Welcome back, Top Chef! I was getting tired of watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta reunion show (parts one and two) On Demand over and over while I waited out your return.
Quickfire: There are more than 67,000 hotel rooms in Las Vegas, but there's only one that features the transcendently beautiful Padma and her wingwoman Nigella Lawson wearing bathrobes and lounging in bed like two oversexed debutantes just back from an Upper East Side sex toy party. They direct the remaining six ï¿½ Kevin, Mike, Bryan, Eli, Jen C and Robin ï¿½ to a kitchen "deep in the catacombs" of the Venetian and tell them they need to whip up and then deliver a breakfast-in-bed dish in 30 minutes.
Jen, whose 10 Arts is in the Ritz-Carlton here in PHL, is wholly comfortable with room service, so she rocks out shit on a shingle. Nigella makes a face. Eli does a reuben-inspired eggs benedict with 1000 Island hollandaise, which sounds like it would kill you in the tastiest way possible. Mike does some Cuban shit and acts real serious about it. Robin does wack blintzes, Kev puts together a delicious-sounding coffee-dusted steak and eggs plate and Bryan does something with egg and crab that also elicits Nigellaface. Eli takes it home, earning a page in the Top Chef Quickfire cookbook. Nigella says the tang of his sauerkraut "slapped the jet lag out of me," which, disappointingly enough, was probably the most sexual comment the notoriously randy British TV cook dropped on this episode. So for the Elimination, the chefs had to ... wait, what's that, Nigella?
Yes, I would love some cherries, thank you. So this week's Elimination challenge involved the cheftestants heading to the ... wait, I'm sorry?
Pasta? Why not? I really appreciate you feeding me and all, Nigella, but I have to get back to
Dessert already? How'd you eat that pasta so fast? You're too kind. But seriously, we're getting off topic. The Elimination had ...
Christ, who invited you, Giada? You're getting tomato everywhere. Sorry, I meant POMODOROOOOO. NOW CLEAN IT UP.
Elimination: Each of the cheftestants draws a random Vegas casino from which to cull inspiration for a dish to serve 175 guests. Jen C visits the Excalibur, where she meals out on a Cornish game hen at the Tournament of Kings and watches wizards and knights doing medieval magical shit; she goes with a NY strip dish meant to ape the sword in the stone. Bryan gets Manadalay Bay and decides on a sustainable seafood dish. Robin's inspired by the vibrant, colorful Chihuly sculpture on the ceiling of the Bellagio, so she does a ... panna cotta. Kevin's sockeye salmon dish comes to him after a visit to the Mirage. Eli gets Circus Circus and makes the troubling decision to put peanut, caramel apple and raspberry frothy elements into a soup. Mike, who draws New York New York, does a slightly trippy buffalo wing-inspired plate. "Firefighters, it's something they eat," he explains of his thematic inspiration. There's probably some truth to that, but I would've just gone with the fact that Buffalo is located in New York.
At the top: Kevin, who's praised for the tomato broth element on his plate; and the Voltaggio bros, who seem to be fostering more and more unspoken disdain for each other as we get closer to the finale. Toby calls Mike's food "effeminate," to which the chef replies that he's a "strong believer in putting your personality on your plate." Haha, you just said you're a girl. She He wins, though, taking home a big-ass bottle of wine and probably an off-camera reacharound from Nigella, since she's so
Oh, you're still here? If that's the case, then yes, I would like a Bellini.
At the bottom: Jen C, who Tom criticizes for her apparent "lack of knowledge of medieval cooking" (you tend to stay away from the Ren Faire, huh Jen? GOOD); Eli, whose Barnum and Bailey soup was deemed a textural failure; and Robin, whose panna cotta, according to Nigella, lacked "the quiver of a 17th-century courtesan's thigh," which is apparently an imperative on the bizarre sex planet Nigella lives on. Robin also screwed up the hardened sugar meant to represent the Chihuly glass, so she's sent home. Seems about right.
Next week: Thomas Keller and Mike dissing the shit out of Kevin.
