Top Chef recap: the Hunger Blame Games
Restaurant Wars pit men against women -- and women against women. Sarah becomes even more insufferable.
Whenever I witness a “battle of the sexes” competition like last night’s Restaurant Wars, I pretty much always root for the women — but given the characters remaining this season, I was conflicted. I’m a fan of all the guys left, but my favorites and my least favorites were all on the women’s team. I decided to root for the men and hope that the judges eliminated either Sarah or Lindsay from the ladies’ team. That ideal situation almost came about, but more on that later.
As soon as Padma announced that this year’s Restaurant Wars would be split along gender lines, I predicted a decisive loss for the women based on previous tensions. Ed was also confident, bluntly claiming that the male chefs were more talented. About Sarah in particular he said, “She knows great flavor but we all know her weakness is barbecuing in the sun.” He clearly meant that comment in a snide way but with his deadpan delivery, it was almost hard to tell. I’m slowly starting to appreciate Ed’s dry bitchiness… I guess because it’s directed at such a deserving person.
In certain seasons past, Restaurant Wars came together in spectacular fashion, but there wasn’t much cohesion in either team’s efforts this year. Of course it’s a pretty staggering challenge to create a three-course meal with two choices in each course for 100 diners. Each team had $7,500 to spend at Sur la Table (Yuppie Cookware Central, as seen in every issue of Details magazine) and Garden Ridge to design their restaurant and cook all their food in just five hours. I expect to see tears (from Sarah) and blood (from Ed’s finger)! But I hope I don’t see Paul “sweating balls.”
The guys chose Ed for the always dreaded front-of-house role, and the girls chose Lindsay because she supposedly stays calm under pressure. Really? I seem to remember she unnecessarily rushed service in the Cattle Baron challenge, causing the steaks to be flashed too early. But she’ll have us know that was prom queen in high school and made good grades in college, so she’ll be perfect, right?
NEXT: The ladies pile up on Beverly once again. Weren’t we past this?Immediately the ladies launched in on each other, thanks to Sarah and her absolutely infuriating eye-rolls and bitchy tone and cartoon-rabbit face. Of course Sarah and Lindsay tore Beverly down any chance they could get. They basically prodded Beverly into coming up with ideas just so they could tear them down. It was completely obvious that they were trying to build a case against Beverly in case they lost the challenge. Beverly brought up the word “elegant,” and of course, Sarah thought that was the exact wrong word. The word she was looking for was “rustic,” Heather’s favorite word. Rustic, okay? Asian food, bad. Heavy breaded foods and greasy sausage, yummy.
Sarah was having a ton of fun contradicting Beverly on every single issue. At one point, Beverly said in a confessional interview that the women were trying to make the décor of their restaurant “warm, inviting, and tranquil.” I almost expected Sarah to pop up onscreen and say, “NO, WE WANT IT COLD, UNWELCOMING, AND RAUCOUS!”
When Beverly pitched doing lamb ribs, Sarah said lamb ribs don’t exist, basically. It was a completely BS argument, whatever it was. When Beverly suggested a beet dish, Sarah and her unclassifiable haircut (see photo) said there were too many beet dishes out there already, and how dare she bring another one into the world. “Beets, beets, beets!” You know, just speaking as an enthusiastic restaurant-goer, I’d guess that there are, like, a billion brussels sprouts being served in New York City as I write this, but that doesn’t stop Sarah from serving up an endless supply. Out of other ideas, Beverly finally brought up doing short ribs. Of course Sarah scrunched up her face and said, “Again?” She was referring to Beverly’s short ribs and edamame puree from a few weeks ago. Remember that just last week, Sarah heartily defended Heather for using Ed’s cake recipe not once but twice. At this point it’s pretty clear that Sarah will hate any of Beverly’s ideas just because they’re Beverly’s and she’s an easy target. It probably wouldn’t occur to most people to badger a person just because she appears particularly easy to hurt, but that’s apparently what Sarah does. I don’t like throwing the B word around, but like Heather, Sarah is a bully.
NEXT: On the boys’ team, friendship gets in the way of food.
The men came up with the name Canteen for their restaurant, either referring to a communal dining area or a small water bottle that only has a drop or two left in it when you’re dying of thirst in a desert. It was kind of endearing watching these guys, who don’t seem to have a ton of interest in design, putting in a respectable effort decorating their space. Chris (I’m unduly glad I don’t have to specify last names anymore) likened Restaurant Wars to Kobayashi Maru, which is something having to do with Star Trek. More importantly, he wasn’t sporting his perennial top-knot and looked much better (albeit slightly more Indigo Girl-like) with the butt-cut.
While the guys might have gotten along better than the girls, as Paul pointed out, their good will toward each other might have impeded their service. At one point during their rocky service, Ty-lör was arbitrarily handed the duties of expediter. He didn’t exactly excel in that role, but Paul hesitated in stepping up because he didn’t want to boss everyone around. The ladies might be less kind to each other, but they don’t let important things go unsaid.
The guys’ first course at least went out in good time. Ty-lör’s Thai-style (I kept thinking “Ty-style”) crab and shrimp salad with caramel fish sauce tasted a little flat to Hugh. Tom liked the fish sauce but agreed it could have used more acid and herbs. Hugh liked Paul’s ham and pork pate with mushrooms better, but Emeril found the brioche way too greasy.
