Thursday, February 05, 2009

Top Chef: Season 5, Episode 11

Fish Out of Water

Previously: Past seasons “All-Stars” come to compete, and there’s a ceviche battle between Josie and Jeff the Hair. Carla Top comes out on top for the first time, and Jeff no longer has to be the resident sex symbol as he and his wink leave the show.

Hey, we’re almost near the end (please, God, please) and I think this is the first time in Padma’s prize “at stake” summary that she mentions that the finale will be in Nawlins! They’ll battle it out in the Big Easy for the title of … TOP CHEF.

Opening scenes of the Hudson, fast-moving clouds, and the obligatory shot of Whole Foods. Back at the homestand, Monkey Ass Fabio calls his wife, who he says he’s going to win this competition for, which is odd considering that just last week he said he had to win for his ailing mama. So now we know Monkey Ass kisses up to the women in his life and that he says bye three times, as in bye-bye-bye (but not like the Backstreet Boys).

Big Ho is getting cocky being the lone American male chef in the final six. And Carla Top is feeling the momentum, and eating at lot of cheese.

Quickfire challenge. The cheftestants arrive at the Top Chef kitchen and there’s Eric Ripert, who I’ve compared in the past to Zeus because of his wavy silver hair and god-like abilities. Ripert’s famous restaurant Le Bernardin is known for its elegant seafood dishes, so you know this episode is going to be all about the fish. Big Ho is nervously laughing for some odd reason either because he’s all giddy like a school girl at the sight of god Ripert or Monkey Ass is tickling him from behind.

Padma tells them that cooking fish is all about technique and precision, so today they’ll be tested on their knife skills in filleting fish in three rounds. Yeah, I like these competition in rounds because we can get rid of the dead wood early on. Bring on the fish!

Round 1: Sardines. Wow, those are some huge-ass sardines. They would never fit in a can. Big Ho Hosea talks about how he’s under more pressure because he’s the “seafood guy” since he works at a seafood restaurant back home. To me, just working at a seafood restaurant doesn’t mean you’re necessarily expert at seafood. It just means you’re more familiar with the ingredients. Anywho, he’s all shaky and nervous and I see guts flying everywhere. EU Stefan looks like he’s doing well, but then again he is Swedish and isn’t that all they eat there? That and cheese.

When Padma and Chef Eric go around to inspect the filets, Carla Top is already telling him to back away from her mess. Carla: “Girrrrrl, we all know what it is. It’s butcher time, so move along. I’m all out of crazy for sale today.”

EU Stefan has a nice filet but with some bone, while Jamie looks like her sardines got some of their meat savaged away. Monkey Ass Fabio has some of the best-looking cuts, and he says as an Italian (What? He’s from Italy?) he eats sardines all the time.

Big Ho says he’s disappointed at himself, the “seafood guy.” Chef Eric tries to make him feel better and says “well, at least you finished.”

Surprisingly, Chef Eric says Lazy Leah did the best job, along with Monkey Ass. But out are Carla Top and Jamie.

Round 2: Arctic Char. That’s some huge fish and Lazy Leah already wants to give up because she can’t handle a fish that’s bigger than her. In fact, she steps away from the table and actually stops. Quitter.

When Chef Eric comes around, he asks Lazy Leah what went wrong and she just says she’s upset, and I’m not sure if she’s upset at herself for quitting, upset that the producers were picking on her by making her filet fish, or upset because Chef Ripert didn’t smile at her from the get-go? Anywho, EU Stefan goes through, Big Ho redeems himself, but Monkey Ass is out because he cut too much off the head.

So that leaves EU Stefan and Big Ho going head to head, and the cheftestants are getting so chummy now that they’re in the final weeks because I’m pretty sure I just saw Hosea throw Stefan a kiss and he reciprocates with a wink. I think there’s more bromance in the air now that Jeff the Hair is gone, you know, in the way how everyone feels intimidated by the pretty one in the room, but once the pretty one leaves you’re more relaxed and can feel good about yourself like throwing air kisses to another man.

Round 3: Freshwater eel. I think Chef Eric says something about how the eels were already dead but they have a strong nervous system so they’ll still move around on you. And on cue, they do. Stefan isn’t having any of that so he brings out a nail and drives it through the eel’s head and onto his cutting board and I’m thinking where’s PETA when you need them? Big Ho, having the same problems with the squirming eel follows along and also nails the eel and then skins it.

