Top Chef recap: Drama Clogs the Arteries
A retrospective challenge brought up ten seasons' worth of drama. Plus, knives!
We still haven’t gotten the stink of last week’s bizarre shouting match between Micah and insufferable Josie out of our noses. This week, the drama didn’t quite eclipse the food or the challenges, which were pretty delightful, but it was fitting that the episode began with a Quickfire Challenge that had the chef-testants literally sharpening their knives. (Was that too subtle?)
An unassuming silver-haired man who looked like an architect walked into the Top Chef Kitchen. Despite his average dad-like appearance, I found myself immediately intrigued by him — and it was soon clear why: He’s Bob Kramer, one of the country’s 120 master bladesmiths, which is perhaps the sexiest profession one can have. His custom knives sell for $500 … per inch. Even Padma caught a whiff of Bob’s undeniable sexual magnetism, purring, “Bob, why don’t you show us how sharp your knives are?” Bob demonstrated his knives’ cutting prowess, hacking a thick rope with one commanding stroke. “Can I hug you right now?” Sheldon panted. I get it, too — I’m fanning myself as we speak.
Once they stopped drooling over the prospect of winning a $4000 knife, the chefs broke into teams of three for a three-round blade-work challenge. For the first round, they had to whet their blades to a sharp enough point to easily cut through paper. You might think cutting paper with a knife is easy, but the edge needs to be wicked sharp for that to happen, which John was too arrogant to understand. He rushed his teammates Josie and Kristen. Kristen wasn’t ready, but she’s so inherently awesome that her knife cut through the paper like butter. John’s edge broke the paper’s fibers but not smoothly enough for Bob’s liking — don’t you dare question the Master Bladesmith! — but luckily for John, Brooke sucked at sharpening even more, eliminating the Green Team.
NEXT: Purging bad memories, one Healthy Choice meal at a time
Round two had the chefs Tourne-ing 50 potatoes, which meant carving them into seven-sided football-like shapes. Once again, John approached the task with utter confidence, only this time, it was warranted. But teammate Josie nicked herself with her knife. While she was bleeding, no one offered so much as an “Are you okay?” because her injury eliminated her from the challenge, and Kristen and John had to go on without her. Despite the disadvantage, Kristen and John lost by only two potatoes. Good thing Italian Carla wasn’t here for this challenge — we’d need a medic who knows how to re-attach limbs. That lady could cut herself on a slice of cheese.
In the final round, the remaining competitors had to french rabbit meat. Now, that doesn’t mean kissing it with copious tongue action, but rather trimming the meat from its fine bones. Josh joked that it was the same as cutting up a cat — do you know what the first sign of psychopathy is? — but he didn’t quite have the blade dexterity to finish the task. Micah won handily, receiving the ridiculously expensive knife. Time to eBay that baby! Now excuse me while I look for YouTube videos of Bob Kramer julienning carrots.
The retrospective Elimination Challenge was pretty cool. The remaining contestants had to create a healthy version of a dish associated with a dramatic or otherwise memorable moment from each of the previous Top Chef seasons. The winning dish would inspire a Healthy Choice meal sold in stores and garner a $15,000 cash prize for the chef. “Fif. Teen. Thousand. Dollars,” said Sheldon. Sheldon is this season’s resident Repeater of Information — there’s one every year. His job is to repeat exciting pieces of information we’ve already been told without adding any additional commentary. I’m not complaining. In fact, I like it.
Run the clip show! The memorable moment I was most pleased to be reminded of was Carla Hall from All-Stars winning the chicken pot pie challenge and getting to demonstrate it on Jimmy Fallon. I could have lived without ever seeing Howie Kleinberg again, though.
A crack panel of judges showed up to preside over this special challenge: Chris Cosentino of Incanto, Wylie Dufresne of WD-50, Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto — plus, Wolfgang Puck made a much-needed return!
NEXT: John was a character in Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential. Everyone take notice!
