A viral sensation teaches the chefs a thing or two about good holiday food. Plus: Anna Faris and Chris Pratt!
Anna Faris and Chris Pratt should have been the highlight of this episode, but for me it was Marilyn Hagerty, the scribe behind the infamous Olive Garden review that went viral earlier this year. Have you ever seen a more earnest judge for the Quickfire Challenge? I’ll answer for you: no, no you have not. Someone start a petition: Ms. Hagerty needs to be a permanent fixture on this show, stat.
After last week’s atrocious performance, the chefs sat around thanking their lucky stars the Foodie Gods had spared them. “Stefan and I dodged a bullet,” Brooke confessed. But if anything, it was Josh and John who were fortunate. “It’s a relief not to be sent home for that absolutely horrific pork dish,” Super Mario said. You’d think he’d learn to, oh I don’t know, maybe avoid pork? But of course Josh’s signature dish featured prominently this episode. (Try another meat, Josh!)
The contestants were ushered into the kitchen for the Quickfire Challenge. There, they were greeted by Padma and a lady who looked like “Martha Stewart’s mother,” (really?) according to John. Bite your tongue, John! It was none other than my beloved Marilyn. “Somebody told me I had become viral,” she said while introducing herself to the chefs. “I didn’t even know what that meant.” Even better: “It’s just been a hoot, the whole thing.” Marilyn, you had me at hoot. She revealed that she was a big fan of Aebleskiver (“A lot of people say Apple Skiver. That bugs me. It’s Aebleskiver.”) and challenged the contestants to “create a sweet and savory holiday dish with Truvia.” The catch? The kitchen only held one knife. Readers, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve witnessed master chefs try to slice food with a cheese grater. Or a pizza cutter. Or a spatula. I’m surprised the meals they delivered didn’t taste like blood.
In addition to fighting over the one knife, the chefs also had to incorporate a little bit of their personal history into the meal. For example, Danyele’s mother always used leftover Christmas ham to make a bread pudding, so that’s what she did. Sounds revolting to me, but whatever floats your boat. Micah and Josie went for tamales (which infuriated Micah to no end), while Stefan turned to his Jewish twice ex-wife’s grandmother for inspiration. Yes, you read that right. He married and divorced the same woman twice. “That doesn’t show a lot of imagination,” remarked Marilyn. I think I love her. Bart made chicken and waffles (?), prompting Josh to show some ‘tude. “You guys make waffles in Belgium? I didn’t know that.” Focus on your johnnycakes, Josh boy. Sheldon made a bizarre peanut butter, pineapple, and coconut thing, which Marilyn labeled “rather unusual.” Not exactly words that inspire confidence.
NEXT: Marilyn can’t tell a taco from a tamale and I love her for it.
Speaking of words that inspire confidence, Brooke — being “as American as it comes” — went with a simple cheddar cheese apple pie that Padma dubbed “homey.” “It never feels like a compliment when you’re in a room full of chefs and you’ve made the ‘homey’ dish,” Brooke said. Whatever. In the real world, people will order apple pie over chicken and waffles any day. Own it, Brooke! Micah and Josie’s tamales earned a “I like the plantain” and “It’s a nice combination of tastes” respectively, while Lizzie’s South African dish was mostly overlooked. Marilyn gabbed with John about serving children port wine, but didn’t offer a lot of commentary on his dish. Finally, the “pleasantly chunky” (or so her mother used to describe her — that explains a lot) Eliza received a bit of a backhanded compliment. “It’s a very mild sweetness, but I think it tastes good.” Sure it tastes good, but it doesn’t exactly meet the point of the challenge, does it Marilyn?
The chefs convened for Marilyn’s ultimate decision. “It was an amazing display of creativity,” she said. “They put me in the mood for the holidays.” So which ones missed the mark? “Bart, with too many different things going on.” Oooh, Bart pulled quite the face there, but it was Micah who was truly offended. “I think Micah’s was very inventive, but just a touch on the dry side, the taco,” Marilyn admitted. “She called my tamale a taco,” Micah responded, shaking his head. The favorites went to Josh (whose mustache was drooping from the humidity of the kitchen by this point), Stefan, and “as American as it comes” Brooke. “The best overall taste was a dish that gave you a feeling of going home for the holidays,” Marilyn said before announcing Brooke as the winner! Look, Brooke certainly seemed terrified of presenting her “safe” apple pie, but when you think about it, it’s actually a very smart decision. Your judge is a fan of the Olive Garden, for Pete’s sake! You don’t want to serve her food she can’t pronounce (cough, Micah, cough).
Now that Brooke had been awarded immunity, it was time to move on to the Elimination Challenge, where the chefs would be cooking for “a local family throwing a welcome home party.” And this local family turned out to be… Anna Faris and Chris Pratt! “We are just thrilled to be standing in the Top Chef kitchen,” the pregnant House Bunny star gushed. Stefan was thrilled because he had a two-degree connection to the actress. “Anna and I have one thing in common: we both were on Entourage.” But if he was hoping for a home team advantage, he was disappointed. “I’m pregnant so I’m enjoying eating more than ever,” Anna explained before Chris interrupted, “Did you just say you’re pregnant?” The chefs didn’t really laugh, but I did. Chris Pratt, you are appreciated.
Basically, the challenge was to cater the Faris-Pratts’ coming home party. The prize? A Toyota Prius C. The contestants were given five minutes to talk to Anna and Chris and get a sense of what they like. Did you know Chris Pratt was a big game hunter? I don’t know how I feel about this revelation. Apparently it’s a big pastime for Chris and Anna’s brother. “Whatever they kill they must eat,” Anna said, a bit of a grimace on her face. “Sometimes that involves some pretty scary food items for us.” You guys, I want to subscribe her to a lifetime supply of filets and save her from Pacific Northwest squirrel. Anyone second this? We can take up a collection. The gang headed out to check out the Prius, which oh-so-very fortunately went with Josh’s mustache! It must be fate.
