After tonight’s Top Chef, I’m convinced that all of the producers of this show must have been the youngest children in their families who all had older siblings with a bit of a mean streak. They undoubtedly were the victims of a big brother or sister who would break their toys after opening packages on Christmas morning and always take the last cupcake. Or maybe they’d were the kids that had their lunch trays knocked out of their hands in the cafeteria. In any event, instead of seeking therapy, they decided to pull the dirtiest trick this side of head shaving we’ve ever seen on this show. I’ve just two words for those producers: seek help.
With the elimination of Joey still fresh on their minds, the nine remaining chefs awake to greet their new day of challenges and out come the foreshadowing gnomes. Brian comments on Joey’s emotional departure and says he’ll be missed. Dale ponders aloud that his next trip to New York City will be a great one, where he can visit all of the folks he’s met from there, and notes that Sara N. is the last remaining New Yorker in the house. Howie, ever the sentimental one, says that he ended up forging a friendship with Joey, but, circumstances being what they are, he can only get so close to people because he’s there to compete.
Those pesky gnomes go back into their hiding spots, probably to steal socks or underwear, and the chefs head to the Top Chef Kitchen. They are greeted by a big spread of Cold Stone Creamery ice cream and toppings, Padma, and our guest chef, Govind Armstrong. He’s a cookbook author and the proprietor of Table 8 restaurants. Tre is excited because Govind is a prominent African American chef, of which, he notes, there are not that many. Padma then introduces the Elimination Challenge: the chefs will have forty-five minutes to prepare a toping to be mixed in with the Cold Stone basic ice cream. Govind’s advice is to speak from the heart and keep it simple.
Some people take the KISS advice seriously. Dale goes for a peach cobbler topping on the theory that peaches and cream are classic and the cobbler topping will give the dessert texture. Howie chooses to do something with berries and crisps some up using sugar and a torch, not unlike when making a crčme brulee. Hung, meanwhile, tosses the “simple” part out of the window and goes straight to “keep it stupid”: he brings out about ten different flavors and textures, including a cauliflower foam. Did he not see Marcel’s disastrous bacon and avocado ice cream thing last time?!?!
After the forty-five minutes are up and all mad dashing ceases, Govind and Padma make their rounds to taste the chefs’ offerings. Not everyone gets screen time in this Quick Fire, but what they do show is this: Tre has made a toping of candied hazelnut, raspberry ginger sauce, shiso (Japanese basil, FYI) and cherries; Hung of the many flavors had toppings that included candied pistachios, white chocolate, mint, gelee, tempura flakes, and cauliflower foam; Casey went with sriracha sauce, poblanos, dried apricots, and potato chips; Dale’s was the cobbler topping and flambéed peaches with candied pecans; and Howie made macerated mixed berries in balsamic vinegar, sea salt and sugar to brulee the fruits.
After some consideration—and no doubt some water on account of that sriracha—Govind announces that the bottom two are Hung and Casey. Hung’s ice cream topping had too much going on and the flavors did not fit together. Privately, Hung comments again that the judges just didn’t get it, dismissing their goal as being too simple and appealing to the common person. I just imagine Hung and Marcel staying in on their nights off, making exotic foams for each other, praising their ingenuity and lamenting how they are just misunderstood geniuses. Govind didn’t take to Casey’s use of the sriracha on ice cream; it is good on a lot of things, but ice cream is not one of them. (Y’all do know sriracha, right? It’s that spicy red chilie sauce in squeeze bottles with a picture of a chicken on it often found in Asian restaurants. It’s mega spicy and very good, but it kinda makes me gag at the thought of it with anything dairy.)
Govind has an even harder time picking a winner. He thought Dale’s was great because it had everything in it—great flavors and great texture. He also liked Howie’s, noting that the macerated and crispy berries worked well together and the salt brought out all the flavors. Ultimately, however, he picks Dale as the winner. Dale has immunity, but like CJ last week, is most thrilled at finally winning something. Oh, Dale, you don’t know how lucky you are…but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
False hope and empty promises.
The chefs await Padma’s announcement of the Elimination Challenge, but she instead tells them they are off the hook for now and they will be going out that night to experience Miami’s night life. The excitement is palpable; everyone wants to get out and see people other than their sorry selves. Back at the loft, Dale and Sara N. have a grand old time getting ready; they’ve become great friends, with Sara even calling Dale her new gay boyfriend. Of course, where there’s a party, there is a pooper, and that pooper is Howie. He said he “did the Miami club scene” in his youth and he is sooo over it. Tell us again Howie—you’re here why? Oh yeah, to win! Someone please take this dead horse away from the guys with the sticks in the editing booth.
