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 12, Ballotine Boy

Paul Bocuse (credit: Wikimedia)

Paul Bocuse (credit: Wikimedia)

If there’s one lesson to be learned from last night’s pen-penultimate episode of “Top Chef,” it’s that yummy always wins. The judges may ask you communicate the principles of Aristotelian tragedy with Fig Newtons and soy sauce, but as long as that piece of meat is cooked and salted properly, you get the first call to judges’ table.

So, as we begin our last day in the suburban McMansion, things are looking up for the remaining five. Jen has apparently discovered a product that combines the best qualities of Xanax and Tresemmé hair conditioner, and she is fine fettle. Kevin misses his wife but is glad he’s had hometown bud Eli for the ride. Eli, for his part, wants to win for his mentor Richard Blais (cue shot of teary, came-so-close Blais). Bryan admits the recession has taken a turn on his business and could really use some winnings.

Are we ready to do this thing? Chefs: start buttoning your coats.

In “Top Chef” kitchen, Padma awaits in the company of one Gavin Kaysen, an American chef who won big at the Bocuse d’Or. What’s that? Why only France’s biggest competition of pretty food bits arranged on ginormous mirrored slabs, duuuuuhhh….

Kaysen entered this competition (named for octogenarian chef Paul Bocuse) with a chicken ballotine, a mousse- and crayfish-stuffed poultry football. He, however, did not win because a dishwasher had eaten two chicken wings intended for side dishes. (This is true.)

But, still, the chefs must recreate his not-quite winning dish in spirit if not to the letter for the:

QUICKFIRE CHALLENGE: Prepare a Protein Inside a Protein Inside a Protein (or: All the World’s a Turducken)

BroVolt candy! These techie chefs could stuff proteins inside proteins inside proteins all day long!

“Those of us who can make a ballotine will prevail,” says Bryan, shoving lamb loin inside merguez sausage mush.

Kevin knows he is at a disadvantage against these culinary dandies, but he must remain true to his downhome self and starts frying catfish.

Eli makes a bacon-crusted scotch egg, while Mike whomps through a poultry terrine.

But Jen is the chef who “pleasantly surprises” Ballotine Boy with her pretty calamari steak, shiso and salmon surprise. “Seafood is what I do best,” she says.

Padma takes a bite, rolls her eyes in pleasure and says, “Welcome back.”


Of course Jen can’t win immunity, but she does get an extra 30 minutes for the:

ELIMINATION CHALLENGE: “Top Chef” Version of the Bocuse d’Or: A Regal Presentation With One Protein and Two Side Dishes. (or: What’s Your Excuse for Serving Raw Lamb?)

So, what we have here is the French version of the meat-and-two. Just think Mary Mac’s, and one should do fine.

The chefs must choose lamb or salmon, shop at Whole Foods, and then spend four hours putting their mirrored platters together for a group of 12 august judges. These include Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Paul Bocuse’s son Jerôme, Ballotine Boy, Tracy des Jardins, and the Swedish Chef from “Sesame Street.” High stakes, indeed.

The winner not only earns the right to compete in the Bocuse d’Or in 2011, but he/she also gets $30,000 from the M Resort. In what form? Unexplained. It’s not a poker chip, and it’s not an oversized check. Perhaps a 30K chit at the buffet.

Padma informs our starting-to-freak-out fivesome that they will be judged on “taste, creativity and execution: every element must be perfection.”

At Whole Foods, Kevin stares at carrots looking for inspiration. (”Speak to me carrots, please!”)

Back at the ranch, Eli pulls out a Bocuse d’Or DVD. Bryan munches on a bag of those chips (What were they called? Stevia crisps?) and considers the likelihood of a four-hour braise. Kevin asks for help on cooking lamb sous vide, which gives Mike the opportunity to make the bouchedag statement of the season:

“The food that Kevin cooks is the food I cook on my day off.”

Excuuuuse me? Oh, no you didn’t.

So, Mike, on your day off you cook the food that you’d actually want to eat, right? When you’re behind the line, you just make those soulless fancy bits with squiggles and smears of weird sauce, right? OK, just asking…I wonder if this statement is going to come back and bite you in the ballotine.

The next day, the chefs are busy beavers. Kevin freaks a little because Tom keeps giving him “funny looks.”

Tom thinks Kevin is “off his game,” that Jen is “nervous” and Eli “has to pay attention to details.” Other than that, no worries.

The four hours are up before the chefs know it.

Bring me Bocuse d’Or! commands Padma.

