Top Chef


The Wife:

And so we come to the end of yet another season of Top Chef and, to be honest, while I am surprised by the eventual winner, I actually don’t give a shit. Last year, I was heartbroken to see congenial Richard Blais shoot himself in the foot and lose to Stephanie Izard, who, for all intents and purposes, was a fine chef and my second favorite competitor of the season. It was a win-win situation that year. Everyone was nice to each other, helpful and respectful, and I loved them for it. This year, I lost interest after Jamie left. I don’t know why, but the finalists this year just didn’t do it for me. I don’t even think it would have been an interesting match if Fabio had survived to talk about monkey assholes another day. Knowing that Fabio was the only ounce of pizzazz this show had left after Jamie’s departure, though, the Bravo executives invited him to tag along to the final challenge, perhaps in the hopes that he would say something about monkey assholes.

Unfortunately, he didn’t, and we were left with a really bland episode that only had a few interesting aspects to it. Tom and Padma instructed the remaining cheftestants that their mission would be to cook the best three-course tasting of their lives at New Orleans’ legendary Commander’s Palace. To help them out, they brought back season two’s villainous Marcel (whom I loved and will always love), season three’s fish-out-of-water Casey (who doomed herself in Aspen by not remembering that cooking temperatures vary in high altitudes) and my beloved Richard Blais from season four. The cheftestants drew knives to determine the order in which they would choose their sous. Hosea got the pimp knife and chose Blais, which was certainly the best choice of the three. Stefan got to choose second and took Marcel, definitely the second best choice of the three, and Carla got stuck with Casey, at which point I knew she was doomed.

The chefs and their sous got a few hours to prepare their menus that day and they began frantically racing around the kitchen, hoarding ingredients. Hosea tried to steal more than his share of foie gras, and Stefan got all up in his grill about it, eventually losing out and only getting one of the three bricks of foie provided. (Hey, guys? I’m pretty sure Bravo provided three bricks of foie so you could each have one. At least give Carla a chance to succeed, jeeze.) Hosea and Blais also stole all the caviar. At the end of their first day of prep, Tom dropped by to deliver the twist on their final challenge by adding an extra dish to the menu. Tom requested that each chef create a tray-passed appetizer using one of three traditional New Orleans ingredients: redfish, blue crab and gator. Who would get what was determined as all things are allegedly determined in New Orleans: King Cake-omancy, or, whoever finds the baby Jesus within that spicy delicious confection gets to pick first. Just as before, Hosea got to choose first, as well as designate which of his competitors would have to work with that new protein. He chose the redfish for himself, gifted Carla with crabs and saddled his biggest competitor Stefan with the gator.

For my money, Stefan was lucky to get the gator. Gator’s actually quite tasty, if a bit fatty and oily. And he got the best line of the night when, upon seeing the gator, he proclaimed:


“Alligator is a wacky meat. It’s like having a kangaroo eat a fucking raccoon – what’s the point?”


That’s a pretty fair assessment of gator meat, and pretty damned funny.

The Menus

Hosea

  • trio of sashimi
  • scallops with foie gras and pain perdu
  • vennison loin with wild mushrooms
  • and a passed appetizer of blackened redfish on a corncake with creole remolaude


Stefan

  • hailbut and salmon carpaccio
  • squab with braised red cabbage and schupfnuedlen
  • strachitella ice cream with chocolate mousse, vanilla syrup and lollipops
  • and a passed appetizer of gator soup
The result of a kangaroo eating a raccoon: gator soup.

The result of a kangaroo eating a raccoon: gator soup.

Carla

  • seared red snapper with saffron aioli and crouton
  • sous-vide NY strip steak with potato rod and merlot sauce
  • cheese tart with apple coins and marmalade
  • and a passed appetizer of shiso soup with crab


Hosea and Blais had a productive and unproblematic prep time, which I largely attribute to the fact that both of those men do know how to work well and get a job done. Stefan decided to freeze his carpaccio dish so he could slice it thinly, which Marcel was uncertain about, but figured it wasn’t his contest to lose so he wasn’t going to say anything and just work on making lollies instead. And then there’s Carla, who basically made the crucial mistake of listening to the person who came in third place in her season because she couldn’t remember to adjust her cooking temperatures for the Colorado altitude. Upon hearing that Carla wanted to make strip steak, Casey suggested they sous-vide it, a cooking technique that makes the meat cook evenly, but not something I would ever imagine someone would do for a steak. Then Casey suggested that Carla step up her game by turning the cheese tart into a cheese soufflé . . . a soufflé that then burned in the oven and was unable to be served. I attribute this soufflé disaster not only to listening to Casey, but to Carla’s “I cook with love!” game plan. Why? Let me point you toward Billy Wilder’s Sabrina:


“A woman happy in love, she burns the soufflé. A woman unhappy in love forgets to turn on the oven.”


Love. It ruins soufflés. Make note of that, everyone.

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU COOK WITH LOVE!

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU COOK WITH LOVE!

At service time, the judges and guests such as Branford Marsalis and Fleur Du Lys’ Hubert Keller were very pleased with everyone’s passed appetizers, particularly with Stefan’s gator soup. For the first courses, they liked all but Stefan’s, which they thought was too watered down. No one liked Carla’s sous-vided steak, but they loved Hosea’s scallops and foie and were ecstatic about Stefan’s squab. As for the third course, Hosea’s venison was declared the best of all his dishes, and the clear winner of that round as everyone was confused by Stefan’s 1982 plating of some tasty-enough desserty bits and very disappointed in Carla’s plate. Oddly, she chose to explain that there should have been a soufflé on the plate, breaking one of Julia Child’s pieces of advice about mistakes made while cooking:


“Remember, you are alone in the kitchen. You must stand by your convictions and just pretend that was the way it was supposed to turn out.”


