Frank Bruni’s Ultimate Critique
Previously: The cheftesants cooked up the world, except Stephen’s confused about Brazil. And OMG, they flash back to the pea puree-gate with Alex. I’m about to barf up some pea puree. Tiffany had immunity but she still goes for the win, and Stephen’s rice gets him cooked.
Hey, what happened? They didn’t do the intro with the dancing cheftestants. What’s up with that. Dance cheftestants, dance! All we got was some windchimes and Amanda talking about how she’s still around. Yeah, Amanda, you’re not the only one wondering why you’re still there.
Kenny’s talking about being in the middle, and how he has to break out. And he talks about the beast. I’m pretty sure he said: RELEASE THE KRAKIN.
The cheftestants arrive at the Top Chef kitchen and Amanda notices the red and blue aprons and blindfolds and she gets all excited. I think she’s a fan of blindfolds. Padma is there alone and she says it’s the tag-team cook off quickfire, which they’ve done in season’s past where they work in groups of four and one person starts cooking for 10 minutes and then passes the work onto the next. The winning team will get $10,000.
They draw knives and Amanda draws a blank. Oh. Must. Stop. Here. Can’t. Do. Airhead. Joke.
Kevin picks a knife that says first choice and Ed picks the knife that says second choice, so that means they’re going to pick their teams. Kevin is the blue team and he picks Kenny (naturally), Kelly, and gets Amanda. Ed is the red team and picks Tiffany (naturally), Angelo and gets Alex.
The team starts cooking, sending up Tiffany and Kenny to get it going. Tiffany looks like she’s mostly gathering ingredients and heating up pans, but she decides to make a fish dish. She’s thinking pan-seared snapper.
Kenny works with prawns and starts a mushroom cream sauce. He looks way ahead than Tiffany.
Then Alex and Amanda are next and Amanda starts making pasta for the cream sauce that Kenny started, and he’s on the side smiling because he thinks she’s picked up on his master plan. Tiffany on the other hand basically just watched Alex sprinkle salt on the fish. Really, that’s all I think I saw him do. Which is so unnecessary since they’re not going to be cooking the fish for another 10 minutes.
Kevin and Ed takes stage 3 and Kevin works with basil and parmesan for the pasta that Amanda cooked. I’m not sure what Ed did, but Tiffany is off to the side with Alex worried that either Ed or Angelo (who goes last) won’t notice that Alex had already salted the fish. Alex says you can see the salt there. But you know, it’s going to dissolve by the time Angelo steps up. That’s what salt does, Alex.
When it’s Angelo’s turn, the first thing he does is complain about the station looking like a mess. He says he can’t figure out the direction of the dish. Kelly is last and she sees the pasta and tomato salad, and she starts searing the prawns.
Angelo is wondering why the fish is already salted but of course this is after he douses it with salt, just like what Tiffany fretted about.
Time’s up and Padma introduces a guest judge, and in walks House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who you probably know is from my area of San Francisco. Even though she’s from here, I can’t help but say, what’s up with her eyes? She constantly looks like she’s a deer in the headlights. Do you see what I mean? I know, I'm mean to focus on that and she is third in line to be president, but maybe she could blink once or twice.
Speaker Pelosi starts with Kevin’s team’s sautéed prawns with angel hair pasta and cream sauce. Pelosi says it reminds her of the San Francisco Bay Area where all the ingredients and tastes are fresh. And she says the angel hair is nice and al dente, which she says is hard to do. Really? She should go to Chinatown. Anywho, she calls the dish delicious.
Then she tries Ed’s team’s pan-seared red snapper with wilted greens and maitake mushrooms. Pelosi says it was delicious and wholesome but – dun dun dun duh – it’s “a little salty.”
She rules that Team Blue (Kevin’s team) wins. They get $10,000 but no kickbacks please.
