Top Chef recap: Interpret This!
The chefs create dishes for four of New York's finest restaurants before a double elimination
Uh oh, you guys. Andy Cohen and Tom Colicchio are chatting with Amy Sedaris in the Bravo Clubhouse right now in a “Craft-tacular Stoners’ Paradise” on Watch What Happens. A pot-smoke graphic is billowing over other memorable Top Chef dishes! They’re talking about “candle salad”! I honestly have NO idea how I will manage to focus on this recap in the warming glow of the gayest, highest thing that ever aired. What? You think I should turn off the TV? That’s preposterous.
This week, we said goodbye to Happy/Blond/Gay Dale and Sommelier Stephen, who might not be able to find a power outlet let alone remember how to use a kitchen appliance … but he could certainly tell you about fashion! Except he’s not even that stylish. He just wears suits. Stephen could tell you all about his suits, and wine, and his spacious downtown Manhattan loft, and how “it was wonderful to put a chef coat back on.” That’s pretty much it.
David Chang (“basically the man,” according to Marcel) lorded over this week’s Quickfire challenge, which involved a mise-en-place relay race and 15 minutes (or less) to cook one dish. The cheftestants had split into four teams, named Green, Blue, White, and Red. Boring! This is Top Chef All-Stars — can we please step it up with some food-based colors? I’m much more likely to remember who made the weaker version of Lamb Carpaccio if something like “TEAM BABY EGGPLANT” is emblazoned over the dish.
Stephen, Tre, Richard, and Spike’s crispy lamb chop with artichoke three ways won the Quickfire without much fanfare. “I did take the lead; it feels really good,” said Richard in a confessional. I bet 5,000 bonus dollars felt even better!
Elimination challenge: Create a dish for one of New York’s finest restaurants: Má Pêche (owned by David Chang), wd~50 (Wylie Dufresne), Marea (Michael White), or Townhouse (David Burke). Casey proved she would make a horrible psychic with her prediction that “In our group, [Happy] Dale has the best chance to win because his style is American just like David Burke’s.” How could she have known that Happy Dale would attempt a baseball game breakfast topped with Random Veal?
NEXT: Sommelier Stephen, children’s book author?!
The groups feasted at their host restaurants to research for the challenge and generally hate on each other. At Má Pêche, Tiffany found Angelo annoying because he “talks too much.” As of yet, she seems to have no problem with his tight pants (like Fabio). Over at Marea, which specializes in coastal Italian cuisine, Tre took offense to Stephen, who bragged that he “eats at Marea quite often.” “I’m not gonna be educated by Stephen,” claimed Tre with tremendous disdain. “I have my own palate.”
Stephen was so weird here, and in general. I can’t even deal with the following pungent gulps of Stephen’s word soup: “Marea is fine dining, suit and tie, something that I’m all about. Fashion has become like a major obsession of mine. Could be worse — could be cocaine, or heroin, so…”
I mean, I can forgive his attempt at humor with the awkward drug references, because we’ve all been there. But seriously, with those first two sentences? It’s like he has zero concept of the purpose of restaurants! If Stephen wrote a series of children’s books about restaurants, there probably wouldn’t even be food involved. It would just be a wide-eyed kid describing everyone’s outfits and criticizing how his mother’s gold jewelry clashed with the silverware. And instead of placing orders or eating, the characters would just daydream about which ties they could wear with which jackets the next time they went out to the large room with all the laminated word lists and tables. Actually I think this might be a horror series. Too bad Kitchen Nightmares is already taken.
Anthony Bourdain (yes!) and Kate Krader from Food & Wine magazine were the week’s guest judges, and the restaurant-hopping adventure offered us glimpses of New York City travel that were at times hilarious (Bourdain looking like a really uncomfortable giant in the backseat) and awe-inspiring (Padma in her wispy dress hailing a taxi like a f—ing goddess). At Marea, Michael White and the judges liked Tre’s swordfish, Spike’s seared branzino, and Richard’s crudo, but found Stephen’s salmon with black mission figs, broccoli rapini, and fennel pollen too aggressive. Specifically, “It tastes like a head shop,” said Bourdain. He would know!
Fabio had trouble accepting the idea that he should even have attempted to embrace the French-Vietnamese menu at Má Pêche. “It’s like, to us, an Asian grandma trying to make Osso Buco and please me.” I love how in Fabio’s mind there was suddenly an old Asian woman shooing him out of his own rustic Italian kitchen and, effectively, the icky French-Vietnamese one as well. All he had to do was try! But his unsolvable jigsaw puzzle of a dish just had too many components. Okay, who wants to feel queasy? Imagine eating a bite of all these flavors in succession: roasted lamb, hoisin plum barbeque sauce, corn tomato salad, lemongrass chevre ricotta. Now imagine them in the SAME bite. Agghhh! I think the lemongrass threw me off the most. At the same time, I’d be willing to write that Fabio’s dish looked the most appetizing if it meant that a giant slab of his homemade ricotta would magically appear in my fridge.
