Thursday, November 27, 2008

Top Chef: Season 5, Episode 3

A Very Special Foo Fighters Thanksgiving

Previously: The cheftestants cook at Tom Colicchio’s Craft restaurant for about 50 bitter rejects. Jill decides to go big or go home, so she buys gigantic eggs (ostrich to be specific). Nervous Ariane goes extreme with the sugar in her lemon meringue and nearly chokes Padma to death. In the end, Fabio wins for Italy and Jill is sent packing after an incomprehensible defense of her ostrich quiche.

Opening scenes of the condo, and EU Stefan is bonding with EU Fabio over their two wins. Get a room already, guys. Nervous Ariane is still talking about her too sweet dessert, saying she needs to shine this time around. Richard the Bear is giving a rundown of some nicknames for people in the house. Hmm, wonder if any would be fun to pick up? He calls Jeff the Hair, Don Johnson (not bad) and calls Leah “fun and flirty and the one with a nice rack.” Huh? That’s not really a nickname as much as it’s an unusual description from a gay man.

The cheftestants arrive at the Top Chef kitchen for their next Quickfire challenge, and they see the dreaded knife block. Padma says “Happy Thanksgiving,” which probably throws them off since this was maybe filmed in the spring? Standing next to Padma is guest judge Grant Achatz of Alinea restaurant. Now, anyone in the food world knows of Achatz, the molecular gastronomical genius of Chicago who also battled tongue cancer recently. Padma gives him one of the grandest introduction I’ve heard her do yet, and all the cheftestants treat him like a rock star. Achatz tells them that as chefs they have to roll with the punches. With that, they each grab a knife, which has a variety of numbers on them.

Padma says the number corresponds to a page in the Top Chef cookbook. (OK, who out there bought one? You are a Top Chef junkie.) They have one hour to put their own spin to the recipe from one of the past cheftestants. Hey, that’s actually a pretty cool challenge.

The cheftestants grab their copy of the cookbook and then start prepping the dish. What’s weird is everyone’s talking about whose recipe they’re making, but they’re not saying how they’re going to personalized it. All of a sudden, Padma comes in shouting “STOP!” like someone dared to put chocolate in her peanut butter. She tells the cheftestants that they’re now in the mood for soup, so they have to use the ingredients they have and turn them into a soup. Curveball No. 1 as well as Product Placement No. 1 with Swanson’s Broth, which is supplied as the base for everyone’s soup.

So now everyone’s making some weird soup, like Leah who has to make her tuna tartar into some kind of soup. Or Carla’s olive oil poached shrimp (that actually sounds like something nice to top the soup). BTW, I’m now going to call her Cosmic Carla, because she’s so in touch with the universe, you know? Right now she’s talking about building flavors in her soup and adding the most important ingredient… love. Gotta love her because we all need a little crazy now and then with our Top Chef viewing.

Padma and Chef Achatz go around tasting the soup. It must be his refined taste buds because Chef Achatz is quick to give a thumbs up or thumbs down. (Or maybe it’s just because he’s from Chicago and he watched one too many of Roger Ebert’s movie reviews.) So he likes Stefan’s broth, thinks Nervous Ariane’s Colorado rack of lamb soup is overcooked, Daniel’s black forest ham and egg soup is a nice complement to the original recipe, Richard the Bear’s Mexican soup needs acid, Melissa’s Italian wedding soup blurred the lines in a not so good way, Fabio’s mushroom asparagus soup’s flavor was flat, and he likes Carla’s shrimp coriander soup.

Chef Achatz says he liked Jamie’s soup, which was balanced, Daniel’s hearty and rustic ham and egg soup, and Leah’s, where she used white asparagus topped with her tuna. He names Leah the winner, and she has immunity.

Commercials. Wow, am I in the 80s or is that a Calvin Klein fragrance commercial? Eternity, wear it when running on the beach with your kids dressed in gauzy white clothing.

For the elimination challenge, Padma tells the cheftestants that they’ll be cooking Thanksgiving dinner for some very special clients. They’re split into two teams, and Leah as the winner of the quickfire gets to choose her team and she picks: Jamie, Hosea, EU Stefan, Melissa, EU Fabio and Radhika. Fabio pulls the Euro card again, saying how he and Stefan will unite to make an all-American Thanksgiving.

Padma plays a taped message from the special guests and it’s the FOO FIGHTERS! (Like you didn’t already know.) All the cheftestants get excited about cooking for rock stars. Hey, you know if you add a “D” to their name, they’re actually the FOOD Fighters. No wonder they’re fans of the show. Ha!

