Thursday, December 18, 2008

Top Chef: Season 5, Episode 6

It’s a Top Chef Christmas Miracle

Previously: They throw a bridal shower for Gail and Danny throws shiitake mushrooms into Carla Top’s salad. But that’s not half as bad as the surf-and-turf sushi that went all wrong. The Cougar (Ariane) is the surprised winner again, and Danny and his beard are sent packing.

Cue the dance music. Hey, the first three cheftestants in this montage are gone. Are we half-way there yet?

Opening scenes of the subway and that weird slow pan of the condo building. EU Fabio and Stefan are the new “bromance” of this season, rivaling Andrew and Spike of Season 4. Fabio calls the two of them EU (hey, I already called you that!) but Stefan calls themselves the “dynamic duo,” and Fabio doesn’t understand because he either doesn’t understand Stefan’s accent or he doesn’t want to Robin to Stefan’s Batman. I wouldn’t either.

We get a solemn moment when Hosea calls his sister to check on his dad, who was diagnosed with cancer right before Hosea had to leave to do the show. So I guess the producers were nice enough to let him make that one phone call. (I don’t know what the phone privileges are on this show because they always seem to be using a special phone and not their own personal ones. And we already know they don’t usually have a TV in the apartment. Again, I wouldn’t last on this show for pure isolation reasons.)

We hear the jingle bells as the cheftestants enter the holiday-decorated Top Chef kitchen. Padma is all ho ho ho (I’m not going there). She’s really excited for some reason. For their quickfire challenge, she tells them they have to create a holiday meal that can be made using only one pot. That’s kind of a cool challenge because as the Single Guy, I hate doing dishes.

Since this challenge is focused on making life easier for the home cook (and the Single Guy), Padma introduces the pre-eminent home cook herself, Martha Stewart, who comes in looking all professor like carrying a book (hers, of course). Of course everyone’s stoked. And Leah even calls Martha “bad ass,” although I don’t think you get that honor unless you have tats and wear leather. (That would be the Biker Living Martha Magazine.)

Martha quotes Albert Einstein about keeping things simple but not too simple. Genius! They have 45 minutes and they’re off running.

Most people are planning to cook something and then empty it out and set it aside and then use the same pan to cook another item. I think that’s cheating because it really should be something cooked all at once in one pot because again, as the Single Guy home cook, me no likey having to wash the pan in between cooking. The only guy who really GETS it is Hosea, who makes a paella, and you know I love paella partly because it is a dish you make in one pan and can even bring to the dinner table in said same pan!

Jamie and The Cougar are working near each other and Jamie interviews that she likes The Cougar and having her nearby to taste each other’s food, although she makes a point to say that her cooking style is no way like Cougar’s style. And actually, this group of cheftestants seems like they like having others tasting their food because here’s EU Fabio feeding Stefan his grandma’s polenta recipe. It’s so cute how they like to share.

Commercials. Why do they always have the same commercials for the whole season? I’m bored with them already. How many more weeks until the finale? If I have to watch another Swanson-Xbox-Glad commercial, I’m going to have to stab Stefan in the head like what he did with the watermelon on this episode.

Oh, I’m digging their opening scenes now. There’s the Statue of Liberty and typical Manhattan traffic. (Huh, who knew BRAVO reads my recaps! Ha!) Now Martha and Padma taste the one-pot dishes and here’s how it went:

Eugene’s spicy Korean broth with pork. Martha asks how the broth is thickened and he says with cornstarch (which I actually do often too, I think it’s a Hawaii thing) and Martha walks away saying only “Oh-KAY.”

EU Stefan’s veal Celtic goulash with potatoes and mushrooms. Martha talks about picking chanterelles in the summer.

Hosea’s paella. Martha says she likes the flavors and talks about traveling in Spain and sipping Rioja with a matador.

Melissa’s pork tenderloin with fennel cabbage on top. Martha talks about feeding apples to pigs on her farm.

