The Wife:

With Jamie gone, I have no one to love and root for, as without her, I don’t think Stefan really has any actual competition. I hate Leah, and you all know that and know why. Hosea is a fine chef, but he seems to lack the huevos, if you’ll pardon the pun, to really beat someone with Stefan’s chutzpah. Fabio and Carla are both too hit-or-miss to take the prize, although both of them have really managed to impress in these last few challenges. Thanks to Carla’s hot streak, I’ve forgotten about any bad things she did except for not being inventive enough to figure out how to set her not-so-frozen froyo without the use of a freezer. Fabio, though? Unlike Carla, I am haunted by some of his worst dishes. That disastrous oat-crusted eggplant, for instance, looms in my mind. As does his strange Italian lunch plate with the cheesesteak-that-wasn’t-a-cheesesteak. For Carla and Fabio, when they are on a high, their food can be sublime, but when they fail, they fail hardcore. So unless one of those two cooks everything perfectly in the New Orleans finale, Stefan will be declared Top Chef.

For the Quickfire, Wylie Dufresne of WD-40, New York’s premiere molecular gastronomic eatery (and possibly the second most famous of such eateries in the world, only outmatched by Ferran Adria’s El Bulli in Spain), asked the cheftestants to create an egg dish that would “surprise and delight” him, per Padma. The two wild card chefs were the most interesting to watch in this challenge, as Fabio revealed that he actually knows a lot about molecular gastronomy, something I actually wish he would have pulled out of his crazy Italian hat earlier in the show ā€“ more than just that one time when he made those spherical olives. Has he not realized how much more interesting this show is when there’s a molecular chef thrown in with all the classically trained Cordon Bleu types, the CIA grads, the professional caterers, the hoof-to-snout guys and the seasonal/organic chefs? (Actually, I’ve not yet seen a hoof-to-snouter on this show. Top Chef usually has an odd meats challenge, but has never had one to my recollection that involved cooking pig face or trotters.) It’s always good to have a tension between molecular chefs and seasonal/organic chefs, because those two schools of cooking highlight not just what’s big in cooking right now (as Leah so dryly observed), but also to diametrically opposed ideas about food. This isn’t to say that molecular chefs eschew fresh, seasonal and organic things in favor of their true antithesis (processed factory foods in any form, from your McDonald’s hamburger to those infernal Hot Pockets), but simply to say that they bend and change the laws of nature through science. It’s an extreme version of what cooking already is (changing the nature of something through heat and flavor), combined with only the most well-intended food science. For all of that, though, Fabio’s molecular skills failed this time around due to an ill-conceived dish. Carla, on the other hand, chose to highlight her skills at cooking simply, natural foods and managed to pull out a victory with a playful take on green eggs and ham, which someone always does when given an egg challenge.

I suddenly feel like I'm in a Dali painting . . .

I suddenly feel like I'm in a Dali painting . . .

The Quickfire Dishes

Stefan: a savory poached egg with hollandaise and a sweet poached egg panna cotta
Leah: quail egg with potato and caviar and a bacon, egg and cheese mini breaky sammie thingy
Carla: green eggs and ham with egg whites and salsa verde
Hosea: egg white sushi roll with asparagus, poached shrimp with siraccha sauce and a tempura fried egg salad
Fabio: quail egg sunny side up, coconut “sunny side up” panna cotta, and “egg” with lychee juice and mango “yolk”

Wylie liked Fabio’s molecular gastronomy, but thought the dish overall was just playing with ideas more than executing them, landing Fabio in the bottom three along with Leah’s sad Leahness and Hosea’s failure at executing a Japanese-style dish the way someone from Japan would have done it. Stefan probably should have won, but Wylie gave in to Hooty-Hoo’s whimsy and let her simple dish win an advantage in the Elimination Challenge.

The chefs then drew knives from the knife block, emblazoned with the names of other chefs: Lidia Bastianich, Susan Ungaro, Marcus Samuelsson, Jacques Pepin and Wylie Dufresne himself. Each chef was to cook their knife-chef’s ideal “last meal” on Earth, a concept I like in general because this is a very popular question amongst those in the culinary profession, as well as a tidbit on Yelp user’s profiles. (Mine is currently listed as “goat cheese, straight from the goat.”) Tony Bourdain writes about this a lot, often asking his chef friends over drinks what their last meal would be. It’s never something complex. Many American chefs would choose a perfectly grilled hamburger or a flatiron steak. Tony’s Mexican cooks would choose a dish their mothers always made: tamales, menudo or some carne asada. The best thing you’ve ever eaten may have been the tasting course at the French Laundry, but when you’re about to die, all you really want is some mac and cheese, just the way your grandma made it. Comfort food. Simple and satisfying.

