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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” Episode 7: Come Together

2009_02_tcvegas

Adventurous, crunchy Asian seeks blue, cheesy Middle Easterner for mutual mastication. Must be discreet. I’m into full-sleeve tattoos, sustainable seafood, hair gel, bacon and yuzu. You should be likewise. Not looking for long-term commitment. Just a Quickfire: 45 minutes, and it’s hands up. No romantic, tart Latins need apply. 

Oh, dear. What fresh silliness has the “Top Chef” crew concocted for us after last week’s hiatus. Plenty, you will see. Word salads, bags of Asian mysteries, blown electrical circuits and the chefs’ first dinner party at their suburban McMansion! But who will emerge from the ruins of this party as the hostess with the leastest? Read on, if you can stomach the salty, tough and underdone outcome. 

Once again, we start at breakfast as Eli scrambles eggs, Bryan shovels said eggs, Mike V. pines for his two daughters back home and Jen….oh, Jen’s not good. Hack. Wheeze. Sniffle. She’s sick! 

“I’ve worked many times being sick,” says Miss Puffy Eyes, zipping shut her turtleneck fleece jacket. How reassuring! Indeed, last year she valiantly slogged through New Year’s Eve dinner at her Philadelphia restaurant before they sent her off to the Adirondacks for a six-month cure. 

Sick Jen, garrulous Robin, homesick Mike and the seven more still standing meet Padma in Top Chef kitchen where she waits with guest judge Tyler Florence and a specially rigged chef-torturing slot machine. This slot offers no jackpot but endless permutations of foodie jargon. Yes, gang, it’s the 

QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE: Create a dish using three words chosen by the slot machine (or: “Dude, You’re Stressing my Umami”) 

The wheels spin and spin and stop with A: a mood. B: a flavor. C: a world cuisine. You ready? 

Ash pulls “tired tart Italian” while Ashley gets “blue cheesy Middle Eastern” and Robin is “stressed umami Middle Eastern.” For the love of Escoffier, seriously? It’s like that improv exercise where the audience calls out adjectives, but with food. How exactly can one communicate stress through glutamate receptors on the tongue within the context of a falafel? I’m just asking. 

Jen’s wheels stop spinning at “adventurous nutty American,” which suggests she must devise the Lucille Ball of recipes. Will she attach an escargot clamp to the tip of her nose? Maybe not. Our poor wheezing girl isn’t entirely compos mentis. “You should keep your mood out of your food,” she says — not exactly the spirit of the challenge. 

Alas, Jen’s scallops with caviar aren’t adventurous or nutty enough for Florence, and so she gets singled out as one of the sucky three. Joining her is Robin, who, in a state of umami-induced stress, tries to pass curry off as Middle Eastern. Padma knows better. 

Eli also shows poorly with his “stressed umami Latin American” mushroom ceviche accompanied by something called an “avocado marble.” He seems very proud of this marble, though I suspect it involves little more than an avocado and a melon baller. Whatever, Florence says the acid in the dish overpowers any chance at mushroomy umami goodness. 

But our other Atlantan, Kevin, scores big. The capricious food wheel commands him to cook a “stressed, hot and spicy Asian” something or other. Does Kevin ever cook Asian food? No way, but he rises to the occasion with chargrilled pork with marinated daikon and carrots and a Vietnamese herb salad. 

The pig is Kevin’s best friend, and he wins! And not just bragging rights, but also a choice of either immunity or a $15,000 credit at M Resort to start on a lifetime of compulsive gambling. Confident and riding high, Kevin (unlike Robin in an earlier episode) chooses the money. 

Instead of announcing the elimination challenge, as is her scripted custom, Padma tells the chefs to go home. Home? Home!?

The anxiety is palpable. “They’re always twisting screws in your mind,” says Jen, sounding as if she’s being ordered back to the Stalag. 

