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Top Chef Recap: Please pack your ties and go

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Credit: Bravo TV

On the heels of the Jen’s meltdown last week, our 16 remaining cheftestants are noticeably rattled. Sure, it was a surprise to see Elia go home. But Jen C.? Even soon to be ex-Atlanta restaurant owner Tom C. had her making it to the finals.

I’m still not sure if it is due to the aftermath of Jen’s departure or trimming the show back down to 60 minutes from the inflated 75 of the previous weeks, but something felt off tonight. The entire show, from the interviews with the chefs to the judge’s table banter seemed bland. Either the editors skipped a lot of the good parts, or there weren’t many to be had.

The producers knew that they had their work cut out for them finding a culinary powerhouse that could top last week’s guest celeb, Joe Jonas. Enter “the man.”

Quickfire

David Chang, owner of the Momofuku restaurants and all around badass, informs the chefs that their Quickfire this week is the dreaded mise en place race. Each team of four will get the same ingredients – lamb, artichoke, and garlic – and must break them down to Chang’s liking. Once the first team finishes, the 15-minute timer to complete one dish begins for all four teams.

I always love this challenge because it separates the kitchen-hardened chefs from the culinary school girlie-men (or women). While cooking is an art, it is still very much a craft, and this tests some of their most basic techniques. On Top Chef, you really don’t want to be the one that gets the slow, plodding background music while you try to dice an onion. It’s embarrassing.

So, imagine my complete shock when Stephen has trouble dicing garlic and Spike has to step in and get it done. At this point, I’m praying that all of the camera time that Stephen’s inadequacy is getting is foreshadowing.

The Green team (Angelo, Tiffany, Fabio, and Mike) blows through their mise en place, earning the full 15 minutes to work on their dish. The other teams catch up eventually, with the White team (Marcel, Tiffani, Carla, and Dale T.) having only 8:39 left on the clock when they start cooking.

As many seasons of Top Chef has taught us, it doesn’t matter how pretty it is or how fast you get it done if it tastes like crap. Despite having the most time to cook, the Green team finds themselves on the bottom half of the QF challenge, along with the Red team (Dale L., Antonia, Casey, and Jaime). But we can score one more for the hometown hero, because Blais stepping up and taking charge of the Blue team (RB, Spike, Tre, and Stephen) earned the boys the Quickfire win and $5K apiece.

Elimination Challenge

Each team must eat a meal at one of New York’s best restaurants – David Burke’s Townhouse, Wylie Dufresne’s wd~50, Michael White’s Marea, and David Chang’s Ma Peche – and then each chef creates a dish worthy of a spot on their respective menu. And just in case cooking for these heavy hitting chefs wasn’t pressure enough, two sets of knives will be packed tonight. Its double elimination time.

The team dinners provided some of my favorite moments of the night, starting with Ma Peche and Tiffany finally vocalizing what I scream at the television screen every week: Angelo’s incessant rambling makes me want to stab out my eyeballs. You go girl.

At wd~50, Marcel becomes a valley girl over a scrambled egg block. He is like, really stoked about, like, cooking for Wylie Dufresne, because, like, his food is, like, OMG, AWESOME.

In true Stephen fashion, he is more interested in letting everyone know just how elite Marea is, how many times he has eaten there, and how Tre will suddenly decide that he likes sea urchin once he has tried theirs.

Please. We all know people like this…he is the constant one-upper, and foodie one-uppers can be especially annoying. “You think you like pizza? You’ve never HAD pizza until you’ve eaten at <obscure place that you’ll soon thank me for telling you about.>” No one likes that guy.

As if it wasn’t painfully obvious enough, Stephen further proves that fine dining for him has little to do with the food and everything to do with playing dress up and feeling important.

He drops this little pearl on us: “Marea is fine dining, suit and tie, something that I’m all about. Fashion has become like a major obsession of mine. Could be worse — could be cocaine, or heroin, so…” What the hell is he talking about?! What does that have to do with anything?

Honestly, I’d enjoy watching him on television a lot more if this were Celebrity Rehab and he’d spent the last 6 years railing blow instead of tie shopping. At least he would be moderately interesting.

But I digress. There is some cooking do be done.

We get some cut scenes of the chefs barreling into their respective kitchens to begin prep work, and before you know it, we are already at the tasting tables. As a wise man once said “No time for love Dr. Jones!”

From each group of four, the host chef/owner picks their favorite and least favorite dish, landing that contestant in the top or bottom for elimination. Here are your standouts, good and bad:

Top 4:

Angelo – Turmeric marinated fish, dill, cilantro, salmon roe, chorizo, and white chocolate.

Tre – Grilled swordfish, braised artichoke, mushroom panna cotta, and basil oil.

Dale T. – Sunny side up egg dumpling, braised pork belly, milk ramen with bacon, beef, and pork.

Antonia – Pea puree, carrot puree, seared scallop, and pickled carrot.

