Hey there, foodies! It’s been a while since I recapped this show, and a lot has changed in that time. There’s a new judge, there was a double-elimination, and there’s a showmance afoot. And now it’s time for the most anticipated episode of any season: restaurant wars! To celebrate the occasion, Bravo is giving us an extra fifteen minutes of show, or maybe really just an extra five and ten more minutes of commercials. We’ll see how it goes.
Who wants to be a restaurateur?
Morning dawns in Brooklyn and it also dawns on the contestants that they are halfway through the competition, now that they are down to eight chefs. Radhika and Carla blame Leah and Hosea for Ariane’s departure, and Leah blames herself a little bit too, but not all that much. Soon enough the blame game is over and the final eight are in the Top Chef Kitchen with Padma and Stephen Starr, a prolific restaurateur and guest judge for this episode. It’s restaurant war time! Stefan realizes the import of this competition, noting that if a contestant screws it up, then everyone in the restaurant world will know it.
The Quick Fire challenge involves the chefs making a tasting dish that will showcase what their restaurant would be like. Stephen will pick the top two; while they won’t get immunity, they will get to head up the battling restaurants. They have 30 minutes and whatever’s in the kitchen to create the showcase dish. Hosea looks at making seafood, Jeff does American fare, and Leah’s mind is blank after picking up some bad fish. Fabio goes with a lunchtime restaurant theme while Radhika just panics. Jamie doesn’t want to win because she doesn’t want the pressure of heading up a restaurant.
Time’s called and the tasting begins. Carla’s restaurant will serve homey, rustic, seasonal foods and served cod seared in tomato oil with Italian salsa and mache green salad. Stephen misses the salt. Hosea’s concept would be a Mediterranean seafood restaurant; he made shrimp with morel mushroom cream sauce, garlic potato puree and poached asparagus. Stephen says it’s very good. Leah made a tempura possin with dashi, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar for an Asian inspired restaurant; Stephen says it the dish is tasty. Stefan has an Euro-American concept and made a trio of asparagus: fried white asparagus with trout, asparagus salad and white asparagus soup, which also gets a “very good” from Stephen. Jeff had a seasonal, American concept and made grilled salmon with sunchoke and artichoke puree, grilled corn and asparagus salad; Stephen comments that it was a little mushy. Radhika would have a globally-influenced restaurant and prepared pan-seared cod, butter braised corn, spinach and chorizo with cream sauce, which Stephen says was very well seasoned. Jamie would have a restaurant focused on seasonal ingredients. She made Chilean sea bass with creamed corn, bacon, peas and garlic scape. (Who would have thunk it—Jamie did creamed corn! It’s like if she can’t make a scallop, she makes something mushy.) Stephen says that it is refreshing to get something simple. Finally, Fabio would have a Mediterranean concept restaurant and focus on a successful lunch business. So, he made a trio of tuna and swordfish carpaccio, roasted vegetable salad, and a filet mignon sandwich. Stephen thinks it’s just a cheese steak sandwich and too salty.
After sampling the fare, Stephen says he will not be doing business with Jeff because, if you want to impress him, salmon is not the way to go. He also isn’t doing business with Fabio, because he didn’t get the concept. Stephen’s favorites are Radhika, with her emerging Middle Eastern/Indian cuisine, and Leah’s forward thinking, clean dish. Uh-oh, the pressure is now on Leah and Radhika!
Twenty-four hours till go-time!
As the winners of the Quick Fire, Leah and Radhika get to pick their teams. Leah picks Hosea (of course), Fabio, and finally, by default, Stefan. Radhika chooses Jeff, Carla and Jamie. For the rest of this day, they’ll plan their concepts, menus, and shop for décor. The next day will involve going to the restaurant depot, Whole Foods, and cooking their asses off.
Radhika’s team decides to go with an “old spice” concept—not the cologne, but spices from the Middle East and India. She decides to call the restaurant Sahana. There is a bit of indecision on who is going to be front of house, and, by default, Radhika decides to take the duty. Meanwhile, Leah wants to go for an Asian concept but has a hard time, much to Hosea’s chagrin, standing up to Stefan and his steam-roller approach to team projects.
The group heads out to Pier One to find their decorations. Fabio grabs whatever he can, but at least he and Stefan have the knowledge of seasons-past to get only unscented candles. Radhika’s team loads up on crazy items, most notably a lot of large giraffe figures. Then, back at the apartment, things get weird. Stefan wants things to be small, tight and sexy, and I can’t help but think he’s talking about something other than food. Radhika has little experience being a leader and it shows by her indecision on concepts. After a while, it’s just Hosea and Leah, complaining about Stefan’s failure to communicate what he’s making for dessert, then it turns to snuggling on the couch and making out. What the hell? It isn’t my week to recap The Bachelor! Someone tell Bravo to cut the sexy-time music!
