Top Chef recap: Disastrous Dishes
Four teams of chefs tackle catering Gail's bridal shower, but the worst of the dishes, Eugene, Carla, and Daniel's attempt at something new, just ended up busy and unappealing, and Daniel had to go home
“I do feel like they made the wrong decision. But there’s nothing I can do. It’s out of my hands. There’s wrong decisions in football games, you know what I mean? Barry Sanders runs the ball, the guy grabs the back of his jersey. The refs didn’t see it, but all the fans saw it, so everybody’s booing. You know what I mean? The ref makes the final call, and there’s nothing you can do.”
So were the final words of last night’s ousted contestant, Daniel. And really, we should just call him Tutankhamun, because that man is the king of de Nile. Yep, since our loud-talking, theatrical, semi-obnoxious cheftestant delivered a weak bridal shower-inspired dish — and was unable to recognize that he did — Padma & Co., sent him packing. And I have to say, I’m not really booing. Based on his not-so-refined palate, and his sneak mushroom attack of Carla’s salad, he really deserved to go. Of course, that doesn’t mean he accepts it. In fact, Daniel is so deep in denial, I’d bet he’s still in the Top Chef kitchen to this day, pulling knives and allowing himself to be judged by a Tom Colicchio-shaped gourd. But…HOOTIE-HOO! Oh, sorry. Just making sure I didn’t lose any of you readers there.
Moving on, it looks like this season of Top Chef has a new couple, one that’s about as likely to hook up as the separately attached Hosea and Leah (who knew they had significant others?): Jamie and Stefan. Seems the latter has taken a liking to our lesbian chefette, and even gifted her with a stuffed animal with shorts hand-made from a potholder. (Do I smell a Project Runway challenge?) But it would take more than a stuffed animal to woo Jamie, Stefan. Slap a rainbow on those shorts, though, and you might have a chance.
Enough silly business. Time for one of my favorite Top Chef quickfire challenges: the palate test. The chefs had to pair up by drawing knives (Stefan drew the same number as Jamie, making him the happiest person to hold a knife since Michael Myers) and essentially played a foodie-inspired game of Name That Tune (Why must Top Chef insist on making me think of NTT alum Kathie Lee Gifford every week?). The contestants battled each other March Madness bracket-style to name the most ingredients in three different sauces: shrimp and lobster bouillabaisse, Thai green curry, and Mexican mole sauce. The most impressive cheftestant? Hosea, who guessed a whopping seven ingredients in Thai green curry — including the ultra-specific Thai basil and Thai chili — and ran away with the entire quickfire challenge. The least impressive? Carla, who made it all the way to the top three, only to get eliminated after curiously guessing peanut butter as Mexican mole sauce ingredient. Now, it’s true that mole sauce does have a bit of a sweet undercurrent, but peanut butter? That’s a bit of a stretch. (HOOTIE-HOO! You all still with me? Good).
NEXT: Daniel splooges all over his plate
With Hosea winning immunity, it was time to move on to the elimination challenge. And though I was a bit skeptical at first with such a self-indulgent challenge — our cheftestants were told they had to cook a meal for 40 guests at Gail’s bridal shower (including guest judge Dana Cowin, the editor-in-chief of Food & Wine) — I was glad the producers opted to assign the chefs a task that begged more creativity than a simple dinner service. The four teams had to cook meals inspired by the matrimonial mantra, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.”
The chefs drew knives and paired up into teams: The old team (Stefan, Dr. Jeff, and Hosea), the new team (Eugene, Carla, and Daniel), the borrowed team (Jamie, Radhika, and Ariane) and the blue team (Fabio, Leah, and Melissa). This team selection pleased Radhika in particular since, as she said, she’d rather work with Satan than the overbearing Stefan (Sorry, Radhika, you’ll have to wait until Martha Stewart’s appearance next week for that wish to come true). But really, her sentiment is understandable — Stefan proved himself to be quite a pill during this elimination challenge. Sure, Stefan has experience catering, and has a leg up on a lot of his competition, but his tendency to control his teammates, and stick them with not-so-nice names like “Douchebag Hosea,” really doesn’t help foster team spirit. Especially when his overbearing nature is simply unnecessary: He strongly advised Dr. Jeff — have I struck a happy medium here, readers? — to neglect his tomato sorbet idea, which ended up being one of the biggest hits of the challenge.
Anyhoo, onto dinner service. The teams’ menus seemed promising: Radhika lent her Indian culture to Team Borrowed, who decided to cook Eastern-spiced lamb marinated in yogurt, vadouvan carrot puree, wilted kale, and cucumber raita for the party; Team Old stuck to the classics and chose to prepare tomato terrine wrapped in eggplant, carpaccio with tomato sorbet and gazpacho; Team New tossed aside Daniel’s pickle suggestion and opted for surf and turf sushi rolls, frisee salad with wonton, peach-miso barbeque sauce, and yuzu sorbet; and Team Blue — who had the toughest task since, as Tom mentioned later, there is no such thing as blue food — decided to prepare a meal inspired by the ocean (Chilean sea bass over roasted corn puree and swiss chard).