Two burly waiters haul in Kevin’s mirrored platter first. There’s lamb, pickled Swiss chard stems, asparagus, sunchoke — all kinds of yummy bidness.

“Is the lamb sustainable?” asks Keller.

“Raised sustainably on pasture cleared from the Amazonian rain forest, absolutely!” says Kevin.

The judges find it very tasty but too simply conceived and presented. “It’s a little elementary for the amount of time he had,” sniffs Keller.

Mike, who thinks he has this in the bag, serves up the flavors of the Mediterranean: cauliflower, salmon, caviar. Mediterranean salmon is the best: after gamboling in the open seas from Gibraltar to Tel Aviv, these salmon swim up the Rhône to spawn among the cauliflower fields.

The judges complain not only about the confused geography of the dish, but also of “a total lack of harmony” and an errant bone.

Bryan serves his lamb with all kinds of fun side dishes, including a garlic chip “dehydrated over acetate” that impresses Keller. Alas, it is undercooked.

Eli’s lamb with sausage, a pistachio crust, ras el hanout foam and a carrot purée tastes pretty good, but his lamb is even less cooked than Bryan’s. The judges chew and chew and chew some more, and finally resort to their napkins.

“You can clearly feel the raw fat of the lamb,” says the Bocuse son.

Jen is fairly happy with her salmon cooked “unilaterally,” i.e., on one side so that it has gradations of temperature.

Not so the judges, who find the pieces unevenly cooked and the flavors “all over the place.”

All five chefs are all summoned to judges’ table to discuss their uniformly not bad, not great attempts at ooh là là.

Kevin’s simple but tasty mirror o’ food earns him the win and the 30K.

“That’s almost my yearly salary,” he exclaims sincerely.

But our other Atlantan, Eli of the unchewable lamb wad, must pack his knives.

Through a few tears, he says, “At least I’m not in a situation where I pooched it. I don’t harbor any negative feelings.

Absolutely true, Eli. So much better to go out when it’s a hard choice among strong competitors than with circus soup.

You’ve done your home town proud.

26 comments Add your comment


November 19th, 2009
10:46 am

Go Kevin! Win it for Woodfire!


November 19th, 2009
10:53 am

Was it me or was there a whiff of tension between Kevin and Kaysen? I got the feeling that he would’ve hated Kevin’s dish regardless of what he’d serve.

I’d love Mike to go home next but I think it’s a forgone conclusion that Jen will crumple and that will leave remus and romulas fighting in the kitchen with Kevin trying to avoid the thrown knives.

And $30,000 for one of the most famous chefs in Atlanta with his own lauded restaurant? No wonder new cooks are having trouble paying back their school loans for the CIA.

Steven A.

November 19th, 2009
11:06 am

Was beyond thrilled for Kevin. And now Atlantans can get fired up for the Bocuse d’Or when it rolls around! It broke my heart to see Eli go, but I think it was a fair call. And you’re absolutely right that he went down against incredibly stiff competition. He has nothing whatsoever to be ashamed of.

John, your deconstruction of Mike’s witless criticism of Kevin nailed it. Don’t talk smack if, in the final assessment, you can’t back it up. But in pointing out Mike’s bouche daggery, we must also commend his brother Bryan for being the polar opposite: At this late stage in the game, openly counseling Kevin on how to cook his lamb and pointing out that simple food, cooked masterfully, is impressive on its own terms.

For the record, the Swedish Chef was a staple on “The Muppet Show,” not “Sesame Street.”


November 19th, 2009
11:09 am

I can find no snark this week, not after celebrating my birthday at Woodfire Grill, where the food was delightful and the service the best I’ve ever received, anywhere. I mean that. My ten-year-old niece was along — she’s a big fan of the show, but she was intimidated by the menu. Our server (whose name sadly escapes me, as I’d like to nominate him for the service version of the Bocuse D’Or) gently and humorously steered her towards a couple of things she really enjoyed, and got Kevin to autograph a menu for her.

As for the food, the strip loin with truffled porcini sauce was tender and delicious, but the highlight was the two squash dishes I tried. Both the squash soup with maple drizzle and the Indian roasted delicata squash made you grin from ear to ear just to taste them. And the banana cake — look, just get the banana cake, okay?

So, for me, last night’s episode had the feel of a valedictory, and I can only describe the feeling I had in seeing Kevin earning such a prestigious honor (as well as witnessing Eli’s classy coda) as one of genuine civic pride. Kudos to both of them.