Jeff the Hair’s potato risotto, with crispy pork and sautéed brussel sprouts. Martha says it’s unusual and pungent and goes on talking about making risotto with Pavarotti. (OK, some of these I made up just because it seems like Martha does like to talk about herself. But some aren’t. You guess which aren’t.)

Jamie’s potato and scallops. Martha says she would fish for big scallops up in Maine.

The Cougar’s cauliflower puree with filet mignon. Martha talks about the fresh butter she churns for herself on the weekends to add to her purees.

Carla Top’s brined turkey breast with apple and dried cherry stuffing. Martha says she once made a turkey in the microwave for her prison cell mate Cheree.

EU Fabio’s roasted mushroom polenta with seared duck breast. Martha just says thank you.

Decision time. Martha says some cheftestants made their dishes too simple. She says she found Jeff the Hair’s potato risotto starchy, didn’t like Eugene’s cornstarch broth and thought EU Fabio’s polenta looked grayish.

She did like Jamie’s scallops, The Cougar’s beef and cauliflower puree and Hosea’s paella, but she eventually chooses The Cougar, and again people seem really surprised despite the fact that she’s won a couple of challenges already. Now I’m wondering how much Jamie still wants to work close to The Cougar since Ariane has narrowly beat Jamie out of winning two challenges in a row.

Martha gives her an autographed copy of her Martha Stewart Cooking School cookbook. They bond for a moment over both being from Jersey. Of course, Ariane has immunity.

For their elimination challenge, Padma says they have to cater a holiday party for AmFAR, which is the American Foundation for AIDS Research (often associated with Elizabeth Taylor but for this episode it’s Natasha Richardson who provides the Hollywood glamour). Next thing you know, a group of colorfully dressed people come in singing and a few cheftestants actually look a bit scared. I think some of them think the choir is going to help them cook. After a few minutes they loosen up and get into the singing from the Harlem Gospel Choir. Carla Top goes crazy for them.

Then the cheftestants draw knives, and when EU Stefan pulls a knife with the number 12, a guy from the choir sings out and startles Stefan. Others pull knives with numbers and we get the theme, they’re cooking for the 12 days of Christmas. I actually like this theme and has always thought about blogging something like that, but then I never get my act together because, really, how can I find time to cook for 12 days straight around Christmas?

But enough about my lazy blogging ass, so the cheftestants have three hours to prep their dishes and then one hour on the day of the party.

Commercials. Who knew Heidi Klum is still modeling for Victoria’s secret? Oh, they do that little Bravo snippet from Top Chef and they have all the cheftestants trying to sing their day of the song. At least this one is related and not some weird romantic tension clip.

The chefs are shopping at Whole Foods at night this time (and I can see a few customers just watching at the checkout counter, how cool would that have been to watch?). Carla Top has two turtle doves and she’s nervous. Some people aren’t really thinking their dishes through and, IMHO, grasping at straws trying to connect their theme with their dishes.

Jeff the Hair would have had a great dish with his frog legs for his 10 Lords a Leapin’, but Whole Foods didn’t have frog legs so he does this sad attempt at two types of cheese from two countries, so the cheeses are “leaping” from one country to another. See what I mean about grasping?

Leah lucked out because she gets the Three French Hens, which is like a giveaway that she’d make something with hens, in this case guinea hens. Another easy one is Radhika’s partridge in a pear tree because to me, partridges are like pigeons or squabs and she could pair it with some kind of pear compote.

The cheftestants head back to the Top Chef kitchen and start prepping. Jamie is doing scallops, again, and making it swim in a vichyssoise for her Seven Swans a Swimmin’. Hosea is smoking his pork tenderloin for another stretching-the-inspiration dish for his 11 Pipers Piping because he’s putting his pork through a smoke pipe? I would have made a dessert where he had to “pipe” in the cream or something. Anywho, Hosea is piping up the whole joint and it’s totally smoking everywhere. I’m surprised the smoke alarm hasn’t gone off.

There are tons of pans everywhere (poor production crew who does the clean up) and the refrigerator is packed. They leave to head home.

