The contestants must feed the denizens of Pike Place Market using custom ingredients provided by the vendors themselves. Alas, rose petal jelly makes a poor meal

By Tara Fowler
Updated December 06, 2012 at 07:01 AM EST

Hello, Top Chef lovers! I’m filling in for the lovely Stephan this week, so I hope you’ll forgive me since I haven’t been watching this season quite as religiously as I should have. Boy, did this episode show me what happens when I start slacking! No challenge winner? That’s just nuts. Like Stephan, I’ve been worried that this season might be a bit of a “drama fest” (as Josh so eloquently put it), and for an instant at the end of “Pike Place Pickle,” I dared hope that we’d be getting rid of the mustachioed menace and focusing on food instead of diabolical lip hair (no offense to mustaches, of course). Alas, he lives to fight another day. SERENITY NOW! But I get ahead of myself.

This episode opened on everyone reminiscing about the dearly departed Carla. “She’s the only person in my room,” Eliza announced pityingly. “I’m all by myself now.” “Need a roommate?” Josie offered. Eliza got crazy eyes and quickly backtracked. “No, I’m good.” You could practically feel her blood pressure spike. Meanwhile, Stefan lived in fear of the “birthday curse” — he turned 40 this episode and as everybody knows, people rarely survive elims on their b-days. Also: Josh was depressed. Awww. He’s excelled at the Quickfires, but bottomed out in the Elimination Challenges. Too bad “Pike Place Pickle” wasn’t any different.

The alarms went off bright and early at 3:45 a.m. and the gang headed out for the titular Pike Place Market, one of the oldest farmer’s markets in the US and where Eliza was proposed to. Eliza’s husband, I judge you. There, they met Padma, as well as Daisley Gordon, Chef Partner at Seattle’s Marché. And what was this week’s Quickfire Challenge, pray tell? Making breakfast to go for the vendors of Pike Place Market. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? But then Padma dropped this bombshell: “On. A. Stick.” Dum, dum, duuum. Maybe it’s just the fact that my so-called refined palette consists of distinguishing between McDonald’s and Five Guys, but breakfast on a stick doesn’t seem too hard. The chefs looked repulsed, though, and WTFs abounded. They split into teams of two, some happily and some not so happily, then bolted for their supplies.

NEXT: What makes a good breakfast food? Discuss.

Breakfasts ranged from speared berries to bacon in a waffle (guess which one I’d rather eat). Overall, Padma and Daisley were impressed with the turnout, singling out Sheldon and Bart’s green egg breakfast sandwich and Josh and John’s breakfast taco (which included quail eggs — readers, I’m skeptical). Meanwhile, the meals I thought looked good (such as the ricotta sausage pancake) were deemed less than stellar. In fairness, Padma’s soft pancake did not stay on the stick when she tried to eat it, which was the point of the challenge, but let’s be real here: when confronted with a bacon waffle and a quail egg, which would you rather eat? Padma and Daisley did get one thing right, however. Danyele and Lizzie’s bacon-wrapped fruit just felt downright lazy to me. These vendors are on their feet all day! Three berries and a slice of bacon do not a breakfast make. Also, I feel compelled to point out CJ and Tyler’s crepe-wrapped salmon. Now, I’m not a fish fan, but that seems more like a light lunch than a breakfast.

Ultimately, the win went to Sheldon and Bart’s breakfast sandwich. “It feels good to get one under the belt,” Sheldon said. Well, what really feels good is knowing you’re safe from elimination. Particularly given the disastrous Elimination Challenge that followed. It was an especially rough one for some chefs — after spending the morning working in pairs, they were forced stick with their partners for Round 2. Lizzie was peeved — she and Danyele hadn’t found their rhythm in the a.m. and she had low hopes for the afternoon. Meanwhile, Eliza just wanted to meet Josie halfway. You know, if you hate each other so much, why didn’t you make better friends with other people in the first place? That way you wouldn’t have to be paired together. Just food for thought.

Following up on the Pike Place Market theme, the Elimination Challenge required the chefs to draw knives emblazoned with a speciality ingredient made by a vendor of PPM. I have to admit, I felt a little uneasy watching them stand around with their faux cleavers. With all the drama queens in this group (cough, Eliza, cough), there’s no telling when one will go psycho. Thankfully, the chefs kept their knives to themselves. Ingredients ranged from pickles to cheese curds (yum), but by far my favorite reaction was when Stefan pulled rose petal jelly. “It’s like rose water. It’s a perfume kind of thing. Women in the 1500s put it on them because they were smelling.” Could you make your eventual meal sound any more appetizing?

NEXT: Let me count the ways to serve a pickle that doesn’t include a burger.

