Friday, January 9, 2009

"This is Top Chef, not Top Scallops!"

Friday, January 9, 2009

Did you really think I wouldn't use that WONDERFUL little line of Fabio's for my headline? How could I possibly resist? He is truly irresistible! In an endearing, make-me-laugh, hilarious way, NOT in an attractive way. Just wanted to be clear!

I’m beginning to be extremely irritated with the producers for heavily editing the opening scenes to cast an ominous tone over the obvious victims of the challenge. They toy with us loyal viewers! The rational side of us knows that Jamie and Hosea are probably safe and that Eugene and Melissa are in trouble. Yet, that sneaking suspicion lurks in the back our minds, all due to the editing! Ugh!

Chefs are STILL sunburned! Ridiculous! I don’t get it-is it really so intense and stressful that they have to swill large quantities of alcohol whilst sunning on the balcony just to get through the day? I can’t imagine what other reason there could be for the obvious lack of sunscreen use.

On to the quickfire!

Padma and the guest judge, Jean-Christophe Novelli, an acclaimed pastry chef, were waiting, with the usual self-satisfied cheer, in the Top Chef kitchen. Of course, the chefs all know Jean-Christophe. Does someone give them a primer of possible guest judges before the show airs, so that they can study their cuisines? I just can't understand how they always seem to recognize the guest judges, even if they are going to have their own show on Bravo.

The Diet Dr. Pepper quickfire challenge (yes, this is the where the product placement has taken us-on a show about talented chefs, we're being forced to think about Diet Dr. Pepper) was to make a sugarfree treat. Padma and Jean-Christophe happily wheel away a large cart containing all of the Whole Foods brand sugar in the Top Chef pantry. The chefs are remarkably calm, and quickly go about making their various treats. I would have been anxious, but it became evident right away that they all had a decent game plan. There was lots of yogurt and fruit floating around. Over half of Dr. Chase's desserts at his restaurant are sugar free. There's an awful lot of talk from him but no wins. In the midst of preparation, it would appear that Ariane was paid to pour Diet Dr. Pepper into her crepe batter. Eugene decides to make a Filipino dessert called bananas lumpias, which is basically a deep-fried banana. I'm concerned-usually his Filipino dishes are disastrous.

Eugene ended up being safe- Jamie, Ariane, and Carla misfired during the quickfire; Dr. Chase, Radhika, and Leah scored. I thought Leah's dish, a crepe with whipped ricotta, honey, strawberries, and a balsamic reduction looked delicious! Definitely my favorite dish of the episode. Apparently, Dr. Chase really does know how to make a decent sugar-free dessert. Radhika pulled out the win for her lovely bread pudding. I half-expected Padma to say “Radhika, you are also the winner of a lifetime supply of Diet Dr. Pepper.” I mean, you could barely keep the Dr. Pepper out of your mind as you the camera constantly flashed to random cans sitting around the kitchen.

Padma announces the arrival of Toby Young, Gail’s replacement at judge’s table. Of course, Stefan and Fabio know exactly who he is, because he’s from England, and all European chefs know each other. The chefs are given the night off, which alarmed me at first-remember in Top Chef: Miami when the chefs got the “night off”? Tom and Padma pulled a fast one on them-the chefs got all dressed up to party and pulled up to a hoppin’ Miami club only to discover their elimination challenge was to cook late night munchies for club-goers.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case here. I think it might have just been another ploy of the producers to warm the cockles of our hearts as we listened to Eugene’s conversation (via a handy T-Mobile Sidekick) with his young daughter.

Tom arrives at the house bright and early. Fabio worries needlessly that Tom will be shocked at the house’s state of cleanliness. Instead, Tom jumps right in to the description of the elimination challenge: the chefs will be cooking a family-style dish “with no limits”, something that will show the judges “who they are and what they’re capable of as a chef.” The catch? It will be a blind tasting-the judges won’t know whose dish they’re judging. Now I happen to think that the chefs should be turning cartwheels upon hearing of this challenge. It’s the perfect opportunity to cook what they know best, without the pressure of working with an unfamiliar cuisine or ingredient or having to rely on a team. They should have been THRILLED. Perhaps their lack of enthusiasm came from the shocking news that not one, but TWO chefs would be eliminated. As Hosea smartly put it, that’s 20% attrition. I’m not sure why they were surprised-did they really think that act of generosity in the last episode was really without a price tag?

As the winner of the quickfire, Radhika got to decide which group of chefs she’d cook with. I should’ve known something was up when the chefs were divided into two groups (remember Top Chef: San Francisco? ), but I missed the hint. Interestingly enough, yet another indication of the general feeling of ill will toward Stefan was revealed, as Radhika based her entire decision on which group Stefan would be cooking with. He is obnoxious, but until he started wearing his “I make good babies,” shirt and criticizing my beloved Hosea, I didn’t really have a strong feeling about him.

During Group A’s 30 minute shopping foray into Whole Foods, Jamie expressed her alarm about Eugene’s dish: a whole fried red snapper with daikon fettuccine in a tomato-basil sauce. While Jamie’s arrogance and general attitude of pathetic moping when she doesn’t win are beginning to seriously grate on my nerves, I had the same reaction. Daikon paired with Italian? Ew. Eugene is a great guy, but if the past few challenges are any indication, he has really lost that amazingly sensitive palate we saw in the first episode, when he managed to create a perfect Indian dish based on what he tasted at the Indian grocery.

