Judging from the flashbacks to last week’s episode, the producers at Top Chef had the same take-away most of us did: A lot of drama, not a whole lot of food. Either that or they are prepping us for another drama heavy episode.
For this week’s Quickfire, we find the chefs greeted by a certified rock star in the culinary world – Bob Kramer. He is one of only a hundred and twenty master blade smith’s in the country, and definitely has the strongest cult following. He is the Hattori Hanzo of kitchen knives, and each of his hand-crafted blades cost up to $500 per inch.
Appropriately, this week’s challenge tests the chef’s knife skills, and a lot of bold claims are bandied about, like Sheldon’s statement that “I sharpen my knives every day. It is what separates a good chef from a great chef, in my opinion.”
The chefs break into teams, where they must first sharpen dull knives against a wet stone until they slice through paper like butter. The top two teams move to the next phase, where they must tourne fifty potatoes. Once that is done, the remaining team of three turns against each other in a race to butcher a pair of rabbits. Even the slightest nick or drop of blood eliminates the clumsy chef on the spot.
Everyone is drooling over the prospect of winning a Kramer knife, none more so than Sheldon. John T. is in such a rush, compounded by his arrogance that he calls for a check during the first phase before his teammates Kristen and Josie are ready. Ironically, John’s is the only blade that doesn’t cut cleanly through the paper, and he has to return to the wet stone. They still make it past the first round, along with team Micah/Josh/Sheldon, and start cutting up their taters. But Josie’s knife slips and she cuts her finger, eliminating her and leaving John and Kristen to race against a team of three to get to 50 potatoes. That doesn’t work out so well.
Micah crushes Sheldon’s dreams by mowing through the rabbit butchery, and earns both immunity as well as the highly coveted Kramer blade.
Being a longtime fan, I really enjoyed the concept of the Elimination Challenge: Cook a dish inspired by a top memorable moment from seasons past, but create a healthier version (in honor of this week’s mega-sponsor, Healthy Choice.)
However, I wasn’t a huge fan of the producers picking the most dramatic moments and calling them the best. Sure, some picks were spot on, like the Season 5 moment where Fabio calls out Jamie for this being “Top Chef, not top scallop!” And I thought that Ed’s stolen pea-puree from Season 7 made a logical choice, but most were just blow-up arguments and they assigned whatever dish the drama-queen happen to have made in that episode.
When Brooke ponders aloud “I wonder what the most memorable moment from our season is,” I had to scream, “There ISN’T ONE YET!”
Many of the dishes land in the middle of the pack, with two glaring missteps and a few standouts.
Josh finally redeems his pork-cooking skills with his soy glazed tenderloin, a version of Michael Voltaggio’s braised bacon dish. Thankfully, Brooke does a good job of keeping track of her pea puree for her smoked salmon and forbidden black rice dish, and the judges loved it. But, it was Kristen’s deconstructed take on Carla’s chicken pot pie from Season 8 that impressed everyone the most. Except me.
Now, I really like Kristen, and I think that she is the strongest individual chef left, and the biggest threat. But I saw Top Chef overlook a cardinal sin with her dish, and I was shocked no one else mentions it. During service, Chris Cosentino mentions that his plate is incomplete, and that he was missing a sauce that everyone else received. And not only did she still win, no one even bothered to call her out on it. That is a huge no-no, the type of mistake that has gotten other chefs booted in the past. Either her dish was that much stronger or the producers want to keep her pretty face around longer, because she still gets the win and $15,000.
But two of the most notorious dishes – risotto and scallops – prove disastrous for John T. and Lizzie, respectively. We may have gotten a break from Josie’s cringe-inducing annoyingness this week, but John was in full blown diva/brat mode. He blames the curvature of the pots for his totally botched risotto, unable to own up to any of his own mistakes. Lizzie knows she turned out a terrible dish, but with the old scallops she bought, she couldn’t get a good sear on them.
But in another twist, there is a cook-off between John and Lizzie, based on Season 10’s “most memorable moment”, where CJ’s botched burger got him sent home. (Most memorable? Really?)
John couldn’t be more annoyed that he has to compete again, when it was obviously the pot’s fault he was there. And his brattiness reaches new heights, as he spends the entire cook-off talking about how he could have just stolen all of the pickles to sabotage Lizzie’s dish, resulting in her inevitable elimination, but he took the “high road” instead. That is like asking for a gold star because you COULD have punched that old lady in the face, but you restrained yourself. You don’t win bonus points for being a decent human being.
Perhaps he should have spent less time worrying about the pickles, and more time on his lamb burger, because Lizzie’s chicken burger beats him out. Now, John can go back to Dallas and be above it all from there.
- By Jon Watson, Food & More blog