Thursday, November 20, 2008

Top Chef: Season 5, Episode 2

Free Labor for Colicchio’s Craft

Previously: The cheftestants arrive in the Big Apple and they start by peeling apples. Lauren gets knocked off first so we won’t really remember her at the reunion show, and Team Rainbow forms with Jamie, Richard and Patrick, except Patrick throws a monkey wrench and breaks up Team Rainbow by getting himself eliminated in the first challenge.

What’s at stake? Hey, Glad is every where now, I can’t think of any other brand that does the same. Anyone? I bet a TOP CHEF would know.

Opening scene of typical shirtless guys waking up (thank you Jeff the Hair) and women looking for something. Richard the Bear is sad that Team Rainbow has shrunk, and Ariane is still trying to recover from her near elimination because of her undercooked faro. Fabio is saying some weird thing about how it doesn’t matter how many dragons you slay (translation: challenges you win), all that matters is that you get the princess (translation: named Top Chef).

Hey, did you notice there are two bald guys in the group? It’s going to be tough keeping Stefan and Hosea apart, other than Stefan is the Euro chef and speaks with subtitles.

The cheftestants arrive at the Top Chef kitchen for the quickfire challenge. Waiting for them are Padma and guest judge Donatella Arpaia, who seems to be the career judge for the Food Network after her countless appearances on Iron Chef America and The Next Iron Chef.

Padma says they’re going to have to make a dish that’s the favorite of New Yorkers, eating millions of it a year. What could that be? Hot dogs. Yep, New Yorkers love those ground leftover pork pieces sitting in the same salted water all day. And Padma brings out supposedly the most famous hot dog vendor in the city, which is Angelina DeAngelo. The cheftestants have to put up their fancified links next to DeAngelo’s.

They rush off to make hot dogs, and many of them, of course, have never made one or haven’t done one since culinary school. Luckily, we don’t really get too many shots of cheftestants grinding meat and stuffing it into casing, because, really, how pretty is it to stuff a sausage?

They have 45 minutes to create their own hot dog and then dress it up, but Jill decides she’s not going to bother making her own hot dog and just goes for the ready made. She also decides to give it a Vietnamese spin by turning them into summer rolls. (She’s not the only one doing an Asian twist because Eugene is making hot dog sushi.)

Jill’s summer rolls are up first as Padma and Donatella goes around tasting each hot dog. BTW, there are still so many cheftestants that they don’t bother showing everyone’s hot dogs. So other than Jill, the editors featured Radhika’s kabob-style lamb and pork dogs, Daniel’s pork hot dog, Eugene’s maki hot dog rolls, Hosea’s bacon and roasted pepper pork dog, Stefan’s “world” dog (which Donatella makes a face at when eating), Carl’s lamb-and-pork sausage with quick sauerkraut, Ariane’s chicken sausage, and Fabio’s andouille hot dog.

Last featured is Jamie’s hot dog, and Padma bites into it and there’s a thud. She’s bitten into a piece of bone. At least she’s gotten her calcium supplement for the day.

Then Padma and Donatella tries Angelina’s famous hot dog, and of course they rave about it after only taking one bite. I really don’t get why she was there in the first place, other than they wanted to have someone wheel in a hot dog cart.

Donatella says Jill’s hot dog dish was the worst because she didn’t even try to make her own sausages, and she also didn’t like the taste of Stefan’s world dog, which gets him steaming. She did love Radhika’s Indian-inspired dog, which was “moist and satisfying” and Fabio’s, which had a real Mediterranean feel. She also liked the smoky flavor of Hosea’s, but the ultimate winner is Radhika, who gets immunity.

Commercials. Want to know a secret? Kids can’t keep secrets. Thank you Swanson’s for the heads up. Ugh, that Xbox commercial with the whole game inside the back of the guy’s head is creepy, and the guy looks like his head hurts.

Elimination challenge. Padma says New Yorkers are the toughest customer, so they have to open a restaurant in Manhattan and serve up food to New Yorkers. Wow, is it the restaurant challenge so soon? Oh, not really. They just have to serve three courses of a “new American” menu at some restaurant.

Padma leaves it up to the cheftestants to decide who does which course, and it’s a mad chaotic mess. Wow, I’m surprised so many people want to make dessert. Usually most people avoid that. They’re all clamoring around each other while Jeff the Hair is like this calm executive chef off to the side writing on a piece of paper. He gets them to organize into three groups of appetizers, entrées and desserts and lucky for him the group divides evenly. Chaos averted.

They go shopping at Whole Foods, and this is when you can tell who’s going to do well and who’s in for trouble, at least based on editing. For example, Hosea wants to make a crab salad that he makes often at his own restaurant back home. But they don’t have fresh Dungeness crab (because it’s not in season when they filmed this episode) so he buys cooked crab in a container. Red tag this guy for elimination.

Jill’s at the egg aisle and sees these big ostrich eggs, and she decides to use them to make a quiche. One problem: She’s never cooked with them before. Another red tag here.