But – lo – during their absence some sort of anti-Grinch has gone through the chef’s manor and stocked it. Baskets of tomatoes and onions spill from the counters! Piles of Macy’s cookware fills the dining room! There are racks of meat and mixing bowls and even flowers! Vases and vases of flowers! O, what cruel fate awaits? 

Uh oh. Here comes Padma and four grim-faced famous chefs, each holding a sack of groceries. These four (Nancy Silverton, Takashi Yagihashi, Govind Armstrong, Tom Douglas) comprise the “Macy’s Culinary Council,” an august body that apparently has something to do with those commercials where celebrities have dinner in a department store

“In these tough economic times people are coming together for home dinner parties,” says Padma, subtly dropping reference to the Beatles song licensed for the campaign. And so she announces the 

ELIMINATION CHALLENGE: Prepare dinner at home for the Culinary Council, using the bags of groceries in each chef’s arms (or: “The Tale of the Abject Brush Scrubber”) 

The chefs must draw knives etched with the name of each grocery-bag wielding chef to break into teams, grabs their goodies and run. They have only three hours. 

“Please don’t give me Robin, please don’t give me Robin,” Mike I. cries to the gods of bouchedaggery, who promptly hand him both Robin and Yagihashi’s sack of Japanese mysteries. 

“I’m livid, angry, upset and going home,” Mike moans. 

Three hours! The chefs storm the kitchen, trampling over their fallen brethren like English soccer hooligans to grab space in the tiny kitchen and secure the choicest leeks. Jen, getting raspier by the moment, reminds us she is unwell. Will she even survive Project Dinner Party before CDC field officers in full HazMat gear cart her away? 

At least two of the teams establish clear master-slave relationships. Mike I. gives Robin meaningless little tasks as he tries to figure out what the hell he’s going to do with a ribbon of dried kelp. Robin chops along merrily, unaware that all her work is going straight into the garbage. 

Mike V. sets up a Macy’s electrical cookware station in the dining room, and the starry-eyed Ash is all too eager to do his bidding. 

“He is so brilliant with his asparagus coulis,” swoons Ash, “I’ll do whatever he wants.” Mike, for his part, just wants to make frozen-egg-yolk-filled ravioli with pancetta-wrapped halibut a la plancha in peace, so he sends Ash out to set the table. 

“I’ll get the perfect flowers!” cries Ash, running outside. But when he returns, Mike is dire straits. All that fancy Macy’s equipment has blown the circuit! The plancha (i.e., griddle) is not crisping the pancetta-wrapped fish and the wok of water isn’t boiling the pasta. Mike may be seeing his little girls sooner than he thinks. 

Kevin and Jen, in a more equitable relationship, open their bag, containing Asian condiments as well, and decide on a riff on Korean barbecue. Kevin gets busy with a hunk of Kobe goodness, while Jen fiddles with a cardamom-scented tomato chutney sauce and tries very hard not to sneeze into the pan. 

Eli and Ashley are having a rougher time of it. As Ashley prepares her famous gnocchi, Eli stands on the sidelines holding fistfuls of salt and thinking spot prawns and some sort of screaming fuchsia sauce would set them off just right. (No, Eli, no! Never, ever serve shrimp or shrimp-like creatures on “Top Chef!”) 

Tom Colicchio looks worried, as well. After he does his walkthrough, he grants a rare solo interview on the steps of the suburban McMansion with Nevada canyons behind him. “I don’t see how the textures will work together,” he says in full-on talking head mode. 

Those three hours pass quickly, and soon the Macy’s Culinary Council gathers around Ash’s impeccable table with Padma, Tom and Brit twit Toby Young. 

As befits these difficult recessionary times, all the food is to be served family style rather than plated on fancy china as is the chefs’ wont. 

“Would you like some wine?” Padma asks, framing a bottle of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio with Carol Merrill hands. 

The guests scoop, pass plates and masticate thoughtfully. “This is chewy,” says Nancy Silverton of her mouthful of rubberized pancetta. “And the fish is overcooked,” says Tom, looking displeased. 