The cheftestants will cook at the Foo Fighters’ next concert venue for the band and their entourage. And the winning team gets invited to the concert while the losing team does clean up work. (Wow, doesn’t that sound like some sad Thanksgiving where all the popular people in your family goes to the movies and you’re left cleaning up. Didn’t happen to you? No? Guess it was just me, then.)

They jump into their black SUVs and take I-490 to Rochester, New York, home of the Blue Cross Arena. They meet a “roadie” who shows them the arena and then takes them to the kitchen. They keep walking and walking until they’re outside. Curveball No. 2: They have to cook a turkey in a makeshift outdoor kitchen.

The cheftestants are freaking out because all they see is a bank of microwaves. But in reality, some of them aren’t microwave ovens but miniature convection ovens from Calphalon (Product Placement No. 2), which isn’t an oven but still pretty good for cooking.

They have 15 minutes to plan, and of course all the cheftestants are freaking out (especially Jamie) about the lack of burners and the caterers are feeling pretty confident (not-so-Nervous Ariane and EU Stefan). Jeff the Hair again emerges as the calm in the storm and starts to organize his team (he’s a natural leader). Ariane gets assigned to the turkey, which I think is a pretty daring move giving someone who’s been at the bottom from the beginning of the season such a big responsibility.

They go shopping and that’s where we learn that they’ve given names to their teams. Leah’s team has decided to call themselves Team Sexy Pants (no one knows why) and the other team is Team Cougar, which for some reason is all about Ariane, whom Alex explains is mature and kind of hot when she works out in her shorts. So from now on, I’m going to call Nervous Ariane, The Cougar.

Commercials. Those V8 commercials are so wild. You know who needs a V8? That creepy Benjamin Button in that Brad Pitt movie. Is anyone really going to go to a movie when Brad Pitt is all wrinkly and short? I’m just sayin’.

The cheftestants start cooking and Eugene gets this brilliant idea to make a grill after buying some charcoal at the store. (He probably learned that from years of grilling at the beach growing up in Hawaii!) Team Cougar is making turkey, roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, pork roast and other sides with banana s’mores for dessert.

Team Sexy Pants is pretty much making the same along with mashed potatoes, gravy, side vegan salad, and a pumpkin tiramisu and fruit crisp. For some reason, EU Stefan is annoying Jamie to no end. I think it’s the whole Alpha Dog thing where you have two Alpha Dogs in the kitchen.

As the teams are busy finishing up their cooking, it starts to sprinkle (Curveball No. 3 from God). The TC Production crew tries to put up tents and I have to say, those cheftestants don’t miss a beat because they’re still grinding away at the cooking despite the rain. Luckily, most of them are done and they start packing up and taking the food inside for the turkey chow off.

Inside, they’re setting up like a buffet line, and Team Cougar is really helping each other out. They really are working like a team, and Cosmic Carla says they have more to prove because they weren’t the chosen ones.

In walks the judges: Padma, Chef Tom and Gail, and then comes the Foo Fighters. Despite the rock stars, Richard the Bear is again getting all hot over fellow bear Colicchio. It was cute the first time, but now it’s borderline stalking, me thinks.

Team Cougar is up first and the Foo Fighters grab some “spoonbread stuffing with figs” and some macaroni and cheese with bacon. The band members (well, mostly Dave Grohl talked the most) liked most of the food like the smoked pork loin, but didn’t care so much for the stuffing and the potatoes are slightly “al dente” (meaning undercooked). Chef Achatz says that some things are classic like stuffing and should be prepared the classic way. Which is kind of an odd comment for Top Chef land where the cheftestants are always told to be innovative and dinged for being boring and predictable. And does anyone else think Chef Achatz doesn’t look like he wants to be in this episode? I know he’s a genius and all, but he really looks like he was only on the show to promote his new book, Alinea.

The judges and Foo Fighters go to Team Sexy Pants’ buffet line, grabbing turkey, vegan cornbread stuffing, roasted corn salad and more stuff. Seems like EU Fabio has been the designated presenter because he seems to be doing all the talking. The Foo Fighters don’t seem to be as excited about Team Sexy Pants’ turkey, but they do like the caramelized marshmallows over the yams.

They head for the desserts and The Cougar is busy eating so Jeff the Hair tells her to stop stuffing herself. Doesn’t matter because the group goes to Team Sexy Pants first, who serve up their roasted pumpkin with honey and cinnamon tiramisu, and a peach and blueberry crisp with cinnamon cream.

