It’s Week 2, and we’re still in Las Vegas, and we haven’t lost our shirts yet. Yet. We still can’t shake the faint memory of Rick Bayless winning the Masters competition in such a poetic fashion, but we must forge ahead, and not be afraid to get our hands dirty with these new, scruffy recruits.
As the chefs awake to a new day, Jennifer Z is gone, and I, like most sane people, are still wondering why Eve didn’t go home in her place. Jesse reminds us that while she was in the top 2 in last week’s Quickfire, she was in the bottom 3 of the Elimination, and she really wants to prove herself today. Will she? Eve wonders aloud to us if she should change her strategy and cook more for the judges, or just keep cooking for herself and hope for the best. I can almost smell the wood burning between her ears.
V-Brother Alert #1: 2:40 into the episode. Bryan says (again) that it’s weird cooking alongside his brother Michael, etc. etc. They don’t let this go on for too long though, as the chefs head out for the Top Chef Kitchen.
Quickfire: Luck Be Ceviche Tonight
Upon entering the kitchen, the chefs instantly recognize superstar chef Todd English, standing with Padma behind a casino craps table. Hmm…has he had work done? He’s starting to look less like Morrissey and more like Chuck Woolery. Jennifer lets us know that he’s her type in either case, as she wipes a little drool from her chin. Padma explains today’s Quickfire challenge: each chef will roll a pair of dice at the craps table, and the number they roll will dictate how many ingredients they must use in preparing a dish of their choosing. She also lets them know that, like last week, this is a High Stakes Quickfire, meaning that in addition to immunity from elimination, the winning chef will receive a $15,000 gold chip from M Resorts. (I still wonder, do they get the cash, or do they have to spend it in the casino?)
Bryan V tells us he wants to win after losing the last QF, and Ashley reminds America that most chefs don’t make a lot of money, and 15 Large would mean a lot. Kevin And Bryan V each roll the high number of 10 ingredients, and Laurine rolls the low number at 3. The chefs are given 30 minutes, and after Padma’s “Go”, scurry like culinary rats. During the cooking, we get V-Brother Alert #2: Bryan thinks that Michael tries too hard (he is pumping the liquid nitrogen today), while he himself wants to put forth more classic flavors.
30 minutes later, Todd weighs in and comments on the great effort made by all (although I counted at least 3 three comments of “Interesting” made while he tasted the dishes). On the bottom:
Jesse, who made a scallop dish with 9 ingredients, but neglected to sear the scallops, which resulted in a mushy, blonde plate;
Eve, whose 8-ingredient asparagus salad was a sloppy throwback to the 80s in presentation, and a mouthful of bleu cheese in flavor; and
Bryan V, who tried to cook a cod sous-vide in 30 minutes, and ended up with undercooked fish and an overpowering taste of yuzu.
Among Todd’s favorites were Michael V, and his 8-ingredient modern twist on gazpacho utilizing molecular gastronomy techniques (yes, the dreaded phrase!);
Jennifer, who made a salmon tartare with lemon, garlic, shallot, parsley and jalapeno emulsion, making the most of her 9 ingredients; and
Kevin, whose 10-ingredient asparagus salad with boiled egg took Eve’s salad to school.
And the winner of $15,000 and the recipient of a twinkle in Todd’s eye is: Michael V. He happily accepts the gold chip and the immunity, and we get one more mini V-Brother Alert (#2.5?) as they exchange short musings about being on the top and bottom.
Elimination Challenge: Marry the Man Today, and Make Ceviche After
Padma tells the chefs that their Elimination Challenge will have something to do with a Vegas tradition: the Bachelor (NO, not the TV show, thank heavens) and Bachelorette Party. Kevin remembers his bachelor party (or parts of it anyway) but won’t give us any details, only a wide grin that his wife will never understand. On the other end of the spectrum, Ashley, a lesbian, shares some personal feelings she has about working for a wedding party while she continues to be denied the right to the same experience.
There’s a twist added to the challenge: the guys will be working against the girls; the winning team will have immunity, and one member of the losing team going home. Hector thinks that the men are strong, and can hunt and make fire, so they will win against the smaller, weaker females. Jennifer, a proud chef who has worked her way up the ladder, finds the idea of a Battle of the Sexes insulting.
The men will cook for the bride, and the women will cook for the groom. Padma introduces the happy couple, Karen and Greg, two yuppies carrying trays of their three favorite alcoholic shots: a Moscow Mule, straight Tequila, and a Golden Delicious (which Ash calls “sweet, gooey and disgusting”). They are looking for the chefs to make dishes that will pair well with the shots. The chefs meet with the Yuppie Couple for 10 minutes to get their likes and dislikes. Karen is a pescatarian (fish-only for protein), and she has one friend who is vegan, but the others in her party eat like normal people (oh, leave it, it’s humor!). She likes her food spicy as she is a sriracha addict. Kevin has a big sweet tooth, and loves Japanese food and shellfish. After the meeting, Robin tells us she is thrilled that the women will get to show how they excel in a male-dominated industry.