NEXT: Something called “scallibut” goes over surprisingly well
Bourdain called Fabio “a really talented cook who got hopelessly lost in the forest,” and the judges agreed that Tiffany’s crudo of summer flounder was too common. But they loved Angelo’s “ballsy” marinated fish with smoked chorizo and white chocolate, and thought Mike’s salmon and eggplant dish was solid. David Chang summed up the chefs’ offerings: “Nothing I would be embarrassed about.” Hey, high praise!
At Townhouse, home of avant-garde chef David Burke, Antonia’s peas-and-carrots idea worked out so well Burke said he’d consider serving it, while Jamie’s tomato and bacon soup (surprise! Jamie made soup) was just average. “Could have been more ‘wow’ factor for my style,” said Burke. I had low expectations for the judges’ reception of Casey’s “halibut scallop,” or what Kate Krader called “scallibut,” if only because the word combination and the way “scallop” appeared in quotes reminded me of mildly creepy WHAT IS IT? foods such as tofurkey or imitation crab. But they loved it! Unfortunately, Happy Dale’s crazy breakfast was a disaster. I have to include this description too because it’s just wild. “Roasted veal loin, peanuts, popcorn, French toast, corn, and thyme caramel.” Good God! This is total stoner food (give or take the thyme).
Marcel did his own little segment about “having beef” with Wylie because one of Wylie’s sous chefs had accused him of culinary plagiarism. “Here I am having to create a dish in their style,” he said. “I mean, it’s too much. You can’t even write this sort of stuff.” But honey … I think Top Chef just did!
At wd~50, Angry Dale (who was not angry at all this week, which is just as well because now we’ll get to call him simply “Dale”) offered his version of breakfast with a sunny-side-up egg dumpling that delighted Wylie Dufresne. You could almost see the new crop of egg-based fantasies whirling in his oddball brain. I loved how he arrived at “buttered toast” after letting the flavors settle. Very cute. Marcel’s Vadouvan lamb, inspired by Wylie’s aerated foie gras, went over okay — at least the judges appreciated his attempted use of “the equipment back there.” Well-played, sir. Carla’s poached shrimp was “nice,” but a little safe. Redhead Tiffani’s “broken summer heirloom melons” were “the intruder of the party,” according to Bourdain. Said Dufresne (ooh, they rhyme), “It felt just a little murky.”
NEXT: Bourdain calls Dufresne an “Egg Slut”
Back at the Wine Cellar of Doom, Stephen poured wine. Of course he did! He was doomed. Angry Dale, Angelo, Tre, and Antonia were called in as the top four, then Dale and his beige baseball cap won a six-night trip to New Zealand. (Take that, Oprah.) “Were you aware that Wylie Dufresne is a notorious Egg Slut?” Bourdain asked Dale. Oh, you bet he was. (Egg Slut!!!)
Bottom four: Stephen, Tiffani, Fabio, Happy Dale. Tom used the word texturally twice, prompting me to love him twice as hard as I already did. In the end, Stephen’s “unpleasant to eat” salmon was a no-brainer for elimination — not to mention Stephen’s repeated insistence that he was an “expert” on Italian food. “I have great knowledge of Led Zeppelin,” said Tom the dirty hippie. “Doesn’t make me Jimmy Page.” Aw, don’t sell yourself short, Tom!
Tom’s metaphor for Happy Dale wasn’t quite as well-thought-out, but I guess neither was H.D.’s breakfast dish with veal on it, so that makes sense. “If your inspiration was the circus, we ended up with caramel popcorn and not much of a surprise.” At least Happy Dale, happy ’til the end, was able to joke about the situation right away (or whenever they taped that interview): “Maybe I’ll come back for Top Chef 16: Seniors.” He will apparently age at a more rapid pace following elimination. See you in 2018, old man!
“Food with jazz hands” forever!
Discuss last night’s show below, and don’t miss this week’s installment from our guest blogger Padma Lakshmi, who lets us know just how god-awful Stephen’s salmon fondito really was. “It was the most revolting thing,” she says. “It tasted like soap.” [PopWatch]
Any nominations for ‘Top Chef’ Hidden Truffle of the Week? Leave ’em in the comments!
Update: Your Hidden Truffles of Week 3 are now liiiiiive on PopWatch. Way to dig deep, you filty pigs.
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