Mixing Old Fashioneds
Top Chef 8/22 Recap: Restaurant War Redux
Recapping Top Chef has had an effect on me—I can’t stop critiquing food. Of course, I find my own southwest-inspired perogie casserole to be quite inventive, but no one else is spared. Just this week at a catered work lunch meeting, I was nothing short of Bourdain-like in my criticism of the dry pot roast, the woefully unevenly cooked green beans, the *gasp* iceberg lettuce salad, the *horror of horrors* instant mashed potatoes, and the chocolate cake that tasted like what used to come out of my Easy-Bake Oven when I was seven. On the other hand, after tonight’s show, I may be able to put my ceviche/risotto drinking game to rest, because no one prepared either of these tired dishes. However, at that work lunch, I’d have been thrilled with either ceviche or risotto, even if it did inspire me to head to the secret beer refrigerator in the office.
Dream Team vs. Bad News Bears
The morning after the mulligan restaurant challenge left all contestants remaining in the house. Brian says he relishes the chance to get back in the kitchen and do the challenge perfectly, of course leaving out the fact that he isn’t cooking a thing. Tre promises to stay focused; he says he has everything it takes to win and he really wants to win. CJ says he didn’t let testicular cancer get him down, and, even with one testicle missing, he’s got more balls than anyone in the house. Well, that’s exactly what I want to think about when I’m at a restaurant: the chef’s gonads.
Before setting off to the kitchen, two envelopes are slid under the door to the chefs’ loft. Each team has an envelope addressed to them which contains the blogger’s comments from the previous night. They review pretty much everything we heard her comments to be last week and no one is thrilled. Team Garage (Sara, Hung, Dale, and Howie) seem to take more time to ponder the comments, while Team April (Brian, CJ, Tre, and Casey) read them with disgust.
The chefs then arrive at the Top Chef Kitchen and meet Padma and Tom. Padma explains that though they are going to get a second shot at opening their restaurants, some things have changed. They will still have to make three courses, but for each course they will have to have two options for diners to select. Tom also says that he’s gotten in touch with a sommelier who is in town to open a restaurant and the winner of the Quick Fire will get the benefit of a consultation with the sommelier and an extra $200 to spend on wine. Now, when I think “Top Chef” and “sommelier”, I automatically think of Stephen from the first season, probably because—and you’ll all hate me for this—he’s my favorite contestant ever. You may commence rotten tomato throwing now.
The Quick Fire challenge is something new; the chefs will work in their restaurant teams to complete a mise en place preparation relay race. They will have to shuck 15 oysters, dice 5 onions, cut up some chickens, and separate eggs and beat the whites by hand into stiff enough peaks to stay in a bowl held upside down for five seconds. They have two minutes to decide who will do which prep. On Garage, Howie will do the oysters (even though he says he’s bad at shucking), Sara will chop the onion, Hung will dismember the chickens, and Dale will beat the eggs. They are all pretty confident about Hung’s knife skills, just so long as they stay back far enough from his fast-moving blade. On April, Brian will shuck the oysters since he’s the seafood freak, Casey will do the onion, Tre will cut up the chickens, and CJ will whip the eggs.
And they’re off! Howie is going at a pretty good pace on the oysters, but Brian beats him handily, passing off the cutting board to Casey. She starts in on the onions, but is exceedingly slow, much to the pain of not only her own teammates but even those on the other team. Howie finishes up his oysters and Sara goes at the onion like a maniac. The girl can chop something fierce and is done with the five onions in no time flat. That leaves Hung to get started on the chicken before Casey is even half-way finished. Hung is so fast on the chicken cutting, even Tom is amazed. Dale gets started on the eggs before Casey finishes, but she eventually finishes which lets Tre get to the chicken. Tre makes a valiant effort, but Dale is done with the egg whipping before Tre can the chickens cut up. Team Garage wins by a landslide; they are thrilled, especially because they see themselves as the underdog in the challenge.
Why Madonna lives in Scotland.