True to that form, none of the guest chefs chose anything terribly outlandish. Lidia Bastianich chose to have a roast chicken with roast potatoes and a simple leafy salad. Susan Ungaro chose shrimp scampi with provencal tomatoes. Swedish chef and Aquavit owner Marcus Samuelsson went for a roast salmon with roast potatoes, the simplest Swedish dish he could have asked for. Jacques Pepin decided on roast squab with peas and Wylie, well, Wylie chose eggs benedict. During prep time, Hosea, who drew Susan Ungaro from the knife block, questioned whether these chefs would really choose these things as their last meal, and while he himself might not choose shrimp scampi, I point to the simplicity of the dish. No one here is asking for their last meal to be more complex than what they could, and probably have, made at home.

The most exciting thing that happened during prep was Fabio somehow breaking his pinky. I don’t really know how this happened, but I always appreciate someone who has balls enough to work through the pain. Dude was a trouper: he had the medic set it and wrap it and he just kept on keepin’ on, even though he had trouble holding things and chopping things. He also remained imminently quotable throughout this:

“I’ll chop it off and sear it on the flattop so it doesn’t bleed anymore. And tomorrow, I deal with nine finger.”

Fabio = one hardcore motherfucker.

During service the next day at New York’s Capital, Leah presented the first course of eggs benedict. She made a simple salad, for no good reason, and everyone hated the salad. Wylie noted that her egg whites were a little watery, but that he didn’t mind it. Marcus Samuelsson, on the other hand, thought her whole dish was a failure of textures. (Maybe she should have stuck with the traditional thicker bread on the bottom instead of going for soft, crumbly challah.)

Stefan served up the second course of salmon, roast potatoes, spinach “two ways” and dill sauce. All of the judges and chefs agreed that his fish was overcooked, and Susan Ungaro said that she wouldn’t have noticed he had made spinach two ways if he hadn’t mentioned it, because she couldn’t tell the difference between the two.

Hosea served the third course of shrimp scampi with burre blanc and tomatoes provencal. Susan thought the shrimp scampi was too creamy, stating that she would have preferred the simple butter, oil and garlic version to one laden with cream. Jacques Pepin didn’t think Hosea rendered a true version of tomatoes provencal and then delivered the most damning critique of all: “He didn’t cook from his gut.”

Broken-fingered Fabio served up the fourth course of roast chicken, roast potatoes and caramelized cipolini onions with a leafy salad. Although everyone thought the salad looked like an airplane salad, his chicken was declared the best meat so far. Marcus Samuelsson loved it so much that he called it: “The first dish I’ve seen that could go straight into a restaurant.”

Hooty-Hoo Carla brought up the fifth course of roast squab with lemon-thyme butter and butter-tarragon peas. Tom Colicchio loved the audacity of her simplicity: literally, just some squab on a plate and a bowl of peas. Jacque Pepin loved the peas so much that he declared, “I think I could die happy with that.” Um! Please don’t, Jacques! We love you!

lady knows how to plate.

And I will say this for Carla: lady knows how to plate.

Tom had pleaded with the cheftestants before service to not embarrass him in front of such highly esteemed chefs and restaurateurs, and he praised his cheftestants for holding up to his standards. Even with overcooked meats and some missteps, nothing was inedible and it all tasted good. Maybe not “last meal” good, but good. At Judges’ Table (which Padma announced with her nipples, because the stew room is apparently a walk-in freezer and I’ve just never noticed before), the panel awarded Fabio with the win and a spot in the semi-finals. He also got a weekend in Napa at Terlato vineyards and a really frickin’ huge bottle of Terlato! (I will stalk him when he’s there. I don’t know how, but I’ll do it.) Carla was also given a spot in the semi-finals, leaving Stefan in the bottom for the first time, like, ever. Fortunately, overcooked fish and not-true-to-form scampi and tomatoes provencal were not enough to knock either him or Hosea out of the top, sending Zoloft Commercial Leah home without much emotion of any kind. I’m just glad to be rid of her.

I think its going to be Stefan for the win. Everyone else is pretty much just a wildcard for the role of “whom he should defeat.”

Fuck yeah! Leah's finally gone!

Fuck yeah! Leah's finally gone!

Other random observations:

  • “It’s Top Chef, not Top Pussy.” ā€“ Fabio, a quote that reminds me just how much I hate hearing Italian men say pussy. It just doesn’t sound right. Ever.
  • Did I hear Carla say that she started cooking back when she used to be a model? I mean, the lady is tall, but I’m really curious about this supposed former modeling career, given the beak of a nose that woman’s sportin’. I will give her this, though: she has great hair. (But you know Tyra would crop it. Tyra never lets a girl keep an afro. No one’s hair is allowed to be bigger than Tyra’s.)