Nine-thirty rolls around and everyone piles into a stretch limo. Hung is in first, followed by CJ, who is more than ready to get out and see real people. Drinks start flowing in the limo, and I hope they are going to the Rusty Anchor to run into Blanch, Dorothy and Rose (you know Sophia would be out with Burt Reynolds or something), but alas, they pull up in front of some place called Café Nikki. But before they can make their way in to the club, they see Padma and Govind, a table, a block of knives, and two mobile kitchen units and spirits drop as fast as the stock market on Black Tuesday. Sara N. feels like an idiot for being duped. She and Casey aren’t thrilled at being all dressed up in their cleavage-showing club clothes and heels and now made to cook. Sara M. doesn’t care one (w)hit about what she’s wearing and is ready to roll with the challenge.
Padma then states the obvious and tells them that they aren’t going out but are going to face their Elimination Challenge. The group will draw knives and be divided into two teams. They will then have to prepare a menu for drunken club-goers to sample after a night of partying on South Beach. They will have thirty minutes to shop, $300 to spend, and one and a half hours to cook. Dale really does get the night off and will have a lovely four course meal with Govind at his Miami Table 8; needless to say, Dale is thrilled and everyone else is insanely jealous and really pissed off.
The chefs draw knives and the teams are chosen: Brian, Tre, Hung, and Sara M. are on the Black Team while CJ, Sara N., Howie, and Casey are on the Orange Team. Brian, somehow the de facto leader, laughs and laughs that CJ—also a de facto leader—has a mess on his hands with Howie and Sara N. CJ comments that he likes Sara N., though she is kind of slow a prep work, and CJ and Sara N. both worry about Howie’s presence on the team, since he is always on the losing team.
Creating food to impress drunk people shouldn’t be this difficult.
Before heading to shop, the two teams get fifteen minutes to scope out their mobile kitchens. The Black Team works well together from the get-go. Brian decides to do a cold bar out on the front of the truck and be the guy who keeps the energy going with the crowd. They divide the interior into work stations and hash out what each will make that will suit their work stations. The most debate is between making fries or onion rings, and that’s quickly settled. Over on the Orange Team, things are far more dire. Howie launches into his list of potential dishes, which CJ feels he must at least hear out since Howie has fed the Miami drunk crowd before, but Howie won’t yield to anyone else’s suggestions. Sara N. tries feebly to make herself heard, but she’s so perturbed at the whole situation, she doesn’t put up much of a fight.
Off to the Fresh Market they go, which has been opened special for the cast. The Orange Team is disorganized, scattered, and approaches shopping in a mad-dash sort of way. Casey and CJ both worry that they are going to forget something. CJ works at calming everyone, especially Howie, relying on his professional volleyball team experience. Perhaps he should have tried to spike Howie’s head. The Orange Team finally does gather their ingredients for their menu which consists of: Howie’s Cuban sandwiches with fried plantain chips; Sara N.’s sliders and milkshakes; Casey’s quesadillas and chocolate covered bananas; and CJ’s ceviche tacos and café con leche. Please, please, please, people, lay off the ceviche! I don’t think we’ve seen an episode without ceviche yet this season. This is “Top Chef” not “Top Chefs Who Only Make Ceviche And Forget That Sam Lost Because He Made Ceviche Which Tom Deemed To Not Really Be Cooking.”
Over on the Black Team, things are much more organized and everyone double checks their lists and gets what they need to make their menu. They are serving: Hung’s Teriyaki chicken wings and onion rings; Sara M.’s jerked steak soft tacos; Tre’s bacon-wrapped shrimp with cheesy grits; and Brian’s raw bar with oysters on the half-shell with a watermelon mignonette and ceviche and hot chocolate. Someone shoot me now…more ceviche!
The chefs turn up back at the mobile kitchens at about midnight. The Orange Team unpacks quickly and takes up their stations. Brian is doing all of the raw bar prep work outside the unit because the raw bar is actually on the front of the truck and it frees up more space inside the kitchen. On the Black Team, CJ takes over knife duties chopping the seafood for the ceviche because he doesn’t trust anyone else with a knife in that small of a space. While these eight are getting busy with the cooking, Dale is having a lovely four course dinner with Govind. I kind of wonder what they talked about and if Dale dished the dirt on his fellow contestants, but we don’t get to see any of that.
