Top Chef recap: Hot-Headed Ice Queens
Even though Beverly’s brief re-entry into the competition stirred things up a bit, this season has been hurtling toward this final three for a few episodes now, whether we like it or not. Sarah, having recently knocked Beverly out of the running, decreed that this final three is “how it was supposed to be the whole time.”
The three best friends that anybody could have teleported to Vancouver’s Chinatown, where greasy-sausage-Sarah of course loudly proclaimed herself a fish out of water. All those bottles of Hoisin sauce, sensing an enemy, should have sprung to life and thrown themselves at her.
The chefs met Padma and Emeril in Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie where masters of Asian cuisine Anita Lo, Floyd Cardoz, and Takashi Yagihashi were waiting for them. The chefs were each paired with one of the masters for a tag-team Quickfire Challenge in which the chef and master had to take turns cooking a dish one at a time in 10-minute intervals. The winner stood to win a whopping $20,000. Sarah crossed her fingers for Takashi, who does seem crazy awesome, but Paul drew his name instead. Lindsay drew Anita and Sarah got Floyd. Best name ever for a grown man, not a great name for a baby.
The veterans took to the kitchen first to start the dishes. I’d like to thank Takashi for whipping out the geoduck (gooey duck)! It wouldn’t be Top Chef without these enormously phallic bivalves making at least once appearance. Anita laid ingredients out very clearly for Lindsay to prepare scallops three ways, and Floyd — whose Quickfire record wasn’t great on his season of Top Chef Masters — felt huge pressure competing for someone else. That’s awful nice of you, Floyd, but I wouldn’t be mad if you phoned this one in. Always up for flexing her range as a chef, Sarah hoped to God Floyd didn’t make her do any wok cooking. Sarah admitted to / joked about doing “nothing” in her first 10-minute session and claimed a “zero comfort level” with curry because, you know, curry isn’t mealy risotto.
NEXT: Oof, if Sarah wins the Asian themed challenge, who knows how big her head will get?
Lindsay made scallops only two ways instead of the three ways Anita intended, but that didn’t seem like a significant misstep. Anita was the only master who noted any difference between her vision and the chef’s execution — I wonder if it’s because Lindsay was the only one to miss the mark or if the other masters were just being generous. Lindsay served the scallops with bok choy, chili, and fried roe tossed with dried sausage and water chestnuts. Padma loved the flavors, but Emeril thought the Chinese sauces were a bit overpowering.
After setting up the dish initially, Takashi told Padma and Emeril that geoduck goes well with mushrooms, and Paul immediately went for the mushrooms as if he heard the master. Paul ended up making a geoduck sashimi with yuzu dashi, Japanese cucumber, fried white fish, and Tokyo scallions. Takashi was hoping Paul would let the ingredients shine on their own, which Paul did… until he didn’t. I don’t doubt that Paul is the best chef left in the competition, but he has a bad habit of thinking his dishes aren’t good enough and messing them up by adding a last-minute ingredient. If anything, the habit has only gotten worse as the season has progressed. He added a final dash of chili because he knew Padma likes heat — not a great reason to change up your vision. Padma and Emeril both noted that there was too much spice in the dish. Damn it, Paul!
Picking up on Floyd’s cues, Sarah seared cod with coconut curry and served it with a Dungeness crab salad with clementines and amaranth… and ended up winning the challenge and $20,000! Now, even though it’s no secret that I dislike Sarah as a human, I’ll always give credit where credit’s due. But I legitimately don’t think Sarah deserves that much of the credit here. One of the judges’ favorite elements of the dish was the amaranth, but Sarah didn’t even know there was amaranth in the dish, even after it was completed and being tasted — she had to look to Floyd to confirm that it was in there at all. Floyd noted that Sarah “did exactly what I wanted.” So Floyd was basically Ratatouille perched atop Sarah’s head, yanking at strands of her chopped-up nun hair to get her to do his bidding in the kitchen. Ugh, I’m sure Sarah is soooo satisfied to win this Asian challenge after a season of bitching about the superiority of her sauerkraut and ground meat over Eastern flavors.
