While most everyone in the U.S. is embracing their own inner Top Chef and busting out some Thanksgiving meals, the actual Top Chef contenders already did this some time ago. In fact, it was back in July, according to the Foo Fighters’ tour schedule, so these folks got to cooking turkey even before Canadian Thanksgiving. Personally, I don’t think I could fake it getting all turkey-loving in the middle of the summer, but that’s probably yet another reason I should never go on this show. That and it took me over two hours to make one pie…and every bowl, utensil, and oven in the house.
Curve balls, anyone?
The day of the Quick Fire dawns and Fabio is on Cloud Nine for having won the last Elimination Challenge. Ariane knows her nerves are getting the better of her and she really has to redeem herself in the next challenge. Richard shares some insights to the other contestants; he calls Jeff “Don Johnson” (which may be a slap to Jeff or Don Johnson, depending how you look at it), and comments on Leah’s “nice rack.” Richard is working hard to get me to dislike him.
Off to the Top Chef Kitchen for the QF the chefs go, and there they are met by Padma and guest judge Grant Achatz; Grant is a famous molecular gastronomist and one of those slight, nerdy guys that always seem really attractive to me. (Note to self: seek therapy!) Anyway, Padma makes it clear that this episode will revolve around Thanksgiving and then the chefs draw knives. The knives have random numbers on the blades and it isn’t really clear what is going on. Padma then reveals that the numbers correspond to pages in the new Top Chef cookbook. (Way to get in that product placement…Jack Donaghy would be proud!) Padma tells the chefs that they will have to recreate the dishes on the book’s pages…dishes that were previously created by other TC contestants. They can use whatever is in the pantry and have an hour to do it.
So everyone is kinda whining about their allotted recipes, running about gathering ingredients, and trying to get it done on time. Well before time ends, Padma tells them to stop. She and Grant have changed their minds and now want soup…soup, beautiful soup. The contestants now have to make a soup with whatever they’ve chosen as their ingredients. There is also a plethora of Swanson broth and stock because there will be only 50 minutes to finish the soup. No one can make broth in 50 minutes, obviously. Leah grouses at being saddled with white asparagus because she loathes the veggie. Carla isn’t worried because she is, so she says, like MacGuyver in the kitchen, only her secret ingredient is love, not a wad of chewed gum.
Time is called and the tasting begins. Stefan made a Thai green curry bisque with shrimp and scallop dumplings. Grant liked the broth of the soup. Ariane made a diced lamb, eggplant, red pepper and couscous soup. Grant thought it was overcooked. Daniel prepared a ham and egg soup with sautéed mushrooms, corn and cheese. Padma never had ham and egg soup but she likes it; Grant thought it is a good compliment to the original recipe. Richard made a black bean and roasted pasilla pepper soup with rice. Grant thought it needed acid, but Richard ran out of time and didn’t get to adding in the lime juice he’d intended. Melissa made a version of Italian Wedding Soup with black truffles, parmesan, linguini and chicken. Grant didn’t like it and I, as a connoisseur of fine Italian Wedding Soups, thought it looked a mess. Fabio made a mushroom and asparagus soup with seared trout and salmon belly. Grant found the flavor flat and I found the term “salmon belly” to be, at best, off-putting. Carla made a shrimp, tomato and coriander soup with cucumber and avocado salad. Grant and Padma liked it very much. Leah prepared a chilled white asparagus soup with brioche, tuna and tapenade. Grant liked it and is impressed with the use of white asparagus. Finally, Jamie made a chickpea soup with pickled chilies, yogurt and crispy shallots. Grant liked it and Padma agreed.
Considering the curve ball thrown at them, a few did well: Jamie, Leah, and Daniel were called out as favorites. Leah wins the challenge and gets immunity. No one is called out as the bottom three in this EC.
Thanksgiving with the Foo Fighters.