But these issues are nothing compared to the horrors of the salt lick shrimp and gnocchi. Tom Douglas — looking a little wild, like one of those guys in New Yorker cartoon holding up “The End is Near” signs — cannot believe how badly Eli and Ashley mistreated the seafood. 

“Spot prawns are too beautiful to let this happen!” moans the Seattle restaurateur, who knows from spot prawns. 

The Macy’s Culinary Council is dismissed. Does the rest of the dinner party head to the parlor for dessert and digestifs? No, they convene to Judges’ Table. They call in Kevin and Jen for their fine beef in tomato sauce as well as Bryan and Laurine for a much more successful Voltaggio halibut concoction. 

Jen wins — big — for her sauce, which she nailed despite failing health. A $10,000 Macy’s gift card is hers, and she promises to buy Kevin another suit because she didn’t do it alone. 

Mike V. did do it alone, as becomes quite clear during his lineup at losers’ table along with his adoring partner, Ash. Eli and Ashley of the gruesome gnocchi sweat alongside. 

But first Mike must defend his ill-conceived Vulcanized halibut with egg-gushing raviolo. Who did what, the judges begin to ask when Ash, practically throwing himself on his knees, begs not for the mercy but the full wrath of the court. 

Ash did nothing — nothing! — (except pick out those fetching red peonies for the centerpiece). Mike is such a brilliant chef that Ash deferred to him on all counts. 

“Do you mind washing paintbrushes for Michelangelo?” he asks with startling rhetorical flourish. The camera pans to Mike’s face, which registers…nope…nothing…just the old Voltaggio fisheye. 

Eli and Ashley face down a battery of questions. Why serve gnocchi for an alfresco summer party? Who checked the doneness of the prawns? How did a cup of salt find its way into the sauce? 

“The shrimp was really undercooked, and the gnocchi was salty and tough,” says Tom, staring straight at Ashley. 

She must pack her knives, but not before having a good, cross-contaminant cry with Jen. 

Jen, with her first elimination challenge win under her belt, twirls the red Macy’s card in her hand and wonders how she’ll use it. Maybe the Las Vegas store has a pharmacy, a nurse on call or perhaps even an outpatient clinic. Success feels — hack, wheeze — good.

24 comments Add your comment

Merredith

October 8th, 2009
12:11 pm

“At least two of the teams establish clear master-slave relationships.” Oh, my goodness. So true. And the cupful of salt? And what is bouchedaggery? One thing is clear: we miss your culinary/epistolary musings here in Denver. And I’ll be coming back to your blog next week. By the way, we think Eli sabotaged Ashley — she was the better chef, honestly. There’s like a whole layer of weasely mediocrity just waiting to be melon-balled out.

SPEAK-So-EASILY

October 8th, 2009
12:12 pm

i really hope we lose a voltaggio brother soon……take the ash admiration socity with you.

top chef fanatic

October 8th, 2009
12:17 pm

Well done mr. Kessler…a good description of the nights occurances, but as you know i do have an opinion? I want to start on the important things 1st being a recovering compulsive gambler who has not gambled in over 10 years and is an active member of a 12 step recovery program….lets just say 15 grand isnt gonna cut it for a compulsive gamblers lifetime and we should leave addiction out of the picture. Its about being a chef and handling the pressures that come along with that and producing good food….anyhow with that said I think my boy kevin kicked some butt and still stand by him as a favorite to pull it out for the ATL! and dont get me wrong but it was a little strange to see a sauce win the elimination challenge, kinda a 1st on top chef for me , But jen did pull through and showcase her talents even sick. So with that i give her props! Eli still shows his poor culinary and team attitude with double salting the gnocchis without asking ashley, then on top of that whimps out of cooking the hardest thing the prawns. bad conception and execution I think ashley was a talented chef and hated to see her go. Eli continues the poor culinary attitude on the scenes from next week by telling Robin(your not my mommy ..i dont have to listen 2 you) obviouslly Eli dosent listen to nobody but Eli, so with that i say the fatboy cuisine king breathes for another week! Well done Kevin you rock buddy and good job supporting the flood victim farmers with your dinner sunday nite thats good stuff.