It would have been appropriate for Carla to explain the failings of her dish at Judges’ Table, when she would have needed to defend that pitiful plate, but not while serving it to her guests, who proceeded to eat that dish with the taste of failure on their tongues. She knew she fucked up, and she knew she fucked up bad. I was surprised to have seen her come this far, but the fact of the matter is this: Carla has a lot of potential under all that hooty-hooing, but she doesn’t have the kitchen wherewithal to back it up. She let Casey talk her out of perfectly good ideas, and burned her soufflé with all that filthy love. It was clear she wasn’t going to win even before the end of Judge’s Table, when Padma rightly declared after the cheftestants had left:


“I think we can all agree that Carla’s probably out of the running.”


After much debate in which Toby Young kept trying (and failing) to convince everyone that Hosea’s meal wasn’t complete because he didn’t do a dessert, the judges decided to award the prize to Hosea anyway, noting that, overall, his last meal was better than Stefan’s, who basically lost the title due to a watery carpaccio.

The real Top Scallop: Hosea's scallops and foie with pain perdu.

The real Top Scallop: Hosea's scallops and foie with pain perdu.

Let this be a lesson to you all:

  • No one wants to eat a frozen, watery carpaccio.
  • Never listen to Casey.

and, most importantly,

  • Love will make you burn your soufflés.


Thanks for watching Top Chef with me, everyone. Should you miss hearing my thoughts about foodstuffs, start reading my rants about Hell’s Kitchen. I yell just about as much as Gordan Ramsay does.

Until next season, I must pack my knives and go.

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The Wife:

Can I start this Top Chef article with a little nugget about my Oscar party this weekend? Okay, because I’m going to. I’ve created a menu evocative of the Best Picture nominees, and there are two things I’m really excited to make. One is something called a Watergate Cake with Cover-Up Icing, a recipe popular with housewives during the Watergate era that uses, for no other discernable reason than its newness to the instant pudding market, instant pistachio pudding. Clearly, that’s my homage to Frost/Nixon. I mean, come on! Instant pistachio pudding? I can’t fucking wait to make this delicious abomination. The other thing I’m looking forward to cooking is a mushroom jambalaya in honor of the New Orleans setting of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which I’m adapting from an Emeril Lagasse recipe. That said, this episode totally put me in the mood for proper Cajun cooking and I am extremely glad that Bravo managed to synch up its programming with Mardi Gras so that the finale can utilize all the best that New Orleans has to offer. And that includes Emeril Lagasse.

For the Quickfire, Padma, Tom and Emeril, that gentle Food Network giant, asked the four finalists to sit this one out and they invited Jamie, Leah and Jeff back for a chance to win their way back into the finale. I thought this was an awesome twist, especially because it brought my Jamie back, as well as Jeff, who I honestly still believe has more of a right to cook in the finale than Fabio or Hooty Hoo. I just pretended Leah wasn’t there, because there was no way she wasn’t going to fuck up. The three axed cheftestants were asked to cook a crawfish dish in one hour and the winner would get to participate in the upcoming Elimination challenge, which, if they won, would guarantee them a spot in the finale. (If they lost, however, too fucking bad.)

The Quickfire Dishes:

  • Leah created a crawfish soup with andouille sausage, which was built upon a crawfish stock that she claims she made in one hour (impossible!). She explained this dish with her usual mirth.
  • Jeff cooked up some crawfish and grits with andouille sausage cooked in beer, because even though he cooks at a place called the Dilido Beach Club and got blonder since he was eliminated, he’s actually a good ol’ Southern boy at heart.
  • Jamie served up a corn cake with collard greens, poached egg crawfish and an andouille cream sauce, sort of a New Orleans Benedict, if you will. (I secretly hope she reads this blog, likes that name, and starts making this for Brunch at Absinthe.)
Jeff, who likes booze so much he even cooked his food in it.

An offering from Jeff, who likes booze so much he even cooked his food in it.


Of the three dishes, Emeril liked Jeff’s best and invited him to cook in Elimination Challenge, as well as join the other cheftestants for dinner at Emeril’s Delmonico. The next day, Jeff and the final four were told to bring their knives to Mardi Gras World where they were given their instructions for the Elimination Challenge: cater an event for the Krewe of Orpheus’ masquerade ball at the New Orleans Museum of Art. The cheftestants would be allowed to cook in the Delmonico kitchen, with one hour to prep on-site at the event. Everyone had to create two dishes to serve 100 guests, as well as a signature cocktail.

The Menus:

Hosea
duck, andouille and chicken gumbo
pecan-crusted catfish
a hurricane with grand marnier and rum

Carla
oyster stew
shrimp and andouille beignet
non-alcoholic cranberry and lime spritzer

Stefan
duck and rabbit gumbo over grits
apple beignet
black cherry and run cocktail

Jeff
fried oyster with sausage
crawfish pot de creme
cucumber mojito

Fabio
sausage and rabbit maque choux with grits
crawfish and crab stew with handmade pasta
muffuletta bread
bell pepper martini (trinitini)

Most of these things sounded very good and very New Orleans, but I had some misgivings, particularly about Fabio’s dishes. First of all, a maque choux is made with corn, so why serve it over grits, which are, in fact, boiled cornmeal? Isn’t that a little redundant? And isn’t it something of a misnomer to call it muffuletta bread, which is a particular kind of plain bread, when you incorporate the olives (necessary to a proper muffuletta sandwich) into the bread? Doesn’t it just become an olive bread at that point? And the bell pepper martini . . . I long ago learned that my people are not for making the cocktails. The only vegetable that should be in a cocktail is a stick of celery in a long island iced tea or a bloody mary. A bell pepper martini just does not sound good.