At its heart, the challenge asked the contestants to make a dish that highlighted their chosen ingredient. The teams split up and discussed their plans of action. Some chose to truly make their ingredient the center of their dish, like Lizzie and Danyele, who took coconut curry chocolate and made some sort of chocolate dessert (never mind that they were supposed to be making lunch). Others just used their ingredient as a garnish. CJ and Tyler, a burger with pickles? How inspired! Not. And that was the problem with this challenge as a whole. No one was especially creative. And when the groups did get imaginative, they also got weird. Now I know there’s not a lot you can do with rose petal jelly, but dousing duck and cabbage with it doesn’t seem like the best idea.

Another issue was the fact that no one wanted to speak up for themselves. I get that there’s tension within the groups and no one wants to cause a problem, but come on! Tyler wanted to use the spicy dill pickles to make an oyster dish, which sounds absolutely revolting to me, but at least it’s more creative than his partner CJ’s pork burger. CJ may be a veteran of Top Chef, but that does not make him better than you Tyler. Speak up for yourself! Similarly, John was concerned that Josh wasn’t properly searing the pork, while Josh opposed cutting the pork into medallions in the first place. But neither said anything and then they were later called out on both by the judges. Why didn’t they just talk to each other? Readers, it stresses me out.

The moment of truth came: the judges — Hugh Acheson, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and, of course, Padma — and vendors assembled. Four dishes were brought out first. Brooke and Stefan‘s rose petal jelly-based duck was deemed too sugary, while the duck was labeled “tough.” John and Josh‘s pork medallions and popcorn grits were just as unpopular. “Those grits suck,” Hugh said bluntly. The meat wasn’t a hit either, with judges criticizing both the shape and the cooking. Micah and Kristen‘s cheese curds fared no better, while Bart and Sheldon‘s candied salmon salad was tasty, but lacking in its central ingredient.

The next three dishes did even worse. CJ and Tyler‘s burger was “soggy” and would have worked better as a slider. Its biggest strike was the lack of creativity in using the spicy dill pickles. Eliza and Josie brought out the cardamom bitters’ flavor in their fishy broth, but the dish was thought to be too salty. Tom seemed especially disappointed with Lizzie and Danyele‘s coconut curry chocolate dessert, complaining about its lack of firmness (specifically using the word “squirt” — ew). Ladies and gentleman, challenge failed.

NEXT: Nobody likes a whiner.

The judges were so put off by the seven meals that they decided not to elect a winner. “I don’t have a favorite,” Tom declared. “They’re all so bad.” Instead, they sent a whole team (two people!) home. While they waited for the ultimate decision, the contestants turned to a tried and true cure-all: alcohol. It was during this moment of crisis that Josh delivered perhaps one of the most idiotic phrases I’ve ever heard uttered on TV: “Stefan and I, we click. We’re both a little on the arrogant asshole side, but at the same time we’re both pretty likable.” Name one person who likes you, Josh. Also, likable arrogant a-holes tend to not have a mustache with twirled ends.

Three teams were summoned before the Judges’ Table — Josh and John, CJ and Tyler, and Brooke and Stefan. Of course, the Jo Bros immediately threw each other under the bus. Josh complained about the pork medallions’ shape, John blamed Josh for the undercooked meat, etc., etc. But the problem wasn’t just that the dish was poorly cooked, it’s that the meal looked “like someone who has to feed their family and really hates cooking.” I can guarantee that family probably doesn’t like popcorn grits either.

CJ and Tyler received strong criticism as well, with the judges saying the boys probably should have thought less about what goes well with a pickle and more about what you could make with a pickle. (It didn’t help that the burger sucked.) When CJ tried to deflect the judges’ harsh words by pointing out that Lizzie and Danyele’s dessert was awful as well, Hugh promptly responded: “Your burger was even worse.” Zing. I think CJ’s remark may singlehandedly be responsible for… well, you’ll see, won’t you?

Brooke and Stefan’s meal was overly sweet, but the judges didn’t seem nearly as critical of them as they were of the other two teams. When the time to vote came, Hugh, Tom, and Padma each singled out a different team that they thought had the worst dish. So, the tiebreaker vote came down to Gail, and she chose… (oh, you can guess by now, can’t you?) CJ and Tyler. CJ handled it like a gentleman, complaining about not having been judged fairly. Well, that’s what happens when you don’t keep your mouth shut about other people. Meanwhile, Tyler took it like the pushover he is, saying he was happy to have been on the show this long. I actually did feel bad for him — he just needs more backbone next time!

So, what are your thoughts on “Pike Place Pickle”? Did anyone notice the innuendo (“sausage on a stick”)? Are the judges going hungry from the bad food? Should Josh have been eliminated? Would you eat a quail egg? Should someone be proposed to in a market? These and more are the opinions I want to hear. Let the comments begin!

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