top chef fanatic

October 8th, 2009
12:21 pm

Merridith…do you know pig latin?? that may answer your question and describe what we think of Eli”s attitude on the show:-)

Merredith

October 8th, 2009
12:52 pm

Top chef fanatic — I think I see your point. And yes, Eli ass-hay oo-tay oh-gay. We’re rooting for Kevin, Jen and a Voltaggio for the final three right now.

Dreamboat

October 8th, 2009
2:00 pm

“Brit twit Toby Young”
LOL!

pika

October 8th, 2009
2:03 pm

I’m still puzzling over in what way Kevin and Jen’s dish was “Korean”. It was Kobe beef (Japanese), and they used tomato and cardamom, neither of which are used in Korean cooking. Am I missing something?

tnsmoke

October 8th, 2009
2:08 pm

Mike V’s face did show emotion when Ash was on his strange “he’s God” rant and was truly not wanting Ash to be saying those things and said so in the holding pen and also thanked him. I loved how Bryan was so protective of his brother and would have nothing to do with the other chefs wanting to discuss Mike’s bad dish. And Tyler Florence (who is always a meanie when he judges cooking shows) was wrong about the power surge not being an excuse. Mike V and Ash had no more product to try to work with to correct the situation and it was hardly fair that some chefs got a real kitchen and stove and others didn’t. If the producers were trying to run off the weak chefs, it backfired.

No Doubt

October 8th, 2009
2:33 pm

@ Top Chef fanatic, This blog is written by John Kessler not MF………

@ Eli, if you are reading this and I hope you are, your attitude sucks, and wont get you very far in life………..that is if you ever get one………

Colly

October 8th, 2009
2:34 pm

If you ask me, Jen’s big win for her sauce just speaks to her ultra-talent. Of course, a little less talk about her oink-flu would have been preferable…don’t want to hear about chefs sneezing in my chutney. Kevin and Jen are, to quote a wise woman, “bad ass chefs” who never stoop to unclassiness – like other bouchedags – and will be duking it out in the finals. That is unless, of course, a Brother V sniggles his way in. :) Thanks again, JK, for the wrap up.

TR

October 8th, 2009
4:09 pm

I am o so crazy about top chef I’ve been a fan since season 1. I love Jen and the V brothers I’m really rooting for these three to make it to the finals. If any of them don’t no matter what they are going to be fantastic CHEFS.

John Kessler

October 8th, 2009
4:38 pm

Hey, Merredith! Yes, in earlier recaps I coined the word “bouchedag” to describe Mike I. and get past the Chinese censors.
top chef fanatic — Don’t you find it interesting (and, from your perspective, a little creepy) that monetary wins are in essence high-stakes gambling chips?
Colly — I know, the whole “sick chef” storyline kind of got to me. Bet the publicist for 10 Arts by Eric Ripert wasn’t too thrilled, either.
Sansho, Michigander — where are you?

Bravo

October 8th, 2009
5:36 pm

Big ups to Bryan for sticking up for his brother. As much as Mike V. annoys me with his arrogance, he didn’t deserve to be booted. He’s clearly one of the better chefs there.
The best part of last night’s show was Mike I railing on Robin every chance he got! It was hilarious, and I don’t think I’d pay to eat her food. How on earth is she still on this show and Ashley — Ashley! — is gone. I loved her; great attitude and all.
I think it comes down to Bryan and Kevin. Go home team! BTW, I saw Pura Vida was having a viewing party of Top Chef, in part to celebrate its chef’s appearance on the show.

