Top Chef recap: Surf and Derf
The chefs make lunch for Katrina aid workers; a big personality leaves the show early
The most delicious dish served on last night’s episode was most certainly served cold. And I’m not talking about ceviche. Oh, how the self-proclaimed-mighty have fallen.
But more on that later. The first Quickfire Challenge of the season was all about one of the most beloved dishes in Louisiana: gumbo. As Michael the New Orleans kind-of-local reminded us repeatedly, he knows gumbo. I mean, he currently lives in New Orleans, like, right now. Aaron, on the other hand, seemed confused as to what gumbo is.
Padma announced that it would be the longest Quickfire Challenge in Top Chef history — as Jason said, it should be called a “long fire.” Because gumbo takes a while to cook and often tastes better the next day, the chefs would start the gumbo that night in the Top Chef house and finish it the next day. Most importantly, though, veteran chef Leah Chase, who once smiled next to George W. Bush, would be on hand to judge. The cheftestants treated her reverentially, and by all appearances she deserved it. She’s like the Maya Angelou of cooking. That woman knows who she is.
The chefs piled into their impressively capacious kitchen and clashed crock pots all night long. Michael hated his gumbo and dumped his in the garbage at 1:30 a.m. He looked as if he were in trouble, but of course he remained confident. “Nailed it,” he said. Carrie was concerned that her pea green gumbo had turned into an ugly, sludgy mess.
The next day, Leah Chase declared, “When I see all these young beautiful chefs, that makes me happy. When I see all those women, that makes me happier.” As the chefs stepped forward and offered their gumbos to Leah like sacrificial offerings, what was notable was how many Asian-influenced dishes there were. Leah threw some shade at her three least favorite dishes: Jason‘s, the Polish-inspired gumbo with beets; Michael, who’s last-minute drunken chicken was a misstep; and Patty, whose Puerto Rican-inspired mofongo gumbo had too many styles mixed up in one dish. Jason dismissed Leah’s opinion, saying, “I know it tasted good.”
As for the top dishes, Leah liked Aaron‘s Asian-style hot-and-sour gumbo with prawns and sushi rice. I loved when Leah schooled Padma on how to eat the heads. She also loved Shirley‘s braised pork belly gumbo that combined Chinese, Mexican, and Italian cuisines. But the win went to Carrie for her pea-green Trinidadian gumbo with coconut, mango, and corn crumble.
NEXT: Don’t talk to me like I’m a sous chef…even if I am one
In walked famous local chef Susan Spicer, whose hair looked like a Kristen Wiig wig, to judge the Elimination Challenge, which had the chefs serve Habitat for Humanity volunteers in food trucks as they worked on Katrina re-building efforts. Katrina affected some of the chefs in the kitchen, including Leah, who lost everything she had at age 83. “The pope quit, but I had to keep going,” she said.
First, the chefs had to divide into teams of five or four, and it was clear that two of the teams didn’t work as well together, which ended up hurting them. The Red Team had some of the bigger heads on it. In particular, don’t-hate-me-because-I’m-beautiful Janine and local chef Justin ganged up on Bene, barking orders at him like a sous chef. And then there was the Blue Team, which renamed itself Team Surf. Jason and his groupie Nicholas dominated the team, putting Jason front and center because, as Jason boasted once again, he was a good-looking guy and could charm some of the ladies. To keep himself at the center of attention for as long as possible, Jason pre-rolled his salmon wraps so he could spend time flashing his modestly attractive grin to as many customers as possible, thus sealing a victory for the surfer dudes. Top Chef rule #786: Always cook to order.
The other teams worked a bit more seamlessly. On the Green Team, under-the-radar Louis was matched with three women, who doted on him and his winning smile. The women basically told him to just stand there and look pretty, and that’s exactly what he ended up doing, in addition to chilling some watermelon for people to eat while waiting for their real food. Stephanie prepared crispy chickpeas with watercress and radish salad. Rockabilly Sarah impressed everyone with a fresh tuna burger. Shirley‘s grilled lamb salad was spicy but a lot of the workers enjoyed it. Louis handed out more watermelon.
The Yellow Team also impressed with their Latin-inspired dishes, like their ice-cold dorado and shrimp ceviche and beef and pork curry empanadas. The Red Team echoed some of the more successful teams’ dishes but just didn’t execute as well. But the Surfers were really the ones who failed. First up were Jason’s soft, messy salmon rolls. He still thought a bunch of women were flocking to his station and admiring his nasty, sweaty t-shirt. Bret served a coconut ceviche that was already kind of warm with piping hot plantains, which Gail thought was “totally strange.” And Patty really isn’t succeeding in life — or at least on the show. Her tuna burgers were hard to eat and paled in comparison to Sarah’s. Tom couldn’t get over the use of a tomato that didn’t need to be there. Some of us just eat tomatoes because they’re there, Tom! Haven’t you ever eaten a Subway sandwich? Actually…
I kind of love that the chefs are watching the judges deliberate. They give the win to Carrie on the yellow team, which means she’s won two challenges in a row. Who else thinks the women are dominating so far?
When the lowest-scoring Blue Team went in front of the judges, Bret, who I honestly forgot about from last week, embarrassed himself when he noted that all the other teams started running out of ingredients, as if that were a bad thing. Tom quickly noted that it was because the customers kept going back to the other teams for seconds. But Bret redeemed himself when he called Jason out for hogging the serving station because he looked the most like a surfer.
We shouldn’t be too surprised that Jason got the boot so early. Unlike a lot of reality shows, Top Chef has never been afraid to off some of the bigger, cockier personalities early, although something tells me Jason might linger in Last Chance Kitchen for a while. However, as much as I’m glad to be rid of him, I can’t help but think Patty was the obvious choice to go. She really hasn’t shown any sign of potential thus far.
Did you agree with the judges, or did you hate yourself a little for wishing Jason would stay longer? Who do you think are the early frontrunners?