Top Chef recap: Sour Grapes
When the contestants serve 50 super-critical chefs who didn't make it onto the show, some power through (Carla, Fabio, and Jamie), while others stumble (Hosea, Ariane, and Jill)
Well, I don’t know about you, fellow Top Chef fans, but I thought Ariane would get the boot last night. Considering the chef was in the bottom two last week and Padma spit out her foodduring last night’s episode, it seemed fairly obvious that the underdog would be sent packing. But instead, poor Jill became the latest victim of Bravo’s “If you don’t have enough personality, you will go home” rule. But we’ll get to the elimination later. First off, dear friends, you’ll have to excuse me tonight: I was diagnosed with an eye infection today, and because I can’t wear contacts and don’t own a pair of glasses, I had to go into tonight’s episode a bit blind. I did, however, sit about two feet from the television and relied on my other senses to get me through the episode (well, pretty much only hearing, as I believe Wonkavision has sadly yet to be invented), but if I failed to see a priceless facial expression or something else worth mentioning, please do bring it up it in our comment board following this recap!
Now, with that out of the way, let’s get to last night’s episode. We began the show with a little eye candy — thanks to a shirtless shot of Dr. Chase — which provided a high that was quickly brought down by a morose Ariane, who was still struggling with being in the bottom two during last week’s panel. Stefan — the winner of last week’s challenge — on the other hand, thought he had the competition in the bag, and pointed to only one real competitor: his fellow European contestant, Fabio. But Fabio won’t let their friendship get in the way of the competition: “In Italian they say, it doesn’t matter how many dragon you kill, it’s who take home the princess. So I go for the princess.” Interestingly enough, I believe that’s also a popular saying in Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom, so I’m guessing this means Fabio will refuse to pack his knives and go until after he defeats Stefan and Bowser.
There wasn’t too much time to talk game, though. Our chefs were soon sent off to their quickfire challenge, where Padma told them they would be cooking one of New Yorkers’ favorite things. My first guess was a hot dog. My second guess was Purell. Well, I have to say I’m quite proud of myself, because my first inclination was the right one: The chefs were instructed to cook a hot dog for Padma and guest judge Donatella Arpaia that would be better than Angelina D’Angelo’s famed Dominick’s wiener. The chefs got right to work, and I found their ability to whip up handmade hot dogs so quickly impressive. Not only did most of them manage to infuse quite a bit of creativity into their quickfire dishes (sushi hot dogs!), but also, not one of them used pig anatomy, toxic waste, or pigeon poo — a.k.a. the real ingredients of a hot dog, I always thought — for their wieners. Fabio wowed the judges with his sausage and goat cheese, and Hosea’s wiener with bacon won high marks as well. But the quickfire champ was Radhika, who made a hot dog infused with Indian spices (props to her, but girl, I thought you wanted to prove you could break out of your Indian food shell?). Others didn’t perform quite so well: Jill didn’t even bother to make her own hot dog for her sushi dish, and Stefan took fusion to the extreme by trying to create an ill-advised “World Dog.” But in the end, how did our chefs’ dogs compare to Angelina’s? Hard to tell. Padma and Donatella picked up the famous Queens hot dog, took one bite, and placed it back on the table while smiling and nodding their heads like they were eating a piece of Ted Allen’s arm (how else can they justify his absence this season?). Whatever. Angelina, I’d eat one of your hot dogs in its entirety, pigeon poo or not.
NEXT: An ostrich egg, huh?
Then it was on to the elimination challenge. The chefs were told to create a 3-course “New American” menu for 50 New Yorkers. This made Richard nervous since New Yorkers tend to be critical (but Richard, I just said I’d eat pigeon poo!). Regardless of nerves, the chefs managed to split themselves into three groups quite easily, thanks to the super organizational skills of Dr. Chase: Fabio, Hosea, Jamie, Melissa, and Leah handled the appetizers; Stefan, Alex, Eugene, Jill, and Dr. Chase were on entrées; and Carla, Ariane, Daniel, Richard, and Radhika were in charge of desserts.