Last week, the irrepressible Bravo network announced that they're picking up Top Chef: Just Desserts, a spin-off of our favorite cooking competition show featuring pastry chefs battling for sweet-tooth supremacy. Let's gloss over, for a moment, your desire to either a) celebrate more Top Chef in your life or b) complain about too much Top Chef in your life to address a more pressing question ï¿½ there's a casting call for the show at NYC's Craftsteak this coming Sunday, Nov. 8, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Which local pastry chefs/dessert specialists do you think would do the most damage?
We've provided our list after the jump. Please share your thoughts/picks in the comments.
- Cedric Barberet, Le Bec-Fin
- Krystal Weaver, Sonata
- Jessie Prawlucki, Fond
- Matthew Maslowski, XIX
- Danielle Konya, Vegan Treats
- Eddy Hales, The Fountain
- Tom Block, Naked Chocolate
- Christina Diekewicz, Union Trust
- Monica Glass, 10 Arts
- Ann Giles, Garces Restaurant Group
- Peter Woolsey, Bistrot La Minette
Redeeming a late pass for this one. Blame it on the alcohol Phillies alcohol and Phillies.
So Episode 9 features what I think is the magic number for still-standing TC cheftestants ï¿½ eight. This means a few things:
- The season's about to pop off from a stupid-but-enthralling drama standpoint.
- It's now way clearer who should be sent packing prior to the finals.
- RESTAURANT WARS!
But first, Quickfire: Accomplished chef/restaurateur and Top Chef Masters competitor Rick Moonen, along with the transcendently preggo-glow beautiful Padma, institute a TC first ï¿½ the "Tag Team Cook-Off," for which the eight split up into groups of four and don blindfolds, creating weird David Lynchian tableaus such as this:
The first chef strips off his/her blindfold, picks ingredients and has 10 minutes to start prep for a dish. After time's up, the second chef has to pick up right where the first one left off and so forth, culminating in the last guy/girl finishing it up for judgment.
Team Red ï¿½ Eli, Robin, Bryan and Mike V ï¿½ bust out a pan-roasted NY strip with pickled veg and a miso-avocado purï¿½e, while Blue ï¿½ our girl Jen C, Laurine, Mike I and Kevin ï¿½ offer a pan-seared cod in a mushroom broth. Sustainable seafood king Moonen is impressed with both plates but ends up giving the W to Blue, despite Jen accidentally referring to her protein as trout when she describes it. "I called my black cod trout on national TV ... awesome," she laments. Don't you sweat it, lady. I've called short ribs spare ribs and spare ribs short ribs so many times that I think the National Association for the Preservation of Rib Sanctity (NAPRS) has a hit out on me.
The squad earns $10K to split, but Padma informs them that they can take a risk and earn a $10K prize apiece if they emerge victorious from the Elimination. Jen C does that circular finger gesture that doubles as the universal symbol for "let that shit ride" and it is on.
Elimination: RESTAURANT WARS. It's a little different this year, as the two teams are told they're cooking in Moonen's split-level restaurant, meaning they're not responsible for paint or dï¿½cor and votives and napkin rings and all the other stupid shit that has messed up the teams in past seasons. I think this is an excellent idea since I couldn't care less about whether or not a bunch of scary-talented chefs have an eye for sconces. Team Blue decides on Mission as their restaurant name, while Red goes with Revolt, a clever nod to Robin, Eli and the Voltaggio bros.
Before we get into what happened, LOOK IT'S PADMA IN A BAR/LOUNGE SITUATION:
Mission screws up. Jen C's hazelnut butter sauce breaks, rendering her trout plate messy, and her bouillabaisse is poorly received. A lamb/carrot jam dish, conceived by Laurine but actually fired by Kevin, comes out of the kitchen both under- and overcooked. Mike I's asparagus dish and char tartar underwhelms. (Padma requests a side of salt at one point for her underseasoned dishes ï¿½ so transcendently beautiful, SO COLD.) The most visible shortcoming of the team, however, is Laurine's mishandling of front-of-the-house duties ï¿½ she looks les miserables the entire time, pouting and plopping plates down on the judges' table before skulking away with no explanation of what's being presented.
