At left we have a picture of the snorting pig on Kevin’s forearm, courtesy of fine local photographer Broderick Smylie. This picture was taken just moments before Kevin plunged said arm into a meat grinder to make the luscious terrine that had Padma swooning on the lawn in a paroxysm of epicurean delight.
But before we get to that exciting development, this is the place where I must warn the TiVo set of imminent SPOILERS. Seriously, though, you know who will be eliminated. Look into your hearts, and you will see the answer. At this point in the game, the judges would have a tougher time shooting fish in a barrel.
Tonight’s episode is no nail biter, but it is nonetheless a tale of delicious onion-flavored snack items, Oedipal sublimation, fine French Burgundies, brothers vying for approbation from a father substitute, the transformative power of pork, and the sheer awesomeness of Atlantans in the kitchen.
As the morning dawns, we find Eli sitting on his bed talking to a soft-voiced woman. His girlfriend? No, his mother. “I miss you, Mom,” he says, before explaining in voiceover that he still lives with his parents.
Mr. Apron Strings tells mom everything is fine, but it isn’t. Robin is on the grass outside the suburban McMansion doing Pilates and talking about her recovery from cancer, and somehow we all know things will blow up between these two.
There isn’t a lot of time to delve into this Good Mommy/Bad Mommy dichotomy, because the chefs must hustle off to Top Chef kitchen where Padma awaits in a pair of white go go boots. Standing beside her is Charlie Palmer, a famous chef who owns two restaurants named Areola Aureole in New York and Las Vegas. He also discloses that he has mentored not one but two Voltaggios, which get the bros all riled up. Who did Charlie like better?
No time for self doubt. Padma begins talking about “the art of pairing,” and we assume she will segue into wine (or perhaps a rendition of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” from “Fiddler on the Roof”) but, alas, no. She announces the:
QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE: Pair a dish with Alexia snack foods (or: Just be happy Tabby Treat isn’t a sponsor)
Padma, in full Carol Merrill mode, shows the chefs a fulsome display of crunchy snack items.
“Alexia snack foods!” the chefs marvel. “We’ve been eating those at the house, but we never thought we’d cook with them.”
Um, duh? You’re living the “Truman Show.” Snack items don’t appear on the shelf for no reason.
(By the way, Alexia Crunchy Snacks boast they are made with “100% real vegetables,” which is reassuring, I suppose. They’re not as addictive as those chips made from a mixture of real vegetables and petroleum by-products, but they sure seem healthier. Those onion strips that all the chefs favor are made from “Wheat Flour, High Oleic Canola Oil, Corn Flour, Modified Food Starch, Spanish Onions” in that order. Not a polymer in sight.)
Everyone get busy, ripping into bags of vending machine snacks and expensive gourmet ingredients with equal fervor. Kevin thinks updated green bean casserole for those onion strings. Bryan sears ribeye in a chippy crust. Robin decides, wrongly, that the jalapeño waffle fries need various kinds of corn and avocado goo to set them off.
Eli explains the concept of “pairing” to those of us in the audience who are too dense to get it. “Steak and marshmallows,” he informs us, “would be a bad pairing.” Good to know! And here I thought that was a Paula Deen classic.
And yet he knows what he’s talking about. Eli looks deep into the soul of his bag of crunchy yumyums and decides they must garnish a potato and clam salad with fennel and celery in a white truffle sauce. Charlie Palmer declares it best of show.
“I’ve gotten a little vindication,” Eli crows, wasting no time to cash in a bouchedag chip.
Ash, who flopped with his chilled cucumber soup (”The chip overpowers the soup’s mellowness,” said Palmer) is thrilled for Eli.
“He deserved to win. He’s an amazing chef!” gushes Ash, the equal-opportunity sycophant.
Eli barely has time to savor his victory when Padma marches her go go boots over to the Knife Block of Destiny and ask the chefs to draw.
Jen pulls out a knife with a picture of a pig and the word “Wild” on it. What could this mean?
The chefs draw their knives. Tenderloin! Butt! Belly! Cheeks! Are they going to the Spearmint Rhino Club? No, they’re cooking pork!
One of the Volt Bros. recalls Palmer once dumping off a whole pig at the restaurant and having the staff break it down into all its organy goodness. Will that happen here? Are we going to get forensic pork explorations à la “CSI: Las Vegas” this week?
Not quite. Parts, yes. Squishy parts, no. Palmer announces the:
ELIMINATION CHALLENGE: Pigs and Pinot: Create a dish and pair with Pinot Noir (or: Speaking of Tabby Treat…)
Charlie Palmer explains that every year he prepares food for Pigs & Pinot, a benefit in Sonoma, California, that is “close to my heart.” So the chefs will stage a mini version for 150 guests with their cuts of meat and Pinot Noirs selected from the groovy vertical wine cabinet at Aureole Las Vegas.