Commercials. Shit, they just announced Top Chef is moving to 10 p.m. next week from the 9 p.m. time! Argh@#$?!! Why would they change the time when the season is almost ending? That’s so stupid. And worst, I lose an hour in doing this recap. Ugh, more late nights in my future! Sigh. … Oh, did you see that AT&T mobile broadband commercial? I want to know what’s a “cold jam”? Anyone? Is it like Pearl Jam?
Elimination challenge. Padma says the season wouldn’t be complete without … and all the cheftestants scream “Restaurant Wars!” Gosh, it’s like they rather do restaurant war than the finale. Yeah, running your own restaurant is fun, but that still means you’re still working as a team. I don’t see how that’s an advantage. Especially for the Red Team, which is the team that gets stuck with Alex.
Padma also lets them know that the guest judge will be former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni. Kellys says he’s the toughest critic. Ever. (She apparently has not met my mom.)
Then these two guys come walking in with a big bottle of wine, and apparently they’re the Terlato brothers from Napa Valley. (Another Bay Area tie!) They’re providing the wine for restaurant wars so they probably paid thousands for this walk on.
The cheftestants get into their Sienna SUVs and we have to spend a few seconds watching the blatant Sienna commercial. Yeah, we get it. The door closes softly. Oooh. Let me bust out my $40,000 check.
Tiffany is with Alex and they’re heading to shop and you can tell she doesn’t won’t to work with him, basically telling him to stay on his side of the Sienna and focus on his own list. Angelo and Ed are in another car going to Whole Foods and they’re conspiring to get Alex to be the front of the house so he’s not touching the food.
They head back to the kitchen and start their prepping. Naturally, Angelo and Kenny emerges as the executive chef for each team and no other team members fight them for the title. The menu gets pulled together and Angelo’s red team comes up with tomato confit soup, black bass crudo, striped bass, slow-baked turbot (wow, lots of fish courses), sautéed rib eye, and lamb with, wait, did I hear right? Lamb with PEA PUREE! They found the pea puree and now they’re going to use it with the lamb. Please make this the last time we talk about the damn pea puree.
Kelly becomes the front of the house for the blue team, and their menu shape up to be a chilled corn soup, warm beet salad, Virginia strip steak, halibut, chocolate ganache tart and crispy cheese course.
Angelo assigns Alex to be the butcher, but he always checks on him and complains that he’s not doing it right. Tiffany is worried because her team looks totally disorganized while Kenny’s team is working along calmly. I think Tiffany is hoping there’s a twist where they switch one member of the team, but that’s unlikely.
The cheftestants arrive at the restaurant Redwood, which looks very fancy and kind of new. I think it’s in Virginia near D.C. But tonight, it’s going to be called (this is the Red team’s idea) EVOO or Kissing-Up-to-Miss-Ray, while the Blue team is calling it 2121, which is the address of the Top Chef cheftestants’ townhouse, which totally won’t make sense to guests arriving at Redwood, which probably doesn’t have that 2121 address. (Don’t you hate restaurant names that need a long explanation?)
The two teams have to work in tight quarters in the same kitchen, so they get to see how each other is working, but basically all we see is the Red Team scrambling and the Blue Team always looking over like “dang, we’re going to win by default because Angelo is going to have a meltdown.”
Commercials. That MasterCard Market Place commercial just said ibuprofen cost $12. I’m like, woah, where do you buy your drugs?
Alex and Kelly start to organize the front of the house, working with the wait staff. And I have to say, Alex isn’t helping his reputation. I can’t tell if he’s trying to be funny or if he’s serious, but he’s acting like a tyrant, demanding that the wait staff wipe down the tables and chairs to make them look new, and tells them they have to do it in 10 minutes! He comes off like a jerk, and people notice it. Well, mostly Kenny, who seems to really spend a lot of time watching Angelo and the other team but not really cooking.
The diners arrive and orders start coming in. They focus on EVOO first and already the kitchen looks slammed. The judges arrive and Alex is busy chatting with another table and doesn’t greet them. Deduction. Frank Bruni looks so serious. I think he’s hungry. Alex gets nervous and stumbles as he’s describing the restaurant’s concept.