The big Elimination Challenge involves preparing a Thanksgiving feast for the Foo Fighters, sixty of their closest roadies (eighteen of whom are vegetarian), before their next gig up in Rochester. The chefs will be divided into two teams; the team that prevails will get to see the show and the losers will have to do the dishes. Me, I’d strive to loose because doing dishes is preferable to hearing the Foo Fighters. Seriously, that band just makes me miss Nirvana and get all sad. The Foos have also provided a rider with stuff they like to eat; their tastes involve bacon and frozen, chocolate-covered bananas. Clearly someone at NBC Universal wasn’t thinking things through: frozen bananas are a Fox property.
As Leah won the QF, she gets to pick her team; she chooses Jamie, Hosea, Stefan, Fabio, Radhika and Melissa of the extreme bangs. They will be now known as “Team Sexy Pants” or just “Pants” if I get lazy. That leaves Jeff, Daniel, Eugene, Richard, Ariane, Alex and Carla as “Team Cougar”; they adopt that name because Ariane is allegedly a cougar. Well, I guess it could have been worse…it could have been “Team MILF.”
Before the crew heads to the grocery store, they get a gander at the service venue and the “kitchen” they will be using. As it turns out, they will be cooking outside with one burner per team and a bank of toaster and microwave ovens. All, of course, are GE products. If that doesn’t get Don Geiss out of his coma, nothing will. Oh, one other thing—there are no refrigerators or freezers. This isn’t going to be easy, especially since it is really July.
The teams head to the grocery store and try to figure out how to cook turkeys in toaster ovens. Jeff organizes the Cougars and they have a methodology to their shopping. Sexy Pants is all over the place, but, at the end of the shopping hour, both teams have spent their $1200.
Back at the venue, the teams try to make the “kitchens” work. Eugene has had the rather brilliant idea of getting some charcoal and builds a grill to cook pork roast. Jeff thinks he has to really step up to account for some of his teammates’ lack of ability. Richard takes the hit and decides to do dessert, even though that isn’t his specialty. Everyone is on Ariane, who is assigned the turkeys, to make sure she’s actually getting them in the ovens on time. The Cougar’s menu consists of turkey, stuffing, roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, pork roast, macaroni & cheese, pumpkin parfait, peach cobbler, and banana s’mores.
The Sexy Pants’ menu also has turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes. They’re also doing gravy, side salad, pumpkin tiramisu, and a fruit crisp. Stefan acts bossy, Jamie resents it, and everyone cooks like mad in the two hours they’re allotted.
Another curve ball comes in that it starts raining and some dudes are dispatched to put up tents around the chefs. Plus, they have to get the food back inside the venue to the serving tables before time is called, so the food is put on big carts and run inside. They all get the food on the table, as Eugene says, by the skin of their asses. Ewww…not an image I like when I’m thinking about dinner.
Seriously, was Courtney Love not available? That would have been hil…wait for it…arious!
Food service begins with the judges and the Foo Fighters arriving at Team Cougar’s service table. Richard totally crushes on Tom and his “bear-like” qualities to a point where Tom may just want to consider taking out a restraining order. They serve up Daniel’s roasted potatoes; Jeff’s spoon bread with figs, cranberries, walnuts and onions; Alex’s mac & cheese with bacon topping; Ariane’s turkey and gravy; and Eugene’s pork loin. The stuffing isn’t a hit, the mac & cheese with bacon is a success, the roasted potatoes aren’t cooked the whole way, and Eugene’s smoked pork and Ariane’s turkey are winners.
The Foos and judges decide to have a pass at Sexy Pants’ main dishes and then have a dessert-off at the end. Leah serves turkey and gravy and Jamie dishes out Radhika’s vegan cornbread stuffing. They also serve yams with marshmallows and a roasted corn salad not made by Fabio. The vegan stuffing is a clear hit; the yams are too because of the marshmallows. (Seriously, if marshmallows on yams make Dave Grohl happy, then he has no business on this show.) The turkey isn’t as good as the Cougars though.