The chefs meet with Aureole sommelier William Sherer, choose their wines, get $300, and go tearing through Whole Foods. By the time they leave, the market is so devoid of pork it could be certified Kosher.
Next, we have a very interesting scene where the chefs are cooking dinner at the house and Robin will not shut up.
“She has the best intentions,” says Kevin, “but she’s driving people off the bleeping wall.” Tensions arise with Eli, who, while cooking scallops in Alexia chip gastrique for the crew, bogarts Robin’s clean cutting board.
Before you know it, there are cries of “bleep, bleep, bleep” throughout the house.
“Bleep, bleep, you’re not my mother, bleep,” yells Eli, huffing away with a panful of scallops.
“I don’t want to be your mother, Eli,” retorts Robin.
We will learn in a later show that, in fact, Robin is Eli’s biological mother (she was an 18-year-old commis in Robuchon’s kitchen; she had no choice), but for now they are happy to hate each other.
“They’re pissed that I’m still here,” Robin says grimly. “Because I’m not Hector or Mattin, who they liked better. It’s a big clique of the young kids against me.”
Robin marches to the room where all the others have finished their dinner, leaving her only a scallop or two in the pan. She grabs one with her fingers and grimaces.
“They’re rotten,” sneers Eli. “They’re Robin.”
“Rotten Robin, that’s me,” answers the hated oldster.
She talks in the kitchen all day long
Hoppin’ and a-boppin and singing her song
All the little cheffies on Top Chef Street
Hate to hear Robin go tweet tweet tweet
Rotten Robin, tweet tweet tweet
Rotten Robin, tweet tweetly-tweet
You blow Rotten Robin
And you’re really going home tonight
The next day, the chefs have four hours to make their 150 plates of Pinot-paired pork portions. Laurine attempts her first rillettes, or minced pork confit. Ash worries his tenderloin will be overcooked if served hot, so he makes “everyone’s favorite” cold pork. Mike I. prepares that Middle Eastern classic, pork kibbeh. I believe he found a source for halal pork.
Jen, whose “wild” knife meant she had a wild card to choose any cut of pork, decides on belly to create a light “summer version of pork and beans.”
“My pork belly is more creative and exciting than Jen’s,” says Eli, really believing himself.
Kevin takes a fresh leg of pork and puts the whole thing in the grinder for a yummy, fatty pork pate with hazelnuts and mushrooms. (He must win, he repeatedly informs us, because of his pig tattoo. He will be banished from the Order of the Swine if not.)
Mike V. stews pork cheeks in root beer, while his brother braises ribs to serve with a parsnip puree.
They rush, they pack, they arrive at a huge lawn set with pork-dispensing stations. Before they can uncurl their tails, here comes Padma marching down the path in a gospel choir Easter hat.
Brit Twit Toby Young is in tow, as are Charlie Palmer and Dana Cowin, editor of Food & Wine magazine. Tom is there as well, and 150 assorted souls trail behind.
Everyone wants their pork. Now.
Kevin has a good line about the Sokol Blosser wine paired with his dish. He knows the winery has hazelnut trees on property, so he put hazelnuts on his pig slabs. Everyone loves his dish.
Eli mouths a bunch of wine lingo, but even as the judges admire his pork belly they find the pairing off.
Laurine serves her so-called rillettes, which makes Dana Cowin utter the “c” word. It is the grossest insult you can ever make about someone’s chopped meat creation: “catfood.”
The party clears out, and the fearsome foursome retire to Judges’ Table as the sun sets.
Kevin gets called along with the Brothers V., and Jen. They loved Jen’s pairing of summery pork and beans with a funky French Burgundy.
The difference between a well behaved American Pinot and a barnyardy French Pinot, Toby Young explains, is the difference between a shaved armpit and a hairy armpit. Hmm. Maybe this man has some wit, after all.
Jen’s dish is excellent, but Kevin wins! Best dish and best pairing. It’s an Atlanta twofer! Plus, he gets to cook at the real Pigs & Pinot event.
But Kevin must return to the stew room and call in Ash, Robin and Laurine.
The trio of porcine horrors these three cooked up included cold, flavorless slivers with corn and cherries (Ash), porkless brined chops in sludgy coffee sauce (Robin) and Fluffy’s Fancy Feast (Laurine).
“Did you taste your dish?” asks Padma of Ash, her voice dripping with rhetorical disdain. “You didn’t think it lacked flavor or seasoning?”
She sends Ash, our perpetual bottom dweller, packing. But he vows to learn how to actually build flavors, then have a dinner party, and make some really good hot pork, and invite all the judges. Except Padma. Oh, snap.