The next morning, when they arrive at the Top Chef kitchen, someone realizes that one of the refrigerator was left ajar, so it never got cold and with all the hot food, everything stayed warm. Everyone’s shocked and several temperature-taking minutes later, the food is declared garbage. The brunt of it seems to have affected Hosea and Radhika and Radhika is near tears because she thinks she’ll be going home without any dish to present.

Then a miracle happens. Everyone starts to look around the kitchen and get replacement ingredients for Radhika and Hosea. (Luckily, Radhika left some of her duck part, and just the duck breasts spoiled.) Everyone is pitching in to help the two get their ingredients ready and this team spirit is so nice to see, all we need is a little English orphan boy. You know this would so not happen on “Project Runway” or “Survivor.” And most definitely not on “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila.”

The cheftestants arrive at the ballroom to finish prepping their stations and food. Of course, since it’s an AIDS fund-raiser, they get Jamie the sole survivor of Team Rainbow to talk about what AmFAR has done and how it’s close to her heart. (Wow, I’m cynical around the holidays.)

The guests start arriving, and more people are singing songs and even more are getting drunk on the cocktails. The judges arrive with Natasha Richardson in holiday red and guest judge Chef Michelle Bernstein of Miami, whom I’ve seen before on Top Chef and she’s always a real cranky judge. This is going to be good.

After a few opening remarks from Richardson, whom Stefan has a crush on, they head off to the tasting tables starting with, oh, Stefan. I’m not going to get into any details because it’s all so cumbersome, but from what I can tell the judges seem to like Radhika’s braised duck, Leah’s guinea hens, Hosea’s smoked pork and Jeff’s salad of cheese.

The low points were Eugene’s ceviche with pineapple rings (he got Five Golden Rings), Fabio’s greasy and dense crab cakes, and Jamie’s warm raw scallops. I have to add that I though Carla Top’s mushroom cap over her braised chicken made to look like the back of the turtle totally is so off base from her Two Turtle Doves. I thought that always referred to a type of dove, so she could have made squab too. Again, a lot of stretching going on.

As you can imagine, there were some really interesting people at this New York function, including Kenneth Cole, who is the most handsome straight male fashion designer around, and Cheyenne Jackson, who is the most handsome gay male actor on Broadway.

But it’s the girls who get Hosea’s attention, as he’s flirting with some floozy with a drink. It’s not just bad that Hosea has a girlfriend back home, but he actually goes to Leah who he supposedly has romantic chemistry with and tells her that he’s been flirting with another girl. Apparently, the flirting helps because the guests vote by pinning their little red ribbons onto the board of their favorite cheftestant. Hosea’s board is pretty red, but not as red as Jeff the Hair, who is doing his own style of flirting.

Back from commercials, Padma arrives in the stew room to get Jeff the Hair, EU Stefan, Hosea and Radhika. They look nervous and I don’t know why since they’re obviously the leaders because they could see how many ribbons they gathered. Plus, Top Chef is so predictable. Wow, it’s another long show (we’re passed the hour mark and it’s still judges’ table). I wonder if they’re making up for taking a bye next week during the real Christmas holiday.

They go through each cheftestant and Natasha Richardson says she’s more a duck leg woman than breast when addressing Radhika’s duck dish. Stefan explains his chicken pot pie was the first thing he ate for Christmas when he arrived in the United States, which is kind of sad to me.

Padma tells Jeff the Hair that he was the crowd favorite and the red ribbon winner, but that’s not enough to win the whole deal because the judges’ opinion still counts. Natasha chooses Hosea as the winner. Guest Judge Michelle Bernstein also has a new book to hawk, so she gives a copy to Hosea. And because he mentions how everyone pitched in to help him when his food went bad, and because Bernstein knows a good marketing ploy when she sees one, she gives a copy of her book to all the cheftestants.

Hosea sends in Melissa, Eugene and Jamie. As they head in for judgment, The Cougar cheers them on, saying “stand up for yourself, fight! Fight! Fight!” Isn’t this a turn of riches for the Cougar? Remember how insecure she was in the first two weeks?