Whether our chefs had plans for their dishes or not, most of the fatal mistakes were made at Whole Foods, where the contestants went to shop for their ingredients. Hosea had to make do for his crab dish with Whole Foods’ limited selection, and Jill found inspiration for her appetizer in a giant ostrich egg. I’ll give Jill props for trying to incorporate something so unexpected into her dish, but for me, it just seemed like a ploy to get high points for choosing such a unique ingredient. Plus, it didn’t even seem like she knew her way around ostrich eggs. She couldn’t figure out how to simply open her egg until Fabio showed her how.
After our chefs’ shopping trip, they learned about the elimination challenge’s added catch: The service’s 50 diners would be chefs who tried out for Top Chef, but were ultimately rejected, and it would be served at Craft, Tom’s flagship restaurant. In other words, the contestants would have to cook for a room full of bitter people looking to bring them down to raise their own self-esteems. As expected, the chefs were rattled by the news of their diners, especially Carla. But really, she shouldn’t be that worried, since I’m pretty sure she could bend any diner to her will with Jedi mind tricks, thanks to those crazy eyes.
Since the chefs were working in a relatively large kitchen for this challenge — instead of the usual cramped Top Chef headquarters — there was very little drama during the cooking process, save for Ariane going from station to station asking everyone to taste her meringue (I was a little disappointed that my favorite contestant, Richard, neglected to tell her her dessert was too sweet for competition. What would Team Rainbow do, Richard?). But their service was quick and relatively painless, as each chef was able to plate their dishes in time for their lunch guests. And boy, wasn’t that a dining room of insecurity! When our Top Chef rejects first sat at their tables, many began to list off their credentials, and upon tasting the food, proclaimed how they could have cooked everything a million times better. Unfortunately for the contestants, our panel of judges agreed that many of the dishes were sub par. There was the good (Jamie’s cold sweet corn soup), the bad (Ariane’s lemon meringue martini, which Padma spit out in her napkin), and the ugly (Leah’s seared scallops with Yukon potatoes, which Padma said looked plated in ’80s fashion, but I didn’t see any hot pink shoelaces and leg warmers).
NEXT: Fabio needlessly defends himself
At panel, Padma & Co., handpicked their top three chefs for the challenge: Carla, who made a tasty rustic apple tart, albeit with an oddly placed piece of cheese; Fabio, who whipped up a stellar beef carpaccio, and Jamie. Of course, for some reason Fabio, the eventual winner, first thought he was in the bottom three, which led to this hilarious exchange:
Fabio: “Honestly, I don’t know. I did, you know, some filet mignon — best quality meat ever — best Parmesan cheese, five years aged, six years aged balsamic vinegar. Every week I sell hundred of those exact plate in my restaurant in California. And it’s a big success. I don’t know. You tell me why I’m here.”
Padma: “You’re here because we liked your dish!”
Gail: “We hadn’t told you that we didn’t like it yet!”
Fabio. “Oh. That’s-a good. I’m glad you liked it. That’s why I made it.”
And then Fabio jumped on a mushroom, grew twice his size, and disappeared into the sky by climbing up a vine. But in all seriousness, after that speech — prompted simply by the panel calling out his name — I’m beginning to think Fabio belongs in Craft’s dining room of insecurity. I’m sure if you’d ever see Fabio walking down the street and call his name, he’d say, “I don’t know. I put one foot in front of the other. I’m in these really nice shoes I buy from my work at my seven different restaurant, and people think I walk good. So I don’t know why you think I no walk good.”
As for the bottom three: Hosea was criticized for his relatively unseasoned cold crab with citrus vanilla, Ariane for her too-sweet dessert, and Jill for her ostrich egg quiche, which tasted like glue, according to Gail. And Jill might have stayed another week if it wasn’t for her plea for safety, or, as Gail called it, the lamest defense of a dish in Top Chef history: “Um, I think I understand the mistakes that I made today, but just the pressure, the time, had the idea and tried to executed it the best I could, with it.” The girl might be trained in culinary school, but I’m guessing she also has a B.S. from the Paula Abdul School of Speaking. But alas, Jill was sent packing, and unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be missing her all that much.
But what do you think, TV Watchers? Who should have gone home? Do you love or hate Fabio? Would you have incorporated an ostrich egg in your dish? And did you find that strange two-minute Hosea-Leah showmance scene in the middle of the commercial break a little strangely placed?
Finally, before we go, here’s a fun fact for all you fans of Top Geography: Only one city in the world was built on two continents: Istanbul. Wow!