City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

“Top Chef” Recap, Episode 4: French Tickler

Credit: Zagat Survey

Joël Robuchon. Credit: Zagat Survey

She’s baaaaaack.

Who? Jennifer Z., with her seitan-stuffed log of yuck?

No, Erica the Grand Poobah of Pasta! She of the freezer full of Glad-bagged peas. And here I thought a piano had fallen on her.

It’s a good thing Erica has all those Glad Bags because nothing SPOILS, unlike the details of this week’s double-down episode if you keep reading.

So we begin in the early morning in the kitchen of the suburban McMansion, and the feeling around the house is very Tony Soprano in his bathrobe scrounging for coffee and yelling at A.J. The chefs are dragging despite Hector’s cups of muddy Puerto Rican rocket fuel.

Plus, the girls’ room just keeps getting emptier and emptier. It’s like an Agatha Christie novel or maybe a slasher film, the way these women keep disappearing.

Robin’s getting worried the curse will befall her next. Not Jesse, bless her heart.

Jesse has worked her way “out of the fog of self doubt,” and claims, “I can do anything! Aww. There’s a brightness in her eyes, a soft bounce to her hair, a lack of suppuration around her lip piercing. You go, girl!

Soon the chefs have suited up like astronauts destined for the launch pad and march single file through the high Nevada sun. Then find themselves at the Wynn resort and the entrance to Daniel Boulud Brasserie. Inside they encounter none other than Daniel Boulud himself.

Who’s Daniel Boulud you ask?

“Daniel Boulud’s one of the baddest mother——s there is!” cries Eli.

Yes, Eli, Daniel Boulud is indeed the Shaft of haute cuisine. He’s the sex machine to all the chicks. The man that would risk his neck for his brother man. The cat that won’t cop out when there’s danger all about. Plus, he can make a chicken galantine blindfolded. Can you dig it?

The great French chef has brought along his compatriots — dozens and dozens of escargots.

The camera pans to show an aquarium of live snails, playfully wiggling their antenna and having no notion that an evil such as garlic butter exists.

Now, astute viewers will know that live snails must be purged of their unappetizing snail goo bits in a lengthy process, so despite the visuals the chefs are actually handed cleaned and cooked snails and issued their:

QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE: Create a Dish Using Escargot in 45 Minutes (or: slime’s a-wastin’!)

There’s also a catch. Two catches, really. Catch #1: Be creative and leave the garlic butter behind. Catch #2: The worst dish will send its creator home early in early elimination. Ouch.

(t’s like that year they first moved Best Supporting Actor and Actress to the top of the Academy Awards because the show was so boring.)

The cheftestants are up in arms. “Snails!” they moan. “Snails! Bleep, bleep, bleep! We’re not French.”

French, you say? Enter Mattin. “Escargot is my whole youth,” he purrs. Wow. Basque childhoods are tough. No trying out for the baseball team, reading Archie comics or building a treehouse. Just snails.

Things get frantic. “Who moved my snails?” Ron shouts, sounding slightly obsessive compulsive.

Hector cooks his snails with flavors of the Caribbean. Mike I. takes a virtual trip to Greece. Kevin, our happy homeboy, puts some South in the mouth and pairs his snail and brussels sprout fricassee with bacon jam.

Jesse of the renewed vim prepares an “E.L.T.” — escargot, lettuce and (fried green) tomato stack that looks interesting, if vaguely scary.

Kevin gets the win, which comes with immunity and a spot at the judges’ table for the elimination challenge. Both Tom and Shaft love, love, love the bacon jam.

Jesse, on the other hand, gets called to loser’s table along with Robin who made some bizarre play on snail-centric “bagels and cream cheese” (I don’t even want to know), and Ashley with “escargot mirepoix soup,” which must involve chopped snails. Who chops snails, I ask you?

Three women! The curse continues. To prolong their agony, Tom sends the three back to the kitchen for a second chance: 20 minutes to prepare an amuse bouche — one of those one-bite doodads chefs send out at the start of a meal.

Jesse, still brimming with confidence, strikes out with a bland tuna tartare topped with a fried quail egg and gets sent packing. “I’m pissed and disappointed and embarrassed,” she says. “The thing I want people to know is I don’t suck this bad.”

I feel sorry for her, but even sorrier for Tom and Shaft. Can you imagine anything more disgusting than eating 14 courses of snails? They must have trailed slime down the hallways of the Wynn resort after this mollusk-munching marathon.

The remaining 12 (not including Kevin) draw knives from a knife block. Six of them have the names of French sauces inscribed on them, and the remaining ones have the names of “popular French proteins.” The chefs must break into teams of two, matching sauce and protein for the:

ELIMINATION CHALLENGE: Cook French Classics for the World’s Best French Chef (or: Gallic envy)

Joël Robuchon, chef of the century, is much badder, much bigger, much more legendary than even Daniel Boulud. Quoth Eli: “I was pretty much under the impression that he didn’t exist and might actually be a unicorn.”

Hmm. Robuchon doesn’t sport a horn, but he is the most Michelin-starred culinarian in history, and he’s invited the Top Chef squad to play out their little contest in his three-star restaurant in the MGM Grand Hotel. Joining him at the table will be some of the most accomplished French chefs in America, including Hubert Keller, Laurent Tourondel and Jean Joho — all of whom have restaurants to promote in Las Vegas. And Tom. And Padma. And Gail. And Erica, the Grand Poobah of Pasta.

Okay, not Erica, but Kevin! Our Kevin gets to share a table with the great Robuchon, which we are told is every young chef’s dream. To chew alongside a living god. “Make sure you have a suit and tie,” Boulud advises.