Revolt, in stark contrast, destroys it. Excepting a few minor mess-ups, all their dishes are hits, especially Mike V's chicken and calamari "pasta" and his cod with billi-bi (mussel) sauce. Robin and Bryan win over the sweettooths in the room, too, with a pear pithivier and a chocolate ganache/spearmint ice cream thing (right) that sounds delicious, despite it looking like it was made by a pastry chef from The Chronicles of Riddick. We're treated to the usual Volt brother bickering here, but we also catch a peek into Mike V's insane control-freak world when he flips his shit on Robin and talks to her like she's a insipid little kid (see title of post).
At judges' table, Revolt is dubbed the best entrant in Restaurant Wars history (!), and Mike V, deservedly, takes home the win, plus the $10K the Mission team forfeited. He wants to split it with his teammates, but Bryan thinks that's patronizing and says so. Mission's carted in, and it looks bleak for our girl Jen for a second, as the panel boxes her ears over her trout. In the end, though, the combo of Laurine's failed lamb dish and her dyspeptic FOH presence translate into her packing her knives.
Real quick, here are my unscientific, gut-feeling power rankings for the rest of this Top Chef season. In descending order, ranked by likelihood of taking it home:
- TIE: Mike V and Jen C
- Mike I
We know, we know: Few things appear douchier to the average person than watching a bunch of people taste wine. But y'all oenophobes should know that all the sniffing and the swirling and the holding it up to the light stuff is imperative to the process. The dumping of perfectly good vino into classy silver spittoons, however? I could take it or leave it. This is probably why the only tasting notes I ever really write are about Fruit by the Foot.
Mike V, who found himself at the bottom last week, started off Episode 8 the only way a person coming off a poor performance should ï¿½ by comparing himself to Babe Ruth. You know, the Bambino totally "struck out once our twice in his career," and last week's screwup was totally the same deal. I glossed over the sheer egotism of this comment and immediately moved on to the "What if Mike V was in The Sandlot?" stage of the process:
Quickfire: Chef Charlie Palmer, the American culinary mogul who coincidentally employed both Mike V and his brother Bryan in the past, tasks the remaining nine cheftestants with creating a dish that somehow incorporates Alexia Crunchy Snacks, which are "made with real vegetables!" and have "lots of flavor!" (Y'all too good for Doritos? Snots.) Chaz was not feeling Robin, and used the phrase "too creamy" to describe her mousseline, which I found hilarious because I am mature; our girl Jen C, who accidentally overcooked her pork; and Ash, who did something "peculiar." At the top: Bryan with some steak; Kevin, who is always killing it (will he win?); and eventual winner Eli, who does a warm potato and clam salad and thinks it's cool to announce on national television that he lives with his parents rent-free. BALLER!
Then Eli and Robin get in a stupid fight over some stupid scallop-related shit. It's stupid.
Elimination: Palmer has the kids pick out a Pinot Noir and pair it up with a random pork part for a charity tasting event. My two favorite portions of the tasting/judging part of this ep were typically erudite Food & Wine EIC Dana Cowin calling Laurine's botched pork rillette attempt "cat food" and Palmer lamenting that he could not taste any "porkiness" in Robin's ... pork chop. (You know you screwed up when your pork chop lacks porkiness.) At the top are the usual suspects: Both V bros, Kev and Jen C, the latter of whom earns high praise from Palmer for crafting the lightest rendition of pork belly the chef's ever tried. (I didn't even know that was possible.) Kevin takes her home again, though, earning himself a table at the 2010 Pigs and Pinot event in the process. The dude has a pig tattooed on him! He deserves it.
And at the bottom are, well, the usual suspects again ï¿½ Robin, whose sauce was too gummy in addition to her missing porkiness; Laurine, whose "terrible" Friskies-caliber rillette earned her a (very polite) tongue-lashing from Palmer because she cooked it completely incorrectly; and Ash, who should've been hacked last week anyhow. He explains to the judges that he was planning on doing a dish with polenta and jack cheese, but second-guessed himself, and that's enough to convince the panel that his confidence is too shaky to let him continue on.
Next week: Mike and Bryan fightfightfight, possibly armed with kitchen apparati. Jesus, somebody throw Bryan a microplane or something.
|Photo l Michael Persico|
|Dr. Oetker's Funghi pizza|
How diverse of you, Top Chef producers! A white dude, an Asian dude, a black dude, a woman and a dude who thinks this is OK!
