Top Chef recap: Sustainable Sustenance
Last night we got the episode most of us wait all season for — restaurant wars. I had predicted it’d be a complete snooze this year, due to the clear divide that separates the good chefs (Kevin, Jen and the Voltaggios) from the so-so (Eli, Laurine and Mike I.) and the just plain bad (Robin). But with the teams split in a less obvious way, along with a really fun, albeit difficult, quickfire challenge, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself not itching to change the channel.
At the quickfire, eco-conscious chef Rick Moonen announced that the eight remaining cheftestants would be split into teams of four, each of which would make one dish, assembly line style. But the catch was that while the one person had their 10 minutes to work on the dish, the rest of the teammates were blindfolded and no one could talk. So essentially, the first person could start the dish and the last person could finish off a completely different one — kind of like a foodie version of telephone.
On the blue team was Jen, who had first teammate dibs, Laurine, Mike I. and Kevin. On the opposing side was the red team, made up of leader Michael V., Robin, Eli and Bryan. It was actually kind of sad when Robin had to go to the red side out of process of elimination — like the kid who gets picked last at dodgeball. But as much as Robin seems like a pushover, she doesn’t give up without a fight, which we’ll get to later.
It seemed like no brainers to put Jen at the front (she’s fast and organized) and Michael V. on the end of the other team (”I can put the period on the end of any sentence Bryan starts,” he says), but unfortunately for Jen, Michael V. actually knew what his team’s dish was; Jen had to guess.
And of course, like any successful game of telephone, she flubbed the explanation of the dish and called the sablefish a trout, but lucky for her, sablefish is a sustainable breed, which gave them a brownie point with Moonen.
Fish-naming gaffe aside, Jen’s team managed to pull through for the win with their pan-seared sablefish and sautéed mushrooms. In particular it was their well-made stock with shrimp and ginger that pushed their dish above the red team’s pan-roasted New York strip, which was a tad rare.
The win meant glory for Laurine, who was beeming with pride at having won her first challenge of the competition. Not so fast, Laurine. First of all, this wasn’t an individual challenge. Second of all, you were the second chef in line. You know who was second on the other team? Robin. So as you see, the other chefs know to put the weakest links in the middle, preferably at the beginning, so there’s time for repair.
The blue team’s win also meant a high stakes prize of $10,000 split amongst them, which they confidently forfeited for the chance to win $10,000 each, should they win restaurant wars.
NEXT: Frontman (and woman)
The teams stayed as they were for the almighty elimination challenge. Two from each team had two hours and $1,500 to spend at Whole Foods, and the other two had the same time and money to spend at Restaurant Depot for equipment. They weren’t responsible for any décor and they’d be cooking at Moonen’s Vegas restaurant, but sustainability was the name of the game. Moonen was on the lookout for conscientious dishes — not to make things more difficult or anything.
The four top chefs went to Whole Foods (obviously) and while the blue team (renamed Mission, for the understated style of architecture) went for simple, seasonal and elegant, the red team (renamed Revolt, as in uprising) went for adventurous, modern American. If the food didn’t make you think adventurous, perhaps their restaurant name did. ”R” for Robin, ”e” for Eli and ”volt” for the brothers. Get it? Oh, it made you think of food that’s revolting? Yeah, me too. And so did the judges, unfortunately.
In a move that was first confusing to me but then made sense, Eli and Laurine were named to work the front of the house for their respective teams. At first, I couldn’t think of two worse people to be the face of a restaurant. In the one corner you had sniveling Eli, who, let’s just say, doesn’t emanate rays of sunshine. And in the other corner, you had Laurine, who actually does seem sunny and warm, but is about as vibrant as drywall.
But then I thought about it and it made sense. They’re two of the so-so chefs and putting them in the back would’ve only hurt the cooking. Sure, Robin was in the back, too, but that’s because if she were talking to the patrons, they most certainly would’ve left before even eating.
With all the parts in place, we got to see the two teams in action and there was no doubt that Revolt totally schooled Mission. In case you didn’t catch each team’s full menu, here they are:
Chicken and calamari pasta (Michael V.)
