Mixing Old Fashioneds
Top Chef 1/3 Recap: Without Sin, There Is No Salvation
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Both Yardgnome and SueEllenMishke, your two fabulous Top Chef recappers, are both undergoing rigorous training at one of our FoRT secure and undisclosed training facilities. While they partake in the program that makes Uma Thurman’s training in Kill Bill look like a cake walk (we writers are a tough lot), you will have to up with me as your substitute for this “super-size” edition of Top Chef. And by “super-sized,” we all know that means 15 minutes more of commercials.
Leggo My Eggo Panno.
It’s been three weeks (in real-life-time) since Mia threw herself “under the bus” in a martyr-like move to spare Elia from being told to hit the proverbial road. In honor of such a selfless act, I will, from this point forward in the season, do a shot of Mia’s “Chocolate Mama” (developed in the last episode) anytime anyone utters the phrase “under the bus.” I may end up more polluted than Foster Brooks, but that’s a risk I’ll have to take.
With Mia gone, there are just seven contestants left: Elia, Betty, Marcel, Sam, Cliff, Ilan, and Michael. Elia feels a bit awkward about not only nearly being eliminated by Mia departing on her behalf. She pledges a new beginning and a fresh approach to the rest of the competition.
Over at the guys’ apartment, Ilan and Marcel are in the tiny kitchen making breakfast for themselves. Marcel is hogging the one frying pan and preventing Ilan from making his own eggs, and they get into it right off the bat. Ilan insults Marcel and calls him a virgin. Ilan says in his interview that Marcel was pissed off because, despite being on the winning team last time, he didn’t have much of a leadership roll. Marcel, conversely, says that he’s just having a hard time living with these guys in such close quarters for such an extended period of time.
Meanwhile, Cliff and Michael are just listening to the bitching and chilling on the couch. It seems Michael had to have a wisdom tooth pulled in some kind of emergency dental procedure that may or may not have taken place in the Kenmore™ Kitchen. He’s on some kind of pain killers and is kind of loopy. I can’t say I blame him; when I had my wisdom teeth out, I think I lost three days. Michael plans to win the Quickfire Challenge so that he can take the day off.
The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Michael.
All our chefies turn up in the Kenmore™ Kitchen of Tooth Extraction and are greeted by Padma wearing yet another stupid outfit (cowboy boots? seriously?) and Ted Allen, the foodie from Queer Eye. Padma announces that they are half-way through the competition, and from this point out, whomever wins the Quickfire Challenge will not have immunity. Then she prattles on a bit about cooking being like art, and says that the challenge is that each chef will have a color assigned to them, and then they’ll have 30 minutes to create a dish in that color. How very Reservoir Dogs of them.
Everyone draws knives with the following result: Ilan gets red; Michael chooses orange; Elia picks white; Sam draws yellow; Cliff gets purple and says that this will be extra-difficult since he’s colorblind; Betty draws green, and Marcel gets brown. Then the chefs run around like maniacs trying to produce dishes in the appropriate color. Marcel tries to make something with a coffee outer bowl which entailed making coffee in a French press, but when he went to pour it out, the whole hot mess came pouring out. From the ad, I would have sworn it was black bean soup that poured out, but now we know better.
The thirty minutes are up, and Ted and Padma make their rounds to taste the food. Ilan has made steak tartare with red taro chips and some sliced up grape tomatoes which Ted and Padma seem to like o.k. Betty made a green zucchini tamale with spinach, basil, cilantro and some cheeses in it. Ted asked her if she made it before, and she denied it. Marcel went with a breakfast theme and did steak and eggs. Really, it was a tiny stack of steak, browned egg, a crouton, and a coffee foam on top, because Marcel has a foam addiction, which everyone constantly—and derisively—comments on. He put that on a plate set inside the bowl of coffee grounds and coffee that exploded from the French press.
Colorblind Cliff made a red snapper with grilled eggplant and blackberry compote. He said he went with eggplant because someone once told him it was purple. Cliff said Marcel offered to help him match up colors, but he did it himself. Sam went with a breakfast theme and did a muffin duo of savory and sweet, and had a breakfast crudo salad. Finally, Michael made sushi rice with salmon and carrot chips with some kind of orange-based glaze. Padma and Ted really liked the carrot chips.
After some deliberation, Ted said that Betty, Marcel, and Ilan had the worst dishes. He found Betty’s to look like something she’d raked up from the yard, Marcel’s coffee moat to be disgusting and nasty, and Ilan’s was alright, but didn’t provide enough contrast in texture. Ted praised Sam’s dish as the most visually appealing, with an enjoyable savory/sweet contrast, Cliff’s for providing a wide range of tastes and textures, and Michael’s for cleverly using salmon—a pink fish—and making it orange with cooking and sauce. Ted then proclaimed Michael the winner. Michael was happy to win, but bummed that there was no immunity.
No Brad Pitt or Bruce Willis?