NEXT: Set fire to the frozen rain…
Let’s shake that one off and move on. The Elimination Challenge was fairly open-ended: Create a dish and a cocktail for 150 guests of a “Fire and Ice” party; the dish must contain a hot and cold element. I like open-ended challenges like this, but for what seemed like the 20th time this season, the chefs had to mass-produce their dishes instead of putting forth exquisitely composed plates for a small number of judges. Perhaps the producers wanted one more big event before the finale, but these parties really aren’t that interesting, even if ice sculptures and a cluster of local Vancouver chefs are present.
As the chefs scrambled to make enough food for 150 people, I realized: If there’s one thing I kind of admire about Sarah, it’s her abundance of self belief (often to a fault). She accurately pointed out that Paul and Lindsay second-guess themselves all the time. A lot of contestants on Top Chef tend to be really humble and self-effacing, which are usually positive traits in life, but in a competition, too much of it just makes the person come across amateurish (I’m thinking of Dale Levitski — he spent so much of his on-camera time needlessly insulting himself). Paul and Lindsay constantly questioned whether they were being too literal, if they were doing enough, etc., while Sarah was decisive and confident. I still like her least out of the three left in the competition, but this is just me giving credit where credit’s due.
On to the tasting. Paul impressed the judges with his king crab with lobster broth and lemon snow. He paired it with a Pan Am, which included kaffir lime, Thai chilies, and rum. So many chilies — my mouth is watering just thinking about them. Tom loved the flavor of the dish, but he couldn’t get past the arugula that Paul seemed to have added on top as an afterthought. Seriously, Tom really couldn’t get past the arugula garnish. I kind of get Paul, though. When I get a two-pound serving of lasagna on Pasta Bar Thursdays at EW’s cafeteria, I like to throw a leaf or two of arugula on top for my roughage. Nature’s broom. Anyway, Tom proceeded to say that he doesn’t normally like alcohol and food together (What???!!!?? One of the finer things in life) but Paul’s pairing was successful overall. Emeril could really taste the heat, but Padma could have used more. Even after yesterday’s too-spicy Quickfire?
NEXT: Tom and Gail square off over their favorites…
Sarah also pleased the judges with her five greens-filled pasta with garlic, chili, spiced sformato, and bottarga. She was also the most confident mixing up her cocktail, an agrumi, a gin with kumquats and mango. The judges loved her cocktail but Gail wondered whether the drink really went with the dish, and if the mousse was supposed to be as frozen as it was — it wasn’t; Sarah left it on the anti-griddle too long. Could Gail get promoted to head judge, please?
Lindsay added a spoon of tomato ice to her halibut with fiery celery root salad dish at the last minute. Her 11th-hour revisions aren’t always good for her dishes, but in this case, it was a welcome addition. Gail loved the well-seasoned ice. Emeril and Gail both commented on very hot dishes, but Tom didn’t get any fire at all. The judges weren’t too impressed with Lindsay’s encendido cocktail on its own, but they all — minus Tom — thought it at least complemented the food. Tom also found fault with the raw kale in the dish… someone really isn’t liking his greens this week. Kale is a super-food, Tom!
All three chefs marched into the Judges’ Table, where Tom once again got on Paul’s case about that arugula, Gail singled out the still-frozen mousse on Sarah’s dish — really, that seemed like a huge mistake, even if Tom didn’t think so — and Lindsay got some criticism for her cocktail. Gail really seemed to be gunning for Sarah’s elimination — seriously, no one disputed the fact that Sarah’s mousse was frozen solid and shouldn’t have been — but Tom seemed to be gunning for Lindsay, whose dish wasn’t interesting (surprise).
In the end, Tom won. Padma called Sarah’s name first — which almost always means she’d be packing her knives — but instead, she announced Sarah would be moving on. Paul won the challenge, and Lindsay was sent home. Sarah said she and Paul were meant to be the final two all along. Whoa, I thought Lindsay was Sarah’s girl. Sarah, you a cold-hearted woman.
Apropos of nothing, I checked out Sarah’s Twitter feed for the first time. I learned two things: 1) She read last week’s recap… oops! 2) She tweets that she and Beverly are actually good friends, yet she re-tweets any horrible thing her followers tweet about Beverly… and Beverly’s the passive-aggressive one?
Your turn! Will you boycott Top Chef if Paul doesn’t prevail over Sarah? Did Lindsay deserve to go home this week?