Josie started things off with a dish most famous for being associated with the Season One line, “I’m not your bitch, bitch!” While Dave Martin’s one-liner was spicy and full of zest, Josie’s herb-roasted chicken was very … beige. Jonathan Waxman, who knows his chicken, thought it was “too standard” and unexciting.
I think Stefan dodged a bullet with his grilled cheese sandwich and roasted pepper soup. While his soup and sandwich probably tasted good, he seemed to ignore the primary directive of making it healthy. That bread, spelt or not, was visibly glistening with butter and fat.
Sheldon‘s Season Four-inspired beef carpaccio mostly elicited a “meh” reaction from the judges, who had issues with the appearance of the dish and flavor-less tofu.
The duck breast and miso polenta that Micah made sounded delicious, but the on-site judges complained that miso and polenta are never a good mix. I’ll take their word for it.
Those were all the middle-of-the-road dishes; now for the best ones. After being told not to call himself a pork expert by Padma, Josh tackled the pig once again, this time to positive reviews. His soy-glazed tenderloin with smoked cashew puree was tender, moist, and combined different flavors well. Brooke brought back one of the great unsolved mysteries of Top Chef with the pea puree, which went missing back in Season Seven. This time, the puree was found right on the plate, and everyone loved its dairy- and butter-free goodness. But the win, once again, went to Kristen, who’s quickly become the front-runner of the season — seriously, there’s something about her. Maybe it’s the perfect boy-cut but she just projects a sense of ease and infallibility. (Seriously, everyone should get a pixie cut. It instantly improved the lives of Anne Hathaway, Halle Berry, Emma Watson, and Justin Bieber). Stefan better watch himself — Kristen’s dangerous. Her Carla-inspired healthy pot pie dish garnered fan-boyish raves from the judges.
NEXT: The virtue of not stealing pickles
There were only two rather than three chefs left in the bottom of the pickle barrel this time around, and that was for a reason — John and Lizzie, who had the worst dishes, would be facing each other in one last cook-off inspired by a memorable moment from this season: CJ’s disastrous burger from the pickle challenge. Not surprisingly, John was an incredibly bad sport about having to participate in this bonus challenge. He’d fallen victim to the Top Chef Risotto Curse. He couldn’t find a flat pan, as he explained it, so his risotto turned up unevenly cooked — a lame excuse, for sure. John was completely full of it, but Josh could have just let him hang himself on his own rope. Instead, Josh couldn’t resist an opportunity to be a petty b-hole by undermining John’s flat pan theory in front of the judges. Unnecessary.
Lizzie landed in the bottom by cooking rancid scallops instead of just throwing them out, but she was determined to erase the terrible taste in the judges’ mouths with a biteful of ground meat. John played a few dirty moves on Lizzie by hogging all the dill and opening the oven door while her stuff was cooking. But seriously, John was way too proud of himself for not being a total a-hole. He didn’t steal the entire container of pickles, the ingredient upon which the entire challenge hinged, and he didn’t want America to forget his benevolent, Mother Teresa-like act of not cheating. When the judges pretty much unanimously voted for Lizzie’s chicken burger with goat cheese and ricotta over John’s dried-out Mediterranean lamb burger, John didn’t accept that Lizzie made the better dish. He just reminded us that he didn’t steal all the pickles, and for that, he expected to be knighted and sanctified. Congrats, John. You only sabotaged Lizzie a little bit.
So John exited this part of the competition shamed in front of his buddy Anthony Bourdain. As nice as it was to see John humbled, Josh was, as usual, absolutely relentless in his dickishness. Once again he had to harp on the whole flat pan thing after John’s elimination. Seriously, Josh, stop with the fight-picking and mustache-twirling. Whatever image of yourself you’re trying to put forth, it’s not a good look.
Was John’s elimination justified, or did Lizzie deserve to go for her rotten scallops? Will Kristen go all the way? Should Bob Kramer the Master Bladesmith become an internet meme? Where does Josh rank in the list of all-time Top Chef jerks? Do you want to see John go all the way in Last Chance Kitchen? Let me know below and on @EWStephanLee on Twitter!