Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to mourn the loss of something precious to Top Chef this season: a sense of humor. All of the remaining chefs are either neurotic, cranky, or both. Where oh where is Anthony Bourdain to smack some sense into these lost causes?
Laurine is gone, the latest casualty of the long, grueling Top Chef Restaurant Wars. Jennifer was saved, but Isaac Mizrahi could have walked onto the set and told her that she was “hanging by a thread.” As we check in on the chefs the next morning, Jen is still kicking herself, and Robin is still smiling for no real reason.
Quickfire: No Flipping!
The cranky cooks make their way to the M resort, and are greeted in the Top Chef kitchen by Padma (not Padme, that comes later) and guest judge for this Quickfire challenge Paul Bartolotta, who is a chef and owner of some Vegas restaurant with an Italian name even longer than his own. Mike I. lets us know that we should bow down before Chef Paul as a pioneer of Italian cuisine and Vegas entrepreneurial savvy. I like him because he looks like a cross between Elvis Costello and Drew Carey, plus he says funny things.
This week’s unlikely recipient of a product plug is TV Guide magazine, which is sponsoring the Quickfire by providing the names of seven iconic TV shows for the chefs to choose from as the inspiration for their dishes, which will be fine-dining updates on a classic TV dinner. They draw knives with the names of shows like The Sopranos, Gilligan’s Island, The Flintstones, Sesame Street, and Jon & Kate Plus Eight (Ha! I was just checking to see if you were awake!). With 60 minutes (no pun intended, probably) on the clock, the chefs scramble for ingredients and set to work.
All the alpha chefs grab the good proteins while Robin, who drew Sesame Street, starts working on a chocolate ganache and telling us that she grew up in a TV-free environment, so she’s flying semi-blind on this challenge. Michael V tries to sell us the Voltaggio Family Hard Luck Story, mainly that when they were little, Momma would always sit them down at 5:30 every night to a nourishing meal. But after their parents divorced, the sons went to live with their father, where they were mercilessly abused with occasional TV dinners. So basically, every gourmet dish they prepare is another kick to their father’s groin. Suddenly, a lot of moments from this season are starting to make sense…
Jen tries to give us her thesis on cooking with The Flintstones as one’s inspiration as she continues to run into walls. Eli tries to grab some camera time by asking Mike I. (in a forced, unnatural manner) what kinds of foods he likes to eat while watching TV. Mike basically blows him off, and it’s back to cooking. Bryan tells us in his usual monotone fashion that since he drew M*A*S*H, he is making the quintessential patriotic American meal of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and apple pie. Ferret-faced Frank Burns would be proud.
Kevin starts extolling the virtues of family and grandmothers, when whoa! It’s time for Jen to have her weekly meltdown and tell us that her food isn’t coming together! She’s getting to be like a Swiss watch, or at least one that’s fallen down the face of an alp. Time runs out, and (aw, cute!) the judges set themselves down on a pop-art couch with TV trays in order to be served.
Jen/The Flintstones: Chicken roulade with garlic cream, pea salad, stuffing and caramelized peaches
Mike I/Seinfeld (which he’s never seen): Sausage & peppers, mushrooms & cheese, warm fruit salad with toasted pine nuts (a fave of Chef Tortorellatata…whatever)
Kevin/The Sopranos: Braised meatballs with polenta, roasted cauliflower and a roasted pear
Eli/Gilligan’s Island: Macadamia nut shrimp with sweet potato purée, herb salad, and cherries & bananas
Michael V/Cheers: Chicken parmesan with braised Swiss chard and cherry pie
Robin/Sesame Street: Burger with egg (Muppet eyes), crispy kale, carrot salad and an almond laced cookie (as in monster)
Bryan/M*A*S*H: Meatloaf, mashed potato, asparagus and an apple tartee tatin (pie)
Padma and Paul are ready to decide who is “ready for cancellation” (oy, my gut): Jennifer’s dish was as big a bomb as she warned us it would be. Also, Robin’s sunny day is swept away by the clouds of a dry burger and pedestrian flavors. Those who “have a chance to go into syndication” (shoot me, please) are Kevin, with his authentic Italian concept and perfect pears, and Bryan, whose dish caused both judges to emit “mmm”s while tasting it. Paul picks Kevin as the winner, which pleases me, since it means a Voltaggio once again has to eat it. Because immunity is off the table for the rest of the season, Kevin’s prize is that his dish will be included in a new line of Top Chef frozen foods being sold by Schwan's. Look for it wherever Andy Cohen is standing and pointing.
