Danny Meyer visits as the chefs get ready for Restaurant Wars

By Stephan Lee
January 10, 2013 at 07:01 AM EST
David Moir/Bravo
S10 E10
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Breaking Top Chef news: Josh was not particularly upset about John’s elimination last week; Stefan finds Josie’s voice annoying.

With that out of the way, we began one of the most entertaining Top Chef episodes in recent memory. Things started off on a bright note with Wolfgang Puck on hand to judge the Quickfire Challenge, which was devoted to one of his favorite ingredients: ginger. Like one of the owners of Bubba Gump Ginger, he listed several of ginger’s virtues and ended with a simple, “I love ginger.” Plus, the fragrant spice provided Bravo with an opportunity to plug not only Wolfgang’s restaurant Chinois but also Canada Dry ginger ale.

The chefs only had 15 minutes to make Padma and Wolfgang’s tastebuds happy, but Sheldon didn’t think big enough. Given the absurdly short amount of time, he thought stir-fry was mostly a shortcut. The wok-fried skirt steak with ginger and oranges had good flavor, but it looked like something I’d order from Seamless and eat in bed while watching TV, which everyone knows is the best way to enjoy dinner. Josh’s white chocolate and ginger soup with fresh peaches and tarragon was too tentative with the ginger for the judges’ liking. “What’s the opposite of overwhelming?” Wolfgang asked. “Underwhelming?” said Josh. “Exactly.” Ooh, looks like Josh was the one to get an English lesson.

Has anyone noticed that there have been an abundance of fruit soups this season? Lizzie’s watermelon and ginger concoction impressed Wolfgang, as did Stefan’s ahi tuna with a vinaigrette of ginger and lemongrass, although he seemed even more pleased with Stefan’s German language skills. But the win went to Brooke, who spent her 17th birthday at Wolfgang’s restaurant Spago (that’s a sophisticated 17-year-old). Wolfgang said that her inventive ginger-caramel squid with fresh lime and chili powder was good enough to put on the menu at Chinois.

And once again, it’s time for Restaurant Wars … almost. The Elimination Challenge served as sort of a transition into next week’s Wars. Each chef-testant had to come up with a complete restaurant concept and present a dish that embodies the proposed restaurant at Bite of Seattle, a big food convention. The two winners would each receive $10,000, and they’d get to decide the menu and direction for Restaurant Wars. Guest judge and restaurateur Danny Meyer — a huge figure in the food world — would be tasting their dishes. He advised the chefs to cook from the heart because “you can’t fake soul.”

NEXT: More on Tom Colicchio’s hair

Before getting into the challenge, though, cue the record scratch. Photos of Tom Colicchio with hair are few and far between, but we were treated to a new one I haven’t seen before, taken around the time Danny Meyer met him for the first time at a restaurant showcase. Quick poll: Which do you prefer, chrome dome Tom or mop top Tom? Both have their charms.

I loved the idea for Brooke‘s Unkosher restaurant, which would combine Jewish foods that normally aren’t meant to go together, like Challah bread and bacon. How deliciously sacrilegious. Gail called Brooke’s matzo ball “offensive to [her] people” — ouch — and both Tom and Danny wished she’d pushed her concept further by making the ball out of rye. Stefan‘s German-Thai restaurant, Bangkok via Munich, excited Tom in theory but in execution it fell a little flat. His Thai lobster bisque with shrimp, dumplings, potatoes, and radishes tasted good, but where was the German part? Potatoes alone do not a German dish make. (That sentence gives me a headache). After the soup Stefan served the same mango ice cream lollipop that he did in the season five finale — that Padma forgets nothing — which Danny said was so ordinary it detracted from the soup.

Josh started the top group off. He dedicated his restaurant, Bistro George, to his recently deceased father. He went for simplicity and no fuss. His seared eye of rib eye with cauliflower puree and mushrooms with red wine sauce went over well, but it wasn’t quite enough to make him one of the two winners this week.

Sheldon also dedicated his restaurant to a family member: Urbano, his grandfather. He took an untraditional take on a traditional Filipino dish: sour tamarind soup with pork belly, shrimp, and lobster (I don’t know what sour tamarind tastes like, but this sounds incredible). Padma, who knew all about sour tamarind soup, noted that it’s not typically a pretty dish, but Sheldon managed to make it both authentic and elegant. $10,000 for Sheldon, who turned 30 that day.

At this point, Kristen has won enough money in the competition to not only fund her dream trip to Korea, but to fly there first class and put a down payment on a loft in Gangnam. She co-won this challenge by being a fancy pants — her proposed French restaurant Atelier Kwan would require formal wear, which impressed the judges, who’ve had maybe a little too much down-home, casual food lately. Her Onsen egg (barely set white, creamier yolk) with camambert-mustard sauce and buttered radishes was a huge hit, as is often the case with Kristen.

Then came my favorite part of the episode. Without knowing who would be eliminated, Kristen and Sheldon had to pick their Restaurant War teams, which would guarantee that one of them would be one man short. Stefan thought he’d be on Kristen’s team for sure, but she picked Brooke first. Ouch, Stefan! You’ve just been Friend-Zoned. Sheldon took Josh — which Kristen might have been relieved about — and then she once again passed Stefan over, choosing Lizzie instead. Kristen seemed disappointed that Sheldon took Stefan next. Of the remaining two chefs, it might have seemed wiser to take Micah, but maybe Kristen predicted that Micah had a good chance of going home when she picked Josie.

NEXT: Never fun being the last one picked

It was interesting that Kristen didn’t choose Stefan. Perhaps she just really wanted Brooke, or maybe it’s strategic — maybe she thought Stefan would still want her to win, even if he was on the opposing team.

Lizzie found herself on the bottom for the second week in a row. She had strong ambitions with her mustard green canederli finished with fonduta and crispy speck — a dish inspired by a very specific region of Italy — but there were some execution problems. Tom thought the flavor was great but overall it was too heavy, and Gail thought parts of it looked like slices of American cheese.

Once again, Josie put on a show while serving the guests; this time, she did it because the food wasn’t quite ready for the judges, and Tom gets cranky when he’s hungry. Unfortunately, her roast pork on black bean cake wasn’t worth the wait. Gail said the pork was not only completely dry but also flavorless.

Micah‘s first misstep came when he seemed to ignore Danny’s advice about cooking from the soul. He named his restaurant Raw — which was also the name of the fictional restaurant at which Samantha met Smith Jerrod on Sex and the City — because raw foods had helped him lose 25 pounds in the past. I’d think that the foods that made him gain those 25 pounds in the first place would be closer to his soul, but Micah was being a little more strategic, knowing that there are a lot of image-conscious ladies in southern California who’d go for raw and healthy. If he were trying to impress the judges with raw food, he should have created a dish that wasn’t usually served raw, or in some other way inspired. But as Danny noted, raw fish — sashimi, really — was about as obvious as it gets, and for that Micah got sent to Last Chance Kitchen.

Micah absolutely messed up this week, but he has a lot of talent — it’s a bit disappointing to see him go. It seemed to me that the judges would have been totally justified sending Josie packing instead, but Micah’s concept and execution were all wrong. It’ll be interesting to see how this girls vs. boys Restaurant War turns out. Urbano vs. Atelier Kwan!

Was it Micah’s time to go? Whose restaurant would you go to? Follow me @EWStephanLee.

Tom, Padma, and Gail tell the cheftestants to pack their knives and go.
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