Before departing for the day, Tom announces that both teams will have the benefit of consulting with restaurant décor guru Christopher Ciccone. The chefs are thrilled at the idea because both teams know their décors need help. They head off to their restaurant spaces to meet with Madonna’s brother and find out that this guy is the one who was the complete ass at the blogger’s table the night before. Crestfallen doesn’t cover it, but Team Garage sucks it up and asks what he recommends. He hated the name, the look and the presentation of the food. He suggests that they replace their black tablecloths with white linens, add large graphic paintings and go completely modern. Having no other suggestions of their own, Garage agrees to the changes. Team April similarly has no love for this Ciccone. He tells them to lose all of the crap on their walls and come up with a food-based slogan to stencil across the two back walls. He wants the room to be simple, clean and elegant. The end result for each restaurant does look a bit better. Garage’s colors are replaced by white on the tables, some black, and a whole lot of red, which Dale rightfully notes looks like Valentine’s Day threw up on the room. April’s results are better because of the addition of some lovely wicker chairs. The slogan across the walls is okay, but strikes me as a bit high school cafeteria words of wisdom.
Evil foreshadowing gnomes strike again.
Back at the house, Team April, sans Tre, is sitting around the kitchen talking about their menu. CJ wonders where Tre is and Casey reports he’s out on the balcony working out. And we get to see a lovely shot of Tre working his muscles, which balances out the Casey bikini shot earlier, I suppose. Tre is not, however, ignoring his team—no, no, he’s spying! The Garage group is also out on the balcony planning what changes and additions they are making to their menu. He hears them talk about rabbit and gnocchi and has a good internal chuckle. He reports back to his teammates what he’s overheard and they all conclude that Garage is going way too heavy on their menu again.
Team April then talks about what they will make. Tre makes all the decisions on the courses and decides to do a bread pudding as an extra course because, as he says, he can make bread pudding in his sleep. Ummm, didn’t he say that about barbecue in one of the earlier challenges, and that landed him in the bottom? Casey then says that she and Tre really have become great friends and are leaning on each other a lot. Casey’s great friend Lia may have something to say about that as well.
Morning arrives and a’shopping they all go. The food shopping goes pretty much the same way as every week. Howie has to ditch the plan for the rabbit because the Fresh Market has only two rabbits; he switches the protein to poussin, a game chicken. Tre gets more tenderloin and is going to re-do the tenderloin and smoky potatoes he did the night before. He’s confident it’ll go well this time. Over at the wine shop, Brian and Casey are left to their own devices to pick out wines, while Hung and Dale meet with the sommelier. Hung actually says that he’s surprised that the sommelier does indeed turn out to be Stephen, who, in trademark form, yaks on and on about the wines, seemingly never ceasing to talk. In an amazing showing of humility, Hung recognizes that Stephen knows a lot about wine and takes his suggestions.
It’s all in the name.
After the shopping is complete, the chefs reassemble in the kitchen. Hung is concerned about having to prepare twice as much food as the previous night and considers timing to be all-important. The chefs dash around the kitchen for a little bit but then Padma, Tom, Ted Allen (yay!) and some other dude come into the kitchen. This other dude turns out to be Geoffrey Zakarain, the restaurant owner of Town and Country—that’s two separate restaurants, one called “Town” and the other “Country”, not the magazine. Tre says this guy is particularly anal about his food preparation, and you can just tell that by looking at him, and that’s not a compliment.
On Team April, Tre is all over the food preparation. Casey is running some carrots through a processor to make carrot soup and CJ is working on a lobster dish, but Tre is doing pretty much everything else. Well, Brian meets with the servers, but he’s not helping in the kitchen. Dale, on the other hand, is on the phone with Christopher Ciccone informing him of the name change of the restaurant. They are no longer going by “Garage” but by “Quatre” which means “Four” in French. Christopher doesn’t like the name, but Dale doesn’t care. All the while he’s on the phone, Dale is pushing peas through a strainer for a puree—total multitasker, that Dale. Hung does something to carrots that doesn’t make Sara happy and she makes him do them over again. Howie, master of the obvious, notes that they all have to work together or they will be going home. At least he didn’t say he was there to win and not make friends.
Tom then comes into the kitchen again. Earlier he was wearing his black chef jacket and now we know why: he’s going to spend the entire service in the kitchen with the chefs observing their cooking. Of course, he’ll also sample each dish. Maybe he just wants to be closer to the food or away from that Geoffrey character.