The judges get the first courses of tomato confit soup and crudo of black bass and yellowtail snapper. Tom asks Alex why it’s called a summer salad on top of the crudo, and Alex says it “sounds better than micro greens.” Deduction. Gail says the crudo is salty, and Bruni says the soup from Angelo makes him want to try more of Angelo’s food.
The kitchen is still struggling in the back, apparently because Alex isn’t firing up the tickets at the right time. Then we see the judges waiting and waiting for their second course. Padma sounds like a cranky child when she’s like “where’s our food?”
The food finally arrives and they get two fish dishes: a striped bass with fennel salad and the turbot with eggplant caviar. Bruni likes Ed’s fish, saying it matches the restaurant’s Mediterranean theme. Gail thinks Tiffany’s fish is overcooked but nice.
The third course is the broiled lamb chop, but Alex calls it a pork chop, that catches Tom off guard. He corrects himself and says lamb chop and the other dish is a rib eye with fig marmalade. Bruni says the lamb was beautifully cooked, but no texture. And he doesn’t think the food says Mediterranean. Then he starts to critique the service, which he says is hit and miss. This guy just never stops critiquing even though he no longer hold a critic’s job. He must be hard to go to dinner with because he’s probably critiquing everything while you’re like, “Frank, I’m not going to take you to dinner any more if you keep going on and on about the McNuggets.”
Tom is still upset that they weren’t greeted when they arrived so he tells the judges to all leave without letting Alex know, but Alex sees them leave and he really doesn’t do anything to say bye.
This episode’s quickshot is of a server bringing back Amanda’s meat saying it’s overcooked, and Kelly telling her to watch her beef. This was probably the most boring quick look. Usually it’s some odd behind-the-scenes thing but this was just like watching the regular episode, which starts up again in a few minutes.
Now at 2121, Kelly goes around checking on people and she happens to be at the entrance when the judges come in, so she gives them a nice welcome. She tells them that the cuisine is “progressive American” or whatever that shit means. Pretty much it means it’s American food that we’re cooking right at this moment.
Kelly goes back to order the dishes for the judges in a really weird Kelly way, like, “OK guys, ordering two two perfect perfect, yeah?” That was kind of creepy.
They start with the chilled sweet corn soup with Maryland blue crab salad and a beet salad with warm chorizo citrus vinaigrette. Tom didn’t like the soup, which he says is thin with no flavor. Gail points out corn isn’t in season, which is weird for a restaurant emphasizing seasonal cooking. Bruni says Kenny’s beet salad was loaded with stuff, and Tom does some fashion metaphor about accessories and Bruni is quick to jump on naming the designer who quoted something or other. But they digress.
Next is Amanda’s New York steak strip with roasted sunchoke, and Kevin’s pan-roasted halibut with white beans. Tom thinks the steak was cut too thin and not grilled with a nice crusty edge. Bruni is all in love with how beautiful the halibut looks. Kelly is in the back of the kitchen and tells Kevin that Bruni thought his halibut was beautiful. And oh yeah, he likes the taste too.
Last course is dessert, and the crispy aged goat cheese looks kind of interesting being all encrusted and golden brown. But Gail and Padma think it’s too much cheese for one person. Bruni doesn’t like the ice cream with Kelly’s chocolate ganache tart (which I’m pretty sure she made in a previous challenge this season) but Gail likes the richness of the tart. Then Bruni weighs in on the goat cheese dessert and calls it a horror show.
Tom says overall the two restaurants had a good showing, but Bruni says none of them lived up to their names. And he upgrades the goat cheese course from horror show to “monstrosity.” Gail liked Kelly’s demeanor, which she says is less nervous than Alex.
Back in the stew room, Padma comes in and asks for the red team of Ed, Tiffany, Angelo and Alex. Kevin says that if his team is on the bottom, he’s going to blow his mind, or something like that. Somehow it sounded worst than what I just wrote. Maybe he said it’ll blow his mind. Actually, I don’t really care about Kevin’s mind. Moving on.