During inspection, EU Stefan says he grew up with eel so had no problem skinning them (and apparently no problem with crucifying them onto a cutting board). Chef Eric likes how his work station is clean of blood and guts or any evidence of the massacre that’s known as Stefan skinning an eel.

For Big Ho, the massacre is evident and Chef Eric says Hosea removed some of the meat of the eel during the skinning process. So that means Stefan is the winner.

Padma tells Stefan that he doesn’t have immunity but will have an “advantage” in the elimination challenge, and EU Stefan jokes that he hopes it’s a better advantage than last week when it blew up in his face when he picked to go head-to-head with vegetarian chef Andrea.

Then Chef Eric invites the cheftestants to his restaurant for lunch tomorrow. Hmm, wonder what’s on the menu? My guess is sardines, arctic char and freshwater eel.

Commercials. OK, I don’t get that GE commercial with the street scenes of China and the guy falls over when he sees a pretty girl and turns out the girl works at the hospital where he’s taken for treatment and a bunch of bamboo poles fall on him. Um, what exactly are they selling?

Oh, we get our mini Top Chef clip earlier this week, and this one is showing the cheftestants goofing around doing their own at-home quickfire challenge and Fabio’s doing some kind of judging of a dessert Stefan just whipped up with bananas and ice cream, I think. Zzzzzzz.

The cheftestants wake up and get ready for lunch, with Stefan putting on his best pressed white shirt with jeans. Jamie looks like she always does.

They arrive at Chef Ripert’s beautiful restaurant. It’s all very elegant and luxurious and Chef Ripert says they’ll be dining on six courses, all made of seafood. Chef Tom Colicchio also joins them for lunch. As each course comes out, what looks like the head server announces each dish and describes the ingredients and sublime preparations. All the cheftestants are interviewing of how simple but sophisticated the dishes are. All of them. Except Jamie.

Yes, our Jamie finds time during this luxurious (not to mention, free) lunch to diss the creations of Chef Ripert. Specifically, she disses that she’s “bored” by this type of food (French seafood) and that the sautéed black bass with braised leeks and Serrano ham was her least favorite because she would never cook with celery.

On the other end of the table, Lazy Leah is all gushing about the food, and she says she loves it so much that she just wants to give Chef Ripert a big ol’ hug. (Memo to Chef Ripert: A hug from Leah will lead to a kiss which will lead to regrets, or worse, disdain from the Bravo viewing public. Stay. Away.)

After the last course, Chef Ripert says there’s one last course and you think it’s dessert but out comes the knife block. Chef Tom explains that they each have to draw knives because their elimination challenge is to recreate one of the dishes they just ate. Carla Top says that’s “like recreating Eden.”

As the winner of the quickfire, Stefan gets to choose which dish he wants to make, and he goes for the lobster. Everyone else draws knives and Carla Top gets escolar, Big Ho gets the monkfish, Lazy Leah the mahi mahi, Fabio the red snapper and Jamie the black bass. (That’s right, the same dish she dissed earlier as something she would never make herself. Karma, you know, big time.)

Commercials. I think Alex Baldwin is getting crazier as he gets older and puffier, and you know, I do believe he is an alien.

The cheftestants are in the Le Bernardin’s kitchen with the ingredients for the dish set out for them but without any instructions. So they have two hours to do a test run and get feedback from Chef Ripert, then they’ll make the dishes for the judges.

Big Ho is having issues with the spiced used for his monk fish called zatar, while Lazy Leah can’t figure out the miso broth for her mahi mahi.

Chef Eric comes around to check out their progress. Stefan looks like he’s pretty much on the mark, but with Leah, Ripert says the broth is too intense and oily. But you know, I don’t think she’s paying attention. Who would when you have Eric Ripert smiling at you?

Carla Top seems to be doing well with her sauce for the fish, and she’s excited. He talks to Big Ho about using too much of the zatar spice. Then with Jamie, oh, wait, where is she? Turns out she didn’t even have her fish done for Chef Eric to taste, so she doesn’t even get any feedback from him, which seems like a big disadvantage since you’d think you’d want to find out if you’re close or not to the original.