Service time begins and things get rocking really fast. Dale is worried that he has a lot of responsibility with the front of house duties, keeping the servers in line, and having a dish going out that he’s not plating. He comes into start placing orders and Sara is turned on and in charge. She tells Hung and Howie to consider every dish as though it’s going to the judges and will not let anything go out without approval. She thinks that having Tom in the kitchen makes everyone do a better job. CJ is feeling good about his team as well, since they all work together well. As the guests start to arrive, we see that Joey and Sara N. are back to dine at Quatre and Camille and Lia are back to dine at April. When informed of the returned contestants, Sara is happy to hear it, but Hung asks, “Who?” when told of Joey and Sara N.’s presence. While I remembered them, I was surely glad they identified Camille because I kind of did forget about her.
The judges—Ted, Padma and Geoffrey—arrive at Quatre first. The judges take care to order so that both offered dishes of the course are tasted. For the First Course, Quatre serves tuna tartare with an egg vinaigrette and a poussin with mint gnocchi, sweet pea puree, carrots and hazelnuts. Some diners like the tuna, but Geoffrey and Ted find the tartare a bit common. On the other hand, Ted loves the poussin, calling it tender and delicious. For the Second Course, Quatre offers a halibut with grapes and braised leeks, which the judges find smart and well-seasoned and a lamb chop with whit bean and haricot verts. Sara made Howie re-do some lamb chops that were not up to her standards, and though he pouted about it, he did re-cook them. Ted liked the lamb, but Joey pegged it as a Howie dish right away, noting that the meat was too undercooked for his liking. For the Third Course, Quatre served panna cotta with fresh berries and the same crepe with orange and Grand Marnier sauce. Ted still loved the crepe. Dale also had to reel in Stephen’s presentation of the wines to the diners and told him he was going over-board on his constant wine chatter. From anyone else I’d find the wine talk a bit much, and it was the right thing to call him on it, but I’d let Stephen talk to me about wine all night, especially if my glass was kept full. (Resume the tomato throwing at will—I can take it!)
After service at Quatre, the judges move on to Restaurant April. Tre worries he has a lot on the line but he still wanted to take a relaxed approach to service since his team works well together. At April, the judges sample the First Course of seared sea scallops on corn and black truffle custard and wild king salmon with macadamia nut pesto and grapefruit. The scallops are lovely, but the salmon is, according to Ted, the worst thing he’s eaten in a long time. Geoffrey likens the salmon to a car wreck in Times Square, it’s so bad. For the Second Course, the judges sample a chilled carrot and ginger soup, which they like, and lobster salad with arugula and caramelized cauliflower, which is too salty for everyone. For the Third Course, the judges sample seared monk fish with mascarpone potatoes. Some diners like the monk fish, but the judges find it overcooked. The other offering is the beef tenderloin with smoked potatoes. This time, the smoke was alright, but Geoffrey finds the dish completely forgettable. As an Additional Course, Tre made an apple and brioche bread pudding with cinnamon and brandy anglaise. He brought out the plates and had the anglaise in shot glasses and poured the sauce over the bread pudding. Ted and Geoffrey have particular issues with the bread pudding, noting that it had no custard and the apples were undercooked. The diners don’t like it any better.
Back in the kitchen, Brian reports to Tre that the bread pudding didn’t go over well. Dale thinks that his team made a miraculous improvement over the prior week. They all head off to the storage room to await their fates. Team Quatre is confident, unlike last week, because they know they put out great dishes and Sara is proudly complimentary of Hung and his ability to be everywhere he was needed, when he was needed.
Do-over done right.
At the Judges’ Table, Padma notes that this night’s service was completely different and much improved. Geoffrey thinks it all comes down to the food, which is something of a revelation on a show about picking a top chef. They first discuss Quatre: Ted liked the poussin, Padma liked the halibut and Tom agreed. Ted also liked the lamb though Tom wasn’t as keen on it. Ted did take issue with Dale’s casual attire of jeans and a polo shirt, noting that he looked like he worked in a diner. Geoffrey said Dale’s attire gave off a weird vibe about what kind of restaurant they were going for. As for Restaurant April, Padma liked the scallop but Ted thought the salmon was a catastrophe. Geoffrey had issues with the salty and over-dressed lobster. They all did not like the bread pudding, though Ted did like the presentation of the sauce by Tre. Geoffrey too liked the presentation and thought Tre did a good job on the floor of the restaurant, which is a skill a good chef should have.