Next, Ed introduced Ty-lör and Paul’s poached salmon in warm tomato water with clams and tomatillo jam to the judges. Tom liked the fried salmon skin and tomatillo. Hugh thought the elements worked well on their own but there was nothing “marrying” the dish. Paul realized too late that the dish needed salt, and it was Ty’s responsibility to season it. Did friendship get in the way again? Or does Paul just need to nut up and become a better leader? Paul’s next dish — seriously, he did a lot this challenge — didn’t entirely impress either. Emeril thought his crispy pork belly with green apple and sweet potato puree needed a spicier element to it, and Tom was expecting more in the flavor department.
NEXT: The women have a different — although possibly more effective — communication style in the kitchen.For dessert, Edward presented his take on Almond Joy cake with a layer of almond crust, malted chocolate mousse, toasted almonds, Japanese spice, and a banana-coconut puree. The judges all wanted to know where the hell the coconut was in their Almond Joy. Padma said the only thing wrong with Ed’s dessert was that he called it an Almond Joy. Look at Padma and her spot-on comment! In line with this theme of brand-name sweets, Chris’ homemade Cracker Jacks went over better. While Emeril didn’t understand the peanut butter-cherry combo, Tom loved it, and so did a lot of the customers.
Half Bushel, the name of the women’s team’s restaurant, may be sweet (and much better than Canteen), but the ladies’ language in the kitchen sure was salty. Lindsay’s usually gentle Reese-Witherspoon-in-Sweet-Home-Alabama accent made the torrent of F-bombs that spewed from her mouth especially jarring to hear. Because she was busy in her front-of-house role, Lindsay left the execution of her halibut dish to Beverly, who was doing only one other dish. Like Sarah, Lindsay condescended to Beverly as if she were speaking to a child. They both have taken to calling her “Beverlyyyyyyyyy.” Grayson, thankfully, stood up to their nonsense and called Sarah “so f—ing whiny.” Who else loves Grayson so much more after this episode?
Lindsay, who didn’t appear as solid in her front-of-house role as Ed did, served Grayson’s peach salad with pickled shallots, arugula, bacon vinaigrette, crumbled goat cheese, and candied pistachios. Tom loved the summer salad, and some of other diners appreciated the counter-intuitive peach and bacon combo. Emeril liked that the other appetizer, Sarah’s Buffalo mozzarella-filled arancini, was piping hot on the inside.
NEXT: Tom lets the guys have it.
Behind the scenes, the service was really breaking down, and Sarah at one point even turned on Lindsay. But the entrees still made it to the judges, and everyone loved Beverly’s braised short rib with apple slaw and kimchi. Hugh went as far as to say it was the most flavorful food out of two days of eating, and Emeril kept his praise simple: “Okay, that was tasty.” Lindsay’s halibut with Spanish chorizo fell a bit flat. Beverly overcooked them and the flavors were a bit too subtle all-around. Had the women been the losing team, Beverly would have no doubt been crucified for her part in Lindsay’s dish.
As for desserts, Tom loved Grayson’s schaum torte, a specialty popular in her native Wisconsin, though Sarah’s hazelnut cream was “heavy, rich, and leaden.” After the service in the stew room, Sarah and Lindsay — you guessed it — unloaded on Beverly. Lindsay yelled, “You f—ed up my dish.” Maybe so, Lindsay, but if you ever talked to me like you did to Beverly, I’d f— up your dish too.
But in the end, it didn’t matter at the Judges’ Table because the women won Restaurant Wars easily over the men. To sweeten the deal even further, Beverly was named the winner and got a three-liter bottle of Episode wine and a three-day trip for four to Napa Valley. Beverly jumped and squealed as we got a good look at Sarah’s stink-face, which for once I think was not a result of clever editing. While I appreciated the poetic justice of Beverly’s win, it looked as though Grayson did more and did all of it well — she was objectively the MVP of the team. But in the spirit of awful people sticking together, Sarah tried her best to steal Beverly’s thunder by saying Lindsay truly deserved the win, which elicited a “Bitch, you crazy” look from Grayson. Again, that wasn’t just the editing. The judges said the women were better than the men in every respect except for service. Who was in charge of that? Hmm.
The men stood before the Judges’ Table as if they were lining up in front of a firing squad. Tom absolutely destroyed them in his losers’ lecture. Has anybody else noticed that Tom’s comments at Judges’ Table have been somewhat inconsistent with his comments during service? After eating at Canteen, Tom said the men’s showing was impressive for opening night, but at judging he said each of them deserved to go home and got an “F” for leadership. In the end, Ty-lör packed his knives for his “supremely under-seasoned” food. Even though he was inconsistent throughout, Ty-lör seemed to be on an upswing in the competition. I liked him a lot, and if there’s anyone I’d be okay with beating Nyesha in Last Chance Kitchen, it’s him.
So restaurant warriors, how did this year’s Restaurant Wars compare with ones from seasons past? How did you feel about Beverly’s handling of Lindsay’s halibut? Are you loving Grayson as much as I am? Is Sarah becoming as awful as Heather?