What’s funny is that none of the dishes people are talking about really sound like “new American.” It just sounds like everyone’s making dishes that they’ve made before at their restaurants back home. This is really going to be a snoozefest of an episode.

The cheftestants pay for their groceries and head back to the Top Chef kitchen to prep. Jill is trying to get her ostrich egg cracked, and Fabio comes over and helps her by stabbing a big chef’s knife into the top. OK, whatever works for you. (I’ve seen most chefs start by using a drill to create the first puncture, then saw off the top.) Jill instead uses a hammer to push the knife deeper until the egg cracks open.

In comes chef Tom Colicchi, who announces that the restaurant they’ll be serving their dishes will be his, Craft. But they’re not just cooking in Tom’s kitchen, they’re also serving 50 rejected Top Chef candidates from the New York area. Chef Tom says to expect them to be super critical (and way bitter).

The cheftestants pack their knives and head back home, where Fabio is rambling on again about his whole theory of slaying dragons and whoever gets the princess is the winner. I’m not really digging that metaphor for some reason. It’s no surprise that he has bonded with the other European cheftestant, Stefan. They’re like their own little European Union (so from now own I’m going to refer to them as EU Fabio and EU Stefan, or if you like, ewww Fabio and ewww Stefan.)

Commercials. Wow, did you see that 83-year-old woman water skiing? Grandma’s got legs! Hey, what just happened? All of a sudden I’m watching a snippet of Hosea and Leah sitting on a lounge chair flirting with each other. Did I just switch to VH-1 or something? Did the show start again? I’m confused. I think some lowly editor inserted a scene from a future episode. So now we know there’s romance brewing for these two.

Back to the real episode, I guess: Everyone wakes up to open up at Colicchio’s Craft. Eugene is wearing some white cloth around his head, which is kind of odd given that he has a buzzed haircut and is actually almost bald.

(Side note: I ate at Craft about two years after it opened and it is a very beautifully designed restaurant. At the time, the food was this weird approach where the menu lists different elements like starches, vegetables, sauces, and meats and then you created your dishes. It was very ala carte. I think it’s moved on from that but still maintains the simplicity of the cooking style.)

In the Craft kitchen, Jamie is thinning out her corn soup and feeling pretty confident, but EU Fabio is trashing her soup as too simple. He says you have to take it to the next level, so for his beef carpacchio, for example, he’s making an olive out of liquid. He tried to explain the chemical thing about how it works, but I couldn’t follow him and I don’t think they had subtitles for that segment when they really needed it.

We go through the regular shifts of overconfident cheftestants and the worry warts, like Carla who’s fussing about the crust on her apple dessert (oooh, looks like something I’m posting about this weekend but using pears!), and Nervous Ariane (that’s my new nickname for her, like Nervous Annie) is forcing everyone to try her lemon meringue martini. Richard the Bear thinks to himself that it’s too sweet, but he says he’s not going to tell her because, um, this is a competition. But Carla and Radhika do hint to Nervous Ariane that her dessert is a tad too sweet. So what does she do? Nothing.

Oh, she does tell everyone that if she goes down, she’s going to blame everyone for not being open with her. Huh? Why don’t you just blame your cooking? C’mon!

The rejects arrive for dinner, and they already start bitching and complaining about the menu. Meeeeow!

Back in the kitchen, in walks Chef Colicchio in a long blue apron and he introduces Craft’s regular chef Damon Wise who will be working with Chef Tom as “expeditors,” which if you recall from last season’s steakhouse episode, the expeditors are the people who call out the orders and asks how much longer it’s going to take for them to get it.

The judges arrive and it’s ladies’ choice with Padma, Donatella and Gail. The servers start taking everyone’s orders so now we can finally start seeing the finished dishes. Here’s the rundown:

Jamie’s chilled corn soup. Gail thinks it’s beautiful and light with the mint.

Hosea’s crab salad. Donatella says it’s slimy and one guy says he can taste the can it came out of.

Leah’s yukon potato and seared scallops. One guy says the scallops tasted sandy and Padma thinks the presentation is kind of a throwback to the 80s.

EU Fabio’s beef carpaccio and his kalamata liquid olives. Padma says it was beautiful and Donatella liked that he was being different with the olives.

Melissa’s grilled avocado salad. Everyone thought it was boring, and one guy (naturally) says he could have done better if he were selected. More people rip the creativity of the dish.

Jill’s ostrich egg quiche. It looks pretty, but someone says it resembles dog food. Donatella says it taste like glue.

Eugene’s deconstructed open-face meatloaf. Donatella doesn’t like the presentation.

EU Stefan’s pan seared halibut with micro greens. Padma likes the taste, others liked the flavor. It looks like a safe dish served at every restaurant.

Jeff the Hair is falling behind and Chef Tom is waiting for his chicken with honey mustard and chorizo. Everyone likes it but they’re not thrilled by it.