Right from the get-go, it was obvious Team New was in trouble. It seemed strange to prepare sushi as a contemporary course, when the team could have really experimented to create a creative, inspired dish (remember season four’s Andrew’s modern penguin glacier?). Plus, there really didn’t seem to be much synergy between the three contestants’ plates, as I generally would be hard-pressed to find any dish that successfully pairs sushi and barbecue sauce. And then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, following the cheftestants’ two-and-a-half hour prep time, Eugene decided it would be a good idea to have the bridal shower attendees make their own sushi rolls in a conversation that would have been much less entertaining had it not featured a weight-lifting Daniel and Dr. Jeff. (The iron-pumping Dr. Jeff has apparently become the Where’s Waldo of Top Chef. If you squint at the TV screen real carefully, you can spot Dr. Jeff lifting weights in back of the judges at panel! And training behind Gretchen in those countlessReal Housewives of Orange County promos!)
The idea might have worked out better had Eugene actually remembered to tell Gail’s guests how to assemble their sushi rolls, a move that was almost as stupid as Daniel deciding last-minute to add mushrooms to Carla’s salad without her consent. Or his decision to describe his dish by saying it had “a little crunch of this, a little splooge of this.” Look, I understand the guy is probably looking for some sort of “Bam!”-like trademark word to market his on-air image, but “splooge” should never describe anything outside of Nickelodeon Gak. And though it was a good idea to include a palate cleanser for the end of the meal, presenting it in sorbet form was less-than-ideal, since sorbet, you know, melts.
NEXT: Jamie, the tattooed bridesmaid
More successful was Team Old, who presented the first dish of the night. Their course might have been a disaster, however, had Hosea spilled his gazpacho all over the guests, thanks to nerves. Of course, our chefs’ anxiety was elevated by the fact that Tom was relegated to the kitchen during the challenge since men weren’t allowed at the bridal shower (Apparently, it’s against tradition to have male friends). Said Team Blue’s Fabio: “Tom come in the room. Make me nervous. Colicchio is for me, is like, if you’re a priest and there is the pope in the room.” (Really, a John Jay report would do the trick as well). But Team Old had no reason to be nervous. Their course was a hit, and the women loved Dr. Jeff’s sorbet more than Top Chef‘s producers love to show the man shirtless (seriously, guys, we’re onto you. We know that between his pecs and his suspiciously titled restaurant, the man is screaming porn. Just make the Dr. Jeff calendar already!).
Team Old might have brought the goods, but it was obvious Team Borrowed would nab the win after their successful service. Almost every dish was ingested without complaints, and, unlike Team New, their course was plated beautifully. Ariane’s lamb was perfectly cooked — even after a short-lived rare-meat scare in the kitchen — and Jamie cemented her ability to cook all things yellow and soup-y with a stellar carrot puree.
Team Blue, however, didn’t pull out as stellar a service. Yes, they had the most difficult assignment, but their Chilean sea bass with corn puree and swiss chard was dull-looking, and too mild for our guest’s palates (perhaps Melissa was making up for last week’s killer spicy shrimp?). As Melissa said, it was lacking in pizazz (note: more jazz hands next time!) But really, on second thought, everything would taste bland after Team Borrowed’s course, which was ripe with Middle Eastern spices. Team Blue, however, did boast a secret ingredient: Fabio. Our Italian chef charmed the bridal shower attendees so much, they actually clapped at the end of his presentation (are these women the prime market for those Bertolli romance sagas/commercials or what?). Good thing Chef Boyardee didn’t make an appearance, otherwise they may have all had a collective aneurysm.
The judges named Team Borrowed and Team Old the top two at panel, and though Jamie thought she had finally bagged a win with her subtle puree after spending weeks in the top three, underdog Ariane was crowned the victor for the second week in a row. Sure, Jamie was bummed, but at least she can take solace in the fact that Ariane’s prize — Calphalon cookware and a set of kitchen electrics — is essentially the equivalent of a Price is Right bedroom set. So hang in there, Jamie. You still have a chance of winning the brand-new car.
When it came to the losers, it didn’t take much imagination to guess who would be sent packing after Daniel had as easy a time admitting his mistakes as Tom has growing hair. After the panel gave him several chances to acknowledge defeat, Daniel remained too headstrong for Padma & Co.’s tastes and was ultimately told to pack his knives and go.
But what did you think, TV Watchers? Did Daniel deserve to go home? That Jamie deserved the win? What did you think of this week’s Stefan-Jamie love vignette? How much do you love Carla’s “Hootie-Hoo!” Marco-Polo shopping technique? And to all the ladies out there, would you want to roll your own sushi?
Before I go, I have a special treat for you all: Due to a prior commitment, I’ll be unable to recap next week’s episode, so foodie extraordinaire Adam Markovitz — who, conveniently enough, has an affinity for next week’s guest, Martha — has kindly agreed to fill in. It will be a goodie, so don’t miss it! And since there are no new episodes during the holidays, happy holidays and I’ll see you all in January!