Thursday, January 29, 2009

Top Chef: Season 5, Episode 10

No Illegal Passing; No One Scores

Previously: Leah and Hosea are sitting on a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Elsewhere, it’s restaurant wars and the freezer’s not working, all the life force gets sucked out of one team, and the judges get all huffy and leave. Also leaving? Radhika.

Opening shots of more product placement of Glad storage bags. What exactly are these cheftestants eating all the time that they need so many storage bags? Geesh. Carla Top talks about dodging a bullet and how she is a classically trained chef but once she got on the show something happened. Blame it on the universe, girl. Leah talks about mixing alcohol and kissing, but now she just wants to “cook good food.” I like how she aims high.

Quickfire challenge. The remaining seven cheftestants enter the Top Chef kitchen and some of them look a bit puzzled about who’s this week’s guest judge standing next to Padma. We find out he’s Scott Conant, an Italian chef whose new New York restaurant Scarpetta got a three-star review from the New York Times, which apparently is a big deal. All we get from Chef Conant is a “hey guys” as he stands there like a linebacker listening to Padma talk about the challenge, which is, you guessed it, related to the Super Bowl.

Padma makes each cheftestant come up and write their names on a chalkboard. The column on the left lists a category like vegetables or meats, but it’s hidden right now. On the top row is supposedly a secret ingredient, also hidden. Picking the right square apparently will determine what odd combo you might get. And while this concept sounds intriguing in the “what weird combination do they have to cook next,” this is really just a poor, sad mind game on the producers part to build suspense to camouflage the fact that what comes next is just one stupid big fuck of a product placement.

Welcome to the Quaker Oats quickfire. Every secret ingredient is painfully revealed to be oats, Quaker Oats to be more specific.

EU Fabio quote for the segment: “Dere es no reason to eat vegetables when dere es meat and fish around.”

The cheftestants scramble to make something out of oaks. Carla Top gets the “nuts and grains” category and I just think that so apropro because she’s so nutty.

BTW, I’m changing Fabio’s nickname from EU Fabio to Monkey Ass Fabio because he uses that phrase a lot in the last two episodes. Anywho, Monkey Ass gets vegetables (as the quote above alludes to) and he gets these strips of eggplants and encrusts them with oats. They look like tall towers of cereal. Jamie does her usual dissing of the dish, saying it’s way too much oats.

Jeff the Hair is pounding away at chicken, and we know that probably means a paillard (um, pounded chicken). Carla Top says Jeff “can’t quiet the creative monkeys.” What’s with the monkey references with these guys? It’s like they all went to the zoo during a school field trip when they were kids and they all fell in love with the monkeys, except me because I was in the group of kids who was standing there wondering why monkeys would throw their own poop around.

The tasting:

Stefan (I forgot his category) makes a banana mouse with oatmeal and oat-almond petit fours. They look pretty and small, and I don’t get the rose for a garnish, but Padma gives the rose to Chef Conant.

Monkey Ass Fabio (category: vegetables) makes his eggplant dish. Chef Conant says something weird about the dish and jokes with Fabio, who later says to himself “don’t make-a fun of my food, eh?”

Carla Top (category: nuts and grains) makes some kind of pecan thing. Gosh, I need to pay better attention during these recaps.

Jamie (category: fruits) cooked up three mini dishes, including a coconut shrimp, and salsa of nectarines and avocado.

Big Ho Hosea (category: meat) makes a weiner schnitzel. You know, Chef Conant doesn’t really say much so far; he’s very polite.

Lazy Leah (category: seafood) did something with mussels and fish. It looks generic.

Jeff the Hair (category: poultry) makes fried chicken paillard with grits and fried zucchini. Even Jeff calls his dish “a little crazy.”

In the end, Chef Conant says he didn’t like Lazy Leah’s fish that was overcooked, Monkey Ass’s vegetables that tasted mostly of oats, and Jeff’s plate of brown junk.

He did like Carla Top, Jamie and EU Stefan, who ultimately is named the winner of the challenge. But no immunity for him since they’re getting close to the end. (Finally!) What’s weird is Stefan looks kind of shocked by his win, or maybe he’s just pretending because he won so many and doesn’t want a backlash from the rest of the gang. Did he just say “whoopsy”? Big Ho is busy measuring Stefan’s head.

