Thursday, January 22, 2009

Top Chef: Season 5, Episode 9

“Keep the Love in the Kitchen; Send Out Good Desserts”

Previously: The cheftestants head out to the farm, and Ariane butchers a lamb, and not in a good way. For that, she and her butcher’s knife are sent packin’.

We’re at the half-way point, and I don’t realize that just on my own as I look at myself and think how did I condemn my Wednesday nights to late hours of recapping for a season that feels more like a Tuesday in a very long work week when it should really be TGIF. I get confirmation because several cheftestants are talking about being at the half-way point as they wake and prepare for their day. There are eight left, and Carla Top says they’re all good so now it’s just psychological warfare, which I really didn’t know what that meant until I listened to her comments near the end of the show and understood. Yes, you need a psychologist to understand what she’s saying.

Quickfire challenge. Padma greets the cheftestants with Stephen Starr, a New York restaurateur behind such popular spots like Morimoto and Buddakan. I don’t know the guy, nor have I been on the A-list to go to any of his restaurants. But all I can say is the guy needs to wipe his glasses. What’s up with the foggy lens? So if you haven’t guessed (and missed the 1001 promos by Bravo), this is the restaurant wars episode. You can tell all the cheftestants are excited (well, except Jamie, of course).

Padma says part of the process of opening a restaurant is doing a tasting for potential investors. So they have to come up with a tasting dish for Starr and the dish needs to reflect what would be their concept for their new restaurant. Starr will pick two winners, and each of the winners will be the chef/owner of the two teams.

Fabio quote for the segment (he has some real winners this episode): “Dees is going to be a hot, bloody, nasty war. En love and war, you’re allowed to do EN-NEE-thing.”

They rush off to the refrigerator to grab their protein, and already you hear someone asking for the scallops. What? This is Top Chef, not Top Scallop, people! Stefan is swearing up a storm, as usual, and Fabio is having difficulties for some reason opening up the refrigerator door.

Everyone’s cooking and talking about their concept. Lazy Leah (that’s my new nickname for her after she didn’t do shit in the last episode) grabs a red snapper and I’m pretty sure her exactly quote is “it smells like ass.” Can you say “ass” on cable? I wouldn’t put it past her. But, you know, I know what she means. I’ve had some red snappers that can really smell fishy faster than other fish. Did it smell like ass? I can’t say.

Jamie, yawn, is doing seasonal, local, sustainable dishes for her restaurant concept. And while I love that type of food, it’s all over the place here in the Bay Area. People grab some weeds from their garden, plop it on a salad and call it sustainable cooking. Then Jamie tell us that she doesn’t want to win the challenge because she doesn’t want to be team leader because she’s opened a restaurant and it took forever so she can’t imagine having to open one in 24 hours. What a winning attitude, Jamie.


Carla Top is pushing home-made, rustic food aka “new American.” Huh? She makes a cod seared in tomato oil with Italian salsa and a green salad. Starr says it needs more salt.

Big Ho Hosea (also my new nickname for him after what happens later in the episode) is going for a seafood restaurant with Mediterranean flavors aka “world cuisine.” He makes shrimp with a morel mushroom cream sauce, and I think cream sauce sounds heavy for a Mediterranean-style restaurant.

Lazy Leah is going for an Asian-inspired concept since her mom is from the Philippines (I didn’t know that). She makes a poussin with dashi broth. Starr says it’s tasty. When they leave, Lazy Leah whispers to Big Ho Hosea that Starr didn’t like it but Big Ho tells her to relax and that she did all right. Then she gives him a big ol bear hug.

EU Stefan is doing a Euro-American concept because he says, condescendingly, that there are some redeeming factors about the culinary scene in America. He makes a trio of asparagus with trout, asparagus salad and asparagus soup. (BTW, if I don’t note what Starr says, then he probably said “very good,” which seems to be his judgment for everyone.)

Jeff the Hair makes salmon grilled with sun choke puree and grilled corn. I forgot what his restaurant concept is. Starr says it was a little mushy. (At least he didn’t call it “old people’s food.”)