There’s always regrets the morning after.
We’ve all been there—the morning after a fun, sexy time with someone who wasn’t right, there’s the regret. Hosea and Leah are both feeling the regret big-time, since they both have significant others back home. Stefan and Fabio also regret it, since the team is in a funk and had a whole lot of new tension.
But there is no time for regret on this day of the Elimination Challenge. First, there’s the shopping to do. Radhika and Carla head to Whole Foods, as do Leah and Fabio. Stefan and Hosea and Jeff and Jamie go to the big restaurant depot place for big food supplies and serving items. There’s a lot of drama with Team Sahana over the main protein: the restaurant depot doesn’t have the needed lamb shank and neither does Whole Foods. Finally, Jeff digs around in the freezer area of the depot and finds it. Jamie’s glad he found it, but nervous because it is frozen solid. Other than that, this shopping was faster than a trip to Mood on Project Runway.
The chefs head off to the site of the challenge and start getting the dining area set up and the food prepared. Sunset Lounge’s menu consists of an amuse bouche of an egg roll Fabio is making, Hosea’s appetizers of sashimi two ways and short ribs, Leah’s coconut curry bisque and seared cod, and Stefan’s chocolate parfait, and panna cotta for dessert. Fabio will have front of house duties. Sahana’s menu includes a first course of curried carrot soup and grilled scallop with chickpea cake, the entrée of braised lamb shank and seared snapper, and Carla’s desserts of baklava, chocolate cake, and frozen yogurts. Jamie is chef de cuisine and Radhika is going to be doing front of house duties.
In the kitchen, Leah and Hosea are both tripping over their guilt on account of the prior night’s indiscretion. They each keep screwing things up, but the worst thing was that Leah had Hosea portion the fish before de-boning it, which causes all manner of problems removing the bones. She ends up having to cut the portions partially down the middle to remove the bones and knows that the fish won’t cook evenly now. Stefan has issues with the freezer not setting up his panna cotta, but in true Tim Gunn style, he makes it work by getting some ice baths together and sticking the panna cotta in the ice bath and in the freezer.
Meanwhile, over at the Sahana kitchen, Jamie and Jeff work their butts off on all of the food. Jamie is pleased that the lamb shank is defrosting quickly and gets it in to sear before handing off the prep to Jeff. Carla is having the same problem Fabio did—the freezer is not cold enough to set up her frozen yogurts. She also isn’t thrilled with the little chocolate cakes she’s making. She asks Radhika for an opinion, but Radhika just kind of mumbles something and walks away. Carla was clearly looking for an opinion and got nothing. Hmmm, sounds like those foreshadowing gnomes are at play again.
In the meantime, Fabio and Radhika got their respective places decorated and the serving staff comes in for direction. They apparently don’t take direction well and piss off both teams. Jamie is confident that Sahana is ready to go and Fabio says he’s going to be so charming that they could serve monkey ass in a clam shell and the team will win. Again, hmmm…maybe more foreshadowing!
The idea of eating all this food in one night makes my stomach hurt.
The judges arrive first at Sahana and service begins with a basket of whole wheat naan with garlic oil. Tom and Toby Young, showing their clear inexperience with Indian cuisine, wonder if it is French toast and want maple syrup. Douches, naan is awesome. At least Padma and Stephen like it.
The first course is served; the appetizers are curried carrot soup with smoked paprika oil and raita and a chickpea cake with seared scallop, masala tomato sauce and arugula salad. The soup is a hit, as is the chickpea cake. The diners like the scallops too. The second course is made of two entrees: white lentil tabouli, seared snapper, tomato water and pea shoots and a cinnamon and saffron braised lamb shank with Israeli couscous. The lamb is cooked well; Stephen likes the couscous but Toby thinks it tastes like dishwater. Maybe he should stop drinking dishwater and his opinions might carry some weight with me. I still blame him for that last bad Simon Pegg movie; curses on you, Toby Young! The snapper is okay but they don’t like the tomato water. Finally, the dessert course is due. Carla is not happy with the desserts at all and admits they are a hot mess. These desserts are a spiced chocolate cake with crème fromage and cashew brittle and fig and minted frozen yogurts with baklava cigars. The judges table doesn’t have the right silverware and the whole course is not well-received by the judges or the diners.
Radhika still has people coming in for tables but there’s no room for them. She flits back to the kitchen for a while and the judges notice she’s not on the floor. Jamie even comments how much time she spent in the kitchen. The judges get irked at her lack of attention and leave without saying goodbye.