Smoked arctic char (Eli)
Duo of beef (Bryan)
Cod and billi bi sauce (Michael V.)
Pear pithivier (Robin)
Chocolate ganache with spearmint ice cream and caramel ice cream (Bryan. Yum!)
Asparagus and six-minute egg (Mike I.)
Arctic char tartare (Mike I.)
Bouillabaisse consommé (Jen)
Seared trout (Jen)
Pork three ways (Kevin)
Lamb with carrot jam (Laurine and Kevin)
Even though Revolt won, their team wasn’t all hugs and kisses. In fact, back in the kitchen, it was more attitudes and cursing, courtesy of Michael V. and Robin.
On his high horse as team leader, Michael V. took it upon himself to shout, dominate, and belittle his teammates. Funny because he said, ”Yelling and screaming and arrogance — there’s really no place for that in the kitchen” and called his brother out for not being a team player. I believe his exact words were: ”Let’s work on this like a team. Don’t be a d—.” Nice.
NEXT: Robin stands up to dictator Michael
Things got really heated when Robin apparently messed up her pear dessert. Michael V. had no problem stepping in and taking over, but even though she sounded like a baby while doing so, you’d better believe Robin was not going to stand for that. She told Michael V. to ”F— off” to which the M.V. then called her disrespectful and basically shouted over her to make her shut up. Man, what a punk.
But can you believe Revolt actually got their act together and pulled out a winning combination of service and food? From Eli’s — fine, I’ll say it — impressive front of the room handling to the overall delicious dishes, theirs was one of the best in Top Chef‘s history of Restaurant Wars, according to Tom. In particular, Moonen couldn’t get enough of Michael V.’s ”genius” chicken and calamari pasta (two foods he loves) and his cod with billi bi sauce. And much to my surprise, all of the judges raved about Robin’s pear pithivier. But then again, a lot of that credit probably goes to Michael V.
With M.V.’s hand in most of the shining meals of the night, it was no surprise that he took home the win. When he received his first gift, Moonen’s fish cookbook, it was like winning a set of dishware on The Price is Right — anticlimactic. Fortunately, he then won a brand…new…car! Just kidding, he actually won $10,000, which he decided to split with his teammates. Nice try, but his seemingly sweet gesture didn’t fool me. The money didn’t matter to him. It was being named the best that was worth more than any M Resort chip to him. Bryan, unhappy that his brother was being rewarded for unprofessional behavior, wanted no part of the prize money or even the full sum, which Michael V. later offered during their backroom tiff. See, it was about pride — not money.
Mission, on the other hand, had disaster written all over their night, and they definitely knew it. Their biggest enemy seemed to be time — from the gaps between each meal to Laurine’s inability to keep the guests entertained (or distracted).
The seared trout was awful, the lamb was like ”jello,” and the consommé was a let-down, but the biggest blow came when Padma asked for salt for the arctic char and then asked for an explanation for the dish they had just been served. Oooh, when a judge asks for something you should’ve given them, that’s not a good sign. It also didn’t help that Kevin and Jen, who’ve built such high expectations, disappointed the judges with their dishes. In particular, Jen had the lofty duty of handling two big fish dishes. That’s a lot of pressure, even for someone with Jen’s skills. And the fact that she steamed her clams and mussels to order? Well, that was just ”insane” according to the judges.
In the end, though, history did pay off because the judges forgave Kevin and Jen for their off night. Mike I. stood somewhere in the middle, so it was Laurine on the chopping block — no big surprise there. She was admittedly overwhelmed working the front of the house and her terrible service was so obviously worse than the food.
Now we have two more weeks until things finally get interesting — when Robin and Mike I. will surely be voted off. To keep our interest in the show, Natalie Portman stops by next week to share her picky food habits that the cheftestants will surely have to turn into an elimination challenge meal. So until then…
What did you guys think of this installment of restaurant wars? Did it seem like Revolt’s was the best inTop Chef‘s history? Do you think Laurine deserved the boot?