The Wife:

After enduring “Restaurant Bores” last week, I’m glad Top Chef provided me with an episode that was actually entertaining. I liked the idea of the cheftestants battling head to head with the All-Stars in an Iron Chef/cooking demo hybrid. Watching the chefs try to smack-talk their way through their prep sessions was great, and actually a nice look into the kind of playful camaraderie of the kitchen that Top Chef‘s contestants often lack. I base my entire knowledge of how professional kitchens work solely on the writings of Anthony Bourdain, by the way. And a little bit from his friend Gabrielle Hamilton. Both of these writers speak of the kitchen as a place of playful camaraderie where, on the line, in the middle of a dinner rush, the cooks are very serious about their work, but entertain themselves during the shift by teasing and egging on their companions. If you’re moving too slow on the grill, someone will call you a conjo or tell you that they know you can suck dick faster than you can pan fry a skate wing, and, maybe, they’ll insinuate that your mother is also prone to that similar proclivity. It’s a name-calling game that, like playing the dozens, calls on its participants to prove their mettle, both at firing off snappy comebacks and firing dishes in a timely manner. So seeing this kind of playful trash-talk enter the Top Chef kitchen was a nice change of pace from the often austere working conditions we usually see on this show. (I get that these guys are working with people who aren’t their usual crew, but, still, you’d think they could have a little bit of fun on the job, eh?)

But before that glorious contest of braggadocio began, the cheftestants had to participate in their requisite Quickfire Challenge, brought to you by Padma Lakshmi, Scott Conant of Scarpetta restaurant and Quaker Oats. Each chef was asked to create a dish showcasing one food group . . . paired with Quaker Oats in a new and surprising way. Padma designed who would get what food group by asking chefs to blindly choose squares on some football-type board that I didn’t understand at all because I am, how you say, not so sportif. Jamie got fruit, Leah got seafood, Hosea got meats, Fabio got veggies, Jeff got poultry, Carla got nuts and grains and Stefan got dairy. You know, there are some things I like oats with, and some things I do not. For many of these dishes, I would say that they fell into the latter category:

The Quickfire Dishes

  • Jamie: coconut and oat crusted shrimp with fresh fruit salsa
  • Hosea: weinerschnizel with warm potato salad
  • Fabio: oat-crusted eggplant, stuffed with an array of veggies that did not need to be there because nothing could fix that over-oated eggplant shell
  • Stefan: banana mousse with oatmeal and oatmeal petit fours, which I might argue is oatmeal’s natural habitat
  • Carla: nut-crusted tofu with salad
  • Leah: oat-flour crusted sea bass (I think. I actually just wrote down the word “seafood” instead of the actual fish)
  • Jeff: fried chicken pollard and fried zucchini and grits
Seriously, Fabio, what the fuck were you thinking?

Seriously, Fabio, what the fuck were you thinking?

Scott Conant disliked Leah, Fabio and Jeff’s dishes, and rightfully so. Jeff’s overly-fried everything was just too heavy. You know why? Because frying oats makes them way more substantial than any fried thing should be. Fried stuff is supposed to be light, and that’s why Jamie’s lightly crusted shrimp worked, but Jeff’s many fried things didn’t. Another person who shouldn’t have crusted stuff in oats was Fabio, who simply didn’t know what to do with vegetables because he’s so much happier cooking all the delicious meats in the world. Clearly, he doesn’t have Jack Bishop’s totally awesome Italian vegetarian cookbook, because there are so many great parts of the Italian diet that don’t have to have meat. Although, in fairness to Fabio, you know what definitely isn’t part of the Italian diet? Oats. Seriously, we do not really work with oats. Flour and cornmeal, yes, but oats? Not so much. Not even for breakfast. When I lived in Italy, my breakfast was a hard roll dunked into a cappuccino, or, strangely, when I was living with Illaria, a bowl of Mulino Bianco Gioccioli cookies in milk. (Best factory processed cookies in the world are Mulino Bianco anything. Pepperidge Farm can suck Mulino Bianco’s cock.) Either way, not oats. As for Leah, I think her dish failed because she cooked in oat flour and general malaise. Man, I can’t wait until she’s gone.