For their elimination challenge, Padma says they have a surprise for them in the stew room. When the cheftestants head back, they find new chef’s coats hanging with their names and the No. 5 on the back. Lazy Leah is all like, “oh, what’s the 5 for?” And Big Ho tells her that, duh, it’s for Top Chef Season 5, and in his head he’s going “I kissed this girl? What a mistake.”

When they return to the kitchen, Padma says they’re going to take part in the first ever “Top Chef Bowl.” (How many producers do you think had to sit around to come up with that nifty name?) Then she introduces their competitors, and out crashing through a paper sign (just like at the beginning of a football game, but without the cheerleaders) are cheftestants from seasons’ past. That’s right, it’s a Top Chef All-Star team, although I wouldn’t necessarily call some of these cheftestants “all-stars.” They include: Spike (still wearing his hat), my fave Andrew (“I have a culinary boner”), Josie (“it’s pronounced fuh not pho”), Andrea (the vegetarian), Camille (huh? Which season is she from?), Nikki (the pasta queen) and Miguel (“You’re a snake. Hissss.”)

Commercials. You know, for a Super Bowl episode, you’d think the commercials would be good tonight but they’re so boring and repetitive, I’m going to skip them in this recap. For your amusement, though, you should check out the E*Trade baby commercials because I love them and I can’t wait to see what they do during the Super Bowl.

So the teams of Top Chef 5 vs. The All-Stars will go head to head and each will cook a regional dish inspired by football teams like the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers. Since Stefan won the quickfire, he not only gets to pick the football team for his inspiration, but he gets to choose who he’ll challenge. Stefan picks the Dallas Cowboys and he’ll cook against Andrea, who got eliminated early in her season. I don’t really remember but everyone thinks Stefan’s a shoo-in to win.

The rest huddle up to determine who will cook for which football team theme, and it all falls where you think it would except Monkey Ass Fabio, who probably wanted some Italian soccer team. Instead, he gets the Green Bay Packers.

The cheftestants look over the ingredients that came with their football team theme, and Jamie of course is doing the San Francisco 49ers, since she’s from the Bay Area. But she looks a bit confused about what to make. The cheftestants from Season 5 do some smack talk with the All-Stars, like Andrew who says something about peeing (the rest was all bleeped out) and Miguel who says they’re the grandfather of Top Chef. OK, they have to work on their trash talk.

There’s this little clip during the commercial break of Spike and Andrew playing, and then Spike calling Fabio “Fabian,” which is priceless only because it sparks a really genuine smile from Fabio, who really does have a nice smile. Spike says Top Chef should have just ended with Season 4 because they were so good. Spike, there will be just as many Top Chefs as there are Jeff Probst and Survivors, you can count on that.

The next morning, everyone’s waking up and feeling a bit nervous. Carla is sitting there meditating and clueless Stefan goes, “what are you doing? Meditating?” Um, yeah. If people are meditating, Stefan, that means they don’t want to be talking. What a tool.

Fabio quote of the segment: “I’m 30 years old and I have to sleep in the bunky bed.”

They head off to the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan and get prepped for their cook off with the All-Stars. In the kitchen set, what looks like a bunch of students are cheering in the audience, along with the previously kicked off cheftestants so far this season.

Padma (wearing a referees’ outfit) and the judges arrive and she explains the scoring: the judges will choose the winner for each round, awarding 7 points (touchdown) to the winner, then five fans in the audience get to taste the food and vote, and whoever they choose gets 3 points (field goal for extra points). Why is Padma talking in such a low voice? Is she trying to sound butch?

First off are Nikki and Lazy Leah for the New York Giants. Leah does a seared strip steak with cream corn and snap peas (boring) and Nikki does sautéed chicken livers with onions, goat cheese and arugula (that doesn’t sound very New York like). Padma, Chef Conant and Tom Colicchio go for Leah while Toby Young is the lone vote for Nikki (they like their chicken livers in Britain). Then only two of the five fans vote for Leah, giving the extra points to Nikki. Score: Season 5: 7; All-Stars: 3

Next is Miguel vs. Big Ho doing Seattle Seahawks. Miguel does a sweet-and-sour onion with cedar plank salmon. Hosea says that’s too much going on, and he jokes that he wants Miguel to like him so it won’t hurt so bad when he wins. (Really, guys, you really have to work on your trash talk.) Big Ho is making a deep-fried salmon roll with ginger-blackberry sauce. Padma, Toby and Chef Conant go for Big Ho’s salmon roll while Colicchio picks Miguel. Four of the five fans vote for Big Ho, giving him a slamdunk. Score: Season 5: 17; All-Stars: 3

In the back, everyone’s playing with the live crawfish in the back. I love crawfish, but they really do give so little meat and I’m not into the sucking of the guts. But enough about dinner.