Quickfire: Food Network's Tyler Florence shows up as a guest judge. "I recognized him right when I got there," says Kevin, demonstrating one of my favorite tactics of people whoï¿½ avoid overtly talking shit on someone by making benign observations ("I noticed that he had skin"). The remaining cheftestants are instructed to yank the crank of a culinary keyword-spitting slot machine (a predatory gambling manifestation of cookstr.com) and then build a dish based around the descriptors they're dealt.
At the top: Mike I, whose raw mushroom dish properly conveyed the words Stressed, Asian and Umami ("Umami. It's not salty, it's not sweet, it's not spicy, it's not sour. It's ... umami," explains the chef. Thx!); Kevin, whose Stressed/Hot 'n' Spicy/Asian Viet spring roll-inspired plate impressed; and Mike V, whose yuzu Greek yogurt and seaweed cracker combo was at once Adventurous, Tangy and Asian. (Notice how all the contenders drew Asian? Empirical evidence that we run this.)
At the bottom: Robin, who got ripped by the transcendently beautiful, now-preg Padma for acting like curry was Middle Eastern; Eli, whose umami was not ... umami enough for Ty Flo (look at that lady-ass coat he's wearing in that photo above); and our girl Jen C, because putting roe on top of a scallop did not meet Ty Flo's standards of Adventurous-ness. Kev wins and ends up choosing $15,000 over immunity. A solid decision, I think, because Kev knows he can cook. Other people on this show apparently don't think they can, but more on that in 5 seconds.
Elimination: As soon as I heard Padma be like "In these tough economic times ... " I had a feeling this would be the elimination equivalent of getting squirted in the eye with big wedge of lemon. I was right! In an apparent "celebration of the home chef," a cabal of celebrity toques provide teams of two cheftestants with grab bags full of stuff, and they're tasked with composing family-style dishes inside the Top Chef house using makeshift kitchen setups. There was also something about this being for the Macy's Culinary Council charity but I was too busy chuckling about how the world hates Ty Flo's Twitter account to take down the details.
Mike I gets paired with Robin, which causes him to start spitting out synonyms for "furious" to describe his mood ("I was livid! Angry! Upset!"). Then he calms down and they make seared tuna and scallops for Takashi Yagahashi. Ash and Mike V make egg yolk-filled ravioli and pancetta-wrapped halibut for Nancy Silverton. Kev and Jen C, who draw Seattle chef Tom Douglas' bag, do a Korean BBQ dish. Eli and Ashley grill spot prawns and chop up gnocchi for Govind Armstrong, who I think always wears white pants, and Bryan and Laurine roast fish for Ty-Ty.
The tasting/judging jumped off as expected, with high and low lights, but the one thing that really stuck out to me was Toby Young dropping a variation on the "full-on Monet" line from Clueless to describe one dish. Which made me start thinking like
At the top this time are Jen C and Kevin and Laurine and Bryan. Ty Flo ends up giving the W to the former group, with individual glory going to none other than Jen C for a well-executed tomato cardamom sauce. She's happy, especially since her confidence waned in the beginning due to her being miserably ill ï¿½ and also 'cause she cops a $10K Macy's giftcard for her trouble. There's a Macy's right by 10 Arts, too. Can you buy me some of those strap things that hold your dress socks up, Jen? That seems like something I would have to go to Macy's to buy.
At the bottom: Eli and Ashley, whose gnocchi was marred by saltiness; and Mike V and Ash, who served inconsistently cooked fish due to their electric plancha short-circuiting mid-sear. This is where Ash gets real weird with it, basically admitting to the judges that he thinks he's not as good of a chef as his workhorse partner ï¿½ helping him cook is like "washing paintbrushes for Picasso," he states ï¿½ while still arguing that he should remain in the running because he thinks he deserves it.
I think I kinda caught his strategy here ï¿½ he wanted to project all the blame for the ambitious but ultimately flawed dish on Mike, so he took the sycophantic route to blur the fact that he contributed very little to the finished product. It may be part gamesmanship and it may be part sincere admiration on Ash's part, but either way it came off creepy and counterproductive, and I think he should've been sent packing because it's clear that at least part of him thinks he isn't good enough to compete ï¿½ and that's the last thing you want to publicly announce on TC, no? But turns out Ashley's poorly executed pasta had her packing her knives instead. Dammit, she was my dark horse pick.