At judges table, Padma tells the Red Team that they won. Bruni says Alex was too nervous. Gail tells Angelo she liked his tomato soup. Padma tells Tiffany she liked her bass. And Bruni tells Ed he liked his turbot. Tom asks about the lamb dish, and Angelo says it was Alex’s idea but Ed and Angelo took care of the cooking, and you could tell Alex was looking at them like “Hey, you’re stealing all the glory and all I’m left with is the nervousness.”
Bruni names the winner as Ed, and he gets that big bottle of wine. I think that’s called a magnum. He also gets a free trip to Napa. I’m kind of happy for Ed. He’s like the underdog.
Ed sends in the Blue Team and they totally look pissed.
At the judges’ table, Kenny starts off talking about how the OTHER team was not executing things right or communicating, so he’s surprised that his team lost. Gail says it doesn’t matter for diners what’s happening in the kitchen as long as the food tastes good.
Bruni does tell Kelly that her service was warm though clumsy. I think he meant it as a compliment. Padma also says her soup was thin, and Kelly says that’s how she likes it. It’s funny how chefs cook for how they like to eat, but not how guests want to eat it. Funny, huh?
Gail says Kenny’s beet salad had too many things, and Bruni went on critic mode and says it was like the salad went through Hamburger Helper. Ouch. He does tell Kevin that the fish was cooked nicely, but Amanda’s beef was overcooked “like a great pair of shoes with a mediocre suit” or some other metaphor. I think for my reviews I have to start thinking up more obscure metaphors. Amanda’s shocked that her beef wasn’t done right and all the other judges chime in to say the beef sucked.
As they continue down the critique of the food, then it turns into this weird “bring down the entire ship” thing where Kenny talks about how Alex really should be going home because he didn’t do anything on his side. I’m really tired of how Kenny doesn’t stand behind his own cooking and instead tries to make himself look better by saying how awful everyone else is. Tom asks if Alex should go home, and everyone says YES. Me too, I don’t mind Alex going home this episode.
They head back to the stew room where everything explodes because Kelly starts out saying she’s going to be honest and say they talked about Alex and how he should go home, and Kevin says he’s not afraid to say he told the judges that, yeah, Alex should go home. Then it’s like a screaming match between Kevin and Kenny on who can say Alex sucks the loudest. Alex tries to defend himself, but Angelo tells him to ignore them because he’s basically safe being on the winning team. Wow, what an ugly scene.
Commercials. What’s up with the Nasonex commercial? It’s not even allergy season anymore. I’m so glad it’s not (knock on wood) because I totally have major allergies since moving here. So for the few months I can’t breathe, these months I can are like heaven. I live each day breathing deeply and loving it. I just took a deep breath right now. You try it. See? Heaven.
Oh look. A Dupont Circle sign. I really feel like I haven’t gotten the sense of D.C. I think it’s because they had too many guest chefs from other parts of the country. Back at the judges’ table, Bruni points out that the Blue Team really shouldn’t try to throw Alex under the bus when he’s on the winning team. For awhile I thought Amanda would be the one to go because she really ruined the beef, but when they all come back, Tom gives the run down and Padma sends KENNY packin’! OMG. I’m not a fan but that’s a shocker. I thought he had the chops to move forward, but apparently he’s all talk and not enough editing in cooking because he made two poor dishes and he still doesn’t know it.
As he’s exiting, he’s still going on about how Alex should be the one going home because he didn’t cook anything. Alex looks all weird like he’s guilty to still be there. So I guess someone forgot to release the Krakin. And now there won’t be anyone around to talk about Angelo anymore, or to say they’re so confident. What a shame.
Next week: They walk into the CIA, and Ed’s spy name is apparently “Muffin Winthrope.” And that molecular chef with the Dutch boy haircut makes an appearance again.
Top Chef airs every Wednesday NOW AT 10 P.M.!! on Bravo. Check your local listings. Photos courtesy of the Bravo TV website.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Frank Bruni’s Ultimate Critique