Thursday, January 08, 2009

Top Chef: Season 5, Episode 7

“We’ve Found the Weapons of Mass Destruction”

Previously (two weeks ago in 2008, remember then?): The Christmas special had garbage, and everyone was in red especially the gorgeous Natasha Richardson. Hosea wins the challenge, but Tom Colicchio tells the cheftestants to step up their game. Still, no one goes home, which means there are two available seats on the bus home tonight.

Padma returns to remind us of the prize package, including the title of … TOP CHEF.

Cue the music for 2009! Still the same old cheftestants. I’ve forgotten most of their names already. This will be a fun recap.

Opening scenes of the Statue of Liberty and a quick glimpse of the Chrysler building. My goal for 2009 is to plan a trip to New York City. I’m putting it out there in the universe, like Carla Top says. Envision it and it will happen.

What I do see is EU Fabio making breakfast with pork and beans with some Spam! He must be part Hawaiian. :) Eugene, who is from Hawaii, is still pissed off from the Christmas challenge. Really? Even after two weeks? Let it go, bruddah. Jamie is also in a bad mood, and I’m just going to say it, has she ever been in a good mood?

The cheftestants roll into the Top Chef kitchen for the quickfire challenge and they already look kind of defeated. Some of them must have partied too hard for the holidays. Padma is all chipper as she introduces French chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, whom I have never heard of but who apparently will star in a new Bravo TV show called “Chef Academy.” Let me just say that the accent quota on this episode will be off the charts with this French guy, Fabio, Stefan and soon-to-come British critic and new judge Toby Young. Love it!

Oh geez, my enthusiasm just got doused by this stupidly named-product placement-quickfire challenge. Padma says chefs need to come up with healthy desserts all the time, so in this “Diet Dr. Pepper Quickfire Challenge” (kill me now), the cheftestants have to come up with a dessert without using sugar.

As the cheftestants rush off to make their desserts, you see tons of Diet Dr. Pepper cans in the refrigerator, and The Cougar (Ariane) is kissing up to the sponsors by not only using Dr. Pepper in her dessert, but repeatedly saying “Dr. Pepper” every few seconds. What? Does she get a $100 for every mention? Geez.

I notice the cheftestants in this group likes to rag on each other, like Stefan just called Hosea’s roasted green figs “green vomit.” That’s not very nice, he should just focus on his own cooking.

The tasting. Here’s how it went down:

EU Fabio made a granola and oat tart, and Chef Novelli says the cream wasn’t good enough, and Fabio says something about how the French always wants cream to be heavy but Italy won a challenge for something and this is payback. It’s Italy vs. France all over again.

Jeff the Hair made frozen cherry and yogurt and a baklava spring roll. Novelli calls it an interesting combo.

Eugene made a mini blini burger and banana lumpia, which the chef calls original.

Melissa baked a dessert burrito with fruit and yogurt. No comment.

Radhika made bread budding with whole wheat hola that Chef Novelli calls adventurous.

Leah made crepe with whipped ricotta, and Chef Novelli says something in French.

EU Stefan made sugar-free mousse de chocolate. Chef Novelli asks where Stefan is from, and he jokingly pretends he’s French. Then he proceeds to talk to Novelli in French. Kiss up.

Hosea made roasted green figs and it’s always a bad sign when the judge asks if you tried your own food. It’s kind of like Chef Novelli is thinking: “you ate this and still saw it fit to feed it to me?” (But with a French accent.)

Ariane (The Cougar) made whole wheat crepes with whipped cream. And I don’t know if the chef even tried it because he picks up the side bowl of whipped cream and it looks nasty, and he says “you can see clearly (this is) not a way to start.”

Jamie made something with ricotta and mascarpone cheese. Then Chef Novelli does this weird thing where he lets out a puff of air and just says “interesting.”

Carla Top made baklava with chocolate and fried banana. No comment.

In the end, Chef Novelli didn’t like Carla Top, The Cougar or Jamie, which probably puts her in an even more bad mood. But the chef did like Radhika, Leah and Jeff the Hair. He chooses Radhika as the winner, and she gets immunity from having to drink Diet Dr. Pepper.

Padma tells the cheftestants they have the night off before hearing details of their elimination challenge and meet the new member of the judges’ panel, Toby Young. So if you’re thinking like me that this is a trick and they’re going to go out and party and get a surprise, then you’ll be sorely disappointed as I was as we’re treated to a boring night at the condo as the cheftestants try to figure out who this Toby Young guy is.

Commercials. Of course, we’re treated to a diet Dr. Pepper commercial, but I have to say I did get nostalgic for Cheers, one of my all-time favorite series. NOOORM!!!