What'd you think of last night's elimination?
Y'all already know how I feel about magic, so let's just get right into it.
Quickfire: Since Sin City is so full of goddamn temptation (we learn so much about Vegas on this show!), the transcendently beautiful Padma (who's on Twitter apparently!), plus celeb chef Michelle Bernstein, task the remaining cheftestants (most rocking kerchiefs to honor fallen comrade Mattin) with cooking a duo of dishes representing the angels and devils on their shoulders. At the top: Mike V, who "transported" Bernstein (like this?) with two preparations of salmon; self-proclaimed fat kid Eli, who made one healthy scallop and one fat kid scallop; and Miss Popular Robin, who brought up her lymphoma diagnosis while explaining the motivation behind her healthy salad/apple crisp pair-up. Bottom three: Bryan, who struggled with execution; Laurine, whose chicken was (gasp!) boring; and Ash, who provided only one of his two planned dishes.
Robin nabs the QF and immunity, which does NOT sit well with Eli. "That's a pretty good way to win a Quickfire ï¿½ just tell people you have fucking cancer," he snorts. Cottdamn! Everyone's saying that they want Robin gone because they're not impressed with her cooking, but if you ask me, I think it's because they're scared she's going to pull a Hosea, bumbling through the season unnoticed until falling ass-first into the Top Chef title. In general, that TC winner's inoffensive, middle-of-the-road offerings last season were the opposite of risky ï¿½ but they also featured the fewest flaws. Keep one eye on Robin, foreal.
Elimination: Penn and Teller show up, and Kevin is excited, perhaps because they're the first actual non-chef celebs to show up so far. Strangely enough, the pair refrains from spouting libertarian propaganda and telling everyone how stupid they are long enough to ask the cheftestants to "deconstruct" a classic comfort food-y dish. Knife-drawing commences.
Mike I gets eggs florentine and has no idea what to do because he doesn't know what eggs florentine is. (It's what your one mopey vegetarian friend always orders for brunch, Mike!) The classically trained Jen C is wicked stressed because she can't dream up a creative way to break down meat lasagna. Mike V is in hog heaven with his classic caesar draw because it means he can sphere-ifize the dressing on some Battlesalad Galactica shit. Ron seems excited about drawing paella, but then struggles with the "deconstructing." (Former TC finalist Richard Blais, no stranger to Star Wars references, tweeted this about Ron awhile back and I loved it.)
At the top: Ashley, who did a bang-up job on pot roast even though she was too poor to actually eat anything until like last month; Mike V; Kevin, who busted his ass on a chicken mole negro that blew away the judges; and, much to her surprise, Jen C, who thought she was going to go home. (Come on, Jen, you're not going anywhere.) Kevin takes it, and gets an empty box of CALPHALON UNISON NON-STICK COOKWARE ï¿½ as a prize. Yay!
Bottom feeders this week: Ash, whose inconsistently cooked lamb and lack of potatoes screwed up his shepherd's pie interpretation; Laurine, with a mediocre fish and chips dish; and Ron, who was battered with all sorts of criticisms for his screwy paella. Big man from Haiti ends up getting hacked.
It's funny that both Ash and Laurine's low-scoring dishes were British in nature, as this week marked the return of everyone's least favorite Top Chef judge, one Mr. Toby Young. I realize this is an unpopular opinion, but I'm going to put it out there ï¿½ I love that guy!
Here's why. Is he a dick? Yes. Do I think he's funny? No. Do I think he's insightful? Not really. Are there panelists on this show who discuss food much more intelligently and eloquently than he does? Absolutely. But I still think Young's important to Top Chef for one simple reason ï¿½ he's the only person in the world with the ability to make the rest of the judges squirm.
