Mixing Old Fashioneds
Top Chef 9/8 Recap: Penultimate Pan-Asian Predicament
The finales have arrived, as have the top four contenders in Singapore. They’re jet-lagged and hot as they meet up in an open-air market full of food vendors. Tom shows up as well bringing along guest judge and King of Singapore street food, Seetoh. This guy is super-famous for his knowledge of Singapore cuisine and Kelly wisely read his book before the challenge.
A wok to remember.
Tom departs, probably back to his air-conditioned hotel room, and Seetoh gives the chefs a tour of the various food vendors. They sample fried noodles from an ancient man who has been cooking the same dish every day for the past 300 years. They try the national dish of poached chicken served room temperature. They learn that if you speak dialect to the vendors, you get a bigger portion. They also eat some messy looking spicy crabs, which Kevin really likes. All the while there are various comments from Angelo, expressing his passion for Asian food, and Ed, expressing his passion for kicking Angelo’s ass. Someone turned Ed’s feisty meter to 11 in this episode.
The day winds down—it’s dark by this point—and the chefs really do look like they need a shower and some sleep. But then Padma appears in the market for their Quick Fire. The chefs have 30 minutes to recreate a Singapore street food item, using only a wok to cook in. And in some misguided attempt to ratchet up the intensity, Padma says that for the first time ever this late in the game, the Quick Fire winner will have immunity. The chefs dash to their four-burner stall and find an array of ingredients all labeled in Cantonese. Please tell me someone else put the Cantonese-DC connection together had had Tim Curry’s voice intoning “And monkey's brains, though popular in Cantonese cuisine, are not often to be found in Washington D.C.” at this point too.
The chefs dash around their tiny space, sweating like Howie in hell. Angelo started out with one protein but changed to frog legs at the last minute, a move Kelly finds risky. Kevin is absolutely clueless about wok cooking, never having done it in his life. I find that hard to believe. Ed’s comfortable with the wok and Angelo seems to think he has the whole deal in the bag.
Once the thirty minutes are up, Angelo serves chile frog legs with pineapple and rambutan salad; Kelly serves Chinese noodles with lobster, cockles, bean sprouts and Chinese broccoli; Kevin serves seafood stew with lobster and cuttlefish with crispy shallots; and Ed serves stir fry noodles with black pepper sauce and gai lan (which according to Wikipedia is Chinese broccoli). Padma calls Kevin out for not practicing with a wok before coming to Singapore. We know Kelly read Seetoh’s book, so she clearly prepared to get over her gap in Asian cooking knowledge, so he should have too. Seetoh has praise for all of the dishes (he seems like a really nice guy and I hope he comes back in later seasons) but ultimately names Ed as the winner. Fire shoots out of Angelo’s eyes, incinerating a near-by food stall.
Three chefs and a douchebag.
The Elimination Challenge presents another strange turn for a finale; the four chefs will work as one team to create food for Food & Wine’s EIC Dana Corwin who is hosting a party for 80 of her closest Singapore pals. The food that they are to make should reflect the Singapore cultures, which is a pretty diverse set of cultures being the rich port city it is.
The chefs finally get to see the inside of their hotel room where they contemplate quietly whether they should each just do one dish or maybe do two. Ed is adamant that they should just do one dish, but he has immunity so the others aren’t really sure. Ultimately, probably due to fatigue, they land on one dish a piece. Ed kind of checks out while the other three plan their dishes to be cohesive. Ed is stoked he beat Angelo in the QF and wants to continue kicking his ass.
The next morning, the chefs go to a local spice market to get $200 worth of spices. That’s $50 per chef, so why they are making just one dish with $50 worth of spices seems perplexing unless spices in Singapore are very expensive. Kelly asks the spice vendor for some advice and Ed acts childish towards Angelo. Meanwhile Angelo claims to be fired up and glad he’s not coasting on immunity. Kevin is a bit worried about Kelly, since she had trouble with the kung pao dish a few challenges back.
Back in the kitchen, the chefs have one hour to prep their foods. Ed is manic and tries to mess with Angelo’s head. The dishes they are prepping are: Angelo’s lamb tartare with rambutan ceviche and curry oil (personally I was hoping for a ceviche-free season); Ed’s sweet and sour pork with crispy rice, potato cakes, and gai lan; Kevin’s clam chowder with Southeast Asian flavors; and Kelly’s seared prawns, spicy red coconut curry and crispy prawn heads.
Tom arrives and expresses dismay that they are only making one dish each. Ed pipes up that he has two dishes planned, which gets a collective “WTF?” from the others. Ed, with his immunity, sandbagged his team and wins the official Douche Bag of Season 7 title. The other chefs rally and come up with a second dish. The new dishes added are Kevin’s 63-degree farm egg, pearl tapioca, and radish condiment; Kelly’s chilled cucumber yogurt soup with a bitter melon salad; Angelo’s spicy shrimp broth with ginger and prawn dumplings; and Ed’s banana fritter with red chile paste, which doesn’t sound like an entrée to me at all. Kelly slices her had pretty badly and bleeds wildly as the prep time winds down. They pack it up, she gets bandaged, and they go out for a nice prawn fishing interlude. It’s some amusement type booth deal, but Kevin is such a wuss that Kelly has to both bait the fishing line for him and remove the prawn he caught.
