Friday, December 12, 2008

"I out-palated him!"

Friday, December 12, 2008

How did this happen? So there I was, eagerly anticipating my ON TIME viewing of Top Chef, the very first time I might actually finish a recap within 24 hours of the show airing, and…I went to bed early. What a disappointment. I fear my side career as an aspiring recap writer may come to an end if I can’t improve on my timing. At least my free time today allowed me to have not one, but TWO viewings of the episode, so hopefully I won’t leave any juicy detail unwritten.

I was a big fan of this episode, despite the lame quickfire. I don’t usually enjoy the culinary bee. The chefs are often surprisingly bad at it, although that could just be the pressure of knowing they are on national television.

Oops, I forgot to mention my deep thoughts regarding the opening scenes. First, it is now painfully obvious that one or more of the producers and/or camera men/women have taken a strong liking to Dr. Chase. We are ALWAYS seeing him in a state of undress. I’m pretty sure he’s married, and more committed to his relationship than either Hosea or Leah seem to be to their significant others. Finally, the biggest juicy nugget from the intro was Stefan’s newfound obsession with Jamie. Apparently, he has been bestowing tokens of affection upon her for quite some time now, including a pair of pants that he fashioned out of a Calphalon kitchen towel for her stuffed bunny. Jamie seems pleased by the attention, no matter what she says, but her comments and the time devoted to the scene set up a Stefan-centric episode where we, the audience, are given a very clear indication of how the rest of the chefs feel about him.

On to the bee! If it was a spelling bee, I would so win, by the way. I did find the twist interesting-instead of blindfolds and tiny ramekins of barely identifiable seeds, the chefs would have to go head to head, each tasting a sauce and attempting to identify as many ingredients as they can. There were three rounds, three sauces. First up was a shrimp and lobster bouillabaisse. The chefs were predictably nervous here, and none of them were very aggressive. Hosea, Carla, Stefan, Ariane, Leah, and Radhika moved on to the next round, a thai green curry. Hosea immediately lit up, recognizing what is obviously one of his fave dishes. Stefan gave Leah a knowing smirk, which was annoying, but then he immediately proceeded to list off practically every ingredient in the curry. He knows his stuff.

The final showdown was between Carla, Hosea, and Stefan. The sauce? A Mexican mole. I have actually never had mole myself, but I’ve always been curious about the chocolate element. Are raisins really a part of a traditional mole? If so, I was even MORE impressed with Hosea and his super-palate. Thai, Mexican, AND seafood???? He needs to give Melissa lessons. He dominated, after Stefan suggested tomato paste as an ingredient.

Now for the elimination challenge! It was a bit personal, this time, as the chefs learned they would be cooking for frequent guest judge Gail Simmons’ bridal shower luncheon. They were clued in to the wedding theme as they drew knives labeled “borrowed”, “old”, “new” and “blue.” Ariane claimed that she knew that phrase because she’s married. Radhika began to freak out worrying that Stefan would be on her team, likening such a scenario to being on a team with Satan. I haven’t seen anything terribly devilish yet from him, but he MUST be bad. Fortunately, Radhika landed on a Team Borrowed with Jamie and Ariane. Jamie immediately takes charge, deciding that they would borrow from Radhika’s Indian culture AND use her super secret special spice, vadouvan for a yummy carrot puree. I was actually proud of Radhika for acknowledging her roots in a way that would further her team in the competition, which is different than heavily relying on it.

Team Blue consisted of Fabio, Leah, and Melissa. Fabio is sure that “of all the theme, it’s the hardest.” Also, “there’s not any freaking blue food!” After a discussion on whether or not figs can be considered blue, they decide to go with a deep sea theme, selecting sea bass, roasted corn, and chard for the menu. I’m wondering what Melissa can really contribute if all she is doing is the chard. Let me tell you, she is flying under the radar, and not in a good way. She is sure to be rooted out soon as one that needs the boot!