Padma then announces the Elimination Challenge, again blathering on about finding inspiration. Frankly, I’d like to challenge these guys to fix something wonderful from what’s in my kitchen—a can of hurricane supply spaghettios, some BooBerry Crunch cereal, a couple of bags of panko, and some iffy soy milk. Now that would be a challenge. Instead, Padma says that they are going to make a seven course meal based on the seven deadly sins. For some reason, Cliff is beyond happy about this theme. Padma also informs the bunch that the bug-eyed judge from the magazine won’t be there, and Ted Allen will be judging in her place, which is perfectly lovely since ole bug eyes never says anything I care to hear. Also some dude called Robert Ivan from some Fred Segal restaurant will be judging. The whole shindig will be held to entertain actress Debi Mazar and her friends; Debi will also be putting in commentary as well.
Again, the chefs draw knives. Mike gets Lust, Sam picks Anger, Elia grabs Pride, Ilan chooses Gluttony, Cliff draws Greed, Betty picks Sloth, and Marcel gets Envy. As the winner, Michael can swap with someone, and takes Envy away from Marcel, leaving Marcel with Lust. I have no doubt in my mind Mike took Marcel’s sin just to jack with him.
Crabbiness over some gnatty behavior.
Ted and Padma scamper off so Carson can do an intervention about those cowboy boots, and the seven deadly chefs decide to figure out who is going to do what course. Everyone but Marcel wants to start throwing out who will do what, but he wants a moment to think it over. This alone is not unreasonable, but Marcel is being kind of whiny about it, and the others (save for Elia, but she never really steps up to defend Marcel) are being domineering, verging on belligerent. Finally, he assents to taking the sixth course and will do a dessert, knowing full well that Ilan has the last course and plans on a dessert as well. In a private interview, Marcel sees this challenge as a real showdown between him and Ilan. Ilan gets a bit twitchy in the kitchen, talking to Sam about Marcel’s dessert aspirations, and they collectively decide that Marcel is just slow and weak in an attempt to boost Ilan’s spirits after his bad performance at the Quickfire Challenge.
The chefs have $150 for a budget and 30 minutes at Wild Oats, which is like Whole Foods for the rest of the country that doesn’t have a Wild Oats. $150 isn’t a whole hell of a lot at Wild Oats, since I once dropped $3 on the tiniest bottle of Heinz ketchup, but I digress. Michael is perturbed they don’t have crab because he wanted to base his dish on doing something with crab that one might do with Krab. Elia is elated when she finds the organic chickens. Ilan has issues with budgeting. But, all in all, the grocery portion is fairly tame. They then go to Charlie’s Fixtures to find plating material for their dishes, and finally Sam has had enough of Marcel. Ilan gets the typical chef’s discount on the supplies, and Marcel gets his panties in a twist over it, saying he doesn’t know that they can take a discount. Perhaps Marcel should study up on Bravo reality TV shows…discounts willingly given by the merchant are OK but thievery is not. Sam starts talking trash about Marcel within Marcel’s earshot, and Marcel comments on it, and Sam just goes off. At the end of the unseemly display, Sam seems like a total dick and Marcel just seems like doofus that he is. Marcel comments in a voiceover on the irony that Sam drew Anger.
Dishes of the Damned
Finally all the bitching stops and everyone gets back to the kitchen. They have three hours to prep their stuff, then pack it up and head over to wherever it is Debi Mazar is having her little party. In case you’re wondering, here’s what our seven chefs have to offer:
Course 1—Wrath: Sam makes some spicy Sicilian shrimp ceviche with chili pepper popcorn. The civiche is separate from the popcorn, and both look pretty damn good, but I’m a sucker for shrimp.
Course 2—Sloth: Betty has decided to go with three soups of slow-roasted vegetables. One is going to be carrot-fennel, the next white onion with some mushrooms, and the last is going to be red pepper beet.
Course 3—Envy: Michael was going to do the crab in the fake crab recipe (where the fake crab envies the real crab) but since Wild Oats didn’t have any crab whatsoever, he decided to go with salmon and trout, where the trout envies the salmon for being bigger and more popular. His dish is trout and salmon with a basil aioli and asparagus.
Course 4—Greed: Cliff finds the greed in the overly bountiful amount of seafood he puts in his bouillabaisse with clams, oysters, and scallops in a Thai curry broth.
Course 5—Pride: Elia makes proud roasted chicken with vegetables.
Course 6—Lust: Marcel makes a cherry tart with a cherry gelee and cherry foam, with whipped cream and chocolate. Chef Tom comments in his visit that it’s weird that there are two chocolate desserts, but Marcel assures him that this a cherry dessert. Marcel also says he’s not a lustful person, but he thinks cherries are considered sexy. Ilan says that cherries deflate the libido, and suggests that Marcel would have know this had he actually had sex before. Ilan has a fixation on Marcel’s sex life like Joe Simpson has on his daughters. It’s plain creepy.
