Top Chef recap: Recipe for Disaster
Happy Thanksgiving, TV Watchers, and welcome back to another EW-branded Top Chef recap. Why did I decide to brand this TV Watch? Well, because last night’s episode was chock full o’ product placement. Swanson. Butterball. Top Chef The Cookbook. Last night’s lackluster episode was seemingly stuffed (heh) with more advertising than cooking, which is why it mostly failed to impress this recapper. (Maybe the producers were banking on low ratings for the holiday?) Either way, perhaps more disappointing than a boring episode is seeing a favorite contestant get ousted during a boring episode, but I’ll make sure to stuff enough turkey and mashed potatoes in my mouth today to get over my post-Richard sadness.
But let’s start at the beginning. I felt like I had a bit of déjà vu last night, because the episode began just like last week’s: There was another European love fest between Fabio and Stefan, and Ariane — who many of you rightly nicknamed Debbie Downer — once again began talking about how her nerves are bringing her down (wah, wah, wah). But, my friends, we’re not the only ones assigning nicknames: according to Richard, the chefs call Fabio Kid Italian, Dr. Chase Don Johnson — obviously Richard avoids Fox while channel surfing — and Leah, well, apparently Boobs McGee isn’t flattering enough, so they just simply compliment her rack when she’s not around.
Onto the quickfire challenge, which was judged this week by chef extraordinaire Ethan Hawke. Oops, I mean the Chicago-based Grant Achatz, a pioneer in molecular gastronomy in cooking. For the challenge, our contestants were instructed to pull knives that sported various numbers: 168, 188, 72, etc. No, the numbers didn’t refer to how many times Dr. Chase brushed his locks Marcia Brady-style that day. Instead, the numbers corresponded to a page number featuring a recipe in the Top Chef Cookbook (Product Placement No. 1!). The chefs were told to put their own spin on the recipe, but the producers wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to gain some extra cash through product placement let our chefs off that easy. After they had already begun to cook their dishes, Padma and Grant told them they had to make a soup from the ingredients in their recipes — but, of course, they would provide the Swanson broth (Product Placement No. 2!).
The result? Not all that bad. Our top three were Jamie, who turned deconstructed falafel from season 1’s Miguel into a chickpea soup; Leah, who managed to cook a balanced dish out of a difficult-to-work-with ingredient, white asparagus; and Daniel, whose ham and egg soup — created from the ingredients for black forest ham and egg bundle by Season 2’s Betty — was so tasty, Padma interrupted Grant’s praise to say ”I like ham and egg soup!” It was kind of like a kindergartener doing show-and-tell (or maybe we can credit her sudden bout of voice immodulation to overexcitement at the ability to make a Seuss-ian reference?). In the end, Leah came out the victor. But all our chefs’ dishes must have been fairly well-made — or perhaps Grant was feeling the holiday spirit? — because our guest chef neglected to name a bottom three.
NEXT PAGE: Melissa rocks out
Immediately following the quickfire, the chefs were told they would have to cook a Thanksgiving dinner for their elimination challenge. Since Leah bagged the quickfire win, she was allowed to choose her teammates: Jamie, Stefan, Melissa, Fabio, Radhika, and, of course, her maybe, sorta fling Hosea. Dr. Chase, Carla, Alex, Eugene, Ariane, Daniel, and Richard made up the other team. Of course, there was a catch to the challenge: Our chefs would be cooking for some famous faces! Daniel immediately figured Donald Trump would be the guest diner (”This Thanksgiving dinner is gonna be HUGE”), but instead, a TV monitor in the kitchen revealed their real clients: the Foo Fighters. That’s right, I said the Foo Fighters. Because, although they roll in boatloads of cash, the band has been on the road so much that they’ve ”had some pretty questionable Thanksgivings,” according to frontman Dave Grohl (by ”questionable” I’m going to assume he doesn’t mean his Thanksgivings were akin to a night in Richard Cole’s hotel room). Of course, it’s also questionable to serve Thanksgiving dinner during the summertime — when Season 5 was shot — but regardless, our chefs were pumped about their challenge and audience, especially Alex: ”Every chef wants to be a rock star. And we’re actually cooking for rock stars right now. So that’s pretty cool.”
The contestants were then led to the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester to see the site of their next service. Perhaps the Foo Fighters were hopeful that the chefs would just whip up some Hot Pockets for dinner, because the contestants learned they would have to cook the entire meal using, for the most part, only GE microwaves and toaster ovens (Product Placement No. 3!). Good thing the Foo Fighters have simple palates — two of their favorite foods are bacon and chocolate-covered frozen bananas. While shopping for their ingredients, like a Butterball turkey (Product Placement No. 4!), this season’s cheftestants — who I can only assume are searching for deeper meaning as they are constantly labeling themselves (Team Euro, Team Rainbow) — decided to name their teams. Leah’s team adopted the title of Team Sexy Pants, regardless of Rod Stewart’s curious absence. As for the other team, they labeled themselves Team Cougar, or, as I will refer to them the rest of the recap, the Team That Shall Not Be Named, because seriously, that overused — and borderline offensive — term went out with David Cook’s American Idol crowning. (Really, they should be Team Sour Grapes: Not only did they have attitude about not being chosen by Leah, but Daniel also flipped the bird to Team Sexy Pants, a move that was in poor taste.)
Silly names aside, the two teams got serious once they started cooking, and Eugene impressed by crafting a makeshift grill for his team. Dr. Chase, meanwhile, took the reins for the Team That Shall Not Be Named, taking on a side dish and a dessert, which would have been easier to execute if it weren’t for the rain shower that plagued our chefs during their service. But once the contestants jumped past that hurdle in time for the band’s arrival, the chefs were able to plate their dishes. And at service, there were plenty of hits and misses. Some of the highlights: Ariane redeemed herself with a moist turkey confit, Fabio showed his ability to adapt to different cultures through his pumpkin tiramisu, and everyone loved Radhika’s vegan stuffing just as much as Dave Grohl enjoyed mugging the camera. As for the chefs that were slightly off-the-mark: Richard crafted smores that looked and tasted unappealing — a difficult feat, if you ask me, Daniel undercooked his potatoes, and Jeff made a pumpkin mousse with berries that nearly made Padma spit her food out two episodes in a row. Though it was close, Team Sexy Pants ultimately won a chance to see the Foos’ ”gig” — thank you, Padma, for teaching us the kids’ lingo — giving us the chance to see some of Melissa’s dance moves, which were almost as crazy as Carla’s eyes. Combine the dance stylings of Seinfeld‘s Elaine, Romy and Michelle, and Thor, and you’ve got Melissa at a concert.
Back at the panel, our judges maintained that the teams were neck-and-neck, but then they pulled out a bottom three from the Team that Shall Not Be Named: Richard, Dr. Chase and Daniel. Ultimately, and sadly, Richard was the one to get the ax, thanks to an easy-to-make dish that fell just a bit too short. All I know is Jamie better start watching her back, because Team Rainbow is being picked off faster than a group of turkeys standing near Sarah Palin.
Tell me, TV Watchers, were you bored by the episode? Are you going to miss Richard? Do you wish the quickfire challenge were a little more challenging, being that they had Grant Achatz at their whim (I do). Would you eat a ”barfait”? And finally, dear friends, Happy Thanksgiving!