The judges—Padma, Chef Tom and Toby Young—arrive for dinner. Monkey Ass is up first and he sears his red snapper to get the sourdough encrusted top crispy. It looks overdone. Oh no. Not again with the overcooking. When his dish is brought to the table, it’s also placed next to one made by one of the Le Bernardin’s chefs for a side-by-side comparison.

Chef Eric says the flavor is very close to his original, while Toby says something innocuous about details making the difference, or something. I’m still not digging him.

Next comes Lazy Leah’s mahi mahi with matsutake mushroom and miso broth. She’s down to the wire prepping her dishes and everyone helps her out. Padma says there’s a definite flavor difference between her dish and Ripert’s. Chef Tom says his fish was over cooked, but Chef Ripert says the fish he got was undercooked. Toby Young kisses up to Chef Ribert and Padma gives him the title of Top Chef because even she’s done with this season’s cheftestants.

Stefan serves up his lobster, which actually did look like the most simplest of all the dishes. Padma is impressed with the texture of the lobster, which she feels is identical to Ripert’s version. The sauce, however, is on the thick side and looks really ugly when the server tries to plate it.

Carla Top’s dish includes crispy medallions of potatoes, which means she has to fry them up in 15 minutes, and her fryer isn’t hot enough. So that pushes her way back and everyone else helps her to finish her plating. I have to say, this season’s cheftestants, despite their boring nature, do really pitch in at the most crucial moments.

Chef Ripert notices that the potatoes aren’t as crispy, and Chef Tom acknowledges the dish is more challenging. Chef Ripert does feel it’s very close in theory to his dish.

Big Ho, who reminds us for the 10,000th time that he’s the “seafood guy,” says he can’t go home on a fish challenge. He serves up his monkfish and Chef Ripert says the sauce is very close. But Padma and Tom say the fish looks different, and Ripert says Hosea applied too much of the spice. Tom also suspects that Big Ho didn’t let the monkfish rest before cutting into it.

BTW, I like how the guy comes into the kitchen to announce the firing up of the next course. These French restaurants and their rituals. Sometimes they seem so silly but sometimes it can be like a well-choreographed dance. I love it!

Jamie’s working on her dish, and she feels her celery isn’t soft enough so she leaves it on the stove top. But the liquid reduces and concentrates the salty flavor of the sauce. So of course everyone comments on it when they try it, with Chef Ripert calling the celery “hardcore.” Toby said it’s “remarkably poor” and when you think we lasted a judging session without one of his crazy metaphors, Toby Young says something about a high wire act and Jamie falling on her face.

Commercials. Doesn’t that actress (Isla Fisher) in the movie “Confessions of a Shopaholic” look a lot like Amy Adams? I keep getting them confused. Like I keep thinking, oh, Amy Adams is an Oscar-nominated actress, what is she doing in a movie like this? Not to say getting nominated for an Oscar means you make better film choices. I mean, look at Cuba Gooding Jr.

In the stew room, the cheftestants toast each other before Padma comes in asking for Monkey Ass, EU Stefan and Carla Top. The other three looks dejected because they finally caught on to the routine that they bring in the winners first.

Even though Padma tells the three that they were the top, EU Stefan fain surprise. Chef Tom (kind of smugly, I think) asks Stefan if he thought cooking the lobster was too easy, and he says “no, it’s just something I’m used to working with.”

Monkey Ass says it was an honor cooking for Chef Eric and then blows him some kisses after Chef Eric says Fabio did a nice job. I think all Americans should do this. Like the next time Simon gives Ryan his typical back-handed compliment, then Ryan can just blow him some kisses. Oh wait, they already do that. Never mind.

Carla Top says she loved the challenge also and then Chef Eric asked how she figured out how to make the sauce so close to the original, and this is where I have to say the Crazy Carla made way for the French Classically Trained Carla who talked about béarnaise sauces and another type of fancy-name version and I was impressed, and you can tell Chef Ripert was impressed. And you know who else wanted to get in the picture? Toby Young, who called the sauce the “Pablo Escolar” of all sauces. (I think only Entourage viewers would get that reference.)