The challenge’s successes included Carla’s nut-tofu, which, frankly, as a vegetarian I would never order at a restaurant. I’m not into tofu steaks. I much prefer eating it in a stir-fry, soup or noodle dish than trying to pretend that I want to cut and eat it as though it is supposed to be on par with a meat steak. Also praised were Jamie’s lightly-crusted shrimp and Stefan’s exploration of oatmeal’s natural habitat. Conant picked Stefan as the winner because you can’t argue with nature, but I would have given the challenge to Jamie for managing to take a cumbersome ingredient and make it look like it belonged with the food she made.

Stefan didn’t win immunity, but instead got the right to choose his opponent in the Elimination Challenge, a head-to-head cook-off against seven of the show’s All-Stars: bromance Spike and Andrew from season 4, season 4’s Nikki, season 3’s Camille, season 2’s Josie and season 1’s Andrea and Miguel. Each cheftestant would pair-off against a rival and cook a dish inspired by the regional cuisine of several NFL teams: the Dallas Cowboys, the Miami Dolphins, the Green Bay Packers, the Seattle Seahawks, the San Francisco 49ers, the New York Giants and the New Orleans Saints. The cook-off would be limited to dishes that could be fully prepared in 20 minutes with ingredients provided by the Top Chef kitchen specific to each region. Furthermore, the cook off would take place in a real demo kitchen at the Institute of Culinary Education in front of an audience of totally jazzed culinary students. (Seriously, I bet anyone who skipped class that day is totally kicking themselves.)

Stefan, trying to strategize by picking an opponent he knew didn’t last very long into her season, chose Andrea, known for her vegetarian cuisine, hoping she wouldn’t fare well in a challenge celebrating the cuisine of Texas. Jeff chose Miami and got to cook off against Josie, who I’m glad has taken the hate crime that was perpetrated against her in stride. Fabio chose Green Bay and faced off against Spike, while Hosea, the seafood chef, went with Seattle and got paired against Miguel. Leah chose the New York Giants, because New York doesn’t have its own cuisine, she figured, so she could make whatever and wouldn’t have to give a shit about it, and cooked against Nikki. Hometown girl Jamie rightfully chose San Francisco, because she knew we’d murder her upon her return if she didn’t, and got to cook against Camille, who I do not remember at all from season 3. Carla, reppin’ the South, chose N’awlins and cooked against her favorite chef Andrew.

Youre all on time out.

You're all on time out.

Padma then told the chefs that any person on the home team who lost their culinary battle was eligible for elimination. At the challenge itself, Padma dressed up like a sexy referee and announced that the four judges would award a 7-point touchdown to the chef whose dish they liked most, with a 3-point field goal up for grabs based on the majority opinion of five audience tasters. If the judges were deadlocked, the full 10 points would be awarded to whomever the audience tasters gave the field goal to. The highest score at the end of each battle would get an automatic win and whichever team at the end of the seven battles had the most points, won the whole shebang. Here’s me trying to be sporty by giving all the battles cutesy nicknames!

Battle 1: Leah vs. Nikki in the New York Knockout
Leah cooked a seared strip steak with creamed corn and snap peas, while Nikki prepared seared chicken livers with goat cheese and some other stuff on challah, which she mispronounced. The judges awarded Leah 7 points, while the 3-point field goal went to Nikki.

Battle 2: Hosea vs. Miguel in the Battle for Seattle
Miguel created a cedar plank salmon with noodley bits, while Hosea prepared an amazingly intricate crispy salmon egg roll with a ginger-blackberry sauce. Hosea took home the full 10 points.