November 19th, 2009
11:21 am

Mike may be a fine chef, but that guy is an absolute child when it comes to dealing with being beat. Not only has he insulted Kevin several times throughout the show, but he insulted Kaysen after the quickfire. Have a little respect for your peers buddy. You may think his dishes are simple, but the judges have obviously liked them better than yours time and time again.

He really needs to grow up and get over himself. Although, maybe when he sees how ridiculous he sounds on national tv, maybe that will help.


November 19th, 2009
11:28 am

Kevin is our favorite finalist on Top Chef!! Way to go!


November 19th, 2009
11:32 am

That article you linked to about Gavin Kaysen and the dishwasher eating the chicken wings gave me a totally sick feeling in my stomach. I hat to think what happened to the dishwasher.

Needabailout, too!

November 19th, 2009
11:35 am

I so enjoy this show, and I’m elated that my early pick, Kevin, is poised to sweep. I’m feeling the early pangs of regret that the season is nearing its end, and then we’re forced to wait until next season. (To start next January?) BTW-the producers just held the Atlanta tryouts for next season at Craft about four Saturdays ago. And what changes will next season bring? Could there be a shake-up in the hosting duties? Padma has recently been outed as pregnant, with the possible father being her current squeeze, Ted Forstmann. Mr Forstmann is also single, and listed on 2008 Fortune 400 list of the most wealthy. He’s Chairman and CEO of megaconglomerate IMG, as well as owning his own private equity firm. Will motherhood provoke Padma to want to take next season and those to follow permanently ‘off’? Will Gail move into Padma’s hosting shoes?

Meanwhile, Bravo has given us a very entertaining cooking show/reality series to sustain us until then by way of ‘Chef’s Academy’. The series has just started, so there is still time to catch the first show as a rerun and to easily get-up-to-speed before Episode 2. Well worth your viewing time, and very funny, just by way of the very believable, everyday cast of student participants, some more experienced than others. The cooking school instructor is a reknowned french chef, with a celebrity crush on 1970’s Columbo. He’s extremely talented, provides valuable cooking/preparation tips along the way, and is similar to Gordon Ramsey in his sense of cooking perfection, but without the berating foul language.

anyone wondering?

November 19th, 2009
11:48 am

Just wondering if anyone else felt it was pretty transparent that Eli was sent home ONLY because he didn’t fit the producers’ plans…. Kevin has to stay: he won the challenge and has consistently proven himself to be the best. They’re not going to split the brothers: too much good drama with that storyline. And they want to keep at least one female in the mix: again, good for the story.

I’m not blaming them. That’s part of what makes the show work. Had one of the other’s dishes been particularly bad, then perhaps, by necessity, they’d have changed their plans. But Eli happened to be the odd man out last night. Too bad..

But it’s great to see Atlanta showing so well! I made reservations at Eno a couple of days ago and can’t wait to have the chance to go there…and to Woodfire too at some point soon.


November 19th, 2009
1:01 pm

If I am not mistaken, Kevin as a place in the US trials in order to compete in the Bocuse d’Or. No offense to Kevin, he is great, but he really should have to earn his place in the Bocuse d’Or not be handed it.


November 19th, 2009
1:12 pm

interesting that with 4 hours all but one of the contestants produced food that i would have sent back in a neighborhood joint much less the kind of upscale eateries they all work in and/or own. i guess the pressure must be intense.

southern hope

November 19th, 2009
1:17 pm

Kevin has just been named one of the top 40 green chefs in the country:
(and check out the company he’s in!)

It's Very Simple

November 19th, 2009
1:51 pm

I’m glad that No-Neck received the boot. He was annoying and rude, and I was never impressed with his concoctions. I love the final 4 contestants— true culinary competitors!


November 19th, 2009
1:59 pm

My husband and I have a Top Chef tradition – see who can pick the most finalists after the first episode. I chose Kevin, Jen, and the Voltaggio brothers. I was hoping Hector or Eli would squeeze in due to the Atlanta factor, but this year I win our bet. Dinner out on the town, my choice! Since we just dined at Woodfire, any Top Chef-worthy suggestions?

John Kessler

November 19th, 2009
2:02 pm

Thanks for the snarkless plaudits, Sansho. Kevin deserves them. One good thing about this silly show is that it elevates his stature to a place it belongs.
Interesting theory, Anyone….I agree that the line between competition and narrative grows fuzzy….
Who’s off next?
My guess: the good Voltaggio…


November 19th, 2009
2:22 pm

Have to agree with you, JK. Though Jen needs to double up on her Xanax and Tresemmé hair conditioner so she doesn’t crumple under the Final Four pressure. I’m still surprised that she faded at all but definitely hoping she’s not done yet. Go Chick Chef!