The chefs head to Whole Foods to buy their ingredients, the highlight of which is Jennifer asking for assistance by shouting, “I need a worker here, I need a worker!” Also, Michael V tells Ash that he is responsible for keeping the flowers they bought alive until the next day. Ash thinks it’s because he’s gay…and ultimately takes it as a compliment. Okay…
As the chefs start prepping their dishes, Mike I tells us he feels confident, while Jesse says her poor record to date will probably make her a target if the women lose. V-Brother Alert #3: Michael is happy with immunity, and now can simply focus on Bryan as his competition. He thinks Bryan, who opened his own restaurant, has already achieved things in his career that Michael hasn’t, so he wants to catch up in this lifelong imaginary race of theirs.
Eve feels confident that her shrimp ceviche, paired with tequila, will be a winner because she has a diploma in wines and sprits. She isn’t clear if that means it’s for preparing them, or drinking them. Ashley affirms that she really wants the women to win despite her personal problems with the challenge. She worries that the women feel outmatched because the men are using ingredients they’ve never seen before (like what, exactly?), so she thinks a win would be a real confidence-booster.
Elsewhere on the ceviche front, Hector is boldly making a tofu ceviche for Karen’s vegan friend, which apparently will be spicy and flavorful enough to pair with tequila. Bryan (yeah he mentions his brother but not enough for an alert) also chose tequila, and is pairing it with an unusual sweet-&-sour macaroon with guacamole.
During cooking, Ashley suddenly thinks they have time to make a second dish, just to be even more impressive. Jennifer thinks they should keep things simple and manageable, and focus on making the existing dishes perfect. Ashley starts a second dish anyway. Sensing a lack of sweets in their menu, she starts making a bay leaf panna cotta. She’s a little worried because she’s not a pastry chef. (Why worry, that’s never gotten a chef into trouble before on this show…)
With 15 minutes left, everyone starts packing up their dishes in Gladware for the trip to the parties tomorrow. Hector is behind, though, and may not make his food into his containers in time, so the rest of his team scrambles to help him finish. Crisis averted.
Back at the chef suites, Ashley talks to Preeti about the feelings she has been struggling with over the challenge. Preeti understands completely, as she lets us know that she is also a lesbian, and is surprised at herself for not being as fired up about the issue as Ashley, since she has been with her partner for thirteen years.
The next morning, the chefs arrive at the cabana-laden pool at the M Resort; Jennifer remarks that the cabanas are bigger than one of her apartments in New York City (Ba-dum-chee, although the joke is usually painfully true). The chefs have one hour to set up and get their dishes ready for the guests of both parties. (Both parties are at the same venue? How awkward for the strippers!) One factor that the chefs had not considered was the oppressive sun, and how it will affect their food as it sits out for hours. Eve has more urgent problems: her shrimp has no flavor, so she tries to think of ways to spice it up with mere minutes to go. Once again, I smell wood burning. Eve is so preoccupied, she doesn’t notice Jen kneeling next to her, grabbing something from a cooler, and almost makes contact with the knife in her left hand. Oops! Mike I. punctuates the stressful setup period by pffting and boasting that there are no worries on the men’s team, in fact he thinks they have it in the bag. Laurine looks over the men’s dishes, and thinks that they are too eclectic, and feels the women’s more familiar dishes will go over better with the guests.
The guests arrive and go to their respective sides of the pool to start sampling shots and dishes. Mattin (the French neck-kerchief guy who we haven’t heard much from so far) says he is trying to focus on serving, and not on all the hot women standing before him. (He’s straight? Hmph. Learn something new every day…)
The guests eat, drink, and swim as the judges (Tom, Padma, Gail and Todd English – still no sign of Toby, whee!) make their way to the food tables. First, the women’s table:
For the Golden Delicious shot:
Robin: Duck mole with cocoa nibs and apricot
Laurine: Moroccan lamb chop with pomegranate pine nut relish
For the Tequila shot:
Eve: Shrimp and avocado ceviche (ugh) with smoky tomato salsa and popcorn
Jennifer: Octopus ceviche (also ugh, but she pronounces it “suh-VEECH” like a Soprano, so she gets a pass) with citrus vinaigrette
Ashley: Watermelon ‘carpaccio’ with ricotta salata and aged balsamic vinegar
For the Moscow Mule shot:
Ashley: Bay leaf panna cotta with cranberry powder and honey
Preeti: Coriander and sesame crusted tuna with spicy eggplant and wonton crisp
Jesse: Thai chicken lettuce cup with shiitake mushrooms, shiso, ginger beer and crushed cashews
The judges hate Eve’s ceviche, but generally like Jennifer’s, as do the male guests. Robin and Laurine get okay comments. Jesse says that the men are coming back for seconds and thirds of her dish, but the judges couldn’t get through their firsts. Preeti’s piles of leaves also bombed; Tom called them “pedestrian”. They really liked Ashley’s watermelon dish, but thought her second dish was a miss, which factors against her in the end.