About quarter to one, Tom rolls in to see what’s shaking. He first stops by the Black Team’s set up and has a short conversation with Brian out in front of the truck and asks a bit about the raw bar. Brian says he’s out there to not only serve the food but keep the party going when the crowd arrives. Inside, Tom observes everyone diligently working on their dishes and doesn’t say all that much. Visiting the Orange Team, Tom gets the scoop from CJ who says they are doing typical fried drunkard food and notes that Howie pitched in ideas since he’s worked clubs in Miami before. Howie says they have enough food for about 150 to 200 people. After visiting both teams, Tom wonders how well a raw bar will go over with a bunch of drunk people and thinks that the Orange Team has a good menu but a high risk of explosion in the person of Howie.
Time ticks down and there are minor controversies here and there. Sara N. has finished the prep for her burgers/sliders and goes to make the milkshakes. She asks where the ice is and Howie wants to know why she needs ice. Thus begins the great milkshake controversy: Sara puts ice in hers, Howie says add only milk. Sara bucks Howie’s instruction and goes for the ice. Later on she has even more trouble when she misplaces the lid to the blender; Sara N. is not having a good night.
Brian, meanwhile, appears to have had about 150 mg of caffeine jabbed in a vein, as he’s bouncing off the wall even before the nightclubbers arrive. CJ can hear him in his truck kitchen and becomes quite annoyed with Brian. CJ also worries that they aren’t as prepared as they should be by the end of the cooking time.
The crowds begin to stream in and go for the food. Brian really kicks into high-gear and entertains as well as serves food. The Black Team is getting food out fast and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. CJ is daunted and/or perturbed by Brian’s energy level; he tries to raise the level of enthusiasm at his kitchen unit, but he just doesn’t have it down.
The judges start making their rounds to check out the food. Tom visits the Orange Team’s truck and CJ hands him a tiny cup of the café con leche, of which Tom takes one sip and puts the cup down. He wants to try other foods, and CJ calls in through the serving window that Tom is there waiting for food, but nothing comes out. This leaves CJ to make awkward small talk with Tom, who notes that the Black Team’s area is much more rockin’. CJ glibly says that Hung is the loudest person he’s ever met and Brian is the most annoying person he’s ever met, so it’s no surprise. CJ tries to pass off his dead crowd as an atmosphere of hugs rather than energy. Maybe they should have made some “special” brownies, then. CJ calls into the truck for food again, and eventually one of Sara N.’s sliders/burgers comes out. Ted arrives on the Orange Team scene (Woo-hoo, Ted Allen!!!!) and he gets a slider as well. Padma also visits the Orange Team and has a faster time of sampling the food. She tastes CJ’s ceviche taco, taking one bite and quickly putting it down. She next samples Casey’s quesadilla, which she really likes. Finally, she bites into Howie’s Cuban sandwich that is sporting a whole lot of thick bread. As the guy in the crowd later points out, Howie used the wrong kind of bread, and, being from Miami, he ought to know better.
Over at the Black Team’s truck, Govind arrives to first sample the oyster and ceviche taco. He gets a full tasting, including Sara M.’s jerked beef taco and Hung’s wing and ring combo. People are calling for Tre’s cheesy grits and shrimp which actually do look good. I generally hate grits, but several years back I had some killer spicy cheesy grits with shrimp at a posh New Orleans restaurant which I absolutely loved. Tre’s dish, even on the paper plate, looked a whole lot like that and nothing like the lunch lady line of grits or that stuff in packets you add water to. Ted also visits the Orange Team and has a good time. The crowd then dwindles down and the few comments we get from the cubbers are positive, save for that whole Howie’s got the wrong bread thing. Dale shows back up and the two Saras are worries—N., like Han Solo, has a bad feeling about this, and M. thinks anyone could go, except for Dale.
Grits worthy of being kissed.
At the Judges’ Table, Padma calls for the favorites. Tom thought the Black Team did the best, saying Brian handled the crowd well and the service was fast. He didn’t like having to wait around at the Orange Team’s truck at all. Govind and Ted loved Tre’s grits and shrimp, with Ted noting that bacon-wrapped anything is pure heaven. Tom says he really liked Brian’s ceviche, and Ted, as though hearing my agony, asks how anyone could really screw up a ceviche, as it’s so basic. Ted liked Hung’s onion rings, and while Tom didn’t like Hung’s chicken, both Padma and Govind did.
As for the Orange Team, service issues aside, they all liked Casey’s quesadilla with the roasted tomatillo salsa. Tom was the only one to sample Sara N.’s milkshake, and he was adamant that it did not bring all the boys to the yard. While Tom did like Sara N.’s slider/burger, Govind and Ted did not. They were all perplexed at Howie’s take on the Cuban sandwich, noting it was all wrong.