Fabio said he wanted to do something with a little bit of Italian and Creole flavors, which is a very, very Californian way of conceptualizing Cajun food. I’ve never had proper Cajun in this state, and everything I’ve ever seen at a Cajun restaurant here (including The Palace in Santa Barbara, which I love because it has tons of little delicious muffins and dirty martinis served in mason jars). Every Cajun restaurant I’ve been to in this state makes things that are similar to Fabio’s menu. It all tastes good, I just wonder about whether or not he should have striven to do something a little more authentic to the region.

I also had some questions as to why Carla would, in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, decide to make a non-alcoholic drink, but when she explained that she doesn’t drink and that she hates having to have water at social functions, it made more sense. Her drink sounded so tasty, though, that I’m sure someone at the party could have easily made it alcoholic by slipping some vodka from their carefully concealed flask into it.

Carla's offerings, filled with love, oysters and no booze whatsoever.

Carla's offerings, filled with love, oysters and no booze whatsoever.

During prep, Carla had some issues with her oysters, which Tom Colicchio rightly pointed out would have been easier to shuck had she bothered to steam them open first, but she managed, with a little help from the other cheftestants, to avoid some unshuckingbelievable mishaps (shout out to Gordon Ramsay!). The only person who had trouble during prep was Stefan, and by trouble I mean that he didn’t give a shit and was so overconfident that he constantly went out for smoke breaks and nearly cost himself a spot in the final four.

The judges arrived in masque plus Emeril and minus one annoyingly snarky Toby Young, who was replaced by a lovely post-nuptial Gail Simmons. It was nice to see her back, because she and Padma both looked smokin’ hot in their ball gowns for the evening. Everyone’s food seemed to go off really well with the guests and the judges, and I loved Jeff’s subtle attempt to endear himself to Emeril by mispronouncing “chipotle” the way the great chef does. I was also both shocked and amazed to see that so many denizens of New Orleans knew the call of the Hooty Hoo and loved her so dearly. I think I will have nightmares about masqued people calling out “Hooty! Hoo!” for a little while.

At Judges’ Table, the five contestants were called in. Although Jeff didn’t win, his cocktail was voted the favorite of the night, which would have been higher praise except for the fact that his non-win meant instant banishment from the show. Oh, well. At least he got a second chance and showed that his cooking was up to par with the final four. For her perfect execution of each dish she created, Hooty Hoo continued her winning streak and was given a Toyota Vensa with which to drive herself to the finale. Hosea, whose gumbo was lauded as the best of the three gumbos that night (I only counted two, but whatever) because it was the blackest, was also voted on to the finale, leaving Team Euro to face off for elimination. Despite Stefan’s cockiness, he cooked truer N’awlins cuisine and Fabio, whose bell pepper cocktail was voted the worst thing of the whole evening, was told to pack his knives and go.

I am okay with this. Fabio will continue to improve his skills, but he needs to learn how to plate food better. He is lazy in terms of aesthetics, no matter how good he looks in a baby pink scarf. I wish him the best of luck in getting out of the Kraproom.

Random Observations:

  • This is probably blasphemy, but Carla as a model is starting to make more sense to me. Why? With straight hair and bangs, she kind of looks like Padma. Only kind of. Only kind of.
  • I am happy to know that every year for Halloween, Fabio dresses in drag. It does take big balls to dress like a woman, and you do have to make sure that they’re not so big that they fall out of your panties. Truer words were never spoken. However, this raises some questions in my mind regarding Italian drag culture.
  • Why, by the way, does Fabio think of porn when he sees people in masks? Has he seen Eyes Wide Shut one too many times? You know what he should think of? Carnivale. He’s fucking Italian! They have a big giant month of masquerade there in a little city filled with canals! Fabio, you continue to confuse me.
  • How excited are we for the return of Make Me a Supermodel? I’m especially excited that its returning on the same day that ANTM does! Wednesday will be full of “glambition” indeed.

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 – 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.” – 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.)

The Wife:

I’m glad that the benevolent glory of Eric Ripert was featured heavily in this episode. I generally don’t get through the previews for the upcoming episode at the end of the last, so if Ripert’s appearance was teased last week, I was too busy taking of my glasses and ducking under the covers to notice. So to me, it was a pleasant surprise to see the name of Ripert’s restaurant mentioned as the title for this episode. I like Ripert. He’s always a perfect gentlemen, and I am consistently amazed that he and Anthony Bourdain are such good friends when they are such polar opposites in terms of their demeanor.

And Ripert was indeed a perfect gentleman throughout his Top Chef appearance. For the Quickfire, he and Padma asked the chefs to display their skills at filleting fish. In round one, all the chefs were asked to clean and butterfly sardines in five minutes according to Ripert’s example. The two chefs who came in last in each round would be eliminated.

In the first round, those eliminees were Jamie and Carla, who butchered their tiny sardines within an inch of their lives. Fabio, on the other hand, emerged as the winner of the round, filleting those sardines hardcore. He defended his victory by chalking it up to his experience doing prep work at restaurants in Italy. He must be from the South, because sardines are a regional favorite in Southern Italian and Sicilian cuisine. This explains why my father is so damned fond of putting them on his pizza.

In round two, the remaining four chefs had to filled an Arctic Char in five minutes. Leah, as per usual, just gave the fuck up in the middle of this challenge, throwing her hands in the air and standing under the perpetual rain cloud that sits over her head. Hosea, who bungled his sardines, managed to redeem himself in this round, while Fabio faltered and was eliminated alongside Leah.