And it’s off for desserts…Sexy Pants serve Fabio’s roasted pumpkin tiramisu and Hosea’s peach and blueberry crisp. The Cougars serve Carla’s peach and cherry cobbler, Jeff’s pumpkin mousse and fruit parfait, and Richard’s banana s’more. Overall, Sexy Pants wins the dessert challenge, hands-down. The tiramisu is awesome, especially since Fabio used the pumpkin. However, Jeff’s pumpkin mousse isn’t so hot and Richard’s s’more has issues—the cream on top comes across as spit and is just not what was expected.
As for picking the winning team, the judging group liked the Cougar’s turkey better but Sexy Pants did the awesome vegan stuffing and had better desserts. After the teams have a few moments of anguish, the Foo Fighters decide to invite the Pants to see the show. Richard doesn’t know why they lost and only hopes that no one resorts to the “under the bus” throw. Good god, I wish they’d retire that phrase already! It should be immediate elimination for someone who uses that tired saying.
Contemplation of the essence of a s’more…or, why you should stay in the Girl Scouts beyond the Brownie years.
Team Sexy Pants heads off to see the Foo Fighters and dance awkwardly, much like the cast of Friends did when they fake-went to that Hootie show back about a bazillion years ago. The Cougars stay behind and clean up the mess, all the while hearing an echo of the show from the adjacent venue. After the show, the entire group heads to the stew room to await their fate. Predictably, the Cougars are summoned to see the judges and defend their dishes.
Jeff starts off by defending the team as a whole: they faced a lot of adversity and pulled out some good dishes. Tom counters that the other team had the same adversity and Jeff has said nothing to set them apart. When asked if there was a leader, Alex volunteers that Jeff was the de facto leader and organized the team. Richard goes on to say that it wasn’t organization that failed them but execution of the dishes. Jeff pipes up again and says that his team was a good team and everyone has a lot of heart. Tom tells them that the competition with the other team was very close and the Pants group didn’t have a run-away success.
Gail congratulates Ariane on her turkey; Grant compliments it as well. Tom says Jeff’s spoon bread was cooked too long. Gail says that Daniel’s potatoes were undercooked; he calls them “al dente” which causes Tom to cringe dramatically. Tom then says the desserts are what really sent the Cougars down the tubes. Carla admits her crust on the cobbler wasn’t perfect and the dried cherries may have made it a bit too sweet. Gail didn’t get the pumpkin mousse and the berries. Grant says the s’mores were terrible because it didn’t have the necessary burnt sugar and gooey-ness required so the concept failed as a whole. Richard tries to defend the dish, saying the focus was on the chocolate and banana, due to the Foo’s rider. Gail calls him out on the weak vanilla cream on top that ended up looking like spit.
The Cougars are sent away while the judges debate. Grant thinks it comes down to Carla, Jeff and Richard for the desserts but Tom won’t let Daniel’s sad potatoes go. They conclude Carla’s dessert was the least offensive of the three and Jeff showed natural leadership skills but took on more than he could handle. Grant echoes his earlier sentiment that the s’more was the worst thing put out by the Cougars.
The Cougars are called back in, but not before Daniel gets on Jamie’s last nerve in the stew room because he dripped peanut butter all over the floor. Tom tells the Cougars that the high points of their team were Eugene’s pork roast and Ariane’s turkey. Alex and Carla are also safe. Those four leave so it is just Jeff, Daniel, and Richard remaining before the judges. Tom says that Daniel undercooked the potatoes, Jeff bit off more than he could chew, and Richard’s s’more was disappointing. Padma then sends Richard packing. The guy breaks down crying in his exit interview. He says he has been trying to get on the show for the past three seasons. He is sure his family will continue to support him and he’s going to keep learning. Sounds like he should have learned not to be so creepy-stalker-y with Tom.