My fave Andrew goes up against Carla Top with the New Orleans Saints. (Gotta love that Drew Brees.) Andrew is making a crawfish crudo, and he gives a little primer for crudo (raw fish) and says the crawfish may still be alive when they eat it. Carla Top says football games are great to watch with the family eating spicy food, so she’s making a crawfish and andouille sausage gumbo with grits. All four judges go with Carla Top’s gumbo (Tom says Andrew’s crudo was too sweet) but only one fan vote for the gumbo. Score: Season 5: 24; All-Stars: 6

Next are Andrea and Stefan, who kisses her before they start and I think he has a crush on her because he’s always blushing. They have the Dallas Cowboys and Stefan is making a duo of salads with pork and cole slaw while Andrea is making a Tex-Mex chili, which she says is “spicy like how I like my men.” Stefan is totally going to be looking Andrea up when they return to Los Angeles. Padma and Toby vote for Andrea, but Chefs Conant and Colicchio choose Stefan. So it’s a tie, which means it goes to the fans and all five votes for Andrea. Score: Season 5: 24; All-Stars: 16

Back in the kitchen, everyone’s shocked that Stefan lost, and he’s swearing a lot but in some ways I almost feel like he purposely took a dive so that he can get on Andrea’s good side.

Camille (really, who is she?) vs. Jamie and the San Francisco 49ers. Jamie is making a quick-and-easy cioppino, but mostly with crab instead of a mix of seafood. Camille is making a sweet potato and miso mash with crab meat with butter and mustard sauce. Jamie puts in another diss at the combination of flavors in Camille’s plans. Padma and Toby go with Jamie, and Chef Conant and Colicchio go with Camille. So it’s another split. They go to the fans and all five choose Jamie, so she gets all 10 points. Score: Season 5: 34; All-Stars: 16.

Josie goes head to head with Jeff the Hair, who starts a huge fire in his pot doing Miami Dolphins (and amazingly not burning his hair). He’s burning some rum for a ceviche, which is also what Josie is doing too, although she’s doing a warm ceviche. They use rock shrimp for their ceviche, and Jeff adds a scoop of sangria sorbet (I bet he’d put sorbet on his oatmeal if he could). Padma goes with Jeff but the remaining three judges side with Josie. (Tom liked Jeff’s sorbet but felt Josie’s flavors were more Miami-like.) Jeff is shocked. Three of the fans vote for Josie so she gets all 10 points, which give new life to the All-Stars. Score: Season 5: 34; All-Stars: 26

Monkey Ass puts on his Green Bay helmet and heads out for the competition. I’m just surprised he was able to fit in it. Fabio goes against Spike for the Green Bay Packers. Fabio is making venison with a salad with cheddar cheese. Spike makes a five-spice venison with a port wine reduction. He finishes before Monkey Ass and asks if he needs help.

Fabio quote of the segment: “If your food is big as your mout, you’ll win for sure.”

Toby goes with Fabio because Spike’s sauce was too sweet, but the other three go with Spike. Four fans vote for Monkey Ass, however. Final score: Season 5: 37; All-Stars: 33 (wow, pretty close game after all)

Back in the stew room, Lazy Leah is still talking about how surprised she is that Stefan lost to Andrea. Padma comes in and asks for Big Ho, Carla Top, Lazy Leah and Jamie. BTW, what is up with the headbands the girls are wearing, especially Jamie? This isn’t Xanadu, OK?

Everyone walks to the judges’ table with huge smiles and the judges talk about how good the food was and it’s all very irrelevant to me. But I do think guest judge Chef Conant has a crush on Jamie because he went on and on about how he loved watching how she cooked and how she develops her dishes and yada yada yada. I guess since Stefan is now crushing on Andrea, they needed to find someone else to crush on Jamie. What part of the word “lesbian” do these guys don’t get?