Team New looks like a disaster from the start. Danny thinks of pickles when he thinks of new, and somehow has the inside knowledge that Gail likes a lot of pickling. Are pickles new? I’m with you, Carla. I was worried when Eugene suggested sushi. It’s weird, but when the chefs decide to make their own specialties for a team event, pushing them onto other chefs, it usually doesn’t end well.

As for Team Old, Dr. Chase, Stefan, and Hosea decide upon a tomato trio, deciding to focus on heirloom tomatoes and “old world” cuisines: a tomato terrine, gazpacho, and tomato carpaccio with a sorbet. Yummy. Stefan is SURE that Dr. Chase’s sorbet will fail, because of his millions of experiences with catering. He says no. Dr. Chase says yes. Clearly, the whole group of chefs hates him. Hosea immediately has a reaction about Stefan, and I’m proud of Dr. Chase for standing his ground.

Shopping was fairly uneventful, the highlight definitely being Carla’s secret for finding her husband in a grocery store and Fabio’s declaration that “this fish want to go back to the ocean.” Stefan continued to be annoying and condescending, giving Hosea a hard time about the tomatoes for his gazpacho. BACK OFF, buddy! Hootie!

As usual, the prepping gives us ominous clues, like Ariane’s foreshadowing about cooking the lamb being her only job. The surf n’turf sushi roll is risky, for sure. Tom looks dubious. Plus, Eugene used a digital rice cooker that ruined his sushi rice. I do love tomatoes, and Hosea. Team Old is looking strong, despite Stefan’s obnoxiousness. Tom astutely notes that Team Blue’s dish is boring and would likely go unnoticed among the other dishes. He will be in the kitchen during the luncheon (no boys allowed!) and Fabio likens this experience to being a priest in the presence of a pope. He continues to endear himself to me. ☺

Side note: Melissa thinks better with her green hat. Bring your green hat! (Points for anyone who recognizes that little pop culture reference)

During the prep and before the chefs served their food, we were treated to a flashback of all the chefs’ various memories of weddings. Of course, Fabio cooked for his wife’s bridal shower. Ariane hearts marriage. Stefan has been married three times.

The challenge was fascinating! Team Old scored! EVERYONE loved the sorbet, but Stefan’s terrine was pronounced “bland.” This is what happens when you are what my mom would call “bossy boots.” Team New failed miserably. Danny called his yuzo sorbet a “granata”-not a granita. Eugene forgets to explain to the judges how to eat the dish. It’s a disaster. Padma lightly tosses the nori aside. Dana Cowin looks completely confused. Stefan turns out to be right about women not liking to put food together with their fingers.

Team Borrowed was wildly successful, due in no small part to the way that all the chefs banded together to make sure the plates were finished in time. Ariane underestimated how much time she would need for her lamb, so they were behind when it was their turn. Everyone loved Jamie’s puree. Despite her slightly unlikeable personality, I will stick to my theory that she is going to go far. She is a sophisticated chef.

Team Blue did, as Tom predict, underperform, mostly because their dish was boring. See, that’s all I have to say about it. The challenge ended nicely, however, because Gail seemed genuinely touched by the presence of all her friends.

At judge’s table, we learned what the professionals really thought of the dishes. Team Old and Team Borrowed were the obvious winners, but who would Dana Cowin single out as an individual winner? After Jamie had gone on and on for an entire episode about “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” and such, I was sure she would pull out the win, finally. She does deserve it, by the way, even though I really don’t like her. However, she was SNUBBED, which was even more powerful because of her quick aside to Ariane about wanting the win. What she needs as much as a win is a big slice of humble pie. Team Blue made a “sad plate”, and nothing that Team New did turned out well. Despite Daniel’s jolly explanation of why he added mushrooms to Carla’s salad, it wasn’t enough to keep him around. He was sweet, but he’s like the poor man’s Joey. I won’t miss him much.

I should note that despite the distracting cleavage, Padma was a vision of loveliness in this episode. I loved her hair! Also, the picture above is, as you might guess, Team Old's plate from the shower. I am Team Hosea, after all.

Martha Stewart is descending upon the chefs next week! Should be good!

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