The world of Top Chef was turned upside-down last week! Sweet little Gail Simmons was replaced by gruff, British, semi-coherent Toby Young! There was a double elimination! And Jamie actually won a challenge! Will our plucky cheftestants be able to regain their equilibrium this week? Oh, and Leah and Hosea professed that, as close as they have become, they are just friends. Mmm-hmmm…
It’s morning in the Top Chef apartment, and Leah and Hosea are still “good buddies” as this episode begins. Let’s start the clock on them, shall we? Leah is sad that Melissa and Gene are gone, but not too sad. Hosea lets us know he can’t stand Stefan. Join the club, Hosea. And with that, we are off to the kitchen!
The nine remaining chefs enter to see their good (drinking) buddy Padma, who is standing next to none other than Hung, the winner of Season 3, who has since gained about 10 ounces and a last name (Huynh). Jamie remarks that Hung is known for being very fast, which makes her wonder what the Quickfire Challenge holds in store for them. Fish-loving Fabio notices a huge canvas covering a nearby table, and looks at Hung, and remembers that Hung loves fish too, and becomes excited that this will obviously be a fish challenge! (His attempt to pronounce “aquarium” is not to be missed.) Padma goes on about the virtues of fresh ingredients as the cornerstone of great food, and then tosses off the canvas to reveal the ingredients for the QF Challenge:
Crap! Well, close enough to it, anyway. The chefs are treated to a table full of what Padma generously calls “pantry staples”: processed foods of all kinds that come in cans, jars, boxes and bags. The chefs don’t have much time to register their disgust, as Padma further explains that, in honor of Ricochet Hung’s presence, they only have 15 minutes in order to take these ingredients and make a dish that would fool a gourmet. Hung punctuates the moment with his signature hubris: ”Should be plenty of time!” With that, Padma starts the clock.
Jeff uses his “mosh pit” analogy for the third time this season to describe the confusion as they all grab at the crapgredients. There are elbows to the gut, fighting over cans, and general whining to the camera, including the always covetous Jamie, who comments on how much faster everyone else is. Hosea, perhaps blinded by his passion for Leah, shares his Spam with his nemesis Stefan, even after Stefan’s “boyfriend” Fabio refused to share his artichokes with Hosea. Will this come back to haunt him?
Time’s up, and Padma and Hung make the rounds as the chefs sell their wares:
Leah: Waffles (deep fried) with strawberries, sausage and Cool Whip. Hung tries to be polite.
Stefan: Baked bean soup with Spam, with grilled cheese & Spam sandwiches. He made it fancy by having the broth on the side, instructing Padma how to pour and eat the dish.
Fabio: Easy-Mac & Cheese with roasted artichoke and chili pepper
Radhika: Spicy red bean dip with grilled bread squares (which is fancy for toast)
Hosea: Sweet pea soup with fried Spam, onion rings, pork rinds and hearts of palm. Hung professes his love for pork rinds.
Jeff: Deep friend conch, coconut dipping sauce and a “bohemian” piňa colada
Jamie: Bruschetta with garbanzo beans, artichoke and smoked mussel
Ariane: Deviled eggs. (Just kidding!) Open-faced Turkey Spam sandwich with gravy and a cranberry-pineapple chutney. Padma is amazed that there is such a thing as Turkey Spam. Hung curses the dish with an “Interesting!”
Carla: Asian salmon cake with fried green beans and lemongrass-ginger mayo. The mayo gets compliments.
The Hung jury is in: Leah, Radhika, and Jamie get the thumbs-down. Hosea’s soup is a hit, but so is Stefan’s soup-and-sammy. Jeff also gets kudos for his conch. Will Hosea prevail, or will his moment of Spam weakness be his undoing? Hung awards the win (and immunity) to Stefan, and Hosea can’t stop kicking himself.
(Did anyone else notice that Hung picked three women as the worst, and three men as the best? I’m still trying to decide if that’s an indication of Hung’s sexism, or just a funny irony that the women were less successful than the men at making magic from common pantry items.)
Padma is ready to tell them about the Elimination Challenge, and brings out the knives. This time they are marked pig, chicken, and lamb, which means the nine chefs have to split into teams of three. Ariane is on Team Lamb with “the Leopards” Hosea and Leah. Ariane lets us know she is not happy being teamed with such a close-knit couple. Will the Cougar and the Leopards be doing battle at Judge’s Table later?
Padma explains that each team will create a seasonal dish using their given protein. They need to make a family-style lunch, dessert included, for 16 people. Jamie is teamed with Stefan, and registers her displeasure to us, since Stefan is such a…well, such a Stefan. The teams return to the apartment to caucus (big up to Tim Gunn!), and Hosea, Leah and Ariane brainstorm, as Hosea tells us that although he and Leah have more of a similar thought process, Ariane has already won a challenge by cooking lamb, so they are happy to give that responsibility to her.
Meanwhile, Team Chicken clucks away in another corner. Stefan steamrolls ideas at Jamie and Carla, and Jamie fights back while Carla slowly sinks between the sofa cushions. The ever thoughtful Stefan lets us know that he loves to get Jamie riled up because she’s “so cute” when she’s angry. As long as he is amused, who cares what happens with their dishes, right?