Despite his Jamie Love, Chef Conant chooses Carla Top as the surprise winner for her gumbo. She wins two tickets to this Sunday’s Super Bowl (I wonder if they’ll show her in the stands?) and she’s all crazy jumpy and happy, of course.

Jeff the Hair, Monkey Ass and Stefan go in to face the judges. Fabio says he knew his venison was overcook, but then he goes into how it was pink when he sliced it but as it rested on the hot cabbage, that cooked it more. But you can tell the judges weren’t buying any of that, especially guest judge Chef Conant who for some reason gets his testosterones in a twit and gets into this tense exchange with Monkey Ass. In my mind, it went something like this:

Chef Conant: “It doesn’t matter what you intended to do. If it sucks at the end, I won’t eat it.”

Monkey Ass: “I cook Italian. You cook Italian. You can understand; the meat rested too much.”

Chef Conant: “Un momento, Fabio. Take it easy. I’m the judge, relax. You fucked up. Your dish was a failure. It’s all your fault.”

Monkey Ass: “Your mama.”

Then they spend some time talking about Stefan’s uninspiring steak and Jeff the Hair’s unflavorful dish. Tom calls Jeff’s dish a “watered down version of ceviche.”

When the three leave, the judges deliberate more with Tom acknowledging that the three cheftestants had been among the strongest up to that point. Toby was being a bit sympathetic with Monkey Ass, saying how Fabio could not relate with Green Bay. Tom didn’t like Jeff the Hair’s ceviche, and then the clincher was when he said Jeff had cooked the shrimp beforehand and even though it was served cold vs. Josie’s hot ceviche, he can’t really call it ceviche if the shrimp was cooked and the other judges nod in agreement. I can see who’s booking a ticket to Miami right now.

When the three return, I guessed right and Padma sends Jeff the Hair packin’. What’s unusual is how these eliminated cheftestants sometimes ask permission to shake the judges’ hands, like they’re royalty and can’t be approached within 6 feet. But that’s what Jeff does and they say OK, come past the velvet rope, and he shakes the judges hands, and the judges do seem sincerely sad to see him go and a couple of them say “I’ll see you in Miami.” Hey, is there a pool party that I didn’t get invited to?

Jeff the Hair feels pretty beat up and disappointed with himself. But I have to observe that his low-key persona has been around for much of the season, and I’ve wondered before whether his heart was really in the game because he always seemed a bit exhausted or dejected. Definitely tired sounding. As he leaves, he says this is a life disappointment that will last at least a decade. Wow, that’s disappointment with a sentence. At least he’s having a good hair day.

Next: The noted Eric Ripert shows up with fresh water eel (YUM!) and Carla Top is shaking, everyone dresses up for dinner, and something goes very wrong (because I hear that weird thumping sound and because Tom says that out loud).

“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.


Anonymous said...

I have to say I was impressed with Conant as a judge. His comments were very on-point and perceptive, unlike the British critic who worries more about saying something cute rather than something meaningful. I hope we see Conant as a return judge in seasons to come.

Single Guy Ben said...

I think if Conant comes back, it'll be the end of Fabio!

Anonymous said...

Dear Chef Ben,

Bravo on your very entertaining and amusing reviews. I find myself laughing out loud constantly as I read your goofily executed perceptive commentary on the latest episode. Your take on the "tense exchange" between Chef Conant and Fabio was priceless. Chef Conant did seem to over do the alpha male posturing with Fabio.

Hope next season the producers let the chefs cook
more without restrictions/teams so you can get more of a sense of their talents.

Not sure how I feel about Fabio's cooking but at least he seems happy to be there.

Anonymous said...

Chef Ben,
Love your blog, and I look forward to your TC recaps every week.

An insider's glimpse into the purpose of crawfish: Yes, there's a lot of work for not a lot of meat (and I personally don't suck the heads, either), but when eaten in the proper atmosphere, crawfish are the perfect food. Pounds and pounds of spicy, steaming bugs dumped down the middle of a long picnic table, surrounded by family and friends, shooting the shit and drinking bad beer, eating boiled potatoes, corn, garlic and artichokes, before you know it, you've peeled and eaten dozens of the little guys. Heaven on Earth!

And, on a side note, I have lived in New Orleans for 38 years, and have NEVER seen or even heard of anyone eating raw crawfish. Andrew has no idea what real NOLA food is about!

Thanks again for the great recaps!