In round three, Stefan and seafood chef Hosea faced off against each other to skin and fillet freshwater eel in a challenge that turned out to be strangely homoerotic. Dude, no part of cooking is more like porn than watching two grown men nail an eel to a board and slowly massage the skin off the creature. Stefan, having skinned eels his whole life growing up in Germany, mastered the challenge and was awarded the win. Again, he was given no immunity, but an advantage in the elimination challenge.

You know, I'm going to take the classy route and not write any of the obvious jokes about how much Leah wants to get her hands on Hosea's eel. Shit! I just did.

You know, I'm going to take the classy route and not write any of the obvious jokes about how much Leah wants to get her hands on Hosea's eel. Shit! I just did.

Instead of announcing said Elimination Challenge right away, Padma and Chef Ripert invited the cheftestants to lunch at Le Bernardin, Ripert’s restaurant. I knew that this meant they would have to recreate the dishes they were served at lunch as their challenge, but I don’t know how many of them knew that. I would hope that, as fans of the show, they knew this was coming. But I think they all got a little caught up in gazing at Ripert’s hair so white it would make Jay Manuel jealous, and his impeccably tanned skin and his brilliant teeth. Ripert could be a postcard for the French Riviera, seriously. Carla was clearly caught up in how much better Ripert’s food is than her own, because she announced that she wanted to become one of Ripert’s dishes when she grew up. ‘Kay. That’s a strange comment for a grown woman to make, but I kind of sympathize, because when I was little, I wanted to be a washing machine. Carla clearly thinks exactly like I did when I was two.

At the end of their luncheon, Colicchio brought out the knife block and broke it to the chefs that they’d be recreating a Ripert dish. Stefan was allowed to choose which of the dishes he wanted to cook, and he chose the most familiar and “easiest” by Le Bernardin standards: the lobster with hollandaise. From the almighty knife block, Carla drew the escoban, Hosea the monkfish, Leah the mahi mahi, Fabio the red snapper and Jamie the black bass, which was her least favorite dish at lunch.

Each chef was given time to test out the dish, as well as a tray with every ingredient used in the dish when prepared in the Le Bernardin kitchen. They were also given the benefit of being graced with that gentle giant Eric Ripert’s expert palate. He offered to taste and critiqued each of the cheftestant’s dishes and offer suggestions, while still not revealing if they had made the dish correctly or not. However, there was one person who didn’t get the advantage of Ripert’s palate: Jamie. She took too long on her dish, so Ripert didn’t get to taste it. And I knew when that happened that this could only end badly for her. Sad face.

Fabio served his version of Le Bernardin’s sourdough-crusted red snapper in a tomato-basil consomm against a version from the restaurant’s kitchen. The judges remarked that his crust was a little too dark, but not quite burned, and that all of the flavors in the dish were right. I still think Fabio should have gone last week, and this week I think he got very lucky in drawing the most Italianate of Ripert’s dishes.

I think Leah also got lucky in drawing the most Asian-inspired of Ripert’s dishes. She drew the mahi mahi with miso ginger sauce, but, in true Leah form, still managed to fuck it up. Her sauce was too gingery, but also too bland and her fish appeared oily, probably because of all the butter she whisked into the broth at the last minute. Still, I’ll wager that although she failed, her familiarity with cooking Asian cuisine at least saved her a little bit. Too much ginger wasn’t right, but at least ginger is a tolerable flavor, even in excess.

Stefan then served his lobster, which was spot on with the Le Bernardin lobster, even if his hollandaise was a little thicker than Ripert’s. That’s why you make hollandaise by hand, dude. Don’t use a freaking blender for that shit!

Hooty-Hoo Carla served up her oil-poached escoban with potato crisps and a red wine béarnaise to much delight. Even though her potato crisps were a little short of crispy, Eric Ripert was impressed that she figured out the correct sauce, which was not really a béarnaise at all, but something entirely different. Colicchio found it very loyal to the original dish.

Hosea served his za’atar spiced monkfish with black garlic and the judges found that his use of za’atar was far too overpowering. What’s worse: his fish was overcooked, and that’s bad news for someone who hails himself as a seafood chef. Ripert found Hosea’s dish to be the least precise recreation so far.

And then the doomed Jamie presented her sautéed black bass with blanched celery, fully knowing that her celery was overly blanched and, therefore, too salty because the blanching liquid had reduced. I believe Eric Ripert called her celery “hardcore,” perhaps unaware that being hardcore is kind of a compliment. Or maybe he actually loves over-salted celery. Who knows. Everyone agrees, though, that while it’s too salty, the fish is sautéed well.

I only like celery that is as 'ardcore as I am.

I only like celery that is as 'ardcore as I am.

At Judges’ Table, Padma calls in Fabio, Stefan and Carla. I do not know why Hooty-Hoo is suddenly on a roll like this. She’s been nothing but mediocre or even terrible for most of the season, until she got that super bowl boost of confidence and now she’s somehow in the Top 5. This is just wrong to me. The good news is that she didn’t win, even though Toby Young made a super lame joke about how much he liked her dish, giving it the compliment of being “Pablo Escoban.” Uh . . . yeah. I’m going to go with having your food compared to a Columbian drug lord is NOT A COMPLIMENT! Toby Young really makes me miss Gail.

Not surprisingly, Stefan was given the win and the best prize ever: a copy of Ripert’s new book, On the Line. And the chance to shadow him at three of his restaurants for a week. And a stay at the Ritz. And to be Eric Ripert’s plus one at the Pebble Beach Food and Wine show. Hot damn! What a fucking treat! This is probably the best prize I’ve ever seen on Top Chef, and that includes the culinary trip to Italy that Rocco DiSpirito gave away last season, courtesy of Bertoli.