After season after season of success, Padma, Tom C, Gail and the rotating celeb chefs who sit behind that raised platform are resting on their laurels so hard that they got leaf prints in their asses. They're in such insane positions of power that nothing makes them cringe. This is compounded by the fact that the chefs they toss around every week sweat like hobos down south in the summertime throughout filming. Young, somehow, is the only guy who can irritate the judges enough to elicit truly pissy reactions. Aside from Tom C clearly hating his British face, did you see last night, when Young angered guest judge Bernstein by saying that he thought it was stupid for non-Spanish speakers to pronounce "paella" like "pie-ey-uh," since none of us are nearly as adamant about pronouncing Mexico like "Meh-hee-ko"? The look of rage in her eyes was wondrous. Young's half-assed retraction while he smirked like a grammar school lad who'd just dropped a cherry bomb down the loo was even better.
So what do y'all think about Young? Perhaps his antics are an acquired taste, but I can't get enough.
People got a little prickly on this week's episode.
Quickfire: For this "high stakes" challenge ($15k prize), Texas chef Tim Love (a Top Chef Masters contestant) has the remaining cheftestants create a dish based around a tough ingredient selected by the Top Chef viewing populace. Fifty-seven percent of voters went with cactus over rattlesnake and kangaroo. "In the Basque country, there is no cactus," Mattin points out. Thx brah! I was disappointed with the viewers' pick, as it would've been awesome to hear King Kerchief sing a jaunty French song about how 'roos and rattlers are also not native to France while doing a vaudeville soft-shoe performance that involved him using a freshly baked baguette in lieu of a cane.
At the bottom: Ash, whose too-thick tortilla buried the cactus flavor; the usually strong Mike V., whose dish Love described as "two trains coming together"; and Ron, who offered up crab that "tasted rancid." At the top: the usually quiet Laurine, with a cactus salsa-topped pork chop; Mike I., who celebrated his successful cactus-curing by flashing DOUBLE METAL SIGNS; and our French friend, who did a nice job of showcasing the ingredient. Mikey ends up with the chip. No additional metal signs though.
Elimination: There's well-composed restaurant-quality dishes in them thar hills! The chefs are shipped out to the searing-hot dessert to cook grub over an open flame for a bunch of Love's rancher buddies. "I love camping! I grew up on a farm with chickens, pigs and all that," Mattin squeals with glee. Why does this dude, who's the second-Frenchest Frenchman that I'm aware of (the chien supï¿½rieur, of course, being Georges Perrier), insist on reaffirming his Frenchitude with such All Bran-like regularity? I feel a little less American every time I see his little face.
While Eli confirms my suspicions that he was raised as a hardcore indoor kid ("We got electricity for a reason"), Laurine, a caterer by trade, is cool with the into-the-wild curveball. "I've learned to be kind of a MacGyver when it comes to cooking," she says. (Any MacGyver reference automatically puts you in good standing with me, so strong work, ma'am.) Plenty of hijinks ensue during prep/cooking, including Ron foreal requesting a sword to bust open his coconuts.
The judges are BRUTAL on nearly everyone's dishes, especially Robin's shrimp ("Tastes like I just sucked on a piece of chlorine," says Love) and Mattin's ceviche, which apparently sucks so bad that Tom C. actually has to huffily walk about 4 feet away from his picnic table and throw it into the desert. Why couldn't he have just tossed that shit from his seat? Or just said "I don't like this" and left it at that? Because we need good goddamn TV, that's why! Still, nothing can top the transcendently beautiful Padma spitting out her bite last season. What a transcendently beautiful regurge that was ...
Dishes at the top: Laurine's arctic char and grilled potato; Ashley's seared halibut (Padma calls her "the dark horse" ... MIND MELD, LAKSHMI); Bryan's perfect-for-outdoors roasted pork loin with polenta and glazed rutabaga; and his brother Mike's miso-cured black cod. Bryan ends up winning his second Elimination in a row, and even cracks a little smile, which is rare for the almost-always-deadpan Voltaggio sibling. His quietly judgmental camera-leering makes me think he'd fit in perfectly on
At the bottom: Chlorine shrimp lady Robin, food-chucked-by-Tom Mattin, and Ron, whose coconut cocktail accompanying his ceviche dish was called "horrible" by the judges. (If only he had that sword ... ) I guess it's a death knell if your food gets airborne on this show, as Mattin is sent packing. We've already expounded on his ridiculous Frenchness so I'll leave the official goodbye to my girl Jackie.
Next week: Everyone, including Penn and Teller, hates Robin.
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