Top Chef recap: Game Face
Maybe he just missed Richard too much. Maybe he was checked out because his wedding was in 20 days. Or maybe he just never watched an episode of Top Chef and learned tonever make a dessert unless you are 100 percent positive you could actually pull it off perfectly. If it’s the latter explanation, then Alex learned his lesson the hard way and was sent home to his fiancé after executing a rather unimpressive dessert. A far lesser crime than serving raw egg yolk or way-too-spicy inedible food, but Padma & Co. couldn’t eliminate the final member of Team Rainbow, or Melissa, who put on her Thor horns and adequately fought her way to safety during the judges panel, even if she unfairly took a shot at the wedding-focused Alex. But we’ll get to all that later.
Speaking of Team Rainbow, our cheftestants mourned the loss of Richard at the beginning of last night’s episode. In fact, Alex was so emotional reading a goodbye letter from Richard that you would think Top Chef had been taken over by a Japanese game show that filleted each week’s loser as punishment. Jamie, on the other hand, opted to show her dedication to her former gay-lesbian alliance by covering herself with rainbows — a rainbow shirt, rainbow bracelet — making her a serious contender for the My Little Pony family.
Enough talk about rainbows. Let’s move on to the quickfire challenge. This time around, our Top Chef producers brought in guest judge/fame whore Rocco DiSpirito, or, as our walking soundbite Fabio called him, an “American chef Italianized.” (Tell me, friends, did you sense some disdain there?). But there would be no Italian food for this quickfire: The chef’s were instructed to cook a mini breakfast for Padma and our guest judge called an Amuse-bouche (or, a bite-sized appetizer for those of us who don’t speak foodie). Not everyone produced a winning dish: Fabio’s brioche with brûlée banana and espresso cream sounded delicious, but was not savory enough for Rocco (his breakfasts must be hangover-friendly); and Daniel’s cornflake crusted zucchini flower stuffed with hash boasted the unfortunate combination of tasting too sweet — thanks to the cornflakes — and looking a little too much like Mr. Hanky. The highlights? Stefan managed to fit a big, hearty Mexican breakfast — Huevos rancheros with salsa and cheese — into a tiny, niftily cut egg; Jamie made a bacon, lettuce and tomato breakfast sandwich that was good enough to distract Rocco from the fact that it required more than one bite to ingest; and Leah bagged the quickfire win, and thus immunity, for the second episode in a row with a bacon, quail egg, and cheese with grilled bread.
(Is it me, or is Leah being pegged as the villain of the season? First, she unnecessarily tried to throw some of her competitors that cooked slightly bigger dishes under the bus by saying “Well, it’s an Amuse-bouche, so I tried to make it in one bite,” after Rocco had already complimented her. Then later in the episode, after her poor performance in the elimination challenge, she admitted to the other contestants that she simply didn’t care. Yet Hosea seems to like her — Bravo is still feeding us confusing mid-commercial break vignettes chronicling their blooming romance).
But onto the elimination ceremony: After three weeks of sub-par challenges — cooking in the style of a NYC neighborhood, cooking for a group of bitter rejects, and cooking for a camera-mugging band — I was hoping that Tom and Padma would set out a table with nothing but gum, paper towels, and a shark, and tell the chefs to MacGyver up a three-course meal. Not quite — I can’t deny that I was a bit disappointed when our chefs were told they would have to create a dish for a two-and-a-half minute TV presentation, forcing them to make relatively simple, straightforward dishes that viewers at home would understand. (That being said, I do enjoy seeing chefs throw together creative plates that I could actually learn to make myself — if only Bravo would actually show us the full presentations so we can learn how!). But this challenge wasn’t purely about food — Padma & Co. stressed that our cheftestants would have to know how to present themselves on camera in order to win over viewers at home. (Why they chose the ultimate king of douchbaggery, Rocco DiSpirito, to help teach these chefs such a lesson is beyond me, but maybe our producers weren’t one of the 10 people to actually catch The Restaurant.)
NEXT: The Today Show!
