Gianni Versace got shot and immediately aced the quickfire with her Tuscan sushi thingamabob. Then she further set herself apart by being the only contestant who was actually nice to kindly Clay, the insecure but gold-hearted Southern guy who was the first to be eliminated. Finally — who remembers this? — she further set herself apart by making essentially an all-you-can-eat buffet in the elimination challenge; her tri-part weird-meat dish of seared kangaroo, poached egg topped with monkfish liver, and ostrich carpaccio was so huge, it was the only serving unveiled over three separate title cards. Premiere night, Micah looked like Maria in The Sound of Music, a sweetly voiced elder brought aboard to school her unruly inferiors.

Now, two episodes later, she’s suddenly done. True, she’d been erratic ever since the second episode, flipping off her competitors in the morning, losing the quickfire challenges last week and this week, crying over the kid she left back home. But her lamb nearly won the BBQ contest last week, and this week she was facing the boot opposite a relatively bland slew of opponents: Lia, CJ, and Sara M. I thought for sure she was an established personality — crying-mama super-chef — and thus safe. Apparently not! This week, the mission was to put a healthful spin on an American comfort dish, and Micah botched her meat loaf — possibly because the South African seemed never to have even heard of meat loaf prior to this elimination challenge. ”They showed it to me yesterday,” she sputtered to the judges, ”and it was just a…round of ground beef…and some brown gravy.” To me, that sounds like lunch every second Thursday of the third through sixth grades. To Micah, ”that’s nothing that I would ever eat.”

Hung agreed. ”All those dishes look disgusting to me,” he said at the outset of the elimination challenge, referring to the array of traditional comfort-food plates the contestants had to pick from. In fact, the contestants flailed. ”I’m not impressed,” said Tom, after conducting his rounds during prep. Clearly most of these chefs, with their white-collar palates, got screwed last night by their parents’ obvious refusal to ever bring home a big bucket of KFC for dinner. In the end, only two chefs were singled out, and of course Howie and his fennel-crusted pork chops with apple slaw won; that hefty fellow looks like he might’ve found his calling as a chef eating grandma’s homemade lasagna or mother’s Manwich sloppy joes. Let’s give some love to Howie. He should’ve been ousted week one for not plating his frog-leg lollipops, he could’ve been tossed week two for preslicing his tenderloin, and now here he is, a winner, his rise as unexpected and game-shaping as Micah’s fall. I started liking Howie the minute he cleaned huffing-and-puffing Joey’s clock last week (”You wanna f—ing b—- like a little girl?”) after Joey got in his face, so I’m pleased to see he’s not just a blusterer.

You know who I don’t like, though? CJ. None of us here tasted any of the food last night, but all things being equal, he should’ve walked. For the elimination round, that seven-foot-tall whiner with one testicle made a blobby green tuna casserole with flaxseed tuile that looked like Jabba the Hutt with a hat on, and his quickfire dish — pan-roasted fruits de mer — may have finished at the top of the challenge, but it looked like the new reduced-size nacho grande plate at T.G.I. Friday’s. Plus, this guy rats out whomever he can to the camera — ”Sandee braised her lobster the day before, everybody’s using fatty cheese, wah wah wah” — and I don’t like it. On second thought, I do like it — he’s entertainment. Lia or Sara could’ve walked last night at less cost to the show. (Plus, after their supermarket meet-cute rumble last week, I want CJ to start a bickering love connection with Casey.)

What else? After I wondered all last week about how long Hung’s villainy would stay under the radar, the dude came right out tonight and, granted first dibs at the live shellfish for the quickfire challenge, hogged it all, to the disgust of his compatriots. In a Dickensian twist, he even left a spilt crawfish to die on the floor. (To cap it off, his skimpy curry dish — not a winner — looked like it was made out of exactly two scallops and one crouton.) Tre, meanwhile, was a non-factor last night. Is the BBQ master (ha!) going into stealth mode right now, or have we overhyped him?

What else are you thinking? Wasn’t it funny when Padma unveiled the ”traditional family favorites” of the elimination round, and the chefs looked more grossed out by the sight of Tater Tots and fish sticks than by the eels and black chickens and geoducks of two weeks ago? Wasn’t the ”transparent chip of skin” on Hung’s fried chicken admittedly impressive? Who do you like better — Ted Allen or Gail Simmons? And do you think Padma’s ever tasted chicken a la king in her life? I’m doubtful as well.