Isaac the bayou chef got the hero edit this episode; the gruff, non-fine-dining chef proved to be a feminist, an ace expeditor, and the anti-bro. He got so much screentime I started worrying that our intrepid banannaise inventor might be getting eliminated at the end of Restaurant Wars.
Oh, did I mention Restaurant Wars? By now everyone’s so self-referential about the Top Chef signature challenge that nothing about it could possibly come as a surprise. But as the chefs filed in, ready to design competing pop-up restaurants — they had even prepared a deeply uncool and unfunny Restaurant Wars song — Padma announced that this was NOT Restaurant Wars, much to Marjorie’s surprise. And then a beat. “JUST KIDDING,” she beamed. Oh, so it IS Restaurant Wars, as everyone knew all along? Oh Padma and the wit she’s famous for!
There would be a twist, however. For this Restaurant Wars, each of the two teams would have to present a lunch AND dinner service, and the chefs would take turns being the front-of-hourse manager and executive in the kitchen. When it comes to picking teams, Isaac is chosen last, but only because Phillip had loudly proclaimed that he would want to be front-of-house, a role most chefs typically try to avoid. The team that got “stuck” with Isaac, which later named itself Palate, was also made up of Marjorie, Chad, and Karen. They seemed to get off to a rocky start as the ladies clashed with Isaac over a supposed lack of refinement. You could tell it was mostly an edit job to create some tension because Isaac later called the women “kickass ladies” who were going to lead the team to victory.
The other team, which came up with the horrible restaurant name District L.A., were definitely the “bro” team, and Jeremy was the biggest offender. They immediately started bickering about shopping for ingredients, and later, Kwame and Phillip clashed over the preparation of Phillip’s dish, which Kwame wanted to take shortcuts to prepare by mixing together in a squeeze bottle. In the shocker of the season, I thoroughly sided with Phillip — Kwame was being lazy with someone else’s dish, and though Phillip could not have been more of a prototypical L.A. d-bag this season, he doesn’t hold a grudge and moves on quickly, even when Kwame’s being rude about his idea to use mason jars to serve.
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Honestly, both Team Palate and Team District L.A. came up with decors so generic they weren’t really worth mentioning. For Team Palate, Marjorie stepped up as the front-of-house manager. She was pretty clever about getting customers to leave their tables — by luring them away with sparkling wine — although she happened to have left the hostess stand by the time the judges showed up. Marjorie’s beet salad was perfectly nice, but it was a beet salad. The judges weren’t bowled over by her daring. But at least it tasted better than Carl’s terrine of pork and bacon, which Tom compared to Spam. Ouch! Karen had the best dish of the lunch service, a steak salad with peanuts, herbs, and shallots, which Padma said she could eat every day for lunch. Isaac may have made a down-home dish with his seafood and tomato stew, but the judges would rather eat that than the salmon or chicken at District L.A.
It appeared that District L.A. clearly came in second when it came to the lunch service. Phillip’s roasted salmon and ratatouille had undercooked vegetables, and none of the judges were blown away by Amar’s chicken sous vide dish. Kwame was an affable front-of-house guy, but he neglected to put out utensils for the judges’ table, which must have been mortifying. The real problem of the group was Jeremy, though. He was definitely the “bro”-iest of the bros and, honestly, a bit of a bully. He was the one who insisted that the team could ignore all of the customers’ orders as long as they got the judges’ food out, which turned out to be a terrible decision. The lunch service looked like doom for the bro team, but we don’t get to know for sure because we left off with a huge cliffhanger before the second part of Restaurant Wars.
“Part 1” didn’t quite feel like Restaurant Wars yet. Sure, there were problems, but there weren’t any real meltdowns or tears yet. Here’s hoping for more in “Part 2”!