Loved the swedish chef comment. Sesame Street/Muppets – aren’t they all the same group, more or less?

Only 6 days and 7.5 hours till the next one! Woo-hoo…!


November 19th, 2009
2:27 pm

It seemed like Eli got sent home on merit — judging from the diners’ comments, while doneness was an issue with Bryan and Jen, Eli’s dish was inedible due to the amount of uncooked fat. Also, I’m fairly sure he botched his table service, as his description of the dish was done in a voiceover (they intercut him saying “and, uh” while tableside).


November 19th, 2009
7:06 pm

Thanks, JK. Eli’s immaturity (even in describing his dishes) in part led to his downfall, I think. Now, if we can do the same for Mike V. He is so arrogant! Do you think he’s next?

Go Kevin!

top chef fanatic

November 19th, 2009
8:45 pm

Excellent show!…the best by far and the 1st time the bocuse D’or has been implemented in. It seemed that the quickfire was just a warmup for the elimination challenge. Honestlly i think last nite was the first time i actually enjoyed what Eli said, I mean although his presentation and description was bad at elimination. I learned alot about him, I didnt realize that Richard Blais was his mentor. And he stepped out with class. So to the king of fatboy cuisine i say great job , I didnt think that a mommas boy with a bad attitude would come this far. Mikey…Mikey im gonna have to say that you are gonna be eating more than Kevins food on your day off, Your proablly gonna be scrubbing dishes at Woodfire grille for that little comment. I was so proud of Brian for giving Kevbo the tip on the souvide! Exact opposite of his baglike brother. And a real professional and honestlly i think he is better than his brother. And his brother just bashes him down constantlly …unless he needs help. JK 2 ?…..why do you call it the Mc mansion, And how do you think Kevbo will fit into the level of talent at the Bocuse? He seemed very intimadated by the judges and the competition. I mean he is my boy and i picked him from the begining and he has been cleaning up like a Whale in Vegas . But im just learning about his talent and the competition of the Bocuse D’or? I will end with this , We have had some very good bloggers and i think we need to plan a victory celebration at Woodfire because either way im going if Kevbo pulls it off!

thanks and have a blessed day:)

Michele B

November 20th, 2009
1:13 am

C: Kevin won the chance to earn a spot on the U.S team. He’s not automatically in, as per Tom’s blog on bravotv website. Also, Tom thinks Kevin would make a good team member for several reasons, including the intelligence he applies to his dishes. Kevin is my favorite and I hope Jen can step it up so one of the brothers can go.


November 20th, 2009
12:34 pm

Thanks for these recaps; though we watch the show, your snark and insights are great fun to read — an of course we agree (husband and I, both avid Top Chef watchers). I thought it was time for Eli to go; he’s not bad, but he was annoying. At one point, he actually made our family start rooting for Robin, just because he was so obnoxious. (I know, right?) We’re rooting for Kevin, Jen, and Bryan — but like you, guessing that Michael will make the cut.


November 20th, 2009
8:53 pm

I enjoyed the episode with its Bocuse d’Or theme… but it was a bit much to watch the likes of Keller and Boulud stick up their noses and act all “Fancy Pants” as if they were wearing powdered wigs and dancing the minuet.. Give me a break! I’m sorry but at the end of the day, all of this is just food and what wins, is what tastes good… We’re not talking life or death here and this isn’t rocket science. This is about entertaining the senses and the stomach… My grandmother never left the state of North Carolina and couldn’t even spell caviar but she would have given all of these kerchief wearing, thermometer testing, pantywastes a run for their money in the kitchen… And that’s exactly why, Mon Frere, that Kevin is going to win this competition hands down…

[...] In “Top Chef” kitchen, Padma awaits in the company of one Gavin Kaysen, an American chef who won big at the Bocuse d’Or . What’s that? Why only France’s biggest competition of pretty food bits arranged on ginormous mirrored slabs, …Read More [...]

[...] In “Top Chef” kitchen, Padma awaits in the company of one Gavin Kaysen, an American chef who won big at the Bocuse d’Or . What’s that? Why only France’s biggest competition of pretty food bits arranged on ginormous mirrored slabs, …Read More… [...]

It's True

November 22nd, 2009
8:37 pm

Eli deserved to go home. He served raw meat (as someone stated earlier, an inedible dish). I hope Kevin wins!!!

[...] stakes, indeed. The winner not only earns the right to compete in the Bocuse d’Or in …Next Page [...]