Group A consisted of Jamie, Hosea, Radhika, Eugene, Fabio, and Melissa. Radhika, the immunity queen, makes a spicy crab bisque that apparently is the sole reason that hoards of people come to her restaurant. That kind of talk would have been ominous if she had not won immunity, as we will later learn. Hosea makes halibut wrapped in bacon and roasted baby vegetables-yummy. Hosea is comforting, like a big bowl of mushroom ravioli. Points for whoever guesses that guilty pleasure pop culture reference. Fabio decides that “meat and fresh pasta is myself”, so he begins to make fresh ravioli and sous-vide lamb. Ha! I didn’t even have to look up the spelling for that one! I learned the technique from Hung in Season 3. It is a method of cooking in which the food item is vacuum-packed and placed in a container of temperature-controlled water. Hung is a master, but Fabio? Perhaps he should stick to his 500-year old Italian recipes. When it comes time to serve, he realizes that his lamb is under-cooked.

While Group A is panicking about finishing in time, Group B heads to Whole Foods. I’m getting weary of Dr. Chase somehow having expertise on EVERY kind of challenge or cuisine. He has catered events before, he is an expert on Latin food, he cooks family-style in his restaurant, and conveniently, he knows how to create a wide-variety of sugar-free desserts. Have you won immunity on your own yet, doctor? Carla had been doing fairly well up until this point, but once she arrived in the store, she began to listen to her cooking spirits again. Big red flag.

Back in the kitchen, Jamie describes her lovely and light scallop dish, which provokes Fabio’s clever response. “All she does is scallops. This is Top Chef, it’s not Top Scallops!” I just had to write that once more. It makes me laugh every time. For the record, I understand why Jamie wanted to redeem herself for the disastrous slimy scallops in the last challenge.

Group B arrives, ready to cook, only to discover that the five empty seats opposite Tom and Padma are for them. They’ll be judging their competitors! Group A is appropriately shocked, but they do have the bonus of watching all the reactions and comments on a hidden camera. I suppose that is a blessing and a curse.

Radhika’s dish, the famous crab bisque and crab salad, give us our introduction to Toby Young, aka, the Simon Cowell of Top Chef, aka pure EVIL in human form! He refers to her salad and bisque as “weapons of mass destruction.” Wow. What a way to start a run as judge. I’m feel quite sure the number of the applicants for the show might plummet after watching this episode. I didn’t think he could get any worse, but then he tasted Melissa’s ahi crudo tacos and compared them to cat food. That was below the belt, Toby. A low blow! Hosea’s vegetables outshone the fish, Fabio’s lamb failed but his pasta soared, and Eugene predictably bombed, despite Dr. Chase liking his presentation. All the judges loved Jamie’s scallops. I don’t particularly like her, but I knew that I was right about her skill!

I feel that Group B had an unfair advantage in that they were able to cook AFTER having been witness to the terror of Toby Young, but I suppose there was no other way around it. Leah, who I’m beginning to like more and more, decided to make “bread-crusted” fish, something she’s never tried. Not really her best move. Ariane made skate with pineapple and fried capers. That particular combination sounded a bit weird to me, but she was totally confident. I felt bad for Carla, making scallops after Jamie. Stefan made some sort of German dish with red cabbage.

Jamie AGAIN made an arrogant comment to the camera after sampling Group B’s dishes. I’m thinking she needs to start worrying a little bit about karma-it always comes around in reality shows! Stefan was a huge success, garnering only one criticism, from the number one member of the “I Hate Stefan” club, Radhika. Toby loved Dr. Chase’s mini-dishes and Leah’s fish, although the other judges weren’t wowed too much by them. Carla’s gremolata had enough garlic to ward off a coven of vampires. Tom still seemed a bit underwhelmed, and I don’t think the chefs have really gotten out of the slump that characterized the last few episodes.

Jamie finally obtained a victory, though her blithe behavior seemed extremely insensitive, considering Melissa was in tears pretty much since the moment Toby responded to her dish. Ariane and Stefan just came across as genuinely happy to be on the winning side. I feel that I’ve probably underestimated Ariane-she may not be too flashy, but she has proved to be consistent, once she felt comfortable with the competition and developed some confidence.

Not surprisingly, Melissa, Eugene, and Carla ended up in front of the judges to defend their dishes. In what is becoming a pattern this season, the chef that remained safe was the one who was able to own up to the mistakes in the dish and provide a reasonable and humble explanation of what went wrong, and/or what he or she would do next time to make the dish better. This time, that chef was Carla. The confession of her failed vision and a possible solution to improve her gremolata appealed to the judges. Eugene tried to highlight his creativity as a positive trait, but it just wasn’t enough. Melissa made the fatal error of saying “I didn’t think it was that bad.” NEVER the right sentence at judge’s table.

Hung is the guest judge next week! I cannot imagine the cruelty that can arise from the combination of Hung and Toby Young. I'm shivering thinking about it!

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