Coming together at last.
It’s finally time to wrap up this EC and the chefs head to the elegant beach club for Dana Corwin’s party. They have an hour and a half to get their dishes out—which are all being made to order, so prep is limited. Ed realizes he’s being a huge ass and steps up to instruct the waiters on the service of the dishes. These waiters need a lot of instruction, and I don’t think it has to necessarily do with a language barrier, given how international Singapore is. Kelly likes that they’re working as a team to expedite the dishes. Kevin makes sure his eggs are really cooked to exactly 63 degrees, otherwise disaster could ensue. He’s also got the problem of his cockles not opening and Ed actually helps him out since his prep is done. The orders start coming in on indecipherable tickets, some written in Chinese others just in sloppy writing. Often they stand there, dishes in hand, and have to be shooed out to the dining room. Other times, they just hang out in the dining room and have to be called back in. If Hell’s Kitchen ever does a season on waiters, the cast is already set.
The judges are Tom, Padma, Gail, Dana, and Seetoh; they first sample the soups. Dana finds Kelly’s soup to have a lot of acid, Gail likes the combination of cool and heat, and Seetoh finds it very balanced. Kevin’s chowder is delicious according to Dana, who seems a bit drunk. Tom finds the flavors clean and Seetoh says the broth is comfortable. Angelo’s soup is “yummy” according to Dana and Gail likes the texture of the mushrooms.
Next up they sample Angelo’s lamb tartare; Tom really likes it and Seetoh finds the use of lamb imaginative. Ed’s sweet and sour pork is a hit as well. Kevin’s egg and tapioca dish is perfect by Tom’s standard; the semi-soft egg breaks up and mixes with the tapioca to make a pudding that sounds positively disgusting but they liked it. Kelly’s prawn dish gets more of a mixed review; Gail loves it, Seetoh really likes the salad, but Tom is not that hot on it. The last thing they eat are Ed’s fried bananas and everyone is ga-ga over them. It totally sounds like a red neck county fair item to me, but then again, I can’t eat bananas. With the service done, the chefs make an appearance in the dining room and Dana makes a toast to them.
As the chefs wait in the stew room, Kelly is glad everyone finally came together and they worked as a team. Angelo thinks the food looks far better than what one would expect to get in a mere hour and a half. Ed has seemed to snap out of his bratty boy phase and really just wants to get good food out. Padma then retrieves them all to find out their fate. Dana is not on the Judges’ Table panel, and is probably back at the hotel sleeping off the wine.
Before the judges, Kelly says they brought a cohesive menu and Angelo says it felt like working with his own kitchen brigade. Tom says that they put out the overall best food of the season. But then the gloves come off…Angelo says he did the lamb tartare because he never did lamb before. Seeloh mentions Angelo’s “bold” brawns but Tom says it wasn’t a soup as much as it was a sauce. Kelly thought the soup was intense and smacked her in the face. Kelly’s yogurt soup fairs well by Seeloh but Tom found the fish in it having a bad texture. Further, Gail thought Kelly’s prawn dish needed more heat, but Seeloh loved the salad and is going to steal her recipe. Ed’s still in the game to win it and not coast on immunity; Seeloh suggests that Ed should have deep-fried the rice that went with his pork dish, but everyone gushes over the bananas. Tom says he could sell them on a truck in Williamsburg to hipster stoners, and means that as a compliment. Gail’s only problem with the dish was she only had two fritters and she could have eaten six. Hmmm….is Gail a secret stoner? Kevin’s chowder got praise from Gail, but Seeloh thought it could use more heat. As for the farm egg dish, Tom sees a huge risk taken and one that paid off. Seeloh would have added a crispy element, such as peanuts or sesame seeds, but other than that, he liked it.
The chefs sit in the stew room while the judges deliberate. Kelly is convinced she’s out while Angelo is certain it is he who will be eliminated. The judges see that Ed is totally in it to win it. Tom was not impressed with Kelly’s prawn dish and she should have worked the guava salad into the dish better, plus the fish was weird in the soup. Gail liked Kelly’s soup over Angelo’s, as his was too salty and intense. They all liked Angelo’s tartare, however. Tom points out that Kevin knows how to make a chowder—but that should be obvious by now because chowders and stews are Kevin’s shtick. Gail loves Kevin’s farm egg dish, but Tom concedes Seeloh’s point about a crunchy texture being missing.
The chefs return to Judges’ Table, where Seeloh says they picked the winner by combing over microscopic details. With that, he announces Ed as the winner, saying he sailed ahead of everyone else. Ed leaves the room, thrilled at beating Angelo. Angelo starts to tear up and I’m afraid he’s going to cry and beg as if they’re threatening to kill him. Tom says that it was tough to pick the loser; Kelly’s fish was grainy, Kevin’s chowder was home-style and good, but the egg dish needed more texture, and too much salt marred Angelo’s soup. Padma then tells Kelly to pack her knives and go. Angelo sobs more, likely out of relief and not for Kelly’s departure as she seems to interpret it. Kelly tears up a bit as well as she thanks the judges and leaves. She sums it up by saying that it sucks she has to go, but everyone has to fall at some point.
And just as Kelly leaves the stew room, Padma reenters and calls the final three back to Judges Table…rut-row, Shaggy! A twist is in store, no doubt.
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