Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"I overdo it."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

As I shared in the episode 2 recap, gone are the cheerful opening scenes of early morning rituals and intimating of the doom facing one chef. Alas, they have been replaced by a rather sinister clip of an empty Top Chef kitchen, which features a dire soundtrack and an immediate flashback to the drama of last week's episode. This time we were treated to Jen C's profanity-laced tirade and various talking chef heads complaining about Jamie's two teeny stitches/lack of effort.

I miss the old days.

Quickfire challenge:
The incredibly famous (according to Marcel) David Chang is waiting in the kitchen with Padma. I feel guilty for judging Marcel's seemingly overzealous eagerness when I discover he is the chef/owner of the Momofuku chain.

After the chefs are divided into four teams of four, they discover that it's time for my most favorite, the most beloved quickfire: the mise en place relay! Fabio, who is teamed up with Angelo, Tiffany D., and Mike Isabella, worries only that Angelo wears his pants a bit too tight. Spike, who'll be working with Richard, Stephen, and Tre, hilariously determines that Stephen will only be useful for serving them a bottle of wine while working. This mise en place relay has been given a bit of a twist: the four teams will divide up the tasks of dicing garlic, butchering lamb chops, and prepping artichoke hearts. All of these items will be used to create a single dish. The team that finishes prepping first will press a large red button (inevitably stolen from Staples) that starts a fifteen-minute clock. The remaining teams will then be on a time crunch to finish prepping and then complete a dish in the remaining time. It's a hardcore relay. Plus, it's being judged by superstar bada** David Chang. The chefs are justifiably freaked out.

As usual with this challenge, there's a lot of flurry and bustle going on in the kitchen. Richard seems especially crazed. Marcel alarms his team with his freakish laughter, while lauding his own ability to use his nifty trick to create perfect chops. Fabio is attacking 40 cloves of garlic at a time with a huge chopping board, and wonders how the other chefs do not realize the futility of peeling cloves. It's a race, people! Because he finishes first, the other teams freak out. Jamie shows that even if all she can cook is soup and scallops, she does have a knack with the garlic, and starts to give her team an edge. Team Green, Fabio's team, rings the bell first.

Team Blue (Spike's team) finishes with just under thirteen minutes on the clock, followed by Team Red (Antonia, Jamie, Casey, and Dale L.). Team White (Marcel, Tiffani F., Carla, and Dale) plods along at a pathetic pace, finishing with only eight minutes to go. Looks like we'll be having lamb carpaccio in the Top Chef kitchen this morning.

One of the carpaccio's, that of Team White, is successful, while the other, made by Team Red, is deemed overwhelmed by garlic and not as cleanly presented. Despite having finished first, Team Green's lamb chop covered with tandoori-spiced yogurt was not beloved by David Chang. Team Blue's chop with chili aioli was selected as the winning dish, despite not having received the benefit of Stephen's accompanying wine selection.

Elimination challenge:
As she often does throughout a season, Padma dramatically states the obvious when she declares New York City the "Restaurant Capital of the World." Though I am distracted by the vast quantity of garlic peelings, bits of lamb fat, and artichoke leaves that litter the floor of the kitchen, I manage to hear that the for the elimination challenge, the four teams will each have the opportunity to dine in one of the fabulous restaurants in the "Restaurant Capital of the World." They will then create a dish that would be a fitting addition to that restaurant's menu. The four restaurants chosen are:

Ma Peche-part of David Chang's empire; focus on French Vietnamese cuisine; "straight-up yummy" according to Angelo
Team Green: Angelo, Fabio, Mike Isabella, and Tiffany D.

Townhouse-Chef David Burke; focus on modern American cuisine
Team Red: Antonia, Jamie, Casey, and Dale

Marea-Chef Michael White; Italian, focused on coastal cuisine
Team Blue: Tre, Stephen, Spike, and Richard

wd-50-Chef Wylie Dufresne; famously quirky with focus on molecular gastronomy; Marcel is predictably thrilled.
Team White: Marcel, Tiffani, Carla, Angry Dale

The twist? This will be a double elimination.

At first, I felt like it was an interesting, albeit straightforward challenge. All of the restaurants have a good reputation, but I assumed the only one that might really throw the chefs for a loop was wd-50. This was all before I observed the fare at Townhouse.

At Ma Peche, Angelo gives his teammates a lengthy presentation about each dish they taste. Fabio tries to figure out how he can incorporate pasta into a French-Vietnamese dish.