The judges head over to Sunset Lounge’s service, where Fabio is greeting every table and laying on the accent. He seats the judges and they love his attention. The first course is the amuse bouche of a vegetable roll with mushrooms, carrots, cabbage and sweet chili sauce. The judges think it is second-rate and not any better than what you’d get from frozen egg rolls. Next is the appetizer course: tuna and salmon sashimi, radish salad and yuzu vinaigrette and coconut curry bisque with shrimp dumplings. The soup is okay and the fish is fresh, but in need of salt. The entrée course brings braised beef short ribs with ginger, vegetables, and beef demi-glace and seared black cod with fresh vegetables and Chinese cabbage. The short ribs are well cooked, but the cod is not—it is raw for the judges and the vegetables were not good. The judges send back the cod and don’t want another dish. Leah thinks she’s going home based on the undercooked fish. Finally, Stefan’s mystery desserts come out: chocolate rice parfait, grapefruit jelly and pineapple and lemongrass and ginger panna cotta, peach puree and ginger honey. The judges like the desserts and think it was probably the best course of all the meals. Stefan is clearly safe. For the final palate cleanser course are tiny frozen mango, bitter chocolate and mint lollipops. Of all the food served on this episode, that is the one thing I want to try. Fabio sees the judges off, unlike Radhika.
Radhika knows that she is clearly on the line, but Carla is also unhappy with the desserts and even the waiter told her the cake was bad. But on Team Sunset Lounge, the sashimi and cod did not get good reviews. The diners fill out their comment cards and the judges mull over the choices. Stephen would pick Sahana but loves Stefan’s desserts. Tom finds great things with Fabio’s service and, as Toby says, this is a restaurant challenge, so service is important.
No better time than now for a double elimination.
After service is over, the chefs congregate in the stew room where two things happen: Jeff displays magical powers of knowing what object, of about nine, a contestant has handled by feeling their psychic energy or maybe peeking when they picked up the object. The other thing that happens is that they all bitch about the shoddy equipment in the restaurant kitchens. Well, there probably was some drinking going on, but we’re not privy to that part of the wait.
Padma enters and calls the Sunset Lounge team in first. They ask Leah how she thought it went, and she merely cops to having some ups and downs. The judges break the news that, by ever so slight a margin, the diners preferred their restaurant to the other. It was Stefan’s desserts and Fabio’s hosting that put them over the top. However, Leah is admonished that her cod dish was the worse thing they had all evening, and had the team lost, she’d be out. Stephen, as the guest judge, announces Stefan as the winner of the challenge; he gets a suite of GE appliances, like the ones in the Top Chef Kitchen.
The Sunset Lounge chefs head back to the stew room and the Sahana folks go to face their fate. Radhika is asked what went wrong and she can’t really formulate a thought. It becomes clear that Jamie, Jeff and Carla each formulated their own dishes. Jamie says she felt good about the food she produced. Stephen admits he liked the food at Sahana more, but the desserts were awful. Carla admits her desserts were awful, but then launches into some rather long explanation that she just kept a smile on her face and sent out the dishes with love. And, oh, no Tom, don’t challenge her on that! The judges wonder why she didn’t tell Radhika that the yogurts weren’t frozen so she could change the description. Radhika tells the panel to send her home if the front of house job was a failure and admits she didn’t tell Carla to change the dessert. The judges tell her that the front of house service was sloppy—she didn’t follow up on the missing cutlery, she didn’t direct the chefs, and she wasn’t in the game on the front of house service. They admonish that, as a chef-owner, she has to be on top of everything and always assume everyone is going to screw up.
They’re dismissed and the judges mull over their decision. Jamie and Jeff are quickly determined to be safe, because their food was good. Radhika abdicated her responsibility but Carla, a pastry chef, didn’t do either dessert well and her “send out with love” theory is nonsensical.
Team Sahana is summonsed again before the judges. Tom recognizes the frustration that Jamie and Jeff both must feel, having performed well. He tells Radhika that every aspect of a restaurant should have the chef-owner backing it up, and she didn’t carry out her duties. Carla, Tom says, left the diners with a bad impression with her desserts. Padma then tells Radhika to pack her knives. Radhika is upset at being eliminated on a bad front of house performance in a cooking show, and in hindsight, would have made Jeff take that duty. She is, however, certain her friends and family will be proud of her for making it as far as she did and she’ll go back home having learned more. So long, Radhika…just remember to hire a good general manager if you ever do open a restaurant.
Come back next week when the “all stars” from seasons past show up for some kind of Superbowl/football challenge. Yipes, I can’t get away from football even by watching Bravo!