The judges clear their palettes and head for the men’s tables:
For the Golden Delicious shot:
Michael V: Apple sorbet with a goat cheese cookie
Kevin: Chilled almond soup with king crab, cucumber and white grape
For the Tequila shot:
Mike I: Arctic char (this season’s new trendy/strange ingredient) with smoky caper sauce and cara cara orange
Bryan: Sweet-&-sour macaroon filled with guacamole, corn nuts and corn puree
Ron: Lobster cocktail with habanero tomato sauce
Hector: Tofu ceviche (AIEEEE) with lemon-lime and tequila, and a guajillo-achiote tortilla
For the Moscow Mule shot:
Eli: Thai tuna tartare with puffed wild rice
Mattin: Bouillabaisse with aioli crouton and petit basque croquette
Ash: Asian chicken wing with pickled pearl onions
Kevin’s soup and crab is a hit, although the hot temperatures didn’t do the dish any favors. They like Michael V’s cookie even more. Hector’s tofu ceviche is admired, but Ron’s lobster is flavorless, as is Mike I’s listless arctic char. They flip for Bryan’s macaroons, and foresee a sibling face-off at judge’s table. Eli’s tartar matches his shot well, but Mattin’s dish doesn’t. They decide that they could eat Ash’s chicken wings and drink Moscow Mule shots all day.
As the party winds down, the men get antsy/frisky, and some of them (mostly not the ones you’d want to) decide to strip off their shirts and make a splash in the pool. Some of the other chefs find this to be unprofessional, as they down more shots on the sidelines.
This Week’s Quickie (the one-minute bit in between commercials before judging) goes to Mike I, who rattles off the nicknames he has for other chefs: Eli and Kevin are The Pickle Brothers (they’re like two pickles in a barrel apparently); Eve is The Ninja, for claiming she has ninja-like powers “as she walks into walls”; Jesse is Pancake for some reason, and Preeti is Purdy, simply because Mike can’t pronounce her name correctly. Mike astutely predicts that the others will get tired of him quickly.
Judges’ Table: The Crapshooters’ Dance, or, Take Back Your Ceviche
The chefs sit in the stew room as we are treated to the first “It is what it is” of the season from Ashley, after Mike I asks if she was happy with her food. Padma comes in to request that Bryan, Hector, Eli, and Michael V join her. Apparently there will be a brotherly face-off tonight. The four chefs enter the arena and are told that the men have indeed won, and that they had the four best dishes of the day.
Gail thought Eli’s tuna tartare stood out from every tartare she’s tried in her career; Todd complimented him on how well it matched the Moscow Mule shot. Tom and Todd tell Michael that his sorbet was a home run from concept to execution. Todd was impressed with the amount of flavor Hector got out of tofu, and Tom admitted his “juevos” for attempting the dish. Bryan’s macaroon melted in Gail’s mouth, and Todd thought the dish was “whimsical and fun.” Todd mentions that the two brothers had his top two dishes, and that the winner this week is Bryan. The brothers trade nice comments about each other to us (but not enough for an Alert), and Tom lets all four chefs know that they did great work across the board.
On the losing side, Eve, Jesse, Preeti and Ashley are asked to take the walk of shame. Padma lets Jesse know that her lettuce cup was watery, possibly due to her adding ginger beer instead of actual ginger. She begins to tear up as Tom and Gail tell her the dish was muddled, and that the ingredients should have worked together; she agrees that it wasn’t a winning dish. Eve admits to Tom that her shrimp weren’t very flavorful, but she couldn’t do much about it by the time she knew it. Tom does a Jack Benny head-in-hand, which usually means he gives up. Preeti’s shiso leaves underneath her tuna kept wilting in the sun; Tom had thought that she simply hadn’t noticed, but in fact she was changing them out constantly. Todd didn’t think her flavors worked together. The judges then basically spell it out for Ashley: if she had just stuck with her one dish (which they loved), she wouldn’t be standing before them; she gets it. Tom schools her on the properties of bay leaves, and why they didn’t work with the panna cotta. She says she’s not a dessert technician but wanted to try it.
The judges deliberate while the chefs stew some more. Jesse is sure she’s going home. The judges agree that Ashley is safe, since her first dish was excellent. They are disappointed that Jesse has basically been repeating the same mistakes over and over. As for Eve, they just don’t get her, and think she is making it up as she goes along conceptually. Preeti’s dish was just plain flat, and she didn’t realize it until they told her, since some of the patrons were coming back for seconds. (So, who is right in this case?)
The chefs return to Judges’ Table, and Padma asks Eve to pack her (ceviche) knives and go. Eve lets us know that this won’t change who she is as a chef, and that she just wasn’t a good fit for the atmosphere of competition. She’s going to go her merry way, even if she does keep walking into the occasional wall.
Next week, the chefs prepare a meal for 300 Air Force airmen, and Jennifer gets all exec-chef huffy at some teammates for not being focused enough. Will we see the birth of a new Top Chef villain? Tune in next Wednesday, and let’s all do some push-ups in the meantime, to work off whatever we pigged out on after watching the show.