This weekly recap of “Top Chef: Las Vegas” CONTAINS SPOILERS. If you are adverse to SPOILERS then there is really only one thing you can do. Take your laptop and completely enclose it in Glad Press ‘N Seal, which clings to a variety of surfaces including fruit cocktail, seat-back airplane trays, tuna tartare, Padma’s fetching cerulean shorts, Tom’s shiny pate and Eve’s Midwestern dipthongs.
Aah. Poor Eve. Poor Michigan. The Wolverine State has not had a good run of things lately. First Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick obstructs justice. Then General Motors goes bankrupt. And now Eve, mauler of shrimp, heads home to the land of “pets or meat.” But more on Eve’s sad fate later.
Our sixteen chefs begin their grueling competition in the Top Chef kitchen where Padma and guest judge Todd English (chef and restaurateur, Figs and Olives) are standing by a craps table. The chefs must prepare a Japanese steakhouse feast on this felt-covered table, complete with airborne spatulas and an onion volcano.
Oops, no. Here’s what they really have to do:
QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE: Roll the Dice and Create a Dish with The Same Number of Ingredients (or: Mushy on Mushy Makes Mushy)
Our Kevin rolls a 10 and isn’t at all happy about it. He’s so not a 10-item chef. Let a few ingredients shine, that’s his motto. But, hey, life’s a crap shoot.
Laurine rolls a three and makes an asparagus soup so stripped down that all the judges can do is arch their eyebrows. Mmm. Green.
Ashley serves a lamb chop that a judge generously calls “a little rare.” It in fact looks ready to follow Mary home to school. Jesse of the pinned mouth can’t get a sear on her scallops, and Todd English gravely informs her, “When you have mushy on mushy, it’s not nice.” Words to live by.
But this episode really belongs to the brothers Voltaggio, Michael and Bryan, who are not, shall we say, each other’s keepers.
Mike, the younger one, is clearly the baby brother from hell. He has something to prove. “Bryan has gotten where he’s going with his career,” he moans.
There is no question that during his formative years Mike spied on Bryan and his girlfriend, found his hidden bottle of Wild Irish Rose and then went screaming to mom when Bryan hit him in retaliation. As a baby brother myself, I know the type well. Do. Not. Trust.
Mike pulls out the win. After rolling an eight on the craps table, he thinks of the perfect eight-ingredient dish: gazpacho! Not just regular-Jose gazpacho but one frozen in a cumulus of liquid nitrogen that comes out so thick a pointy crouton can stand upright in it like a dagger through his brother’s heart. Boo-yah.
Not only does he win immunity but also another of those nifty $15,000 casino chips that will start him on a lifetime of compulsive gambling.
We barely have time to watch three commercials for the “Real Housewives” before it’s time for the:
ELIMINATION CHALLENGE: Bachelor and Bachelorette Party: Battle of the Sexes (or: where are the strippers??)
Now, this is sweet. We meet Cute Couple who have come to Vegas to celebrate their last days of non-connubial bliss. They come bearing the shots they plan to serve their guests — Moscow Mules, pure tequila and something called a “Golden Delicious” that Ash calls “sweet, gooey and disgusting.” The chefs must make dishes to match the libations.
So, how’s it gonna work? The boy chefs will cook for the bachelorette party and the girl chefs for the bachelor party. A nifty idea but, well, gender identity isn’t so cut and dried.
Ashley doesn’t feel right about the whole enterprise when her fellow gay citizens can’t get married in most states. “At least three of us here aren’t allowed in that institution,” she comments. But she puts on her game face and makes panna cotta.
The teams head to Whole Foods, where they’re seemingly issued brand new reusable bags and begin shopping for their respective dishes.
Mike Isabella, who has been frustratingly copacetic throughout the show, finally lets loose with a little sotto voce trash talk. For some reason that I either missed or willfully blotted out of memory, he calls Eli and Kevin “the pickle brothers.” And once again he makes fun of Preeti’s name. I hope one day she pins him to the ground and threatens to beat him up until he says “Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi” 10 times correctly.
It is time for the two parties. I may have missed something due to the quick editing — and please correct me if I’m wrong — but are these parties being held simultaneously around the same swimming pool?
This is the last hurrah for Cute Couple before a promise to love, honor and obey? I’m sorry, but are no wild oats to be sown anywhere at this sorry affair? It looks more like a Virginia Reel than a bachelor party. Have none of these people seen “The Hangover?”
Remember: what happens in Vegas gets broadcast to millions of homes. So just drink and eat and keep your clothes on. Unless you’re Eli and Kevin.
Anyhow, let me quickly do a Golden Delicious shot and move on to the food.
It is so hot out that Mattin’s red kercheif flops listlessly as do Preeti’s shiso leaves.
Tom arrives wearing sunglasses that make him look an awful lot like Morpheus from the “Matrix” movies. Then he does the most curious thing: he offers Kevin a red pill or a blue pill.
“Take the blue pill, and everything will continue as it was,” he intones. “You will still believe you are living a life where you get to spend five weeks in a resort town baking fish on camera. But take the red pill and you will wake up in a dark factory farm with a painful metal tube shoved down your gullet. There is a master race that pours corn down these tubes so they can feast on our engorged livers!”
Kevin takes the blue pill and makes almond soup. It is good, but not as praiseworthy as Hector’s tofu ceviche, which charms the judges. Todd English can’t recall a zippier mouthful of curd in his life. Eli scores big with with his tuna tartare with puffed rice, too. “Great seasoning and great acid!” cries judge Gail Simmons excitedly.
But while these two Atlantans enjoy a moment’s glory on the winner’s lineup, the brothers Voltaggio are the cooks to beat.
Young Mike makes (I think) apple sorbet with a goat cheese cookie. But Bryan gets the gold for his riff on chips and salsa that involves a lime meringue, guacamole and corn puree. Add a few shots of tequila, and it’s party time.
Preeti drags her sorry shiso leaves to the loser’s table, joining a tearful Jesse and her disagreeably watery lettuce wraps. Ashley explains how she infused her panna cotta with bitterness (toasted bay leaves!) and Eve, dear Eve, serves up more flavorless shrimp.
I am sorry to see her go, mostly because I love the Marge Gunderson intonation when she says “fresh paaaped paaapcorn.” But go Eve must, back to Ann Arbor, Michigan, a sensible place where they don’t have craps tables in the kitchen. But they do have Zingerman’s, the great deli. It’s a good consolation prize for our hangdog Michigander, a sweet lady who rolled snake eyes.