Back at the apartments, Tom Colicchio walks in and for some reason EU Fabio gets all Martha Stewart and worries that the place looks like a mess. Chef Tom says they’re going to cook for the new judge and a panel of foodies, and they each get to pick a dish that represents their style of cooking. So basically they have free reign to do what they want.

They split into two groups and Radhika, as the winner of immunity, gets to pick which group she wants to cook with, and she chooses Group A because it’s the group that EU Stefan is NOT in.

The first group goes shopping at Whole Foods and there’s more ragging on each other’s dishes as Jamie calls Eugene’s whole fried fish dish with daikon and basil totally weird (and she spells totally with an F). A lot of the cheftestants are resorting to tried-and-true dishes that they’ve made at their restaurants where they came from. You know, if you want to make dishes you made at your restaurants, then maybe you should go back there?

They arrive at the Astor Center and Group A starts cooking. That’s Hosea, EU Fabio, Radhika, Melissa, Jamie and Eugene. Fabio is going to make something Italian and I think he says it’s a 500-year-old recipe, or maybe he says he got it from his 100-year-old grandmother? I don’t know; sometimes we do need the captioning.

In the meantime, Group B goes shopping and Carla Top is standing in the olive oil section saying she’s going to let her intuition help her decide what to make. So her thought process is oil, oily like fish, fish like scallops. That’s the ticket. Funny to get into the brain of Carla Top, huh?

Back in the kitchen, Jamie is also making huge scallops. She’s searing them this time instead of making the raw version like the last episode. That’s when we hear EU Fabio say, “This is Top Chef. It’s not Top Scallop.” (But with an Italian accent.)

Fabio slices into his first piece of lamb, which he made sous vide style, and it’s undercooked. (See, this is why I’m not a fan of the sous vide style of cooking meat in a plastic bag submerged in water. No coloring.) But there’s nothing he can do. He just has to feed raw lamb to the new judge Toby Young. Maybe that’s how they like it in England? You never know.

Commercials. Yuck, the creepy Xbox 360 commercial with the half head is back. Ugh. That Coffeemate commercial is all about sex … and curls. Sexy curls. Yeah, that’ll sell coffee.

In the little, stupid, mini, quick, extra scene that in the past has focused on romantic flirting among the cheftestants, this time we see Fabio having problems with his pasta machine, with the handle falling off all the time and everyone teasing him about cooking Italian. This makes me nostalgic for the scenes of Hosea and Leah playing footsie. NOOORM!!

Where did Ryan and Gretchen go? (Who cares.)

The judges arrive for dinner, including of course the new guy Toby Young who totally looks like a tech writer. They send out the food with the waiters because it’s a blind tasting where they won’t know which cheftestant cooked which dish. Then the second group of chestestants arrives and Padma tells them to sit at the table because they’ll make up the second half of the judges’ panel this evening.

Of course, when Group A comes out, they’re all shocked and surprised and talking about how they’ll get really harsh reviews because the eaters/cheftestants/Group B wants to make their dishes look good by making Group A’s dishes sound bad.

When Group A walks back into the kitchen, they see a large flat screen TV with the judges’ table, so they get to listen in on the comments. EU Stefan starts off by dissing Radhika’s soup, and new judge Toby Young says they should call off the search for WMD because it’s all here in his soup. Carla Top is so funny when she says Young is harsh and she calls out for Gail, who is probably busy shoving wedding cake down her new husband’s throat right about now.

They talk about the other dishes and there are some positive and some negative comments. When it comes to the new guy, I have to say he sounds more like a movie critic. Toby Young called Hosea’s halibut dish something like classically trained British actors being upstaged by the supporting cast from America. And later that evening he made some comment about Tom Cruise’s appearance on Tropic Thunder (which I have to admit he was totally great in). I think this guy’s critiques are just as long as watching a movie. ZZzzz.

But Young did hand out a few other zingers, including calling Eugene’s fried whole fish dish “the bland leading the bland” and Melissa’s ahi tuna tacos as “a bit like cat food.”

After the meal, Group B heads to the kitchen to start cooking, and The Cougar is already worried about what Toby Young will say about her food. When they’re all done cooking, the waiters bring out their food and the group comes out to see their fellow cheftestants from Group A sitting at the table. Padma says hi and bye, and they’re excused. Such silly directions by the producers in this episode, me thinks.

The judges start eating and Padma is making a weird face, and Jamie says to her, “too much garlic, huh?” It’s like a wink between sisters or some kind of code. Anywho, Chef Tom totally loves EU Stefan’s cabbage dish with the duck even though Radhika said the dumplings were dense. This is the most excited I’ve seen Chef Tom rave about a dish in a long while.

