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