After this discussion, Padma retrieves the Black Team from the waiting area and, once in front of the judges, tells them that they are the winning team. Tom is all-around complimentary, saying their menu was well-seasoned and accessible to the audience. When asked how they felt when they realized that there was no partying to be done, Brian said he wanted to bring the party to the mobile kitchen. He then explained how they divided up the workspace and decided the menu according to station. Ted again fawned over Tre’s bacon-wrapped shrimp and grits, and, when called to do so, Govind awards Tre the win for the night. In addition to winning the challenge, Tre got a copy of Govind’s book and a platinum card to all of the Café Nikkis in the world. Tre is thrilled with the win and is pleased he took the lead for the night and represented the South with his grits.
How many times can the word “ass” be on t.v. within 4 minutes?
With the winner crowned, the time arrives for the booting of the night’s weakest chef. The Orange Team arrives on the scene to the standard ominous gong music, and Padma asks the bottom four how they felt about not actually going out to a Miami club. Casey said she felt terrible being dressed up in a kind of sexy outfit and going into the kitchen, noting that she doesn’t ever let her staff see her like that in her kitchen. Sara N. took it further, saying she was demoralized and felt stupid with the low cut blouse and the high heels running around the grocery store. Casey talks about making the quesadilla and working as the kitchen expediter, which seems like a bad thing to admit to on a team criticized for slow service. The judges then ask Howie about his “Cuban” sandwiches, and he tries to explain that he had no sandwich press and only used a sheet pan. No one asks him why the lack of a sandwich press was not noted when they had the chance to peruse the truck before going to the grocery store, but they should have. Govind asks Sara N. what she did; she admits to the burgers, which Govind says were seasoned but lacked salt—a cardinal sin in the burger world.
At this point, Howie sees a crack in Sara N.’s veneer and tries to make the crack a huge hole to swim out of the trouble he’s obviously in. He attacks Sara N., saying she did not pull her weight and only made a few burgers at a time. Casey wonders why she’s just now hearing about this and Sara N. says no one said anything to her at the time. Sara N., sick of being crapped on by Howie, says that Howie was unyielding and failed to listen to anyone else’s ideas, especially hers, about other menu choices. Tom asks her why she didn’t just do her own thing and get the groceries to make what she wanted. She says that, in her experience working under chefs like Howie, it doesn’t matter how much you argue, you’re still going to lose. Right there is the problem that no one points out: Sara N. wasn’t working under Howie at all. Howie flies further off the handle, calling Sara N. the baby of the house for whom everyone else has to do everything. CJ interjects that Howie’s criticism is extreme and Sara N. tells him that he’s said enough. The judges roll their eyes and look embarrassed for the lot of them, and, thankfully, send them away while they deliberate further.
Unfortunately, the cameras also depart with the Orange Team back to the waiting room, where the fight continues. Sara N. is upset and crying, saying that Howie is an ass. He says he didn’t mean to be an ass and if he came across as one, he apologizes. But the apology is clearly not meant and others pile on Howie, calling him out for his rude behavior. Sara N. counters that Howie is becoming a bigger ass each day. While all this goes on, my attention is drawn to Tre, who is just sitting back, relaxing, and trying not to let any of this harm his good mood.
The judges, meanwhile, continue to deliberate. Ted at first takes up for Sara N., pointing out that no one mentioned to her that her service speed was off. Padma notes that Casey, as an expediter, should have noticed the problem and stepped in. Padma also didn’t like Casey’s chocolate covered banana. Tom thinks CJ should have done a better job of pulling the team together but it was like he just gave up. Tom further notes that, while Sara N.’s slider was okay, the milkshake was abysmal. The judges all hated the doughy mess that was Howie and/or Howie’s “Cuban” sandwich and Ted concludes that Howie will say anything to save himself.
The Orange Team is called back in for the final decision. Tom goes down the list as usual and first tells them all that not going out clubbing should not have thrown them that far off the game. He criticizes Casey for being oblivious to her teammates, CJ for not pulling the team together, Sara N. for not really being in the challenge and for cooking slowly, and Howie for being bad news on all the teams he’s been on. He tells Sara N. and Howie that there are good reasons for them both being on the bottom of the challenge, and for one brief shining moment, I think they’re both going to be packing up. But, before I can really complete the fantasy, Padma tells Sara N. to pack her knives and go.
Howie, the artful bus-thrower-under, survives the challenge to try to exceed his already high levels of assiness. Sara N. is upset but notes that she is young and was competing against people ten years older than her. Apparently being young is only handy when looking for an excuse for losing. She also thinks she was too nice and not cut-throat enough; she just needs to build up strength to use Joey’s method of throwing people off the balcony.
Next week the remaining eight will partake in the traditional Restaurant Wars challenge, where Bravo shows Fox how it’s done.