Sadly, Jamie, Leah and Hosea were then summoned to the table and criticized for their collective failures. Jamie and Hosea were able to tell the judges exactly what went wrong with their dishes, even though they ran out of time to fix them. And then there’s Leah, who honestly couldn’t figure out what the fuck she did wrong. Colicchio criticized her for not paying enough attention to notice that the miso on her dish didn’t need any butter because there was no fat in it at all. The judges ask each other what’s worse: knowing what your mistakes were and not being able to fix them, or not knowing at all. I had hoped that they would choose the correct answer to that quandary, which is, of course, not knowing you did something wrong at all, because as a chef, you should know how your food failed. But no, the ousted my hometown girl, Jamie.

She really deserved to go further in this competition than either of the remaining women in the show. Leah has clearly given up, even though she told the judges otherwise. I think her actions speak louder than her words, especially because she mumbles a lot. She should have gone home. For the second week in a row, I think Top Chef has made the wrong choice. Fabio got really lucky this week, but he really doesn’t stand a chance of winning against Stefan, who is my current pick for the win. Next week, I really hope Leah goes. I hate her far more than I hate Hooty-Hoo. At least Hooty-Hoo is funny.

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.

The Wife:

It’s Dine About Town in San Francisco right now, an awesome event in which a number of restaurants in the city offer $35 prix fixe three-course dinner menus. I held off on watching “Restaurant Wars” on Wednesday because my brain had already exploded from watching Fringe a day late (thanks to a Dine About Town outing) paired with the two-hour Lost-a-thon. Instead, I saved this for last night’s post-Dine About Town viewing. Coming off the high of a $48 prix fixe three-course with two-course wine pairing at One Market, “Restaurant Wars” was pretty disappointing. Food? Boring and safe. Restaurant concepts? Nothing exciting. That whole Hosea and Leah drama? Not dramatic at all. This episode made me long for the days of season three’s Big Gay Dale and his idiotic scented candles, or even for the satisfying teamwork between Blais and Stephanie in executing their really sweet gastropub last season. This episode – and these contestants – really need some spice, and not Hosea and Leah flavored.

Padma announced the Restaurant Wars challenge really early on, tying in the Quickfire to the Elimination Challenge, which I liked. She brought in guest judge Steven Starr of Starr Restaurants, for whom the cheftestants would cook a single dish that would showcase the concept for the restaurant they would like to open. Two winners would be chosen and, rather than giving either of them immunity, they would be chosen to execute their restaurant vision in the Elimination Challenge.


The Quickfire Dishes and Restaurant Concepts

  • Carla: seared cod in tomato oil for a homemade, seasonal New American joint
  • Hosea: shrimp with morels, garlic potato puree and asparagus for a Mediterranean seafood restaurant
  • Leah: tempura poussin with soy sauce and dashi for a blandly described “Asian-inspired” restaurant, in honor of her Filipina mother (a fact I never could have guessed, actually)
  • Stefan: an asparagus trio featuring trout, salad and soup for an Old World Meets New concept
  • Jeff: salmon with sunchoke and artichoke puree and grilled corn for a simple American restaurant
  • Radhika: seared cod with chorizo, creamed corn and spice rub for a global restaurant
  • Jamie: chilean sea bass with grilled corn and cherry tomatoes for a seasonally focused restaurant
  • Fabio: carpaccio, roasted veg and a high-end cheesesteak sandwich for a Mediterranean lunch spot (Fabio would punch me in the face for calling his filet mignon sandwich a cheesesteak, but it was a cheesesteak.)


Rightfully, Steven Starr placed Jeff and Fabio in the bottom two. Jeff’s dish was a little too simple to demonstrate a concept, and Fabio’s was just confusing. I do not understand how the three things he served on his plate went together at all. Starr’s top honors went to Radhika and Leah for their more innovative dishes. Looking at the dishes they prepared, these two deserved the win for the Quickfire, however, I think a better set of winners might have been Jamie and Stefan, whose visions for their restaurants were clear in the dishes they cooked and who, frankly, we all know would have ended up being better leaders. When I heard that Radhika and Leah were given the prize of having their restaurant concepts executed, I knew we were in for a fucking disaster. We’ve never seen either of them step up to the plate (Husband Note: The other kind of plate. Not the kind with noms on it.) and express an opinion before, and I didn’t think they were going to be able to start now.

Radhikas winning dish.

Radhika's winning dish.

Things were looking up for Radhika at the beginning of this challenge. She got first pick of teammates and chose Jamie, Carla (why?) and Jeff. As the team talked out the concept, Radhika immediately had an idea for a name for her restaurant: Sahana, a Sanskrit word meaning strength. I would eat at a place called Sahana. It sounds pretty. In fact, there’s a Middle Eastern place in San Francisco called Saha that must be derived from the same root word. Leah, on the other hand, picked Hosea (natch), Fabio and Stefan, her least favorite person. She had no thoughts on a name. Honestly, if you come in to Top Chef without potential names for restaurants you want to open in the future, you are probably not the right temperament to be on a show called “Top” anything. (Husband Note: Except for Top Stupid! Or Top Bad Chef! Or Top Gun…I mean…what was I talking about?)

Teams were given guestbooks for the evening, which was a nice touch, but definitely took away one major aspect of being a restaurateur, and that is promotion. Remember in season three when whoever played Front of the House had to act partly as a carnival barker to get butts in the seats when the restaurants opened that evening? I guess that wouldn’t quite work in New York to form the challenge that way, but I bet it would have made this challenge a lot more interesting. In addition to the guestbooks, teams were given the remainder of that day to put together and shop for decorations for the restaurant spaces. The following day they would get 3k to spend on food at Restaurant Depot and Whole Foods and 6 hours to prep for service. Restaurant Wars: The 24 Hour Edition.