NEXT: Plants are soooo overrated.
The chefs got to cooking for the big dinner party. Meals ranged from a tasting looking tortelloni to some suspect elk. Stefan threw in a good joke to keep the contestants on their feet, telling them they only had 12 minutes left when in reality it was three hours. Again, I laughed, but no one else did. The best part by far was when John got bitten by what looked like the Facehugger from Alien. Fight back, seafood! Win your freedom.
With 30 minutes to go, the chefs packed up and headed for Chihuly Garden and Glass, an awesome blown glass garden located in Queen Anne, Seattle. While the contestants made their final preparations, we were treated to the Faris and Pratt families mingling amongst the glass sculptures. “I almost broke one,” Chris’ mom confessed laughingly. “I touched it.” But as he told Anna later, he would have paid for it. Awww. Best son ever. In the kitchen, Danyele was lamenting the fact that her chops tasted like shoes, which is not the best of flavors, while John fretted about coming face-to-face with the guest judge and his former boss Rick Moonen, who was sure to tell the “blunt, hard truth” about his Facehugger chowda.
The chefs set up at individual stations and off the judges — Padma, Tom, Gail, Rick — went. First up: Brooke‘s lamb-stuffed squid, which Chris praised for incorporating every flavor. Another guest described it as “one of the best things I’ve ever had in my life.” Doesn’t sound good to me, but everyone seemed pretty pleased by it. Sheldon‘s pork was also a hit, with Anna gushing over “the sweetness of the pork belly and the savoriness of the sushi rice.” But it was Stefan‘s goulash that earned the pregnant lady stamp of approval. “I feel like Stefan’s goulash is what a pregnant woman craves,” Anna exclaimed between bites.
Kristen was living in oxymoron central. “I’m feeling really good about my dish, but there are always doubts for me,” she said of her tortelloni dish. She needn’t have worried. “I think it’s the perfect bite,” Rick announced. “I couldn’t wait to go back for another one.” Micah‘s braised pork ribs with celery puree were another story. “Too much cream,” Tom declared. “Some of the components didn’t quite add,” Rick said. Gail wanted Lizzie‘s crusted wild salmon to be more seared, with some sort of caramelization. “I do wish it was seasoned a little bit more,” Anna added. Eliza‘s elk rib-eye didn’t fare much better. “The meat’s not bad,” said Tom. “I just find the rest of this really bland.” In comparison, Bart‘s elk was “beautifully done.”
The judges stopped by Danyele‘s table, where she confessed “I’m nervous like always.” This is one of my own shortcomings — I tend to admit when I’m scared — but if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that you can’t let them see you bleed. And that’s what Danyele did. She opened her boar up to a world of criticism, the most notable of which was “the boar is boring.” Josh served a giant slab of pork that led Gail to declare, “It’s insane what Josh put on these plates in front of us.” Reason number 568 Josh needs to stop making pork dishes. Josie once again copied Micah with a braised pork ribs dish. “I think Josie’s dish really sounded great, but there wasn’t enough contrast,” Rick said. On the other hand, John‘s chowda earned nothing but praise. “John’s chowder really is everything I crave when I’m not in Seattle,” Anna said. “It’s a hug from the ocean,” Rick declared, enacting the aforementioned hug.
NEXT: Chris Pratt has a more questionable taste in food than I initially suspected.
Before we move on to the Judges’ Table, can we just take a second to discuss the fact that Chris Pratt has consumed raw squirrel heart? This is a beloved television actor — what in the world drove him to eat such a thing? I just can’t… Anyways, John, Kristen, Brooke, and Sheldon were summoned to the table, where they were told that… they had served the best dishes! Tom told Brooke to start taking more chances. “If this is the way you cook, I guarantee you no one’s going to yell at you.” Rick praised his prodigy John, calling his chowder “celebratory soul food.” However, the victory (and the Toyota Prius C) ultimately went to… Brooke. That’s right, we have a sweep! “The winner showed a little bit more creativity,” said Tom. “We all unanimously agreed that the winner of this challenge was Brooke.” They tossed her the car keys and she was on her way.
The four losers beckoned before the judges were Eliza, Danyele, Josh, and Micah. “There were a lot of good dishes tonight and I don’t think your dishes were bad dishes,” Tom lamented. Phew. After last week, it’s good to know these people can actually cook. Micah’s celery-based dish was labeled “grainy,” while Danyele was chided for letting fear hold her back. Eliza’s elk needed seasoning (side note: didn’t it seem as though a lot of meals needed seasoning this episode?), but the gem of the night was Padma’s remark to Josh when he said that he needed to stop making his renowned pork dishes. “No, just stop saying it,” she shot back. Catty. I like.
There can only be one eliminee, however, (at least for this week) and this episode’s was… Eliza! Did that surprise you? It surprised me. After Micah boldly declared, “there’s no way that I’m going to go home today” I was sure it would be him. And I wouldn’t have said no to Josh either. He keeps bottoming out. The man should be eliminated on the basis of cumulative failures alone. But Eliza eased my outrage with her parting words o’ wisdom: “You don’t challenge yourself, you’re not going to experience anything in this life. It’s a short one, get out there and get all you can.” Word, man. Word.
What did you think of this week’s ep, readers? Did the right person go home? Have you eaten raw squirrel heart? Should we make Marilyn a permanent addition to the show? Should she get her own show? Let me know your thoughts!