Radhika’s restaurant would be a global influenced one with tastes from India and the Middle East. She made a pan-seared cod with braised corn, spinach and chorizo. Starr says it was well seasoned.

Jamie does her seasonal cooking spiel and cooks up Chilean sea bass with creamed corn, bacon and peas. Starr says he appreciates the simplicity of the dish, which really means “I could have made this at home and throw a sprig of parsley for garnish and you’re set to charge $26 a plate.”

EU Fabio talks about his concept for a restaurant specializing in lunch. And I’m not sure if that means his restaurant would only be open for lunch, or if he plans to sell lunch-type food at night? Anywho, he made a “complete” lunch meal consisting of swordfish and tuna carpaccio, salad and a French baguette sandwich, which Starr calls a cheese steak. That, of course, offends Fabio who thinks his sandwich is a filet mignon sandwich and not just a cheese steak. I guess it all depends on whether you say it with an accent.

Starr says he’s not investing in the restaurants of Jeff the Hair or Fabio. But he really liked Radhika, who he says has her finger on the pulse of what’s hot today with her global cuisine, and Lazy Leah, who he says had clean, forward-thinking food.

Commercials. Hey, Michelob, I really doubt I would look that hot and run from my office cubicle to the gym after drinking one of your beers.

Radhika and Lazy Leah pick their teams, and it’s all very schoolyard like as Radhika goes with Jamie first and Leah picks, surprise, the Big Ho. Then it’s Jeff the Hair and Carla Top for Radhika and Fabio for Leah. EU Stefan is last and I’m starting to think nobody wants to play with him. So Leah gets him by default. (You know, Stefan says he doesn’t care, but you know a part of him is probably hurt just an eensy, tiny bit.)

They break into their teams and start planning. Radhika’s team come up with the name Sahana, which we learn is sanskrit for “I’m not very creative so I’m going to make up a word and make it sound like Savannah.” Just kidding. According to Radhika, it’s supposed to mean strength and power.

On Team Lazy Leah, everyone’s harping on Big Ho and Lazy’s sexual tension, even though the two keep declaring “I have a boyfriend,” “I have a girlfriend” like there’s no tomorrow. Fabio volunteers for the front of the house, saying he mostly cooks Italian and doesn’t do much Asian. Eh, probably better since it’s best to front an Asian restaurant with a man with an Italian accent.

They shop at Pier 1, which is actually really good for the restaurant themes. I notice this year Top Chef isn’t offering any “professional designer” help in starting the restaurant. The cheftestants really have to do it all. EU Stefan shows he’s seen Top Chef restaurant wars before as he goes around getting “unscented” candles.

Back at the apartment the teams are planning their menus and Stefan continues to assert his ideas while Big Ho is sending him evil mental thoughts on behalf of Leah. Lazy Leah is too lazy to do anything about Stefan and just walks away at one point.

Big Ho and Lazy whisper about Stefan, who is naturally on the balcony smoking, and then that sets up their bond for what happens next.

I assume it’s later that evening because there’s no one else around and the camera shoots Big Ho laying on a chaise lounge with Lazy Leah on top as they snuggle and talk about how they want to go to sleep but are too lazy to get up and go to their beds. The editors get excited like this is a scene from “The Real World” except without all the swearing and the drinking, and they turn up the sexy mood music and I hear kissing. And then we learn that when you’re making out, your language skills are the first to go as we get a captioned quote from Leah saying: “I like, want to sleep right here.”

Commercials. Slumdog Millionaire. I didn’t want to buy into the hype, but I LOVE this movie. I predict it’ll win the Oscar for Best Movie. That’s right, you heard it here first. (I’m not just a pretty food blogger; I’m also a movie critic. LOL)

It’s the next morning and there’s that uncomfortable tension in the air of like when you sleep with someone and then you have to decide if you should talk it out or just pretend someone just conveniently “fell” into the bed. And while I’m pretty sure Big Ho and Lazy didn’t sleep together, they are awkward to the Nth power because they did kiss and thus crossed the lines of flirty friends to dirty little sneaks.