The design process, which has always been an interesting part of the Restaurant Wars challenge, was also practically absent this season. We saw maybe five minutes of the chefs pulling bronze giraffes off the shelves of Pier 1 and Stefan, remembering Big Gay Dale’s mistake, hoarding all of the unscented candles for his team. But that was it. I once again have to point to Restaurant Wars from Season Three where the chefs were given 24 hours to paint and decorate their small restaurants in that Miami retail mall. Granted, the restaurants failed so spectacularly on their soft open that they were given a second night of “opening night” service, but the amazing thing about that challenge was that in between services, a decor consultant came in and gave the teams some small pointers on how to improve the decor to give the diners a better experience. How a restaurant looks and how it makes its patrons feel is a major part of the dining experience, and I didn’t get any of that this year at all.

Instead, I got Leah and Hosea getting too close, which ended up not affecting them at all on service. Why? Because they’re professionals. If I am to believe Tony Bourdain, a lot of shit goes down after service – and even during service – that certain cooks might not want to tell their significant others about. But even if that happens, when you’re cooking on the line, it doesn’t matter if you’re fucking the pastry chef or the hostess or having a ménage à trois with the garde-mange and the grill station. All you are doing when you are in the kitchen is cooking. So, thanks, Bravo. Nice try. I wish you had decided to show me some poor design choices instead. I am actually longing for scented candle and black table cloth disasters.

Other than that, there were some minor issues in the getting of the food stuffs. Fabio and Leah found that Whole Foods was out of the red snapper they wanted, so they bought black cod instead. Jamie and Jeff had a similar problem at Restaurant Depot when Jamie couldn’t find lamb shanks, but Jeff decided to poke about in the freezer on his own and managed to dig up two boxes. Problem solved.

Leah finally came up with a name for her Asian-inspired restaurant, Sunset Lounge, which is pretty much one of the most horrible names for a restaurant I could think of. (Husband Note: How about Syphilis Tumor Island?) I honestly can’t tell if it sounds more like a bar or a retirement community. Either way, I do not want to eat there. This is another reason I don’t want to eat there:

Sunset Lounge Menu

  • egg roll
  • sashimi two ways
  • short ribs
  • coconut curry bisque
  • seared cod
  • chocolate parfait
  • panna cotta


Will someone please tell me how those desserts complement that menu? And possibly why, for an upscale Asian-inspired restaurant, Leah and her team were unable to come up with a menu more elevated than what you might find at your local Hawaiian barbeque joint? Seriously, all she’s missing is a plate of loco moco and some gravy fries. The only thing Sunset Lounge had going for it, as far as I’m concerned, is the fact that they had Fabio taking on Front of the House. I work in North Beach, a part of San Francisco that has hundreds of restaurants with Fabio-esque men asking you to eat there, and I can tell you that it does not hurt to have a pretty Italian man working in the front of your restaurant.

As far as the food is concerned, I’d rather eat at Sahana:

Sahana Menu

  • curried carrot soup
  • grilled scallop with chickpea cake (Chickpea cakes are all the rage now; I went to two restaurants this week that served them.)
  • braised lamb shank
  • seared snapper
  • baklava and frozen yogurts
  • spiced chocolate cake


During prep, Stefan discovered that his freezer was wonky, so he did what you do when in a bind in the kitchen: you find solutions. Rather than letting his panna cotta go to hell in a handbasket, he started chilling small batches of them in ice-filled pans to get them to cool properly. Carla had a similar problem, but didn’t figure it out until it was too late, forcing her to serve her froyos as froyo soups. Leah, meanwhile, ended up totally destroying her cod fillets because the bones were too delicate and she portioned them before boning them, basically ruining her fish.

As far as service itself was concerned, Fabio rocked it out as Front of the House, being charming and attentive, which are exactly the qualities you need to work front of the house at a restaurant. I think he knew it, too, strutting about in his tight white suit and declaring, in a Team Fabio shirt THAT I NEED while in confessional:


“I run the front of the house. We can serve monkey ass in an empty clam shell and we can still win this one.”


Frankly, I would have liked to see that. It would have made their menu more interesting.

I am so on Team Fabio this year.

I am so on Team Fabio this year.

Radhika, on the other hand, was probably the worst person to play front of the house. She was smart in asking Jamie, who actually runs a kitchen as an executive chef, to be her chef de cuisine and run the kitchen for the night, with Jeff on the line and Carla, the pastry chef, on desserts. But I think Jeff, with his Jesse Spencer good looks, would have been better for Front of the House. All Radhika did all night was wander around nervously, dressed in that lavender grey dress that made her look like a rain cloud, harshing the culinary boner of her entire restaurant. She also didn’t seat people promptly, manage her tables well and spent too much time in the kitchen. I mean, really, Radhika, that dress was pretty, but not on you. When I walk into a global restaurant, I expect one of two things: hostess/front of the house/waitstaff all in uniform trendy black or I expect the hostess/front of the house to be brightly attired, to stand out and to represent the kind of vibe you’ll get from the restaurant. I realize Radhika might not have brought a sari with her (and might not own one at all, though I’m sure she’s been to several traditional Indian weddings in her life), but I wish she had worn something that would have made her look more like the feel of the restaurant. A bright pink dress. A bright green one. Anything bright. Just not that sad grey shift. The sadness of that dress just permeated the place. And Radhika herself was practically grim. Bad news all around.

