Thursday, February 12, 2009

Top Chef: Season 5, Episode 12

The Last Supper

Previously: Stefan nails the fresh water eel challenge, Jamie gets frustrated with her salty celery, and Stefan wins again. Jamie and her salty celery are sent packin’.

The opening scenes are so frustrating to me, at times. And I know it’s partly because I heart NY so I want it to represent. But instead the editors give us seconds of cacophonic scenes that are partly touristy, partly blatant product placement. Take for example this week where they show a sunset scene, and then it’s bright as day with the Statue of Liberty. It’s like the editors don’t care anymore and are just slapping images together on their iBook. It is just going to be one of those episodes.

The cheftestants are still reeling from Jamie’s departure, saying that someone as talented as her being cut means any little slip up will mean the axe. Big Ho was especially harsh, though, saying Jamie “knew what she did wrong.” To me, that’s the kind of comments from people who think they’re teachers but aren’t. Like in school when you get a timeout and the teacher’s all “you know what you did wrong” and really all you wanted to do was eat glue.

Carla Top, who we find out was a former model back in the day, is doing some weird clapping cheer for Stefan. “You can do it, you can do it.” What does she want him to do? Stop smoking? Yeah, good luck with that.

Quickfire challenge. The final five walk into the Top Chef kitchen and it’s like Easter with all those baskets of eggs. Standing with Padma is Chef Wylie Dufresne with his signature Dutch boy haircut. Anyone who’s watched any episode of any food show on TV knows this is the molecular gastronomy wizard, or food nerd. So some of the cheftestants are shitting in their pants thinking that they have to shit through some weird ass chemical challenge.

Turns out, all they have to do is cook up some eggs because Chef Dufresne is a freak about eggs and especially breakfast. “Proper egg cookery is a sign of a good chef,” he says, but all I can think is egg cookery is a piece of croc.

They have one hour to whip up an innovative egg dish so they rush off and start cooking. Big Ho is sweating up a storm. Someone needs to pad that bald head down.

Carla Top, in the meantime, says she and molecular gastronomy is like oil and water so she’s not doing anything fancy and instead is going the “green eggs and ham” route ala Dr. Seuss. (How many other cheftestants have done this in previous seasons, Sam I Am?)

While everyone’s running around all over the place, Carla Top is moving slowly and compares herself to the tortoise in the race, going steady until she eventually wins it all. You know, with those glasses she does kind of reminds me of a tortoise.

The tasting:

EU Stefan made savory and sweet eggs benedict that Chef Wylie says is “very clever.”

Lazy Leah did a quail egg wrapped with potato and caviar and then a brioche with ricotta and eggs. “Very nice,” is all Chef Wylie says.

Carla Top shows off her green eggs and ham using spinach and salsa. Padma says it’s very pretty and Chef Wylie agrees. (On a side note, this past weekend I watched “Horton Hears a Who” and I have to say, Dr. Seuss, you’re a philosophical genius. The adult messages dressed up in candy cane pastels and weird elf-like creatures are awe-inspiring. “A person’s a person no matter how small.” Damn right!)

Big Ho dishes out his trio of Japanese egg dinner starting with a faux sushi roll wrapped in egg whites instead of seaweed, then a poached shrimp with avocado and finally a tempura egg salad. Chef Wylie comments that the egg white roll is a “neat” idea but was not as “eggy.”

Monkey Ass does a trio as well, starting with a sunny side egg two ways (one made with panna cotta) and an egg shell with lychee juice. Chef Wylie does some nerdspeak with Fabio, and Monkey Ass says “of course” in the same way he’s like “I know what I’m talking about.”

In the end, Chef Wylie wasn’t impressed by Monkey Ass’ creations, saying it wasn’t really an egg dish as much as it was dessert. Monkey Ass isn’t happy. In fact, he’s so upset that he talks in such a high pitched voice that I think only dogs heard him, but I was able to detect something along the lines of “I’m in the frickin’ bottom … for what?”

Chef Wylie also wasn’t impressed by Big Ho’s Japanese trio, saying the components didn’t flow from one to the other, and Lazy Leah’s potato ravioli was heavy and greasy.

