Top Chef recap: You Can't Police Everyone
One of my favorite parts of Top Chef has always been the show’s music: the weird tribal beats in the background that sound sort of like a samurai movie score performed by the cast of Stomp. But for this episode, I couldn’t help wishing that Bravo had sprung for the licensing rights to a track that would’ve made a great theme song for the night’s events, namely ”Sabotage,” by the Beastie Boys. Either that or the theme fromPolice Academy. Your call.
After being up for more than 40 hours straight for last week’s challenges, the contestants were less than bright eyed at the beginning of this week’s show. Stephanie was grappling with Nikki’s departure, Richard was exhausted, and Spike was still mad at Dale (who was busy coiffing himself with something that looked a little too much like an Elmer’s glue stick). Only Andrew claimed to be fine. Better than fine, in fact. ”I woke up today with a f—ing fire in my stomach,” he said. ”Either I’m going to stab somebody, or I’m going to make some amazing food.” I’d say it’s about even money on that one, Andy.
The contestants headed to the kitchen, where they were fully shocked out of their slumber by the appearance of a ghost from Top Chef past: Sam Talbot, that hunk of diabetic man candy who made it to the finals in season 2. The challenge, according to Sam, was to ”put a little sexy back in the salad.” I had no idea that greens needed to get their groove back, but if Padma and Sam say it’s true, it’s true. With 45 minutes to throw together their dishes, the chefs had plenty of time to pull off something above and beyond the usual lettuce-tomato-cheese mix, so they all went for interesting ingredients. Lisa opted for bananas, Andrew went for Thai-themed fruits, and Spike grabbed a massive hunk of beef, which he claimed would make a person exclaim, ”Let’s have sex after we eat this salad!” (While I’ve personally never heard — or used — that line before, I have no doubt it’s served Spike well over the years). At this point, Lisa took a moment to point out that some of the remaining chefs didn’t deserve to be in the competition because they lacked talent and had personalities that ”suck a–.” Hmm. Sounds like a little case of the anodized skillet calling the nonstick saucier black to me, wouldn’t you say?
But even with three quarters of an hour to execute their dishes, mistakes were made. Most notably, Stephanie forgot to put an all-important artichoke chip on her plate, and then admitted it. Are you kidding? When will these people learn to just keep quiet? Time after time, chefs on the show have felt the need to tell the judges about ingredients that were left out, as if honesty were going to win them points. But guess what, Steph — nobody would’ve missed an artichoke chip because nobody even knows what an artichoke chip is. Keep it to yourself!
NEXT: Spike gets quickfired up
Sam’s verdicts were issued in his patented caveman grunt: Richard’s ceviche-style mix ”just wasn’t there,” and Lisa’s plate of banana nonsense was ”a hodgepodge.” In the end, Spike won his very first quickfire with a ”sensual beef salad.” (I would’ve given it to him for the name alone). No immunity was granted this time, but Spike was promised a ”significant advantage” in the elimination challenge, which felt like a pretty lame substitute. And then it was time for…
…fhe elimination challenge: Padma and Sam introduced the game by bringing out trays of grease-covered fast food, which I can only assume were intended to look gross, although this writer found them pretty drool-worthy. Padma explained that this was the average lunch order for the hungry cops and cadets at the Chicago Police Academy, and that the contestants’ mission was to create gourmet box lunches that would satisfy the cops’ hunger with healthier alternatives. Specifically, the meals had to contain a whole grain, a lean protein, a fruit, and a veggie. Are you guys noticing a theme in this season’s challenges? Haute tailgating cuisine, gourmet block-party grub, kid-friendly courses: It seems that almost every other episode has the chefs struggling to dumb down their food for the culinarily-challenged, and griping every step of the way as if it were an insult to have to feed normal people.
Anyway, Spike got his ”significant” advantage in the form of a 10-minute head start at the grocery store (did anyone else have a Supermarket Sweep flashback?); he was also allowed to declare four of the foods he purchased to be off limits to the other contestants. He decided to make it tough for them by picking common foods: chicken, tomatoes, lettuce, and bread. It was all in the spirit of competition, but the move was interpreted by the other chefs as…you guessed it, sabotage. Stephanie had to rethink her plan to do chicken with smoked tomatoes, and Lisa’s soup ‘n’ sandwich menu went out the window. But again, Andrew — who made a point of saying that he had studied nutrition for two years — was as unfazed as a Zen master. ”I think beyond what most people think of when it comes to food,” he said. Huh? I really don’t know what that means unless he thinks he invented a new kind of Dippin’ Dots or something.
Back in the kitchen, tempers flared when the burner under Lisa’s brown rice somehow ended up on high, which left the rice hard on the outside and undercooked on the inside. It nearly ruined the dish, and Lisa was instantly sure that it wasn’t an accident or a mistake: It could only have been…sabotage. She threw a little hissy fit, but there was no time for a real argument. With only a few minutes left, the chefs started piling their food into little plastic boxes while scribbling microwave instructions on labels.
NEXT: Against the grain
Once the contestants arrived at the police academy with food, the hungry cops surveyed the goods before choosing one box each to munch on. The feedback from the cops was generally pretty good, ranging from ”very tender” to ”better than McDonald’s” (what higher praise, really?). Unfortunately, the judges weren’t quite as nice. Padma said that Spike’s chicken salad with pita was ”pedestrian,” while Andrew’s fake-rice salmon roll was deemed ”very strange.” Padma also noted that Andrew didn’t use a whole grain in his dish. Duh duh duh.
Later, at Top Chef HQ, the judges brought the law down on the chefs’ cop cuisine. Tom complimented Dale’s use of bison and Stephanie’s seasoning before declaring Dale the winner. (He got a big-ass bottle of wine and a free trip to Napa.) But things got really interesting when Andrew was summoned to the room in the bottom three along with Spike and Lisa. Padma started by questioning how ”substantial” Andrew’s dainty dish was, which prompted him to go off on another rant about how he had studied nutrition. (We get it!) At this point, Padma and Tom seemed genuinely ticked off by Andrew’s refusal to accept their judgments as the word of God — which tripped Andrew’s crazy switch, leading to this delicious little catfight:
Andrew: ”I want to show you guys what it is to eat healthy.”
Tom: ”How about serving something that’s good?”
Andrew: ”Was it not good?”
Tom: ”It didn’t taste good at all.”
Andrew: ”Really? That’s funny. I had two people go back for it.”
Tom: ”They went back for it because it wasn’t enough. They had to eat more.”
Who knew Tom had claws on those stubby little hands? And things only got worse when Lisa decided to rat out Andrew for not including a whole grain in his dish. (Sabotage?) In his defense, Andrew — dear, sweet, loopy Andrew — spent about 10 seconds pretending that it was a conscious decision before admitting that he had simply lost the rule list and forgot to include a grain. Lisa also made sure to mention her little rice-sabotage theory to the judges, although they didn’t seem particularly sympathetic.
Andrew and Lisa spat a few final insults at each other in the Glad Bag dungeon while the judges deliberated, but the outcome seemed pretty preordained: Andrew was going home. Padma delivered the verdict with all the empathy of a hangman. Andrew’s reaction was surprisingly tame. ”No security necessary,” he joked before shaking hands and heading off to pack his knives.
Your turn, TV Watchers. Did the judges make the right call? Was someone really trying to sabotage Lisa? Was Spike playing fair when he picked his ingredients? And should Richard be eliminated just for wearing headbands?