As far as the food served that night, it was all pretty passable. Leah’s fish for the judges came out undercooked, but the worst part of that wasn’t the undercooking, but the fact that Leah gave up on herself and declared that she didn’t care in front of the rest of her team. Then there was Carla’s dessert disaster of runny unfrozen frozen yogurt. Thankfully, Stefan’s desserts were good. So good, in fact, that the judges decided they were the best part of either restaurant. And for that reason alone, Sunset Lounge was called first to Judges’ Table and was declared the winners. The judges also saw fit to inform Leah that her cod was the worst dish of the entire evening, but Stefan’s desserts and Fabio’s excellent service in the dining room got them the win. I really thought they would give the ultimate win to Fabio, but I guess that’s not fair because it’s not a show about being a great Front of the House, so, instead, Stefan was declared the challenge winner and given a suite of GE appliances just like the ones in the Top Chef kitchen.

I would like Leah to go home as soon as possible, given her incredibly morose tone and lack of confidence. I don’t think she could have sounded any less enthusiastic about herself and her abilities when she answered, though several stutters, that she thought her food that night was pretty good when asked her opinion by the judges. She honestly sounds like she doesn’t want to be there anymore. And that’s fine by me. Go the hell home so I don’t have to see you anymore. In my head, when she’s talking, I imagine that she’s the sad little rolly thing from the Zoloft commercials. She can go hang out the Radhika, the Prozac Rain Cloud and have a miserable ol’ time together. Just get her off my fucking television.

As for the losing Sahana team, the judges identified its two main problems: desserts and service. They grilled Carla about her strange dessert decisions, and she grew bizarrely defensive, shouting things about how even though she knew the yogurts were not good, she served them anyway because making them made her happy and she wanted to send that love out to the dining room. What? What? Excuse me? What? That doesn’t make any sense. Tom mentioned to Radhika that it was part of her job to sell the food from the kitchen and if she knew Carla’s desserts were going awry, she should have cleverly started calling them yogurt soups, thus letting the diners know what to expect and saving the menu item. But Radhika has no leadership skills. She reveals that she basically let her team create the menu and work on their individual portions and that she did nothing early on in service to stop the Carla trainwreck from coming to froyo fruition. This, ultimately, proved tot the judges that Radhika did not have the makings of a Top Chef, and she was told to pack her knives and go.

Hooty-Hoo needs to get hooty-home ASAP, as well. Her and Leah are next on my list of people I hate and want to see leave.

You see how disappointing it is to come home to this miserable episode after a delightful meal at One Market? Filled with golden lentil soup with vadouvan and deconstructed mushroom pot pies and well-paired wines? Do you see?

The Wife:

Curse you, Bravo, with your clever T-shirt marketing! Now I totally need to buy my husband an “I Heart Padma” shirt. I wish Ted Allen were still an occasional guest judge so they could make a shirt that says “I’m Gay for Ted Allen.” I would totally wear that, and then me and my husband could walk around with our cool foodie Bravo shirts, and hang out with his sister and her Bronnie tee from Make Me a Supermodel. We’d be so awesome.

But clever tees aside, Bravo went on to complete horrify me by introducing this week’s Quickfire challenge. Along with guest judge Hung, who was only there because he’s the “fastest Top Chef in history,” Padma instructed the chefs to create an acceptable meal out of horrifying canned and processed “pantry staples” in 15 minutes. (That’s why Hung was there. A Quickfire is usually 30 minutes. So, you know, 15 is faster.) I was so horrified by this challenge, because it goes against basically everything restaurant cookery is about, something Jamie made known in the confessional. But, to the cheftestant’s credit, they are truly all Top Chefs because they were able to take a pantry full of crap and actually make it look (for the most part) like edible, actual food.

The Quickfire Dishes

  • Leah: waffles with strawberries and sausage
  • Stefan: baked bean soup with Spam and a grilled cheese and Spam sammie
  • Fabio: mac and cheese with roasted mushrooms, artichokes and chili pepper (this actually looked surprisingly appealing)
  • Radhika: spicy red bean dip with grilled bread
  • Hosea: sweet pea soup with Spam
  • Jeff: deep fried canned conch with coconut sauce and a pina colada
  • Jamie: garbanzo bean and artichoke bruschetta with baked mussels
  • Ariane: Thanksgiving turkey Spam sandwich (Uh, by the way, everyone, Turkey Spam is called Treat. I’m very sorry that I know this, but constantly calling it “turkey Spam” was driving me nuts. Why the fine people at Hormel foods think that a faux-turkey Spam concoction is a treat I will never know.)
  • Carla: salmon cake with lemongrass and ginger mayo
Upon closer inspection, why didnt Ariane get automatically sent home for this shit sandwich?

Upon closer inspection, why didn't Ariane get automatically sent home for this shit sandwich?


Hung did not care for Leah’s extra crispy waffles, Radhika’s bean dip (on the basis that it wasn’t an entree, but a snack) and Jamie’s bruschetta, which Hung said looked like she just opened cans and put them on bread. He loved Hosea and Stefan’s soups, as well as Jeff’s well-plated seafood trio because he took the time to bread and fry the conch. Stefan was given the win and Hung’s highest accord, which was that Stefan’s dish looked like something Hung would eat at three in the morning. (That’s a compliment, right? Like, after a long restaurant shift and some after work drinks with the kitchen staff, you want to go home and soak up the booze with a grilled cheese and Spamwich and some baked bean soup?)

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs were told that they would be creating a family-style lunch for 16 using seasonal ingredients that honor a signature protein. The almighty knife block was introduced to place the cheftestants into the protein teams. Hosea, Leah and Dr. Lisa Cuddy drew Lamb. Jamie, Carla and Stefan formed Team Chicken while Radhika, Fabio and Jeff comprised Team Pork. The newly-formed teams headed back to Chez Chef to work on their menus. Ariane felt really left out because Hosea and Leah have spent so much time canoodling, which Jamie and Stefan got into a major tiff because Stefan was dead-set against hearing other ideas for the menu, even when Jamie and Carla presented him with the valid concern that what they were serving wouldn’t be seasonal enough.