Big Ho interviews that “I have a girlfriend” and he regrets kissing Leah, while Leah interviews that “I have a boyfriend, but probably not when I get home.” Stefan and Fabio don’t know what to do because they’re mad that their bromance hasn’t been getting as much air time this episode compared to Big Ho and Lazy. So they go and do their food shopping.

What I don’t understand is the teams break into pairs of two and one pair goes to Whole Foods and one goes to the Restaurant Depot. Both places sell food, albeit one at a more lower discount. So I’m wondering why didn’t they just buy all their food at Restaurant Depot? It’s never really explained, and the only mini drama is Jamie not finding lamb shanks but Jeff the Hair being industrious and going to the freezer and finding a box by himself.

In the car, Stefan and Big Ho talk about the restaurant and Stefan suggests the name “Sunset Lounge” and they both scream like it’s the Best. Name. Ever. While I think it’s more an indication of their careers going down like the sun.

The cheftestants arrive at New York’s Bridgewater Restaurant and they have six hours to open their restaurants on the top floor. They start prepping their food and Radhika and Fabio work on setting up the look of their respective dining room.

In the kitchen, Lazy Leah is feeling stressed and then her pieces of fish have too many bones. And she can’t just pull them out with a tweezer. So she decides to slice down the middle and just cut out the bone. Just like how she wants to cut out her tongue for kissing Big Ho and just wishing that scene never happened. Except this isn’t the Taliban and we don’t do things like that in this country. Well, not since Obama became president.

Carla Top is making dessert—a spiced chocolate cake and frozen yogurt. But the freezer isn’t really working so her yogurt isn’t setting up. Stefan also has the same problem since he’s doing dessert and making a panna cotta. But he gets a tub of ice and sets the panna cotta in there and that seems to work. But you know, he’s Swiss so I’m sure ice runs through his veins. He could have just blown on it and it would have hardened up.

There’s one hour left and Jamie is freaking out and I’m getting bored with her freaking out about cooking. Radhika tastes Carla Top’s chocolate cake and Carla Top wants some direction but Radhika doesn’t have an opinion because it’s not her dish and she doesn’t know how to be a team leader and delegate. So instead, she hides. Jeff the Hair is moving so fast he says he feels “like a humming bird on cocaine.”

But really the best quote comes from Fabio, who walks in dressed in a suit ready to greet guests.

Fabio quote for the segment: “Wee can serve monkeeey ass and empty clam shells and still win.”

The guests start arriving and Radhika and Fabio seem pretty pleasant in greeting them. But of course in the kitchen there’s some confusion among the wait staff and Jamie is bitch bitch bitching about how Radhika needs to take the lead and talk some sense into the waiters. I am getting so tired of Jamie.

The judges arrive first to Sahana, and Radhika brings out some flat bread or naan and I’m really surprised to hear restaurateur Starr sound so surprised at the sight of them. He didn’t really know what they were, and I’m thinking, this guy dined all around the world? Anywho, Padma debates whether she loves the naan because they’re good or because she’s sooo hungry. Which gets me wondering about how far along the judges have to starve themselves before taping. And really, if they are going to really test their interest in food, it probably should be after they’ve eaten regular meals during the day. But this is Hollywood so we know how taping can last hours and you’re just sitting on set waiting. Or at least that’s how I imagine it, having not been invited to a set for filming.

Radhika brings out the first course of curried carrot soup with raita and chickpea cake with seared scallops and masala tomato sauce. I have to say, the curried carrot soup really has an odd, fake-like coloring to it. Tom makes a weird face when he tastes the soup, but he says he likes it, as do most of the other judges.

Next course is a white lentil tabouli with seared snapper and fresh pea shoots and a cinnamon and saffron braised lamb shank. The judges feel the lamb is cooked well but Toby Young says the couscous tastes like dish water. Starr says this odd comment about how he doesn’t like fish sitting in a lot of liquid because that reminds him of where the fish comes from. Which is totally weird because it’s like he’s eating fish and thinking, “oh, how lovely the fish must have been roaming the green, luxurious grassy knolls.” Come on! Fish swim, get over it!