The remaining 12 run through Whole Foods, which is conveniently stocked with all the popular French proteins, including poussin (young chicken), rabbit and frogs’ legs.

Mattin must match his poussin with Ashley’s vélouté sauce, which she says is simply gravy. Ron, who boasts of having made frogs’ legs 250 ways (à la Buffalo chicken wings, in a nest of chocolate-covered cauliflower, and still hopping, among others) pairs with Robin and her meunière (lemon brown butter).

The chefs have two hours of frenzied cooking, during which time the excited Robin never stops talking. “Do you like garbanzo bean flour, Ron?” she beseeches. “What about salad greens on the plate. Do you like salad greens.” He considers a Voodoo curse, but figures she’ll just do herself in.

Jen and Mike V., on the other hand, get along like their rabbit and sauce chasseur. “We already feel each other’s movement in the kitchen,” she coos.

We break for Glad-Wrapped Housewives of Atlanta commercials and a snippet of Mattin’s birthday pool party, and it’s time for dinner.

Kevin arrives at the restaurant in a nice lavender tie, meets the Unicorn and straps on his French feedbag.

Ron and Robin’s frog legs get mixed reviews — creative idea, cloudy flavors.

Bryan and Mike I. follow and wow the table with warm cured trout and a deconstructed béarnaise sauce that consists of dribbles and smears.

“J’aime beaucoup,” says Unicorn.

Eli and Laurine serve lobster with sauce américaine (similar to lobster bisque). Unicorn says it doesn’t have a “fresh taste.”

Alas, it’s fresher than Mattin and Ashley’s dessicated, bland poussin. Insult to injury? One of the judges snipes the lame sauce isn’t vélouté, “just gravy.”

But the French chow brigade brightens at the first taste of Jen and Mike V.’s perfectly cooked rabbit with yummy sauce chasseur and fun “mustard noodle” made from agar.

Then comes the heartbreaker. Hector doesn’t cook his chateaubriand long enough, he doesn’t let it rest, he hacks it with dull knife and gets it on the plate so late that Ash cant fling his au poivre fast enough.

“It looks like it’s been hacked with an axe!” scoffs Gail, who has emerged as Madame Harshcall.

The judges and editors try to play up the suspense, but we know what’s coming. After Mike V. wins for his trout, Hector is publicly flogged as a steak mauler — “Any cook who works a buffet line in this town can cook a better piece of meat than that,” sniffs Tom. — and told to get packing.

Adios, corazon y cojones. Everyone in Atlanta knows you’re a fine chef who got tripped up by a meat thermometer. We will miss you, but continue watching and rooting for the Fat Boy Two.

14 comments Add your comment


September 10th, 2009
2:38 pm

Hahaha…really good episode. I am wondering how long Ron, Robin and the French guy will last. He was French and could not even win a French challenge. “I feel like they made this challenge for me…” he quipped.


September 10th, 2009
2:42 pm

I don’t even have to watch the show anymore. This is much better.

Anastasia Beaverhausen

September 10th, 2009
3:06 pm

Excellent review – Top competitors seem to be:
Mike V
Bryan V
Then middle ground:
Mike I
Next to pack their knives:
Mattin and Erica!

So work it fat boys!

Mr T

September 10th, 2009
4:57 pm

I pity the fool that doesn’t read this review! It made Mr. T laugh.


September 10th, 2009
5:45 pm

Did Eli really call Shaft Boolood?

John Kessler

September 10th, 2009
5:45 pm

Don’t you think we should petition to have Erica and all the folks from the Glad Family of Commercials on the judges table?


September 11th, 2009
12:18 am

I’m convinced the Quickfire challenge was engineered by the producers to give Jesse the boot without having to show another of her basket-case performances at Judges’ Table. The degree of her self-loathing must have sent them scrambling — and when her snail dish wasn’t the absolute worst, they came up with the cook-off to end the agony.

Mike I. continues to display serious signs of Little Brother Syndrome. Whacking Jen with the shopping cart…throwing Frenchy into the hot tub…saying “there she is” when Kevin returned from dining with the big shots. Just goes to show once again, lack of self-awareness = great reality TV.


September 11th, 2009
9:14 am

You need DVR so you can fast forward through those terrible Glad commercials!

prissi wilson

September 11th, 2009
1:34 pm

After watching this show every season, I finally watched an episode that I have been waiting for and thought I would never see. No quick fires with cooking blindfold or some other silly idea the producers come up with. It is good to let the contestants show what skills they have. Is it possible to have more episodes like this one. Is anyone listening?


September 11th, 2009
1:52 pm

John’s getting a run for his money from some of the commenters’ hilarious writing! Sansho’s point on the wretched Jessie was brutally funny – my heart really broke when she cried over her dish for the groom on the 2nd show. I’m savoring the show and then anxiously awaiting John’s column and ensuing comments – Bon Appetite!

[...] proteins that would split them into teams. They then found out that they would be creating dishes for French masters like Hubert Keller, Laurent Tourondel, and Joël Robuchon. I can’t even imagine what must have been going through Kevin’s head, not only does he [...]

John Kessler

September 14th, 2009
2:11 pm

Lizzy, seriously…I’m loving the comments…


September 16th, 2009
3:05 pm

Leave Britney – I mean Jen Z. – alone! Seriously, I’ve met Jen Z., and she’s cool. The seitan dish was unfortunately, all wrong.


September 20th, 2009
3:39 pm

This is HILARIOUS! The show is a little dull this season, but this gives it new life. LOVE IT!! I am going to keep rooting for the home team…good luck Kevin and Eli!!