WINNER:

Dale T’s inventive play on breakfast for dinner, capitalizing on Dufresne’s well-documented egg-sluttishness, wins the elimination challenge, as well as a 6-night trip to New Zealand. Hearing Dale’s broth described as “tasting like breakfast” and that it reminded Dufresne of buttered toast was enough to make my mouth water.

Bottom 4:

Dale L. – Roasted veal loin, peanuts, popcorn, French toast, corn and thyme caramel. (Excuse me, I think I just threw up on my keyboard.)

Fabio – Roasted lamb, hoisin plum BBQ sauce, corn tomato salad, lemongrass chevre ricotta

Stephen – Coho salmon, black mission figs, broccoli rapini, fennel pollen.

Tiffani – Broken summer heirloom melons with powdered ham and taleggio cheese.

LOSERS:

Dale L.’s caramel and popcorn covered veal was destined to fail, and ultimately sent him home earlier than I would have expected. However, this contest is judged on a week-by-week basis, and I would put this veal dish way up there in the Top Chef hall of “I never should have even tried this” shame.

Further proving that there is a higher power out there somewhere, Stephen gets the boot for his overly pollinated salmon that Bourdain said tasted “like a head shop.” Now I know how all of those snarky bloggers felt when Sanjaya was kicked off American Idol. I still don’t know if I’m glad that he is gone, or sad that I’ll miss so many opportunities to make fun of him.

Next week: Tennis and blood!

- By Jon Watson, Food & More Blog

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- Jon Watson writes about Popular Eats for the AJC Dining Team. He also publishes his own blog, Live To Feast

14 comments Add your comment

What happened?

December 16th, 2010
6:56 am

The judges seemed to like Blais’ dish the best at the tasting table, then nothing was said after that. Did I miss something?

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Carla Roqs

December 16th, 2010
8:15 am

you are soooo wrong for using that pic of Stephen, hahahaha. but that exaggerated shot is truly indicative of his “yada yada yada” and “I am the best” attitude. funny

Kim

December 16th, 2010
8:38 am

I thought the same thing about Richard’s dish…I expected him to win for that restaurant.

Has anyone in the AJC mentioned his new show on the Science channel and I’ve just missed it? I’m sure someone has. Blais Off…sneak peek with two episodes tomorrow night.

Rodney

December 16th, 2010
8:41 am

I think this might have been the first elimination challenge where the bottom four were pretty much like “yeah, I deserve to be here” and not wildly defending their respective dishes. Then again, maybe with what happened last week they all decided to zip it and not argue too much.

I’m happy with the decisions of who got das boot and was very glad that Tiffani was spared – I think she’s really good and kinda just phoned it in last night. Bet that won’t happen again.

And not for nothing but … isn’t the job of a resto/food critic/blogger the “You think you like pizza? You’ve never HAD pizza until you’ve eaten at ” No one likes that guy.” job? :o ) (kidding)

James

December 16th, 2010
9:57 am

Awesome recap as usual. “Pack your ties and go”…brilliant.

And if a typical picture is worth a 1,000 words, that picture of Stephen is around a few million. Poor guy…

kevin

December 16th, 2010
10:13 am

Hopefully, Marcel’s condesceding foam-making arse will be gone next. What a d-bag that guy is!

Chris

December 16th, 2010
11:20 am

You had me at the “no time for love Dr. Jones” line. Well done.

nom nom nom

December 16th, 2010
12:09 pm

That pic of Stephen looks like a muppet from The Dark Crystal or somehting.

James

December 16th, 2010
12:19 pm

yeah, about time we had some short round references around here!

Stephen

December 16th, 2010
12:20 pm

I didn’t see last night’s episode, but I was surprised to see Stephen here at all. If recall correctly, he said that his early elimination in a previous all star challenge was a “wake up call” that he’d be a better restauranteur than a chef. What he cooked in this season’s first episode’s is no improvement over his previous Top Chef appearances, so he hasn’t grown as a chef, IMO.

BTW, that picture above bears a slight resemblance to Jabba the Hut.

Niklas

December 16th, 2010
1:37 pm

From Colicchio’s new blog: “At Marea, Blais put a great dish together. I liked it better than Tre’s, actually, but I was outvoted.”

Betsy

December 16th, 2010
4:02 pm

Jon – so who’s winning in your Fantasy Top Chef competition? I’ve taken a 10 point lead, thanks to last night’s double elimination.

Lora

December 18th, 2010
8:55 pm

I think that a better contender from Season 1 would have been Dave. I would have loved to have seen what he brought to the table this time. Of course, Stephen brought the snark-factor, but I can’t think of Dave without thinking of his mac n cheese dish. I mean, if a dish that I’ve never even tasted is that unforgettable, thrn I would want to see more from that person.
For the record, I can’t name ONE THING that Jen Carroll with all her “pedigree” and accolades made that I can even remember. For all you fans out there, if Jen’s “so great”, name one thing, refresh my memory. Smoke n mirrors, I say.