Eventually, Chef Eric chooses EU Stefan as the winner (and Carla Top looks genuinely pissed for the first time), and he gets a copy of Ripert’s new book as well as the invitation to be his buddy for a few weeks (spending time with Chef Ripert at his restaurants and then at the Pebble Beach Food and Wine event). Now that’s a prize; I hear Chef Ripert is a good drinking buddy.

Big Ho, Jamie and Lazy Leah go in to face the judges. They go over each person’s faults, starting with Hosea and his over-zatar-spiced monkfish. Chef Ripert says the quality of the sauce was good, but the fish was overcooked and overcrusted with the spice. Chef Tom gets into a discussion about resting the fish after cooking, and Big Ho says he did let it rest, but not long enough. Tom says, well, at least you know so I don’t have to spend the next half hour lecturing you on the importance of resting monkfish. “It’s nice to know you knew the mistake,” he says.

Lazy Leah, on the other hand, didn’t know what the hell she was doing with the miso and covered it up with butter. She was so at a loss that she says she wants a private lesson from Chef Ripert on the technique, but Chef Eric gives it to her right there (the lesson, I mean,) as he launches into an explanation of diluting with lemon, etc. Toby Young says the fish was dull and he regrets that he still has a piece of it stuck in the back of his teeth and then I realize why British people have such bad teeth. Chef Tom brings up the fact that Lazy Leah gave up during the quickfire and whether she really wants to be there. Miss Lazy says she regrets giving up during the quickfire but she really wants to be there.

Jamie says she’s not surprised she’s in the bottom, and really by her face I bet she couldn’t care less that she’s in the bottom. They talk about her salty celery and Padma tells her that if she got that dish at a restaurant she would send it back. I’d love to eat with Padma just to see her do that once. Toby says the fish tasted so metallic that the whole dish was “toxic” (and not in a Britney Spears kind of way).

The three gets dismissed as the judges talk it out. Jamie and Lazy Leah each think they’re the one to be sent packin’ and the discussion focuses on whether they should send home someone who knew she made a mistake (Jamie) or someone who didn’t even know how to make the mistake (Leah). Tom thinks Miss Lazy doesn’t have her head in the game, so why should she stick around. Hmm, maybe she won’t?

Back at judges’ table, Leah makes a weird face with her mouth. Chef Tom says each one of them made a mistake in observation and/or execution. Then Padma sends Jamie packin’. (You know how I knew Jamie wouldn’t go to the finale? Because since filming ended, she’s been back in San Francisco going to parties and writing a weekly blog post on the 7X7 Magazine’s Web site. So if she had won, she would have kept more of a low profile.)

Jamie says it’s the end of Team Rainbow (remember that?) as she takes her rainbow colored flag back to San Francisco. She says the typical things about learning and growing and nothing about how she’s going to stop dissing other people’s food. Oh well, pour yourself a shot of absinthe and you’ll get over it.

Next: Carla Top is feeling the momentum, Chef Tom doesn’t want the cheftestants to embarrass him and Monkey Ass cuts his pinky. And are they cooking for ghosts? Because the white glow lighting around Jacque Pepin makes it look like he’s having dinner with Julia Childs, and I know for sure she’s gone.

“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...

First off, does Hosea not watch "Iron Chef''?!? My gawd, the live eel episode on the original Japanese-version of "Iron Chef'' is a classic. Everyone knows you have to resort to the ol' nail-through-the-head trick.

Second, I can't believe Leah is still around. Am I wrong to think it's far worse to give up in challenge than to give it your all and complete the dish, even if there are problems with it?

Of course, Jamie probably did herself no favors by saying on-air that the dish she had to recreate was the least favorite one she ate at lunch. But I'm not sure she was the one who should have gone home.

Passionate Eater said...

Ooo, Eric Ripert is like the "Silver Fox," or what they call Anderson Cooper--both are gray-haired and good-looking men! (Thus, Zeus is a good comparison.)

Anonymous said...

Love it you are calling Leah lazy...she is. I get sick of watching her games with the guys and her changing voices. Hosea was a fool to be with her, this episode she was hitting on Stefan before they left and then on Eric Ripert. She's making such a butt of herself and is still around---I honestly thought Padma was going to tell her to pack her knives and go this episode.
Great commentary!