Our chefs given 100 bucks to shop for their ingredients at Whole Foods, where Fabio hilariously opted to jump behind the meat counter and cut his own tuna to get the perfect amount. Suddenly, after seeing his move, more chefs were jumping in and out the cutting area than Paris Hilton’s bedroom. Far away from the meat section was Alex, who decided to try to get a free pass by cooking something unexpected: a dessert. Alex might as well have gone into the elimination challenge wearing a “Team Salman Rushdie” T-shirt, because as soon as he announced his plans, we knew he was a goner. Cooking a dessert on Top Chef is on par with designing a dress with a poop train on Project Runway: It pretty much all but guarantees you a trip home, or at least a place in the bottom three. And with only one hour to cook, a crème brûlé seemed like a gamble that could only pay off with some extra help, and we know Yoshi and Luigi are only allowed in Fabio’s workstation.
Needless to say, our cheftestants were nervous about their on-camera gig: Fabio worried about his thick accent, Carla said she didn’t think she could psychologically handle being in the bottom three (but I doubt Carla could psychologically handle crossing the street), and Stefan said there were about 25,000 different scenarios that could come about during his presentation (My guess is at least 10,000 of Stefan’s scenarios involved some sort of threesome with Padma and Gail). Daniel, however, seemed pumped about the challenge, being that he idolizes chef and TV personality Bobby Flay. Also, he used this opportunity to tell us that one of his life ambitions is to act, a move that would make about as much a sense as Paulie Walnuts releasing a fragrance.
And Daniel should certainly stick to his day job, because once it came to his presentation, the boy mugged for the camera more than The Foos, and even ended his spot with a “Baba Booey,” as if he had just time traveled in from the ’90s via the DeLorean. But he still managed to stay out of the bottom three. Those spots were reserved for Melissa, whose blackened habanero shrimp was so spicy, Tom couldn’t even ingest it; Jamie, who made the mistake of sulking after undercooking her duck egg in her salad with egg, bacon and caviar; and Alex, whose on-screen handshaking certainly didn’t help his inedible, albeit beautiful, rose infused crème brûlée. And then there were the top three: For starters, Ariane redeemed herself with her beefsteak tomato salad with watermelon and feta cheese, infused with plenty of Jersey pride (but where were the acrylic nails, Ariane?). Fabio turned on just enough charm in his presentation, and smartly put together a tuna dish that his mother at home would enjoy learning how to cook: “My mom, she wants to know about tuna, carrots, and asparagus. That’s it.” (Remind me never to go to the Mushroom Kingdom for ingredient variety). And interestingly enough, Jeff turned up in the top for his malfouf roll with shrimp and muhammara sauce, a dish that I couldn’t imagine anyone at home would try to make, simple or no (And yes, you will see that as much as I know you all love nicknames, I’ve decided to retire my Dr. Chase branding of Jeff, since Team Jennifer Morrison seemed to have come out in droves to protest it on our comment boards).
But we wouldn’t learn the identity of our ultimate winners or losers quite yet. Our chefs had a whole night to sit on their on-air presentations before the top three got a rude awakening from Tom, who brought them to the Today Show studio. Turns out that the likes of Meredith Vieira and Kathie Lee Gifford would sample the top three’s dishes on air and crown the challenge’s victor. The Today Show hosts reacted well to Ariane and Fabio’s dish, but Jeff’s proved to be a bit too unappetizing for unrefined palates: Kathie Lee Gifford took one bite of his dish before spitting it out into her napkin, which I can only assume she emptied out later into Kelly Ripa’s lunch. Ariane ended up out on top, and the underdog chef was awarded the chance to present a dish on The Today Show this morning (of course, since I stayed up until 1 a.m. writing for y’alls, I won’t catch the show. But those of you who did, let us know how it went!). After the winner was announced, the bottom three were ushered to panel, where the judges quickly deliberated and sent Alex packing. Maybe he had checked out, but it seems odd that they wouldn’t let go of Melissa, a chef who cooked a potentially lethal dish and has said fewer than five sentences since the show debuted. But then again, she did show signs of backstabbage, so methinks Bravo wants to pack more drama into this relatively friendly season.
What did you think of the episode, TV Watchers? Should Alex have gone home, or was his ouster a bigger mistake than Kathie Lee leaving Live to pursue a singing career? Is Fabio pretty much guaranteed a spot in the Top 3? Is there anyone else to really root for? Who’s the bigger villain: Leah or Melissa? And what will we find out about our showmance in our next Flavor of Love: Top Chef vignette?