Team Pork consists of Fabio, Jeff and Radhika. They decide that, since it’s a simple family-style lunch, they will avoid overly fancy cooking: no Indian, no Italian. Oh, except Fabio is doing ravioli again. Radhika will give her bread pudding another whirl, this time with figs.
Later that night, Jamie asks Fabio where his “boyfriend” (Stefan) is, because she and Carla have been talking on their own (sans steamroller) and want to make changes to the menu. They find Stefan and go out into the patio to talk, and the moment Jamie brings up changing the menu, Stefan shoots it down and says he isn’t changing the menu, done. Jamie fires back that he has immunity, so why should he care. He says the word “douchebag” but it’s not clear in what context, although Jamie instantly thinks he called her one, and storms off. Stefan takes a smug drag from his cigarette and then tells us what he told Jamie, that the menu is done and he’s not changing it, with no further explanation. And then he smiles that smile that makes you want to smack him in the face with a cast iron skillet.
The chefs awake early the next morning, and Hosea expresses his concern that the menu isn’t good enough. He and Leah bounce a couple of ideas off each other (and ignore Ariane’s ideas), and a new game plan is set, to which Ariane can only say to us, “whatever.”
The chefs pile into their vehicles and, instead of stopping at Whole Foods in the Bowery, take a turn and head upstate to the Stone Barn Center, a non-profit farm and education center, which is also home to the Blue Hill restaurant, run by chef/co-owner Dan Butler. Butler and the head farmers greet the chefs, and explain that they will be making their family-style meals using fresh ingredients from the farm, including animals which they will have to select for slaughter and then butcher. They will be serving the chefs and farmers who work there.
The teams head to the fields. Team Pork goes tomato picking, and Jeff sees some green tomatoes, and suggests that he could fry them up, and the others agree to this change in the menu. (Makes you want to go watch the movie now, doesn’t it?) Meanwhile, Team Lamb heads for the lamb…pokey, in order to pick their protein, which hopefully doesn’t have a name yet. Hosea is stoked because he works with farmers back in Boulder (so why is Ariane doing the meat again, Ho?). Team Pork is confronted with a mess o’hogs, and Fabio gives us a treatise on respecting the protein while it’s alive. Team Chicken grabs a few birds and their eggs, while Jamie says she doesn’t usually get to deal with this end of the food cycle in New York City. She, Carla and Stefan brainstorm some more, and even Stefan has to admit that the pressure is on “big-time” for this challenge.
Later the chefs enter the kitchen, where their ingredients are laid out, including the former cast of Charlotte’s Web that are now chopped up and spread out on baking sheets. Team Pork sets to work, and Radhika notices the lack of figs in the kitchen, so they decide to switch the dessert to a creme brulée (hopefully without pork in it). Concerned that they don’t have enough proteins, Team Chicken compromises on their menu as well. Carla will once again be assigned tart duty, this time with nectarines and strawberries.
Team Lamb has a big lamb and a baby lamb, so they decide to do a duo of lamb. Ariane starts hacking away at the meat, while Hosea and Leah split up the rest of the tasks, which should leave them plenty of time for cuddling. Meanwhile, Ravioli Fabio complains to us that Radhika is taking forever to grill some ears of corn. Maybe Radhika will have time to enter the cuddle as well.
At T-minus two hours, Tom Colicchio enters the kitchen to find out how everyone is doing. Hosea presents a united “multi-tasking” front, and Tom inspects Ariane’s butchered meat, and walks away quickly. Next, Tom walks up to Carla, who remarks that she’s working with some (head)strong characters, and she and Jamie tell him that Stefan is sort of the leader, to which Tom astutely asks, “Does he know that?” Sly grins all around.
Tom approaches Jeff, who has sliced up some pork bellies for curing and is now slicing up his green tomatoes. He informs Tom that Fabio’s raviolis are “untouchable” (sorry girls). Radhika is there too, doing something, probably.
Now comes the time when Tom lets us know what problems he saw. First and foremost, Team Lamb butchered the heck out of their animals, where they could have cooked the meat on the bone for better flavor (Not to mention keeping things simple). Team Chicken is making a soup, which is normally fine except for the fact that it will be an outdoor lunch on a hot summer’s day. He is also concerned that Team Pork’s dessert isn’t seasonal enough.
With an hour to go, Ariane prepares an herb rub for the lamb. She will have to tie the meat before roasting it, and this seems to be something she hasn’t done before. Leah offers to tie the roasts, but admits that she didn’t do it much better. Her lack of enthusiasm is striking.
The farmers, chefs and families start gathering at the outdoor tables, and the cheftestants scramble to get their dishes ready on time. Toby Young has joined Tom and Padma on the farm; let’s see if he comes up with some less obtuse references in his comments this week.