Then they bring out a “hot mess” of desserts from Carla Top and everyone realizes the frozen yogurt is runny, and even Chef Tom asks for a spoon. Toby Young does one of his long-winded metaphors of how the tasting menu and dessert at the end are sort of like Elvis Pressley’s career where it starts off great but ends with a bloated Pressley slumped over in his toilet. I’m not really digging this British judge. I bet his food essays run on like a book that you read in the toilet and then you fall asleep and slump over. What?

Radhika is running around and even one of the waiters is sweet and asks if she’s OK, and of course she says no. Some of the guests comment on how Radhika seems intense and the judges questioned whether she was the best choice to be the front of the house. Grumpy Tom puts on a pissy fit and says that he bets they could leave without getting a goodbye, and Padma encourages him and they all walk up and leave. Radhika, of course, is no where to be seen. I bet she’s making out with that sweet waiter.

The judges hit Sunset Lounge, with the fabulous Fabio pouring out the charm like one continuous string of spaghetti. After seating the judges, he brings out an amuse bouche—a vegetable roll. Chef Tom says he’s had better frozen egg rolls and Starr says it was second-rate. Ouch.

Then comes the courses of two-way sashimi with radish salad and yuzu vinaigrette and a coconut curry bisque. Most of the judges seem to think the soup was OK, although Toby Young called it “too shocking.” And Chef Tom wanted more salt on the sashimi. (Maybe they should have used soy sauce in the vinaigrette instead of just yuzu.)

For the main course, the judges love the braised short ribs that are cooked perfectly, but nobody likes the seared cod from lazy Leah, which is a bit undercooked. Starr says the vegetables under the fish were really pickled too, which made it difficult to eat. Fabio comes over to check on the judges, and they tell him the fish was undercooked. I have to say, Fabio does a great job of offering to bring them out another plate of fish, but the judges decline.

When Fabio reports back to the rest of the team about the fish, Lazy Leah is already packing her knives to go home. Big Ho Hosea says it was like watching all the life force in the team go out the window, except they’re in a high rise and I’m pretty sure all the windows are glued shut.

For desserts, they bring out Stefan’s chocolate rice parfait with grapefruit jelly and pineapple and a lemongrass panna cotta. The judges are really digging the desserts, with grumpy Tom even saying that it’s the best part of the meal from BOTH restaurants. To top it off, Stefan has Fabio bring out a palate cleanser of frozen mango and bitter chocolate on little skewers. They did look really yummy. Fabio cinches the deal by giving the judges a warm send off, unlike Radhika’s hiding in the kitchen.

Who will win Restaurant Wars? We’ll find out …. AFTER the break. (Hey, have you guys been watching Idol? I’m glad the audition phase is showing more talented people but they’re really going heavy with the sob stories in the pimp spot near the end of the hour.)

Commercials. For this week’s mini, nonsensical clip, the cheftestants are in the stew room and Jeff the Hair does this magic trick where he lays out a square of items, in this case a bunch of crumpled up paper balls, and he tells them to touch just one of the balls while he covers his eyes and then he can guess which ball was touched. This is how they entertain themselves while they wait. I’m sure it’s a lot more funny after a few beers.

Back to the real episodes, the cheftestants are talking about how crappy the appliances were at the Bridgewater kitchen when Padma comes in and asks for the Sunset Lounge team.

At the judges’ table, Padma asks Lazy Leah how she thinks things went, and of course she doesn’t say how she was a frickin’ mess because she kissed Big Ho and was racked with guilt and couldn’t deal with the bones in her fish so she undercooked it. Instead she says overall they did ok. Chef Tom informs them that it was a close call but the guest comment cards gave the edge to their restaurant by a “slight margin” thanks to Stefan’s dessert and Fabio’s charm. Even cranky Toby Young says he was won over by Fabio.

Then Tom says Leah’s cod was the worst thing they ate all evening, and if her restaurant was on the losing end, she was sure to go home to her ex-boyfriend. Instead, guest judge Starr names Stefan the winner of the challenge because of his desserts, and Padma says he wins an entire line of GE appliances. Wow, now that’s a win.