FM Fats

October 8th, 2009
6:06 pm

What was that outfit on Padma last night? It made her butt look rectangular.

top chef fanatic

October 8th, 2009
6:39 pm

Mr. Kessler you know it dosent suprise me that the stakes are being paid out in chips, Either way its money , If kevin chooses to cash it in… then he pays takes on everything over 600 beans and is asked to fill out a form W2-G at time of cash in. And honestlly i expected that along with the slot machine and everything else glorifying the dreamword of vegas. I hope Kevin does the right thing and donates the chip to the farm that supplies him his produce that got damaged in the flood. Either way what happens in vegas stays in vegas! on a lighter note NO DOUBT i do know who writes this blog i follow it an many others here and respect the writers greatlly and appreciate ther opinions.

sansho1

October 8th, 2009
8:53 pm

Hey John — I was asleep at the switch this week, but thanks for the shout!

I don’t have much to add to this most excellent recap. There wasn’t much comedy to mine from this episode — other than Ash setting the perfect table and then genuflecting to MVolt, who receives praise about as easily as Ron deconstructs. Mike I. answering all of Tom’s sniff-’n-sneer questions with “I” instead of “we” was another highlight, much more entertaining than when he tries to be funny.

When Kevin won the Quickfire and said he’d never cooked Asian, I thought that might well be, but he’s obviously eaten at Lee’s Bakery a time or two. All that plate was missing was the fresh-baked sub roll.

I agree with Bravo that BVolt was a stand-up guy in the stew room. Out of his brother’s earshot, of course. Can’t let the kid think his older brother might be going soft! Any such intimation by MVolt upon watching this episode will surely result in two wiblets and a purple nurple….

Anna Burke

October 9th, 2009
1:44 am

This Atlantan is with Merredith: “We’re rooting for Kevin, Jen and a Voltaggio for the final three right now.” And I didn’t realize that they couldn’t cash in that chip. I thought it was as good as cash!

colitas

October 9th, 2009
3:27 am

Mr Kessler, I think you need to compile a cheat sheet for future Top Chef contestants. The very first tip should be AVOID PRAWNS AT ALL COSTS! Seriously, it’s like Top Chef kryptonite. You’d think someone would’ve told them by now.

top chef fanatic

October 9th, 2009
10:54 am

anna it is as good as cash …he just has to pay taxes on everything over 600$ when he cashes it in.

theArsonist

October 9th, 2009
11:52 pm

It’s interesting that no one calls out the Voltaggio brother for his stand offish attitude with Kevin about his brother’s dish. A person’s true attitude tends to come out in adversity and I think Brian’s is one of a bouche. Plenty of chefs play nice when everything is gravy, but as soon as something happens voila, bouche. At least Mike Isabella is the same regardless of things being gravy or a cluster****. And everyone who has worked with Eli who I personally know did think Eli was a bouche. The staff at Joel and TWO especially.

Amanda

October 14th, 2009
1:26 pm

John, I can’t believe you had nothing to say about Padma’s freaky green jumpsuit! Yes, I know her outfits aren’t the focus of the show but it is what I will remember from the episode six months from now.

John Kessler

October 14th, 2009
3:38 pm

Sansho – I should ask Kevin…bet you’re right.
Amanda – Padma is beginning to have the sartorial sense of Leela from Futurama…

Chris nyari

October 15th, 2009
2:20 pm

Enter your comments here. Read your article. Work on your journalism skills. Reading sarcastic degradation of people is not of interest. Sorry i came upon your blog. You are not even the least bit amusing. You appear envious. Found your article crass. Does the word bouchedaggery apply to you as well? Made up words alike, i believe ‘punk ass bitch’ applies to you perhaps. Wise ass.

Chris nyari

December 5th, 2009
5:47 pm

I HOPE BRIAN WINS TOP CHEF. KEVIN RUNNER UP. MICHAEL THIRD. ALWAYS WANTED BRIAN TO WIN FROM THE BEGINNING! HOPE IT HAPPENS!