First up is Team Lamb, served as a loin and as leg of lamb (off the bone), with potatoes, tomato salad and dessert. Then, Team Pork presents their dishes, including the aforementioned fried green tomatoes, as well as a corn salad with bacon, and Fabio’s ravioli, now covered in pesto sauce. Team Chicken lays out some cutlets with a corn and tomato salad, as well as Stefan’s roasted chicken with tomato salad, and a chicken-stuffed ravioli soup. Dig in!
Padma instantly questions the wisdom of making soup on an 85-degree day. One of the farmers agrees, but thought that it was delicious anyway. People seem to agree that the two chicken preparations are very good.
Dan Butler sums up Team Lamb’s problems right away: “The lamb is a mess.” Tom agrees that it suffers from poor butchering. Toby offers a spin on a popular saying that I’ve never heard before. I think the idea is that he agrees with Tom and Dan. Other patrons compliment Hosea’s potatoes (which should no doubt cause Leah’s ears to burn with jealousy). But Tom comes back to the fact that the chefs did not “honor the protein”, and the others agree solemnly. Back in the kitchen, the Lambers pat themselves on the back for a job well done. Confidence, or denial?
As for Team Pork, Padma remarks that while Fabio’s ravioli is good (as usual), it is completely overwhelmed by the pesto. Toby says the same thing, only he invokes the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf to do so. (Does he work on these things the night before?) Tom says that Team Pork had the same short-sightedness as Team Lamb when it came to over-butchering. Apparently the high-point of this meal is Jeff’s FGTs (I just can’t write that phrase again).
Now comes a dessert-off between the three teams. Carla’s tartlet is a hit; they think it was thoughtfully prepared, and enjoyed by all. Team Pork’s creme brulée was too sweet and rich for such a hot day, but the portion was small enough not to make it overly filling. Team Lamb made a summer berry trifle (cake) with vanilla cream, and Dan Butler channels Anthony Bourdain (we miss you this season, Tony!) by comparing it to airline food. There’s a clear winner among the teams, but the mystery remains, who is the loser?
Back at Judges’ Table, Padma enters the waiting area and asks to see Team Chicken. As expected they were the winning team. The team remarks that they struck the right balance between Stefan’s heavier dish and Jamie’s lighter dish through compromise, with Carla acting as mediator. (Somehow the producers forgot to show us this harmony while playing up the drama with this team, which is unfortunate.) Dan Butler announces that all three of them are awarded the Elimination win.
The remaining two teams are called in to determine the loser. First, Team Pork: Jeff is admonished for removing the meat from the bone before cooking it. Fabio gets the smackdown for applying the pesto to the ravioli with a shovel. The judges have trouble figuring out how Radhika kept busy during the three hours, since she seemingly had very little to do.
Moving on, Ariane is instantly grilled about the lamb preparation. She thought that tenderizing and roasting the baby lamb would make it more tender. Dan is amazed that Ariane didn’t know that baby lamb is tender by design. Padma wants to know why Ariane was the only one breaking down the lamb. Leah tries to spin it differently, but admits that there wasn’t as much to do other than the lamb. She then chimes in that she helped tie the lamb, which ends up not being a good thing in Tom’s eyes. Tom asks Hosea if he has experience with butchering and tying, and if so, why did he leave it all up to Ariane and only make potatoes? There are not many answers coming from the team.
During deliberation, the judges think that almost any one of these six chefs could be going home tonight. Focusing on the pork dish, Toby launched into a soliloquy that involves having unprotected sex with sheep or something. Dan chuckles and says although the pork wasn’t good, it wasn’t as big a crime as the lamb. Tom agrees that the lamb was worse, but still wonders if Radhika Dolittle should go home anyway. The conversation swings back to Ariane. Padma takes pity on her for taking so much responsibility while her teammates acted out Romeo & Juliet, but Toby will have none of it, saying that she can’t cook, period. Padma informs him that she’s done some great dishes before this challenge, but he (figuratively) produces the Top Chef Judge’s Handbook, and recites the rule that chefs should only be judged by the dish they just made, and not on past performance. Tom bemusedly agrees. Back in the Steam Room, Jamie comments that Ariane is one of the best team players among all the chefs. If such things could make Leah and Hosea feel bad for throwing momma Ariane from the train, it would have. But they don’t look all that contrite at the moment.
Back to the judges, who aren’t thrilled with Leah’s lack of any real contribution. But they’ve made their decision, and the chefs are called back. Tom lets them know that it came down to how well each team honored their protein. Jeff is the one person who gets a compliment for his fried green tomatoes, which Tom says has basically saved Team Pork from losing the challenge.
Team Lamb is now in the crosshairs. Ariane was a hack, while Leah and Hosea took a back seat, yada yada yada. But in the end, Ariane gets the boot for sticking her neck out. In her final interview, she calls Hosea a “wimp” and complains that she got the shaft when others could have just as easily gone home. Can’t argue with that, Mom.
Next week: Restaurant Wars is back! Plus, Hosea and Leah’s teenybopper crush takes a dangerous turn! Tune in to find out which makes Toby (and us) more sick!
Is Top Chef becoming more like Big Brother? PM me to discuss.