Afterwards, Stefan says he can go home happy now even if he’s eliminated because he’s won the Restaurant Wars. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have the $100,000 prize money. What is up with all the pimping of this restaurant war challenge? Geez, it’s just a make believe restaurant people! My niece can set up a restaurant in one day with her Easy Bake oven too, and I don’t see her strutting her stuff after I pay my bill and tip!

Team Sahana goes in and Carla Top is a wee bit too excited, like she knows she’s going to be eliminated so she’s going to go out even more crazy than crazy does.

Padma asks Radhika what she thinks went wrong, and Radhika says she doesn’t know because she’s the woman of no opinions. The best part, hands down, is the few minutes with Carla Top, who gets all wacky and holds an honest and weird conversation with Tom.

She tells Tom that she was trying to do too many things and that others did ask her if she needed help but they were already “in the weeds” themselves so she tried to tough it out. And then there was this (paraphrased a bit, but you get the gist):

Carla: “I wasn’t happy with how (the desserts) turned out, but I had a good time.”

Tom makes that typical quizzical face that you know if he was a cartoon, it would be like Scooby Doo going, woohuh?

Carla: “I know my dish is going south. So I’m just going to send out some love that I’m giving you. So when you’re out there eating my food that looks like crap, I’ll be in the kitchen sending out the happy vibes so you’ll feel like it’s still good.”

I. LOVE. HER. She is totally cracking me up and I just wish she stays another week just so I can hear more crazy-is-like-crazy-does comments from her during the judges’ table.

After Padma pushes up Tom’s lower jaw that dropped in shocked, he says that they should have just owned up to their problems in the kitchen and call the frozen yogurt, yogurt soup instead. Then he says Radhika’s front of the house service sucked big time and as the chef/owner, she should have made more unilateral decisions about how things were cooked and handled. Tom says Radhika was never really in the game and doesn’t have follow through.

They’re excused while the judges deliberate more. Carla Top thinks it’s her leaving while Radhika says she’ll be going home. The judges say a lot of the comment cards were about Radhika’s poor service. Toby says he typically skips the desserts at an Asian-influenced restaurant and now he remembers why. Starr says he wanted to fire her on the spot, except he’s not the owner of Sahana. He had the most funny quote of the night when he says Carla’s comments totally didn’t make sense about sending out the love. “Keep the love in the kitchen, send out good desserts,” he says.

Commercials. Oh my gaawd. This is another extended Top Chef episode. We’re getting another 15 minutes of agony.

Chef Tom says restaurant war is the most popular and highly touted by Bravo challenge on Top Chef. He says Jamie and Jeff the Hair must feel frustrated that they’re on the sucky team. He says Radhika as chef-owner needs to have her hands on every aspect of the restaurant, and he tells Carla Top that desserts leave a lasting impression of the dinner and she didn’t make a good impression.

He turns to Padma, and she sends Radhika packing. Radhika holds back tears and thanks them for the opportunity. She’s mad that she’s going home because of her front of the restaurant service and not her cooking. Then says the typical exit speech about how her family will be proud she got this far, and that she learned a lot. The only way this episode would be saved now is if they cranked up the Bollywood music and Radhika and her family busts out some dance moves to end this episode. No? Not in the budget? Darn.

Next week: It’s an all-star team of seasons pasts, including my favorite bromance duo—Spike and Andrew. Spike calls Fabio “Fabian” and it’s on! Carla Top says Jamie looks crazed, and I think she looks like she always does.

“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.


Call Me Loretta said...

Single Guy, I just love your Top Chef recaps. Thanks for suffering through it so we can be amused. How fun that you are calling Hosea "Big Ho". Hee! It's so irritating when immature people decide to cheat on their partners and then act like it "just happened." No, it didn't "just happen," Hosea and Lea, you skanky losers. You made the decision to allow and respond to flirtation/make out/sleep together/whatever. Grrr. I feel bad for their exes. Anyway, also delighted that you called out Jamie for her tired old "sustainable-local-donetodeath" restaurant theme. And Fabio's monkey ass comment. Guess you can say "ass" on cable, eh? Thanks for another great recap. Maybe a martini with the next ep will help it be less agonizing...

Single Guy Ben said...

You know, I would do the recaps with a martini if I didn't have to go to work the next day. ;-)