That means he liked Carla Top’s playful and humorous green eggs and ham (although it didn’t look that funny to me) and Stefan’s strong techniques in his dish. Then he names Carla Top the winner, which is a shock because Stefan finally doesn’t win a quickfire. (It also proves that despite all the urgings by Tom Collichio that the cheftestants be innovative and think out of the box, in the end simple and classic always prevail. Which kind of goes counter to the whole purpose of Wylie Dufresne’s cooking.)

Elimination challenge. The cheftestants pull knives and Monkey Ass goes first, pulling out Lydia Bastianich, who of course he recognizes as the premier Italian chef. Big Ho pulls out someone named Susan Ungaro, and you know by the expression on his face that he doesn’t know who she is, but then the producers probably coached him because in his voiceover he explains that Ungaro is the president of the James Beard Foundation. Stefan pulls Chef Marcus Sammuelson, Lazy Leah gets Wylie Dufresne, and Carla Top pulls Jacques Pepin, who next to the late Julia Childs is the grand emperor of French cuisine.

Padma explains that their challenge is to make the “last meal” of the chef they pulled and then she names the dishes. And I’ve always found this food game (it was inspired by a book that asks chefs the exact same question) very intriguing, wondering what amazing meal people would want to eat. Then I heard the rundown and I thought, is that what these famous chefs want as their dying dish? Come on!

Jacques Pepin: Roast squab and fresh peas

Marcus Samuelson: Roasted salmon with spinach

Susan Ungaro: Shrimp scampi

Lydia Bastianich: Roast chicken and roasted potatoes

Wylie Dufresne: Eggs benedict

See what I mean? They could eat this every night of their living days and they want it served to them on their last night on earth? Call me crazy but I think these chefs have eaten one too many elegant dishes at the French Laundry and now they’re rebelling for something simple and classic. As for me, my last meal would be the following:

1) Fried oysters because I don’t eat fried foods and oysters have a lot of cholesterol, but when I’m dying, I don’t care, so bring it on baby! Plump oysters fried up in a batter and served with a sprinkling of salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon. For seconds I’d have the fried oysters served up in a po boy sandwich.

2) A cheesecake from Junior’s in Brooklyn because cheesecake is the first dessert I ate that was so good I got teary-eyed thinking that life doesn’t get any better than a creamy but dense cheesecake from Junior’s.

Now that’s a last meal. Hopefully I won’t be eating it anytime soon, though.

As the winner of the quickfire, Carla Top can swap her dish with anyone else, and come on, who’s going to give up the chance to make Jacques Pepin’s last meal? Carla Top’s no fool despite what her crazy big eyes are saying. So she sticks with her dish because Pepin wants peas and she’s like this (making hand motion with two fingers stuck together, but not like a gang sign) with the peas.

Commercials. Ugh, dang Chevron. My TV was all quiet and nice and all of a sudden it blasted super loud when this commercial came on. Just proves again how those damn oil companies are controlling every part of our lives! That’s jacked up.

For our mini-Top Chef clip, the five cheftestants go out to dinner at Perilla, which is the successful New York restaurant of Season 1 winner Harold Dieterle (who was my favorite from that season as well). They eat and chat about boring nonsense of how hard it is being on the show, and I get sentimental for the days of the stupid Big Ho and Lazy Leah flirting because at least they were more dramatic than these time-sucking clips.

The cheftestants rush into Whole Foods to do their shopping and nothing really happens except:

1) Stefan gets excited finding organic European butter and he happily shares that with Fabio, who basically tells him “not tonight honey.”

2) Big Ho continues to suffer from Stefan envy and bashes him some more. Then Stefan pays him back by referencing his balls.

3) Lazy Leah needs to ask a worker where to find the eggs when she probably shopped at this Whole Foods for, like, 10 different episodes already. This girl is lazy.

The cheftestants arrive at the Capitale restaurant, which I’ve never heard of before but looks like a library. As they’re cooking, everyone’s playing their dishes straightforward because, well, these are pretty simple, straightforward dishes. (How I wish someone asked for a duck l’orange.) But Big Ho is the only one who’s trying to do something different with his shrimp scampi, which I don’t blame him because why would he want to compare his food to the Olive Garden?

Then the infamous crash, and we see Monkey Ass with blood all over one of his finger. And he explains in his accent that his pinkie finger got pulled all the way back to the point that it broke. Now I can see spraining a finger, but actually breaking it? What exactly did he do? We never really find out. A production assistant taped up his hand to stabilize the finger and then asks if he wants to go to the emergency room, and thus we get our Fabio quote of the week: “I’ll chop (his finger) off and sear it on the flat top and deal with it tomorrow.” Way to man up, Monkey Ass.