Padma then retrieves Quatre from the waiting room; when they gather before the judges, she announces that they have won the challenge. They are quite the jubilant bunch; though they had a rough night in previews they made really great changes and did a good job. Geoffrey then announces that Sara is the winner because, as the executive chef, she allowed the food to be the showcase. Tom says she held the team together really well in the kitchen and says they all did a great job. Sara gives proper credit to her teammates for putting out some great food. Quatre then heads back to the waiting area and sends out the group from Restaurant April.
Don’t kill a dead fish.
The gong of despair sounds once again as our losing team faces the judges. Tom first criticizes Brian’s service, saying he did not focus on the details and took too easy of a time with it. Turning to the first course, the judges ask about the horrible salmon. Tre thought the pesto and salmon went well together, but Tom disagreed. Geoffrey wondered why Tre allowed such crap to leave the kitchen. Moving on to the second course, CJ defended his maligned lobster salad but Tom said it was just too salty. Padma then asks who was responsible for the overcooked monk fish, and Casey owns up to it being her dish. She agrees it was a little overcooked. Finally they ask Tre about the bread pudding. He then says that no one had pastry chef experience and he knew a little about the bread pudding, but not a whole lot. That is a far cry from being able to make it in his sleep, no? Geoffrey then asks if anyone knew how to make bread pudding and CJ admits he does. Geoffrey asks him why he didn’t help out; CJ merely says that Tre came up with the dish and he figured Tre knew how to make it. Geoffrey then takes CJ to task over not having his chef’s back in his position as a sous chef. Tom also wonders what happened on this team, since CJ got to hand-pick who he wanted on his team. Tom concludes that the team did not act like top chefs at all.
The team is dismissed while the judges consider their choices for elimination. Tom thinks the group suffered from overconfidence and a lack of focus. Ted thought there was bad leadership by both Tre in the kitchen and Brian in the front of the house. Geoffrey chimes in on the lack of leadership criticism as well. They wonder why CJ didn’t support Tre more—did he think Tre had it under control or did he not want to put himself on the chopping block? They didn’t like Brian’s front of house work that much either and noted that Dale not only managed the service but contributed a dish. They also weren’t impressed with Casey’s monkfish.
After this debate, the folks from Restaurant April reappear before the judges. Tom says they expected more from the team and there was a distinct lack of focus and intensity. He takes Casey to task over her overcooked monkfish, Brian for not looking at every dish coming out and going too easy on the service, CJ for removing himself from the competition and screwing up the one dish he was responsible for, and Tre for putting out bad salmon and bread pudding. As it all comes down to the bad food, Padma tells Tre to pack his knives and go.
Tre considers the result upon his departure and admits it was a real risk stepping into the position of executive chef for the team. Brian is amazed Tre is going home, as he pegged him as one to stay for the long-haul. CJ is sad to see Tre go as well; Tre mentions the judges could have booted CJ for lack of support but acknowledges that service all comes down to the guy in charge, and that was him. Tre, showing what a good sport he is, says he’ll take away all the great training he’s gotten from the show and had a much better idea of what he’ll need to do when he opens is restaurant.
Intrigued by the notion of southwest perogie casserole? If so, drop me a PM.
Last edited by PhoneGrrrl; 08-23-2007 at 04:16 AM.
Sexy Wife of Takeshi Kaga
Re: Top Chef 8/22 Recap: Restaurant War Redux
Poor Tre. I wish him all the best.
Re: Top Chef 8/22 Recap: Restaurant War Redux
You crack me up, PG! Stephen wasn't my favorite, but I promise I won't throw any tomatoes at you! Thanks for the recap!
From anyone else I’d find the wine talk a bit much, and it was the right thing to call him on it, but I’d let Stephen talk to me about wine all night, especially if my glass was kept full. (Resume the tomato throwing at will—I can take it!)
Just Forting Around
Re: Top Chef 8/22 Recap: Restaurant War Redux
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