The next day, the teams were taken shopping, but realized something was different when they headed out of Manhattan. They arrived at Dan Barber’s Stone Barn, a farm-to-table restaurant that grows all of its ingredients on site. Barber told the chefs that they would be able to “shop” on his farm for their ingredients while learning about farming from the head farmers, for whom they would be cooking lunch, served straight from the Stone Barn kitchen.

I love the idea of this challenge. I really do. I think this episode was actually really well structured to balance out my horror at cooking with processed foods versus cooking with farm fresh ingredients. I’m an avid reader of Michael Pollan and I’ve come to realize that most “foods” found in the supermarket are not actually foods, but byproducts of a nutritionalist movement that actually removes real food from the American diet. Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma explores methods of food production and, much like reading Sinclair’s The Jungle, once you read it, you will seriously reconsider buying things that come from factory farms. In his follow-up to that book, In Defense of Food, Pollan writes a short treatise about returning actual food to the American diet. In short: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. By food, of course, Pollan means vegetables, fruits, meats, dairy and grains. He does not mean Hot Pockets and Easy Mac. The challenges in this episode highlight the difference between the way, I wager, most people eat, a product of the Age of Convenience that began in the 1950s, and the way they should be eating, based on an agrarian model that should have never been disrupted. Sure, cooking with real food takes a bit more time and effort, but the benefits are well worth it. Just look at the difference between the pantry food in the Quickfire (cooked in additional haste to illustrate the point of convenience foods) versus the meals presented at the farmer’s table.

Team Pork

  • Seared pork loin
  • Sausage ravioli with pesto
  • Fried green tomatoes
  • Grilled corn salad with bacon
  • Crème brûlée with fresh berries

Would you like to stroke my cock?

Would you like to stroke my cock?


Team Chicken

  • Breaded chicken cutlet
  • Lemon-herb roast chicken
  • Chicken ravioli soup
  • Nectarine and strawberry tartlet


Team Lamb

  • Roasted duo of lamb (a roulade and a medallion)
  • Heirloom tomato salad
  • Rosemary and garlic roasted potatoes
  • Swiss chard
  • Summer berry trifle
Tomato! Tomato! Tomato! (Thats my excitement over tomatoes.)

Tomato! Tomato! Tomato! (That's my excitement over tomatoes.)

I can’t honestly capture in words how excited I was to see Jeff go for fried green tomatoes from the garden, as they are one of my favorite foods. I love any and all tomatoes, but I adore fried green tomatoes, especially served with a little goat cheese and a balsamic reduction. It’s a pretty perfect meal. But fried green tomatoes aside, I question why, in the height of summertime, Team Pork didn’t go for a more traditionally Southern menu. Had they done, say, collard greens with ham instead of the sausage ravioli with pesto and replaced the pedestrian crème brûlée with a more summery dessert (something involving melons, perhaps, if any were available on the farm), I bet they would have hit it out of the park. The judges and the farmers seemed to respond pretty negatively to the amount of pesto on the ravioli, with Toby Young calling it:


“The pesto is the big bad wolf that has blown this pig’s house down.”


Which would have been really clever, had Jeff not introduced their team as The Three Little Pigs. Many people questioned Team Chicken’s decision to serve a soup on a hot summer day, but regardless of the heat factor, it was a really great soup. But then there’s Team Lamb, which completely dishonored the signature protein by letting Ariane beat the shit out of it and overly tenderize it. The judges weren’t fans of the crème brûlée, but they were really in hate with the shoddily constructed trifle from Team Lamb. Dan Barber, however, loved Carla’s tart and Tom praised her for making a killer pie crust. (Which is no small feat.)

A fine tart.

A fine tart.

At Judges’ Table, Team Chicken was called in. The judges thought all of the dishes were well-prepared and allowed the protein to shine, and made no short shrift of letting Carla know that hers was their favorite desert. Because of their collective efforts, Dan Barber awarded them with a joint win. Then the remaining six cheftestants were called in. The judges grilled Team Lamb about their mishandling of the lamb itself, wondering why Leah and Hosea would just leave the lamb to Ariane if she had no idea how to tie it or properly butcher it. Team Pork was criticized for their seared pork loin, saying that it was lacking in fat content and thus not as savory as it could have been. Toby Young, by the way, “didn’t even get to first base with the pork,” finding the dish to be bloodless and anemic. (I now worry that he actually has sex with food products back home.)

When the cheftestants returned to the stew room, seated under giant boxes of Diet Dr. Pepper, the drink product that just won’t fucking leave me alone, the judges slowly began to realize that Dr. Lisa Cuddy just can’t cook at all. Padma tried to be nice and say that it was only in this challenge that she really failed, having cooked well for them before, but Toby and Tom both snickered at the thought. So glad they’ve finally realized that Arine has just been around on this show for far too long. And, indeed, when the losingest cheftestants were called back in to Judges’ Table, it was Ariane who was told to pack her knives and go, which couldn’t have made me happier.

Also, are Bravo’s text addicts totally smoking Diet Dr. Pepper? They answered that Team Lamb best honored the protein in the Bravo text poll? Were we watching the same show? Did we not all see Ariane torture that poor dead lamb? Maybe they were just lulled into a false sense of security by the rosemary and garlic roasted potatoes (which I make at home, actually) and the heirloom tomatoes and Swiss chard. This team definitely had the best use of farm-fresh side dishes, but that lamb was whack.

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