Finally, for Course 7—Gluttony: Ilan is fairly directionless making a dense, rich chocolate cake, macadamia nut brittle, and tiny funnel cakes. Anyone who has ever had a funnel cake is wondering at this point how the hell he can make these ahead of time and expect them to taste good. Carnies everywhere are scratching their heads.
After their three hours of preparation, the chefs pack up their stuff and head over to wherever the Debi Mazar party is being held.
Cat Spit, Clingy Soup, and Other Flaccid Messes.
The venue is perfect—dark woods, dark tile, and quasi-gothic table setting. The chefs set up in the kitchen and everyone pitches in to make sure the dishes are clean. The first one up to present is Sam and he is stoked. He’s spotted some quasi-famous people at the table (beyond the judges and Debi Mazar) and is very excited to bring out his dish. Prior to bringing out the ceviche, Marcel pours Sam’s wine for everyone and tries to flirt with the ladies. Sam then brings out his dish which is generally well receive—they like the shrimp and love the popcorn.
Betty has a difficult time plating her three soups; she wanted to serve them in champagne flutes but experiences cling problems getting them in—the sides look really sloppy. She really tries to sell the slothfulness of the dish, but most folks think the soups taste weird and leave a messy cling to the glasses.
Michael is next up, and he doesn’t want to go out because he’s got a half-swollen face due to the tooth extraction, and has some sores from being manhandled by the dentist. Sam agrees to take out his dish, but the crowd demands to see Michael. Everyone loves his trout and salmon dish, proclaiming it quite yummy.
Cliff’s greed dish is next, and he explains that greed comes in with all the abundance of seafood. After he exists, the general opinion is that the broth was better than the seafood and there wasn’t enough of the broth.
Elia brings out her proud chickens next and carves them, table-side. Ted comments that the chicken was impeccably roasted and the vegetables were great.
Marcel’s cherry concoction comes out, and he really tries to sell the lust factor. He feeds one woman cherries and chocolate sauce, but after he leaves, Debi comments that Marcel just hasn’t had enough sex to really sell the lust aspect of the dish and that the foam looks like cat spit.
Finally, Ilan’s dessert trio of funnel cake, chocolate cake, and macadamia nut brittle is due. He put the funnel cakes in the oven to crisp up, but they got too crispy. Elia asks him if he has some syrup to put on the cakes so he soaks them in a simple syrup that makes them really soggy. Ilan also adds a crème anglese to the chocolate cake. Ilan serves the whole pile of sweetness and comments that cherries lower the libido. After sampling the dessert, everyone comments that the dessert is soggy and too wet.
Percodan is a Chef’s Best Friend.
At the judges table, Roberto (or Robert) Ivan says that the weakest dishes were the two desserts and the trio of soups. Tom says that he loved Michael’s dish and Ted concurs. Tom says he wished Elia showed more pride in her chickens, but everyone thought they were great. Padma then calls in Michael, Elia, and Sam and tells them that they are the top three.
The judges say that they loved the heat of Sam’s dish and thought the flavors got more complex as they ate more. They say that Elia’s chicken was perfect and had a real soul and heartiness to it. Finally, they found Michael’s salmon lush and the vegetables perfect. Roberto then proclaims Michael the winner; Michael says he’s made history by winning both the Quickfire and the Elimination Challenges in the same episode.
Perkiness, However, is Not.
Next, Ilan, Marcel, and Betty are called in as the three worst dishes. The judges found Ilan’s funnel cake to be soggy and a bad choice. They ask him why he didn’t eliminate that element, but he doesn’t really supply an answer. Ilan presses the judges to say the brittle and/or the chocolate cake were good, but Tom just gets all “meh” with him.
As for Marcel, Ted calls him out for not being all that lustful. Padma calls out Marcel for using a foam yet again, and Tom jumps in on this criticism. There is a time and a place for foams, but not every dish calls for an unsavory display of cat spit.
Finally, Betty’s soups are addressed. Tom wants to know if she strained them, and she said she did strain them once. They ask her who she would send home, and she says Marcel because his gelee had no flavor. Ilan offers the same suggestion, and Marcel takes issue, saying his gelee was made with highly concentrated cherry juice so it could not be lacking in flavor. Marcel says he’d send Ilan home because his idea may have been o.k., but the execution wasn’t there. The three are dismissed and the judges deliberate.
In the pantry, Ilan goes off on Marcel, telling him that he needs to learn how to season things—how to use salt, pepper, paprika—and he should travel to expand his horizons, or otherwise keep making foams and cry in a corner. Ilan is a bit worried, doncha think?
Eventually the three get called back in. The judges proclaim that Ilan’s dish was flaccid and disconnected, Marcel’s dish was o.k. but not lusty, and Betty had a problem with basic straining skills and with taste elements to the soup. Padma then tells Betty to pack her knives and go. On her way out, Betty says that she is blessed for having had the opportunity to be on the show and was generally upbeat, in her usual overly perky way.
Come back next week when your usual recappers will have returned and where everyone finds out the secret to Marcel’s foams lies in his overly poofy hair.
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