The Foo Fighters like the tiramisu. Chef Tom thinks it was resourceful for EU Fabio to use pumpkin with the tiramisu, which isn’t a classic Thanksgiving dessert. They also love the crumble. Did anyone else notice Gail was really bossy during this segment, like she wanted to control the discussion with the Foo Fighters around? She’s such the groupie.

At Team Cougar, they serve up a pumpkin mousse and the banana s’mores. The Foo Fighters come up with the worst comments for this round, calling the pumpkin mousse “barf-fait” and comparing the vanilla cream on top of the banana s’mores as spit. Ouch.

The cheftestants are anxious to hear who won because they want to go to the concert. Daniel says he has his party hat and party underwear on. Woah, way too much information there, Daniel.

The Foo Fighters say it was pretty close, but they choose Team Sexy Pants. Team Cougar is pretty upset and Eugene is swearing up a storm (or bleeping up a storm). I feel bad for them because it was pretty close. Looks like dessert was their downfall yet again.

Team Sexy Pants attend the concert and of course they’re having a lot of fun (what is Jamie wearing on her head?) while Team Cougar is cleaning up inside. None of the guys are talking but The Cougar and Cosmic Carla are talking a lot.

When the two teams meet up at the stew room, you get the typical gloating from Team Sexy Pants and then Danny flips the bird. Uncool, dude. What a sore loser.

We know who’s heading in to the Judges’ Table, so in comes Team Cougar who lines up. Padma asks if they were surprised they lost, and Jeff the Hair (who hasn’t really smiled since losing) says he thought they did a good job given all the curveballs. Chef Tom says Jeff looks really pissed, but Jeff says it’s because he has a lot of heart, that’s all, when competing.

Chef Tom tries to give them a bone and says that it wasn’t a runaway win for the other team, and Gail adds that The Cougar’s turkey was the better of the two teams. They talk about the dry spoonbread stuffing (Jeff) and the undercooked potatoes (Danny) but most of the discussion focuses on the desserts.

Gail says the pumpkin mousse had an odd combo of flavors with the pumpkin and the berries. Chef Achatz says the s’mores should be like s’mores with the burnt sugar and the gooey chocolate but what came out didn’t resemble s’mores at all. Gail repeats the band’s spittle comment.

The judges deliberate and talk about which dessert was the least offensive. Chef Achatz says the s’mores were conceptually a mess. Doesn’t look good for Team Rainbow.

OK, we went to commercials and then all of a sudden there’s this short clip of the cheftestants in the stew room and Daniel is eating a peanut butter thing and dropping food every where and Jamie is getting annoyed. (I think I’m going to call her Alpha Dog from now on.) She says Daniel gets on her nerves and then the segment is over and we’re back to commercials. What was that? If it’s like an extra segment, I wish they would label it or something. It’s throwing me off.

Back at the judge’s table, Team Cougar reassembles and Chef Tom says they did like Eugene’s pork dish, so he’s safe and can leave. Alex is also safe, and Carla’s dessert was the best of the three, so she’s safe as well. Ariane’s turkey was excellent, and Chef Tom says she redeemed herself this week, so The Cougar can leave.

That leaves Richard the Bear, Jeff the Hair and Daniel. Tom says something about traditional dishes being the way to go and the non-traditional is what didn’t work. Padma sends Richard the Bear packin’. And there goes Team Rainbow. Now it’s just Jamie the Rainbow (but I already called her Alpha Dog, so really there’s no rainbows left for this season).

Richard is really emotional during his exit interview, talking about how it took him three seasons of trying out for the show before he finally got selected. He’s proud that he did make it to the show. And we learn now that, yes, even bears cry.

Next: It’s cooking in the morning at the Today Show kitchen, and someone makes something that forces Kathie Lee to spit it out (like she hasn’t done that before). And be prepared for the return of The Rocco.

“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.


Sarah said...

Your recaps are the best! I don't even have to watch the show to get a sense of what really goes on. Keep it up, especially the sarcastic note!

Carolyn Jung said...

So who you rooting for this season? I think Fabio might get my vote, or Jamie because she's the SF gal.

Chef Ben said...

Sarcastic? I was going for snarky. :P

Carolyn, I was originally rooting for Jeff the Hair, but this last episode looked like his cooking might be a bit off although he has kitchen leadership qualities. So now I'm rooting more for Fabio and Jamie too!

SaltShaker said...

Street slang - Cougar – an older woman, usually in her 40s or older, who usually sexually pursues men in their 20s and 30s.

Just in case you were still wondering why Ariane was the one the team was referring to...


Cheri said...

Hey, did you see you are now included in the Monday Morning Mixer on bloggingtopchef? I hope you don't mind, I wrote them and said they should check out your recaps.