”Top Chef”: Sweet justice
First things first. This came up again on the ”Previously on Top Chef…” thing at the beginning of this episode, and I didn’t mention it in the last TV Watch, so here I go. Did it bother anybody else that last week’s guest judge, Alfred Portale, jumped on Micah because she said, ”I know Americans like to put ketchup on everything” as she presented her meat loaf with red and yellow pepper sauce? ”I don’t like the way she said us Americans,” Portale whined like a talking head on Fox News to the other judges. But Micah didn’t say ”you Americans”! And her tone wasn’t even that offensive. Not a big deal? Maybe. But I was sorry to see Micah go. And watching that annoying slam from Portale in the opening recap got me going again before last night’s show even started.
I quickly settled down, at least until those fine-dining connoisseur dorks showed up to taste the elimination-round dinner wearing ridiculous medals and sashes where their bibs should’ve gone. Foodies can be full of it. But that’s getting ahead of things. First up, the chefs faced a quickfire where they had to create an appetizer to go with a particular gin-based cocktail. The idea was that mixologists are the new sommeliers, so the chefs had to ”balance and marry” the flavors of the gin cocktail with whatever it was they were cooking. Hung did poorly, though Hung didn’t think so. He drew the raspberry and mint martini, so he did something with sour cream and salmon and salmon skin, because ”sweetness always goes good with creaminess.” But the judge — some ”global master” from Bombay Sapphire — didn’t think so; he called it muddled. ”So sweetness didn’t go good with creaminess?” asked Counselor Hung, trying to trip up the witness on the stand. ”Thank you.” Hung then explained things to the camera. ”I’m thinking to myself he was confused,” he said of the judge. ”That’s why I called him out.” If only Hung had called him out with that stupid line about sweetness and creaminess, and all the other chefs had gone, ”Daaamn!” and ”Oh, snnnap!” while the Bombay Sapphire mix master turned beet red, busted once again for forgetting that sweetness always goes good with creaminess. That would’ve been funny. As it was, Hung came off looking like a punk.
Somehow, Casey made French toast and won — even though the day you’re cooking at home and you decide to pair French toast with gin, you’re probably an alcoholic. After winning immunity, in what was to be a pattern for the evening, Casey had to hold back her tears. In no time, however, she literally had her hair down, at least for her first postvictory talking-head moment. And it was at that instant confirmed that I do indeed have a little thing for Casey. After her sparkly back-and-forth with CJ at the meat counter a couple of weeks back, I was gunning for these two to get together, but now I believe my Casey is — underneath her nervous student-council-president brand of brass — too delicate for that eight-foot-tall lug, and it hurts me to think that she’s probably too soft for this competition. Moments after her win, she again looked ready to cry even just talking to the camera about who she didn’t want to work with during the elimination round. Her sensitivity is attractive. And will probably also get her murdered on this show.
Anyway, yes, it was a team challenge last night: Groups of three worked together to create one course of a four-course meal in which each course consisted of a trio of dishes built around one ingredient. Dale with the mohawk immediately distinguished himself as the guy who assumed nobody else in the room knew what a tasting menu was, which meant this was his episode to either shoot ahead to the front of the pack on the rocket power of his brilliance or else look like an idiot. He maneuvered his way onto the fourth-course team, and immediately started gunning for a pineapple-inspired dessert dish, even though Camille and Sara M. weren’t so sure about it. None of them had pastry experience, after all — not even Dale. (It should not be so hard to guess at this point how things went for the guy.) During prep, Tom came in — sporting a new soul patch, was he not? — and asked the three of them if they had dessert experience, listened politely, then finished with ”Okay, sounds great!” in that clipped, distant Tom voice that really means ”Good luck, fools.”
Brian, Lia, and Hung — going first with shrimp — did best. (Ted Allen even called the whole course ”really poetic.” Foodies, huh?) Hung signaled his kinship with his friend from season 2, Marcel, by presenting us (if I’m not mistaken) with the season’s first foam, which accompanied his sautéed shrimp with a corn pudding composed of reduced ”corn juice cooked in its natural starch.” Lia from Brooklyn, however, won the challenge with her olive-oil-poached shrimp. ”You tasted the olive oil,” Tom gushed to the other judges. (That’s a good thing?) I knew Lia was gonna win the minute that passel of medal-wearing food dorks in sashes professed to like her dish, because she was featured prominently alongside Micah in the ”Previously on Top Chef…” opener; that kind of gutted the suspense for me, but cheers for neighbor Lia, who lives somewhere around here in my beloved Brooklyn.
If any team was going down by the look of things, I thought it would be the third-course chefs, whose beef plates were all awfully gory and red. Sara N.’s ”butter-braised beef tenderloin with baby asparagus and carrots,” for one, looked like something even I could make, using an Atkins Diet recipe book. (One guy at the table thought it looked like the roast beef at Denny’s.) But Sara N., Tre, and CJ got off clean. When it was time to eliminate somebody, Padma had Lia call in Dale, Camille, and Sara M. for their desserts, and second-coursers Casey, Howie, and Joey for their tuna dishes. The tuna team, unfortunately, promised more drama on paper than it actually delivered. Joey and Howie, the fat-guy brawlers of previous weeks, should’ve gone WCW on each other; instead, they stood united in their belief that Casey had a big head. When it was all done, the tuna team was clear, the judges scolded Dale for insisting on dessert, and they booted cool, ’60s-model-hot Camille (also from Brooklyn — hi, neighbor!) for her pineapple upside-down cake, ”probably one of the worst desserts I’ve had in the past five years,” according to Tom.
Camille was too icy to provide much oomph to her ouster; the most expressive thing we’d watched her do in these first few episodes was get up on her knees on the top of the stove last night and wrestle with her dish. Luckily, Casey was around and ready for a crack-up. Somehow she got it in her head that her underseasoned tuna tartare bird’s nest with cucumber and jalapeño was an abomination; before Camille got the boot, the dam broke, and Casey was finally bawling all over the place. ”I just want to say that you guys have laid such a guilt blanket that I can’t really explain what I feel for these people right now,” she blubbered, ”because having immunity is really not worth it, in the sense that one of these people have to go home because my dish was the worst.” See? I love her, but she’s a goner. First, watching her in disbelief, Tom put a reflective hand on his soul patch; then we watched him simply shake his head. She disgusts him!
Chefs are supposed to be effing tough. Which made what happened a few moments later even weirder. After Camille got the news, she walked back to the hang-out room and started crying. Sara M. started crying. Dale started crying. Even Joey started crying. I would’ve paid ten bucks to see a tear in Hung’s eye, especially if it was made of blood, but I think he stayed out of camera range. What’s with these people? Get effing tough!
What do you think? Who’s got what it takes? And do you find yourself thinking the judges are being fair or capricious?