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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” Recap, Episode 8: Charlie Palmer’s Porkorama

Credit: Broderick Smylie

Credit: Broderick Smylie

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.

Everyone, now:

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.

20 comments Add your comment

Lisa

October 15th, 2009
8:45 am

Oh when will Robin go home. I am starting to think they are keeping her for comic contrast. She’s really gotten under Eli’s skin too. I would like to see the parts that are not shown. Congrats to Kevin!!!

Stan

October 15th, 2009
8:53 am

Hey! Don’t go making fun of Paula Deen now! That woman is my hero…ok, it was funny.

sansho1

October 15th, 2009
9:46 am

At long last the deathless reality show line “I’m not here to make friends” has been uttered. So sayeth Robin, whose demeanor at the house suggests she would very much like to make friends, but keeps making a hash of it (or, as Laurine would wrongly suggest, a rillette).

Robin, please ref. Jen and the Volt brothers for an object lesson in how to not be there to make friends. To them, it’s so self-evident that making the assertion aloud would be a waste of breath. If everything was as self-contained, we would never have heard of the Glad family of products.

I love that they teased Toby’s armpit comment, and it ended up being a compliment. He was flying high right then, but a subsequent bon not was met with scorn from Colicchio — Toby Young evidently cannot stand prosperity.

And, finally, Ash is set free into an amazing world full of amazing people who, while Ash wanders about in a constant state of thrall, will surely eat him alive….

Liz Lorber

October 15th, 2009
11:09 am

Hysterical! I would rather read your synopsis than watch the actual show. Go, Kevin!

top chef fanattic

October 15th, 2009
11:23 am

Another great one Mr. Kessler! ….Well we finally get some explanations and answers to Eli”s baglike tendencies, He is a mummas boy, How sweet but even the master of fatboy cuisine deserves the grace of a win. But that was definetelly cut short by putting himself on a pedestal of being on top finally, And telling us he would surelly be a favorite to pair the wines with his dish because of his knowlege and experience at his kitchen with 140 wines by the glass. Well lets just give Eli a bag to put his teeth in, Because Charlie Palmer just kicked you soo hard in the mouth about your pairing . Im sure you will need cosmetic surgery. A shortened victory celebration was highlighted by the voltaggios saying they think Eli hasnt made it to 2nd base. Im guessing he is still on the bench asking coach Coliccio to put him in. Wait is that…is it that Darth (Robin) Vader i hear? Eli….Eli….im your mother , come over to the dark side:)

Then my boy Kevin continues his assault on his opponents and showcased his swine saviness
in a kick ass pate. He really sealed it with his experience and his personal visit to the winery in oregon(good stuff buddy thats why you won) thats what a top chef is about. And how happy was he when he found out the prize? i saw his baldspot on the back of his head shine. Finally i think we are gonna have a winner…winner…pork chop dinner from our city of the ATL ! this guy has the 1 thing Richard Blais didnt CONFIDENCE and he is showing it bigtime . Jennifer and the dynamic Voltaggio duo May have the Top restraunts and chef endorsments behind them , But this guy is single handingly demolishing them episode by episode with wins. And in this competition its all about the wins . So keep doing what your doing Kevin with your simple farm to table approach.

Finally the bottom of the food chain Ash …im not sorry to see you go you were hanging on by a chiffonade of hope and it snapped on you . So get some rocky mountain oysters and suck it up buttercup and start getting some Idenity on your cuisine. And Robin….honestlly your just being yourself hun , And being a top chef takes the skill to work with anyone. So who cares about them bashing you . It just shows they are lacking the patience in what it takes to be a top chef . I want to end with this . I have a friend back in Boston who his sista goes to the CIA and i asked her , why dont you go on top chef? Her reply was the show is lame and the producers pick chefs that they think will cause drama and they edit into it bigtime. I know its television and drama and they go together like steak and marshmallow, But when it comes down to it this competetion is judged by some of the top food critics and chefs, So wether you have hair on your pits ….or you dont . Im gonna quote my mother on this line (God rest her soul) You cant shit ….a shitter!

Thanks …and have a blessed day:)

MP

October 15th, 2009
12:17 pm

Once again:Full of complex (and comedic) riffs; clever metaphores and elegant structure;and the show wasn’t bad either.

HiHoSteverino

October 15th, 2009
12:36 pm

“Knife Block of Destiny” Love it!

[...] Show original post here [...]

Cheffan

October 15th, 2009
2:52 pm

Question – did Eli get anything for winning the Quickfire? I didn’t hear mention of immunity or any kind of prize. What’s up with that????

bibi

October 15th, 2009
4:17 pm

I do just read John’s recap and never watch the show-that Padma is a royal pain and I’m not really into cooking all that much-but we gotta root for the hometown boys to win.

Bravo

October 15th, 2009
6:48 pm

Eli is a real, immature jerk. I’ll be glad when he’s eliminated, even if he does have talent.
Ash: see ya, good fella. Nice guy; bad chef; and all that patting everyone on the back? It’s annoying. This is a competition, dude!
Robin: next week will be her last. John, would you go to her restaurant? What would your expectations be?
Cheering for home team — most consistent and great guy! Go Kevin!!

Colly

October 15th, 2009
8:05 pm

I, too, wondered about why they zoomed from Eli’s Quickfire win with no mention about WHAT he won…Guess there was no cashola or calphalon for him. Also, Laurine the Cat Chow Queen may give Robin a run for the next to be sent packin’. She’s not good.

Jeff

October 16th, 2009
5:03 am

Robin and Laurine are clearly the next two to go. After that, it really is a toss-up, as all of the remaining contenders are strong competitors – and I think all of the remaining ones have at least one win somewhere, right?

Lizzy

October 16th, 2009
10:35 am

Fellow Kevin fans – please note, if you haven’t already, Kevin is the only chef of the upper 4 who has never (ever!) been in the bottom of any quickfire or elimnination. Sir Kevin is also the only chef who hasn’t once acted offensively – a total class act to the max – go Kevin go!!!

Cheri

October 16th, 2009
12:00 pm

Anyone else notice how angelic Kevin gets when the judges talk about his dish? His moon face takes on a serene glow that could also be seen on any christmas movie where the shepherds heads lift to view the infant messiah.
He really is either a good actor or “class act to the max”.

colitas

October 16th, 2009
11:12 pm

Notice how the producers cut from Eli’s comment about how people who do poorly on Top Chef will always carry that stigma, to Robin doing her Pilates? Yup….

[...] View original post here: "Top Chef" Recap, Episode 8: Charlie Palmer's Porkorama | Food and … [...]

John Kessler

October 19th, 2009
11:23 am

Sansho: Ironic that Ash is the sole New Yorker on the show. And thank you for the gratuitous Glad Cosa Nostra of Products joke!
Fanatic: A chiffonade of hope! Love it.
Cheri: Will you please find a picture of Kevin, and Photoshop in a shepherd’s robe and cudgel? Pretty please?

top chef fanattic

October 20th, 2009
11:21 am

restraunt wars!!! bring it on baby thats where you seperate the players from the pretenders. And i just wanted to let you know what Eli won on his quickfire. Im guessing a bag of sea scallops and a date with robin at the restraunt of his choice:) really looking foward to the next episode.

Rodney Ho

October 20th, 2009
3:56 pm

Another fine recap, John. And Weird Al would be proud of your “Rotten Robin” lyrical writing!