With every week of Top Chef, it is always a dice-roll on what kind of an episode we are going to get. Will this week showcase the food? Will we get a better insight into a contestant’s compelling backstory? Or will it be mostly drama and backbiting, with screenshots of the occasional dish? You aren’t sure what you are going to get until the episode is already underway.
Personally, I love the food-centric episodes. It reminds me that this is a serious cooking competition featuring serious chefs. And while I certainly enjoy some of the drama – and it does make these posts a little easier to write – it gets old quickly. If I wanted to watch a bunch of egomaniacal people scream at each other, I’d watch…well, pretty much anything else that Bravo broadcasts.
But, with Top Chef, as in Vegas, the dice come up craps just a little too frequently.
To start things off, the chefs enter the kitchen to find Padma and this week’s guest judge, Stephanie Izard (the winner of season 4), waiting for them. Josie immediately mutters something about how Stephanie is probably a new competitor, the fear obvious in her voice. Here is a hint Jos’…she actually WON her season. She has better stuff to do than compete again with a 7 episode lead over the likes of you.
This week’s Quickfire product placement overload is all about aluminum foil – ahem…Reynolds Wrap. The chefs may cook whatever they like, but every ingredient in the kitchen is wrapped in foil. The chefs must choose their ingredients blind, and once opened, it must be used in their dish. Oh, and foil is the only cooking vessel that they are allowed to use.
“What is my protein? Goat’s balls!” – Stefan
I get that this was meant to show off the versatility of Reynolds Wrap as a cooking tool. But here is a little tip for you product placement gurus – try to make sure your product isn’t a source of frustration for the contestants. I’ll bet every one of them was wishing this was the Saran Wrap challenge during ingredient selection.
Despite the foil challenges, most of the chefs actually did a good job of stepping up. Kristen swung for the fences, baking an almond and chocolate sponge cake in only 30 minutes. Bart’s beer poached cod in a foil bowl also went over well, and Sheldon’s managed to get a good sear on his lemongrass smoked scallops.
Not everyone managed the challenge well. Josh’s roasted chicken was “uninspired”, and Brooke’s undercooked onions overwhelmed her bacon roasted yams. But Micah’s raw lamb dish stood out as the worst.
In the end, the flavor and ingenuity of Kristen’s “ballsy” cake was enough to win the Quickfire and immunity.
That immunity also saves Kristen from a lot of the drama of the Elimination challenge. The other 10 chefs must pair off in a head-to-head battle – meaning that one person from each team is in the top, and loser is in the bottom and up for elimination. Each team is assigned a berry, and the opponents must create a dish that highlights its flavors in their dish. The winner gets $10,000. And this is where all the dramz begins.
Here are the teams:
Stefan (W) Vs. John (L) – Gooseberries
Brooke (W) Vs. Bart (L) – Blackberries
Danyele (L) Vs. Josh (W) – Blueberries
Lizzie (W) Vs. Josie (L) – Raspberries
Sheldon (W) Vs. Micah (L) – Strawberries
The seeds of Tuna-Gate begin at Whole foods, when Stefan has to resort to frozen saku block tuna for his sashimi after Sheldon snatches up all of the fresh product. This sets John off…though later he lets slip that his real grievance is that it isn’t a sustainable product, rather than it being a freshness issue. Either way, John wastes no time in pettily dropping a school bus onto Stefan’s head by tattling to Tom during prep that he was confident he would win because his opponent bought frozen fish. Keep it classy John.
Here are some of my favorite highlights of the ridiculousness:
Josie – Sweet mother mercy, I can’t stand this woman for much longer. While Josie is so behind on her dish that she can’t get anything plated, she nervously overcompensates with diarrhea of the mouth, rambling about her dish with interjections of “Yeah!” and “Rock and roll!”. HELLO CLEVELAND!!!! Best quote of the whole night? Gayle, while waiting on Josie to finally plate some food: “Is she high?”
“It hurts my soul when Josie laughs. A little bit of me dies.” – Josh
Danyele – This little ball of nerves started to unravel, freaking out about her lack of counter space, with constant reminders that she wants to overcome the perception that she is anxious.
Stefan and John – After John made a chorizo/gazpacho that one diner described as “cheeseburger soup”, it becomes obvious that Stefan is getting a lot more guest votes in his box. He reacts as we have come to expect – like a 5 year old – by heckling the Stefan voters with stuff like “rest easy tonight knowing you voted for frozen tuna.” Too bad John’s soup was so bad that Stefan “wouldn’t flush [his] poop with it.” They continue to hash it out in the stew room.
Stefan and Josie – Possibly the most absurd spat, these two get into an argument about who is being ruder in the stew room. “What, are you going to act like a 30-year old?!”
In a move that has confirmed my suspicions that she is a serious threat, Kristen quietly steps out of all of the drama and wins $10,000 with her toasted sage, matcha goat milk custard with macerated tayberries. If the other chefs aren’t scared of her yet, they should be.
Alas, my other suspicions were correct as well…Danyele was either getting the redemption edit or the loser’s edit with all of her “I’m not really crazy and scattered” talk. No redemption for her tonight. Her salty, rubbery terrine was too much for the judges to take, and she gets the boot.
I’m curious…we are seven episodes in now, and other than Kristen, I have not grown attached to any of the chefs so far. Granted, the fact that she is exceptionally hot doesn’t hurt, but she can cook too. Do you guys have any favorites yet? Am I the only one that hasn’t been really hooked yet?
- By Jon Watson, Food & More blog