The judges grill the cheftestants, asking about Jamie’s warm raw scallops and Eugene’s overly sweet ceviche with coconut milk. And of course, they both stand up for their dishes saying they thought it would win.

You can tell Jamie is mad because she has her arms folded as usual, and Eugene looks like those guys I would always see at the beach in Honolulu drinking beer and complaining about how the mainlanders are ruining the islands.

For Melissa, the judges just didn’t like the blue cheese in her dish, and Melissa says a lot of people came back for the dish. Bernstein is quick to point out that if a lot of people came back, then why didn’t she get the most red ribbons? Oooh, girl just slapped her into place.

Bernstein also puts Eugene in place telling him that as a chef, he needs to fix his food if others say it doesn’t taste right instead of just being stubborn. I don’t think Eugene’s going to be taking a copy of Bernstein’s cookbook, Cuisine A Latina, now in a bookstore near you.

The judges debate the dishes some more when the three leave, and Chef Tom Colicchio is doing the grumpy bear routine where he says he wishes he could send them all home. In fact, he feels some of the people who weren’t called in could have easily gone home, too. Wow, this may turn out to be a pre-Christmas massacre in Top Chef land.

Sweet Natasha Richardson (c’mon, you know she has to be good to host an AmFAR event) says that it was nice that they all pitched in to help Hosea and Radhika during their mini crisis. And Padma turns to grumpy Tom and says maybe that should be a consideration?

Commercials. None worth talking about. Back to the stew room.

In walks grumpy Tom who sits down and tells the cheftestants that the food weren’t very inspiring. He tells them to step up and cook like they want to win instead of cooking to just not get eliminated. Leah puts her head on the chopping board by speaking up and saying that “no one’s food sucked.” Yeah, good argument Leah. Go for the “at least we didn’t suck” position. Chef Tom singles out The Cougar, who was getting overly confident but now is told by Tom that making deviled eggs is not going to make you Top Chef.

And then just when everyone thought this was going to be the longest elimination in Top Chef history, Tom announces that no one will go home tonight because it’s the “holidays” and this is a gift from the judges to them.

Everyone is relieved and Radhika is near tears, although Eugene still looks pissed. And LOOK! He is drinking a beer. All he needs is the beach and a palm tree and he could be my rough cousin that always beat up on me.

Next: (FYI, the show will not be on next week and instead a Top Chef Christmas special will air with returning favorites competing with holiday dishes. When the actual show returns, this is what will be next:) Tom wakes people up, it’s a free-for-all challenge, Jamie is cooking scallops again, and the substitute judge for Gail look scary.

“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.


Tracy said...

Loved all the stuff Martha talked about ... real and imagined ... she did like talking about herself, didn't she?

David K. and Ann C. said...

What a crock! They should have kicked someone out -- they might as well have just showed a recap episode. And is it just me or does Tom C. look perpetually pissed off? -- David

Nate-n-Annie said...

I wonder if the production crew knew that the fridge door was open, and purposely left it open to sabotage the challenge and cause more drama.

Re: your comments about our jiu hu char recipe - no, it's not like mu shu pork. yes, jicama is used a lot in Southeast Asian cooking, and it is very yummy! Check out our popiah recipe for another use of jicama.

Angelyca said...

"All he needs is the beach and a palm tree and he could be my rough cousin that always beat up on me."

I laughed at that! Also, do you think next week they will do a double elimination to make up for not sending someone home this time?

Chef Ben said...

David, I've always said Colicchio looks grouchy. I think he thinks that makes him look sexy. NOT.

Nate, I wouldn't put it past the production crew that they may have actually OPENED the refrigerator to sabotage. LOL. Actually, this happened before when meat was spoiled because of refrigeration issue. Remember the finale in Puerto Rico and someone leaving a big tray of meat out?

Angelyca, why you laugh at me being beaten up? ;-) Next week there's no Top Chef, just a holiday special if my TV Guide is right. And I don't know why they didn't eliminate anyone since there are still so many dead weight. It would be nice to get a double elimination, but I'm guessing it'll just be one. Eliminating two would be cruel at this point.