Battle 3: Carla vs. Andrew in the Bayou Crawdad Brawl
Andrew put on the worst Cajun accent I have ever heard and made a crayfish crudo with a vinaigrette. Carla, instead, made a 20-minute crawfish and andouille gumbo over grits. Her Southern authenticity won her 7 points, while Andrew got the 3-point field goal. (For those who don’t know, crawdads, crayfish and crawfish are all the same thing. They are also called mudbugs and a variety of other names, depending on where you’re from.)

Battle 4: Andrea vs. Stefan in the Dallas Death Match
Stefan tried to make a duo of grilled meats over cold salads, while Andrea went for a tried and true Tex Mex chili with chipotles, earning her the full 10 points and completely shutting out Stefan, which is well deserved, considering that what he made didn’t say Dallas at all.

Battle 5: Jamie vs. Camille in the Frisco Fish Fight
Hometown girl Jamie made a crab cioppino, a North Beach staple, while her opponent made a sweet potato and miso mash with crab meat, which I guess is a nod to the city’s Japanese population. Jamie took home the full 10 points, and I am going to write her a letter that explains how to actually pronounce cioppino. It isn’t see-o-pino, it’s cha-pino. “Ci” is “cha” in Italian. The faster she learns this, the fast she can avoid having a hit put on her by North Beach restaurateurs.

Battle 6: Jeff vs. Josie in the Miami Meltdown
Josie made a warm rock shrimp ceviche with papaya, which offended challenger Jeff because he would never serve a warm ceviche if his life depended on it. He made a cold rock shrimp ceviche with sangria sorbet. Josie took home the full 10 points, despite how much Tom Colicchio liked Jeff’s sorbet.

Battle 7: Fabio vs. Spike in the Green Bay Grudge Match
Spike created a five-spice seared venison, with no Wisconsin cheddar at all. Fabio made a venison with mustard sauce and a really odd cheddar cheese salad. Spike took home 7 points, while Fabio got the 3-point field goal.

Oh, Spike, I miss contestants with your weird energy and culinary boners.

Oh, Spike, I miss contestants with your weird energy and culinary boners.

Overall, the home team of season five’s cheftestants won the game, but Fabio, Stefan and Jeff are instantly in the bottom due to their losses. Thanks to all the time the editing room spent on Fabio, spouting out far too many Fabioisms to write down, I was pretty sure he was a goner at this point. Seriously, Fabio, what’s with you and monkey assholes? You seem to mention serving them a lot. Winningest chefs Jamie, Carla, Hosea and Leah were called to Judges’ Table where, oddly, Carla is actually awarded a win and given two tickets to the Super Bowl, which I’m sure her football-loving husband and stepson will enjoy very much. Someone owes Hooty-Hoo some hot hooty action. I don’t know what that entails, and I don’t want to know.

The judges surprised me once again by sending Jeff off to pack his knives and go. As far as skill and execution go, I knew there was no way they’d part with Stefan, and I am really shocked that they ousted Jeff over Fabio. I love Fabio, I do. I think he is supremely entertaining, but his food is not up to Jeff’s level. Many of the dishes Fabio creates may end up tasting good, but lack the artful presentation of his other competitors. Sometimes, I think his idea of what goes together on a plate gets lost in translation. I’ve been in many Italian restaurants and homes in Italy where food comes out looking exactly like Fabio’s. This is not to say that it’s at all bad (although those eggplant things were a fucking atrocity), it’s just not very elegant or elevated. Fabio’s had two bad Quickfires in a row now and he’s never actually won a cooking challenge. Jeff may not have had these wins either, but his food was consistently better looking and more complex than Fabio’s. It’s a close call between the two of them, but its pretty evident to me that Fabio the Italian Stallion stayed around this week because he has a bigger, brighter personality than Jeff does. Jeff’s kind of prickly. So, sorry Jesse Spencer. I guess you can go back to being on House now, while Fabio is free to roam the Top Chef kitchen, babbling about cooking monkey assholes or some such nonsense.