Commercials. Oh my, did you see that Diet Dr. Pepper commercial where the cupcake comes out from the vending machine? Love it. Not loving the soda. Oh, that Lays commercial with the round green dots looked like an M&M commercial at first. I’m getting all my snack foods confused now.

It’s one hour until service and Carla Top is firing up Monkey Ass, telling him “fight it out, Rocky.” Then we see a frustrated Fabio trying to peel potatoes with one hand. I do feel kind of sorry for him, and he’s feeling really dejected about now, hence the second most amazing Fabio quote of the week: “I got so many kick in my ass sometime in the bathroom I still pull shoes out of my ass.”

Big Ho’s still not loving making the shrimp scampi, and he’s talking about his last meal, which would be a BLT. Again, I don’t know if these chefs understand the concept. Why would you request your last meal be something that you’ve probably eaten a lot your entire life?! Loser.

Chef Tom Colicchio arrives but he doesn’t do his usual chat with everyone around the kitchen. Instead he basically says four words: “please don’t embarrass me.”

With that, the judges and guests arrive at the “Last Supper” table with that ghost-lighting to make everyone look like they’re already dead even before eating.

First up is Lazy Leah, who dishes out her eggs benedict. She feels her hollandaise sauce is too thick, so she thins it out. She serves it with a slow-poached egg and salad of mixed greens.

Chef Wylie feels the egg whites were too watery, but the bacon is nice. Still, he feels that on his last day on earth, he could do without the salad. Chef Pepin feels the hollandaise sauce needed to be thicker (oops), and Toby Young, seated off to one end of the table kind of hidden away, says he rather enjoys his whites runny, so he’s got no complaints about the dish. (Those English!)

Next is Stefan, who’s cooking for Chef Samuelson, whom he recognizes is from Sweden and Stefan says Swedish people love their fish simple with a dill sauce. He says he didn’t know how he wanted the spinach prepared, so he prepared it two ways: one just sautéed and the other creamy.

Chef Samuelson says Stefan hit it on the nose in preparing the fish very Swedish-like, but everyone agrees that their salmon is over-roasted (which is really odd given so much fat is in that fish that you can hardly over cook salmon, but I guess there’s always a first).

Big Ho comes out to serve his shrimp scampi with tomato provencal (which is a breaded whole tomato). Chef Pepin says he didn’t cook from his guts because the tomato looked timid and not seared on top. Most others didn’t have any nice comment, and Susan Ungaro, who requested this last dish, says she likes her scampi more garlicky.

In the kitchen, one-handed Monkey Ass is slaughtering his roast chicken because he can’t carve with one hand. Everyone loves the tender chicken, however, and Lydia Bastianich says she was glad the chicken was simple, just like how she likes it.

Finally comes Carla Top, who is all “Lord have mercy I’m so feeling the pressure please give me strength to carry out this little squab to the table. Praise Jesus.” She says she cut the squab early because she was worried about the time, but under the heat lamp you know there’s going to be issues about it being over cooked. I love squab and I think you can’t go wrong as long as the skin is super seared.

Everyone raves about the tarragon peas that Carla Top served on the side, and there’s a division about whether the squab was over cooked or just right, and Chef Tom turns it into a generational thing saying the young chefs like it rare while the old schoolers like it tough and cooked. Chef Pepin says the peas are so tender like butter that he could die happy, which is really not a good joke for an old chef like him to say given how they probably had a paramedic standing by for him because he’s like, what, 105? (You just know Julia Childs is calling out for him in heaven. “Jacques, Jacques, I need you to help me with this pork loin. The angels are non-stop eaters.”)

All the cheftestants are relieved, and Big Ho is so happy about having cooked for this crowd that he’s near tears. Cry baby.

Commercials. Alltel, don’t bother getting me to switch. I don’t understand your commercial at all.

In the stew room, Monkey Ass is making one last dig to Lazy Leah, saying something about how this isn’t “Top Pussy.” I wonder how many of this he can come up with. For Stefan, “This isn’t Top Asshole.” For Big Ho Hosea, “This isn’t Top Seafood Guy.” For Carla Top, “This isn’t Top Tortoise.”

