It is almost hard to believe that we are this close to wrapping up another season to Top Chef. Though I’ve obviously been following the show, I did a double take when I realized that we are already down to the final five chefs.
We all knew a field trip was in the stars for this group as we approach the final four, and this week is it. Padma enters the stew room to announce that they are packing their bags for an Alaskan cruise. Suddenly, flashbacks of the junk food ferry challenge from All Stars pop into my brain. But then I realize that this is a Celebrity cruise liner, and suddenly flashbacks of mediocre buffets and forced conversations with that creepy older couple and the overly talkative insurance salesman from Missouri assigned to my table pop into my brain.
The always hunky Curtis Stone, host of Top Chef Masters, joins Padma to introduce this week’s Quickfire: The chefs are hosting the Welcome Aboard party and have two hours to create a single dish for all 200 guests. And, in a painfully obvious homage to their surroundings (and a possible Titanic reference) the chefs must include and highlight iceberg lettuce. Be still, my watering mouth.
Shockingly enough – or, not so shockingly considering these are the top 5 chefs, and there isn’t a standout weak link in the bunch – all five turn out relatively impressive dishes. Beyond the absurd challenge of cooking and plating 200 portions by yourself in 2 hours, many of them managed to either make the lettuce an interesting component of the dish. Or they at least plop something tasty on top of it and hope for the best.
Josh’s elevated version of the wedge salad, with apple cider vinaigrette, bacon jam, and blue cheese got high marks, as did Stefan’s comforting pastrami, braised lettuce, and fingerling potato dish. And while everyone’s flavors were strong, Lizzie’s iceberg salad and Brooke’s BLS (bacon, lettuce and scallop) wrap both lost points for being cumbersome and difficult to eat.
But it was Sheldon’s pork and shrimp Vietnamese lettuce wrap with pickled iceberg hearts brought the most complex flavors, and earned him an advantage in the Elimination challenge.
I’m guessing the extra 15 minutes tacked onto tonight’s episode was set aside for the next sequence – their day off to frolic and bask in the luxuries of the Celebrity cruise ship. Sheldon and Lizzie opt for a little mani-time, while Josh, Stefan, and Brooke hit the sauce on the top deck. Josh admits that his wife is due to go into labor that very day, and he couldn’t even call her to check in. All kidding aside, that’s pretty heavy stuff to think that you are actively missing the birth of your first child, and you have no idea how it is going. But before you think he is too sensitive….
Psssst….Josh – When you are going to try to appear all manly with a comment like “Where I’m from, men don’t get pedicures,” don’t blow your own cover by following it up with “I wonder if he got French tips?” Dudes that don’t get manicures don’t know what French tips are. Just sayin’.
Best quote of the night: “He is so European and weird!” – My wife, referring to Stefan’s “ready for some sexy time” comment.
All of the buddy-buddy time hits a bit of a speed bump after the wine has been flowing at dinner, and Josh decides to let the claws out a little, taking shots at Brooke’s and Stefan’s friend chicken dishes. This devolves into a “how many challenges have you won” spat, and just when I think Stefan is about to hulk out, they calm down and focus on the bizarre dishes coming out of the kitchen of Qsine.
Just when everyone is enjoying their night off, Curtis and Padma ambush them with the Elimination Challenge. At least they have the courtesy to let everyone sober up…the following evening, the chefs will run dinner service at Qsine, doing their own innovative takes on the overplayed Surf and Turf. Each chef picks two proteins, and once the proteins have been selected, they are off the table for everyone else. Sheldon, as the Quickfire winner, gets the advantage of first pick, giving him literally every protein on board the ship as an option.
They are encouraged to embrace the spirit of the playful and imaginative Qsine, with their sushi lollipops and dollhouse sampler boxes, and challenge the out-dated surf and turf. With the entire pantry of the ship at his disposal, Sheldon digs deep into the corners of his creative mind and picks…lobster and beef filet.
Dubya. Tea. Eff.
Josh reaches straight for the pork (shocker) and pairs that with scallops. Brooke sticks her neck on the line by going with the gutsy pick of frog legs and mussels, while Stefan pairs his pork belly with eel. I thought that it was a little bit of rule bending that Lizzie managed to get her hands on a suckling pig and bay scallops Ok, technically they aren’t the same proteins that Josh picked, but at the end of the day, they are both doing pork and scallops.
Early on, I had Josh pegged as the sure loser as soon as I saw him toss those scallops into a blender, planning to turn the scallops into pasta for his carbonara. And then I was downright certain that he is done for when his pasta experiment doesn’t set, and he decides to scramble them instead. It sounds like fishy porridge. But somehow, to all of the judge’s amazement, he pulls it off.
Lizzie once again turns out a delicious, but difficult to eat dish with her suckling pig and scallop cabbage rolls. And once again, the strength of the flavors in her dish makes the rushed execution excusable.
Brooke’s anxiety-inducing frog legs and mussels hit every mark that the judges were looking for – inventive, fun, delicious, and a totally out-of-the-box take on Surf and Turf. So much so, that she walks away with the win and a 7-day cruise in the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, on the bottom…
Not only does Sheldon totally squander his first pick by choosing the least imaginative proteins for this “re-imagining” challenge, he also manages to botch the execution of his lobster tempura, serving up a pedestrian and soggy version of something you would actually EXPECT to eat on a cruise. But, it seems that the judges found that breaking their teeth on Stefan’s overly crisped pork skin, his greasy sauce, and the lack of integration of his “surf” and “turf” was too much to ignore. And sadly, everyone’s favorite creepy, foot-sniffing, boob-joke making European is told to pack his knives and go.
And then there were four….until Kristen comes back from LCK and wins the whole thing. Bank on it.
- By Jon Watson, Food & More blog