Stephen does not impress Tre by his inexplicable knowledge of Marea, which is where he apparently spends all of his time. We learn that Tre does not like sea urchin and that Marea's dishes have restraint and elegance, which worries wacky Richard.

Wylie Dufresne is a charmer, bringing out all kinds of weirdness. The first course is an "aerated fois gras." Marcel is almost shaking with excitement, because "food is what I do." Not sure how that talent specifically applies to Wylie Dufresne's techniques.

The jolly, rotund David Burke is easily the most charming chef. I echoed Casey's sentiment when one crazy plate after another arrives at the table: lobster with tentacles shooting out; roasted rack of lamb bedecked with octopus, and a cocktail served on top of a glass with a real live fish floating about in it.

Back at the house, we learn that Stephen may or may not have a weakness for something other than nice ties and white wine, and that something is highly illegal and addictive. It's alarming.

The prep goes smoothly at the restaurants. Tiffani is diving headfirst into the liquid nitrogen container. Dale L. is making some sort of buttery popcorn dish. Angelo is up to his usual brilliant knife techniques, carefully preparing his fish. Tre reveals that he is known in some circles as "the black Italian."

First up is Marea. Padma and her crew of judges, which include Anthony Bourdain, have decided to travel by taxi to each restaurant, as the peasants do. None of the dishes fail miserably, though Spike's caponata is a bit murky and Stephen's salmon is overshadowed by the herby fennel pollen, which Anthony says makes it taste like a "head shop." Richard and Tre are the favorites.

At Ma Peche, Angelo has determined his fish would benefit from the addition of white chocolate. It's a hit with the judges. Fabio couldn't restrain his Italian and made his own ricotta to accompany a lamb chop. Mike's sockeye salmon is flavorful, and David Chang gives him props for paying close attention to their dinner on the previous night. Tiffany's crudo was pedestrian, but tasted good.

The judges arrive at Townhouse and enjoy partaking in some of the craziest dishes of the evening. Casey has made a "scallibut", a beautifully prepared piece of halibut carved and cooked like a scallop. Antonia prepared a vibrant and colorful dish, two perfectly executed purees (peas and carrots) topped with scallops that looked impeccably cooked. Unfortunately, Dale's roasted veal loin included thyme caramel, peanuts, and popcorn. Not looking good for him. Jamie, once again, made soup, and attempted to make the presentation "cool" by covering it with a glass bowl turned upside down, creating the illusion of "smoked soup." Soup is soup, Jamie. Get a new trick.

Last stop is wd-50. At the commercial break, we learn that Marcel was accused of culinary plagiarism by one of Wylie's sous-chefs. Scandalous! Both Tiffani and Marcel abandon common sense and instead attempt to use Wylie's techniques rather than stick to what they know. Dale wisely determines to make a dish "inspired by Wylie" instead. To her credit, Carla manages to incorporate the scary modern techniques in a very effective way, presenting a delicious yet not ordinary dish of shrimp and grits. Dale's sunnyside up egg dumpling and braised pork belly, surrounding by braising liquid, "tastes like breakfast." The judges love it, especially Wylie, who loves eggs. Tiffani's shattered melons look a mess on the plate, and Marcel's lamb dish is unexciting.

Angry Dale, Angelo, Antonia, and Tre are selected as the favorite dishes from their respective restaurant challenges. They're especially excited to learn that the winner receives a six-night trip to New Zealand. (Side note: Bravo is really stepping it up with the prizes this season-a trip has been given away almost every week!) Dale, after graciously answering whether or not he knew that Wylie Dufresne is a "notorious egg slut," is declared the winner. He can be quite pleasant when he's not angry.

Sweet Dale, Stephen, Fabio, and Tiffani prepared the least favorite dishes. Poor Fabio is attacked for his resistance to making an appropriate dish. Stephen realizes that his dish was too muddled. Tom calls out Tiffani for trying too hard in Wylie's kitchen, and Dale cannot talk his way out of his crazy French toast veal dish. Sadly, he and Stephen were the two chefs chosen to pack their knives. It's a great example of how the structure of Top Chef is completely unpredictable. One bad dish can send you home. Period. Dale was the runner-up in his season, and now he's out after three episodes. Stephen, on the other hand, was barely keeping his head above water, and leaving was probably a blessed relief.

Recapping progress: three episodes down, three to go. That doesn't take into account the fact that it airs tonight. Heck.

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