Padma comes in and her body screams for a sweater (wink) and invites all of the cheftestants to the judges’ table. They go over each dish, and I have to say that, not surprisingly, Chef Pepin had a lot of things to say, and many of them on the mark given others’ comments.

For Lazy Leah, he tells her the texture of the eggs needed more cooking, and the hollandaise sauce needs to be thicker. Lazy Leah admits to thinning it out right before serving, and already in her face you can tell she’s going home because she seems really happy with the fact that she can finally recognize something she did wrong, but still it’s wrong. (Big Ho is whispering in her ears, “you know what you did wrong.”)

For Stefan, everyone agrees that the salmon was overcooked and Padma says the spinach two ways was really spinach one way because the creamed spinach bled into the other regular spinach, making it all a creamy mess. Stefan is sweating and he may be in the bottom yet again.

Tom says Susan liked Big Ho’s scampi but wanted more broken butter oil. Chef Pepin says the shrimp was well cooked but the tomato provencal was too refined and needed to be more rustic. Then Big Ho says something about how he never puts anything ugly onto his plate.

Monkey Ass Fabio asks if his idol Lydia B. liked his roast chicken and they tell him she did and he’s all smiles. But Tom says the side salad was boring, and Padma reminds him that Chef Dufresne called it airline food.

For Carla, she kept it simple but the squab was overcooked, says Tom. But Chef Pepin says that if you ate the dish blind, you wouldn’t know the squab was overcooked because it was still tender in texture. Of course, they loved the peas, which Carla Top says she freshly shelled that day.

They’re dismissed and Lazy Leah is like a little girl who just got her first cooking lesson and is all excited that everyone took the time to explain to her about peanut butter. She’s all like, “this is fun. One more time, please.”

The judges talk more and you can tell Carla Top and Fabio are safe, and then Chef Tom shows his bias as he tries to argue for cheftestants who have done well so far this season but not this episode, namely Stefan who really should have gone for ruining salmon. In the stew room, Stefan and Big Ho are teasing Monkey Ass about the airline food comment, calling him “airplane bitch.” That’s not very nice, and Monkey Ass doesn’t look pleased.

After the break, it’s judgment time. Chef Tom says it was a unanimous decision on the winner, and Chef Pepin names Monkey Ass the winner and he gets a big ass bottle of Terlato wine and a guided tour of the Terlato family vineyard in Napa Valley.

Chef Tom tells Carla Top that her peas were perfection, and dismisses both Fabio and Carla who are headed to New Orleans. Carla does her impersonation of a tortoise again, moving slo mo and she’s all “see ya, wouldn’t want to be ya!”

Chef Tom goes over why each of the remaining three’s dishes just weren’t right, and how only two more slots are left on the plane to New Orleans. Then Padma sends Lazy Leah packin’, finally!

“It’s all good,” she says, as she shakes the judges’ hands. She says she’s made a lot of friends and they cut to her getting a big ole hug from Big Ho. She says she learned a lot but she wished she could have cooked better food than what she did on the show. But she was lazy so she knows better.

Back in the stew room, the final four are celebrating and then we get the oddest quote from Fabio this episode: “Tonight we drink in hell.” Huh?? Why would anyone want to drink in hell? Maybe it’s an Italian thing, but I’m pretty sure Stefan is spooked and Carla Top is yelling out “hootie.”

Next: It’s the Big Easy, so that means it’s Emeril 24/7. Fabio looks like he’s gained weight and a new hairstyle and everyone’s Stefan, Stefan, Stefan. This isn’t Top Stefan, people!

“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.

3 comments:

wella said...

I'm not a fan of Stefan, but for a moment there it was looking like he was going to get kicked off for the overcooked salmon. Ariane got kicked off for butchering her meat -- when Leah should've been sent home packing. I wonder if they kept Stefan just so that Hosea could stay motivated.

Dave B. said...

Glad to see lazy Leah gone too~

Why is Padma a host on this show? She comes off as just a model that got a gig to host. Her Presenter skills are about as bad as Brooke Burke's (and that's TERRIBLE). Maybe her judgement dress from this weeks episode will get her renewed? There are far better hosts and Colicchio comes off as a wannbe dick ala Ramsay but without the personality.

Dave B. said...

Funny story of Padma being 'roasted' by top chefs!
http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/26577/