Alex’s stacked pork tenderloins. Donatella doesn’t like the flavor. One woman thinks it’s not up to par with something a Top Chef candidate would make (say like … herself, maybe?).

Radhika’s citrus avocado mousse. Gail says the food is weird and that the avocado mousse is really just a sweet guacamole.

Daniel’s ricotta pound cake. Donatella says it’s good, and most people seem to like it.

Nervous Ariane’s lemon meringue martini with hidden cherries and cookies. Padma nearly chokes from taking the first bite and I think she’s spitting it out now in her napkin. Everyone agrees that it’s toooo sweet.

Richard the Bear’s banana sandwich. Gail calls it an after-school snack.

Carla’s rustic apple tart with ginger peach tea and a lonely slice of cheddar cheese. Padma likes the taste of the dessert, but Donatella thinks the cheese looks like it fell off the diner truck.

All the dishes are served and now Chef Tom does a tasting in the kitchen. He makes a weird face after eating Nervous Ariane’s dessert.

Chef Tom joins the rest of the judges and says there were obvious missteps. He feels a bit shocked because he liked all the food last week, and now he’s wondering where did those cheftestants go? Plus, he doesn’t think anyone defined “new American” in their food and instead went backwards. (I’m still not really sure what the expectations are for “new American.”)

Back in the stew room, it’s Chef Tom instead of Padma who does the roll call, but not before he does a little speech about how unimpressed he was at the cheftestants new American cuisine. He asks for Jamie, Hosea, Nervous Ariane, EU Fabio, Carla and Jill. It’s funny how this season they’re calling the top and bottom people in together.

Padma says there were some bright spots and then starts going over each dish, starting with Carla’s dessert. Tom says the pastry was excellent, but she needed to work the cheddar into the dish. Padma says it was her favorite dessert.

Then they talk to EU Fabio, who really doesn’t know why he’s in this group. He thinks he’s going to get chewed out so he says he’s at a loss as to why people wouldn’t like his beef carpaccio because it’s so popular back at his restaurant in Los Angeles. Gail lets him know that everyone did like it and he’s among the top dishes, so Fabio has to do a 360 and thank the judges for putting him in this group. Everyone laughs.

Everyone raves about Jamie’s soup and the subtle hints of chili in the oil. I’m really tempted to try it because I love corn soup.

Donatella announces the winner as EU Fabio, who throws kisses at the judges. He says something in Italian during his interview about being the winner (what? Does this air in Italy?), and says that he’s now tied with EU Stefan. Um, Fabio, it’s only the second week.

Jill, Nervous Ariane and Hosea are on the bottom and Padma interviews each person. Hosea says he wanted to do something light and refreshing and actually thought he would win, but it sounded like the seasoning was off.

Ariane says she knew her dessert was too sweet, which is when Padma says she literally had to spit it out.

But the most interesting exchange is with Jill, who first of all looks like she’s out of it either because she’s super tired or just doesn’t care at this point. She talks about how she bought the ostrich egg to add another challenge but that she realizes it didn’t work and will try to do better the next time. She was actually going on and on and this is probably when the producers signal to Padma to let the cheftestant go on and on because sooner or later they’ll either hang themselves or make themselves sound incoherent. Judging by Chef Tom’s look, I think Jill achieved that.

Padma sends the trio back to the stew room so they can deliberate more, and Ariane goes back touting the fact that she’s the sure loser to go home this week. Take a number, Ariane.

Judgment. Tom says you have to stand out in this city (we know, because it’s tough). He says Hosea was complacent, Nervous Ariane was just so-so in a really tight competition, and Jill had a good idea but didn’t deliver. Just at the point where Padma is about to drop the knife, Jill makes this odd twitch in her face like she’s motioning to Ariane, telling Padma “pick her, she made you spit in your napkin.” But Padma sends Jill packing.

Jill says she’s disappointed and that Nervous Ariane should have gone home (I guess that twitch really was a signal), and that she’s still trying to figure out what she wants to do in her food career. She promises to crack more ostrich eggs until she gets it right. (Well, not really, but she should.)

Back in the stew room, Nervous Ariane cries and says she doesn’t deserve to be there and that she should have gone home. Carla tries to comfort her, saying something about not mistaking the universe. That universe, it’s a tricky thing in Top Chef land.

Next: They’re cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the Foo Fighters, looks like it’ll be a wet dinner, and did someone just spit on a plate? It’s like Thanksgiving at the Clampetts’.

“Top Chef: New York” airs every Wednesday at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. Central) on Bravo TV. Photos courtesy of Bravo TV’s Web site.

2 comments:

Carolyn Jung said...

Ya gotta love "Top Chef.'' Ahh, the drama, the tears, the back-stabbing, the glorious, though sometimes, bizarre outfits Padma wears. What other show gives you this much to look forward to? So Single Guy, who are you rooting for this season?

Chef Ben said...

So far my favorites are Jamie (local favorite), Jeff the Hair (he seems calm in the storm) and Fabio (I think most people can't resist a man with an accent). But I'm still holding out for others to emerge.