Jeff the Hair made a trio of tapas, which was kind of a weird approach given that this was a family style dinner. Eugene says there was too much happening and Chef Tom didn’t like the concept and called it a bunch of desserts, but Toby Young loves it and says the avocado sorbet was like Tom Cruise’s surprise performance in Tropic Thunder (see above movie passage).

When dinner is over and the cheftestants at the table leave, Chef Tom says overall the second group’s offerings were much better. Toby Young thinks the overall standard is high because cat food does include a lot of protein.

Commercials. Got Milk? Go see it.

In the stew room, the cheftestants are asking who made what, and Melissa is all depressed because she made cat food. Hosea feels bad for her, and then she starts to cry. Poor Daryl Hannah. Padma arrives and asks for the chefs who made the dishes they liked, and that turns out to be Jamie, The Cougar and EU Stefan.

At the judges’ table, Chef Tom throws praises on Stefan for his perfectly cooked duck, and new judge Toby Young says it’s definitely German (but Stefan is Swiss, go figure). Then he says something about a wood cabin. I don’t know. This guy talks in tangents.

Jamie says she wanted to redeem herself from her scallop crudo fiasco during the holidays, and everyone complimented her on the classic fennel and orange combination, which is really standard and not so innovative, IMHO.

The Cougar made skate (a kind of fish) and Chef Novelli says it was a very strong dish. But he gives the win to Jamie and she is ecstatic and so is Ariane who was worried about the wrath of Jamie if she wins over Jamie one more time.

When the group in the stew room finds out that Jamie won, they are ALL relieved as well. No more bad mood Jamie, at least for now. Jamie sends Melissa, Eugene and Carla Top to the judges’ table.

In front of the judges, Carla Top basically falls on her chef knife and admits that she was planning to make a vegetarian risotto and decided to add the scallops at the last minute. Chef Tom says risotto should never be a garnish. (Or if this were Toby Young speaking, he would say something about how the risotto should never be like Baby stuck at the corner ala Dirty Dancing.)

Melissa says she enjoyed the challenge, and Chef Tom is confused because in his head he’s thinking, “um, you know you’re in the bottom three, right?” She goes on to say that she learned a lot from hearing the judges’ critique. Then she admits that she would make something different after everyone called her fish tacos unimaginative, and Toby Young says you could smell it a mile away, and not like a good smell but the kind of smell when someone brings leftover fish to work and microwaves it in the common dining area and your co-workers have to smell that fishy smell for the rest of the day. But that never happened to me.

Eugene’s fried red snapper was the most creative and unusual, according to Chef Novelli, but it was overcooked. Toby Young says he liked that he took risks, but it was a failed experiment because the dish lacked flavor.

Then the three talked about why they should stay, and really, none of them gave a convincing argument and I’m expecting grumpy Tom Colicchio to make an appearance and deliver his “If I had my druthers I’d send you all home” speech.

They’re excused and the judges deliberate some more, and it looks like Toby is fighting for Eugene because he says Eugene is at least trying to be creative, but Tom just isn’t buying the fish dish. Chef Novelli says Carla Top is like someone driving without knowing where to go, and I think to myself, wow, he really does knows Carla. Toby says she’s not confident, which Carla Top repeats herself while sitting in the stew room.

Judgment time. Chef Tom says this was a straight-forward challenge for them to wow the judges but they didn’t. He says Eugene needs his skills to catch up with his creativity, Melissa had a lack of imagination, and Carla Top overthought, overworked and ruined her dish. Padma sends Melissa packing her knives first, and just when I thought we would lose our funny Valentine Carla Top, Padma sends local boy Eugene home to the islands.

When the three go back to the stew room, it was weird to see the initial reaction of the rest of the gang, which was no reaction at all. It was like they knew Melissa and Eugene would be the ones to go. There are some tears shed and a comment about running out of booze, and then they move on. Aloha!

Next week: Top Chef winner Hung makes a return. There’s a big dirty pig and live chickens. And we finally see the infamous Jamie “are you calling me a douche-bag?” battle with Stefan.

“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.


David Dust said...

You said there is a "big dirty pig" next week. I thought Daniel went home already?...

CLICK HERE for David Dust's Top Chef recap.


Anonymous said...

Melissa looks like the little blonde girl from Poltergheist more than Daryl Hannah to me; even their bangs are the same!

I love Top Chef, but I'm more than a little bored by this season. I haven't seen any dishes and been wowed as I have been in the seasons where Sam or Hung were on. I hope this changes soon.

Anonymous said...

We managed to catch this episode when we were in the States last week. I was quite surprised to see Toby Young reusing his zingers from the BBC2 show Eating with the Enemy, where he delivers the same lines in a slightly more sympathetic manner.