Elimination: Untie Jar Jar from the Rotisserie
Padma informs the chefs that for their elimination challenge, they will take over Tom Colicchio’s CraftSteak restaurant at the MGM Grand Resort & Casino. It will take place tomorrow, and all they know for now is that they will create a menu to serve the four judges, plus seven other special guests.
The next morning, it’s Groggy Chef Time™ once again, as Jen tells us how tired and off-her-game she is (in case we didn’t get it the first hundred times). Meanwhile, Robin, the only other female left, attempts friendly banter with her sister chef. Jen seems to barely acknowledge her presence. Somewhere in the world, Helen Reddy is weeping.
Meanwhile, the manly men are all contemplating which juicy cuts of meat they are going to cook in Tom’s kitchen. Beef, lamb, pork…they salivate as they make lists. Soon all the chefs gather and head down the Strip to the MGM Grand. Once they enter the CraftSteak kitchen, they all run to the coolers to scope out all the succulent proteins. Tom interrupts their carnivorous orgy so that he can introduce them to the special guest judge this week: saucer-eyed actress and yogurt-crunchy activist Natalie Portman! Apparently, after guest-judging a challenge on Project Runway last year, our girl has developed a real taste for reality TV.
Reason #28 Why I’m So Over Eli: His comment about meeting the Oscar-nominated actress: “The only important thing she’s done is Star Wars, which is the most important thing you can do.” Yeah, it can be seen as cute, but I’m tired of him trying so hard to be funny on camera. It’s not your job, dude. Your job is to shut up and cook better.
Of course, Natalie has a bomb to drop on the chefs, who have just been up to their nipples in chilly animal carcasses: she’s a vegetarian! Predictably, all the “cool” chefs greet this news with anger and panic, while Robin is overly thrilled and can’t wait to start.
The meat-mourners run back to the coolers, this time to think fast and grab some vegetation that can pass as protein on a plate. Eli and Jen both want the eggplants, so they flip for them, and Eli wins. Jen gets to complain and panic again. Meanwhile, Mike I. displays his increasingly baseless bravado for us, claiming he has no worries for this challenge, just as he has had no worries for all those other challenges that landed him in the bottom three. Kevin then methodically explains to us what is easy and hard about this challenge as if we should be taking notes, bless ‘im.
All the weeks of season 6 are starting to blur into one for me…hey, there’s Robin spinning in circles in the cooler, unable to decide what ingredients to pick or how to cook them! She’s right on schedule. Mike I. claims to have an edge by having a vegan mom. Eli makes some bad jokes about vegetarians because they are not like him. Soon Michael extols his own artistry in the kitchen, and begins to analyze his ingredients like a CSI detective while snapping at others. Then, Mike I. discovers the first thing he did wrong that will screw his dish. Then, Jen lets us know once more what is making her unhappy. Is this a rerun? Oh wait! Bryan just chuckled! That’s definitely a first.
Mike I. continues to explain everything that’s wrong with his dish and his process, and caps it by smiling and saying it will all be great. Time is running out, and Robin, who will serve first, is racing around trying to get her garbanzo beans onto all her plates, and fails to get them on three of the plates as the clock beeps zero. The crunching commences:
Robin: Stuffed squash blossom, beet carpaccio (get it?), garbanzo beans (mostly) and chermoula – Tom is one of the patrons who had to borrow some beans from a neighbor
Eli: Confit of eggplant, lentils, garlic purée and radish salad and wild herbs – Chef Tortorugulalabama bit into a whole lavender blossom, and remarked that it was like being “in Provence, sucking on a bar of soap.” See Eli? There are pros here, leave the jokes to them!
We see Michael rushing around, burning pistachios while simultaneously asking for help and pushing people away. He wants us to know that he hopes the other chefs know how serious his intention is to be Top Chef. (The constant lack of smiling was probably their first clue, kid.)
Michael: Asparagus salad with Japanese tomato and banana polenta – Natalie finally registers some excitement, while her female friends giggle and call him Picasso, although Gail has some nitpicks.
Jen: Charred baby eggplant with braised fennel, tomatoes and ‘verjus nage’ – that means sauce, which Jen adds to each plate at the table; unfortunately her hands shook the whole time and more sauce got on the patrons than the plates.
Mike I: Whole roasted leeks with onion jus, baby carrot purée and fingerling potatoes – the dish gets compliments for its colorful display; if the judges had stopped after merely looking at the dish, Mike wouldn't have been in trouble...but they didn't, and he is.
Bryan: Barigoule of artichoke with confit of shallot, wild asparagus and fennel purée – there was supposed to be more, but Bryan didn’t get all his ingredients plated in time…
Exchange of the night: While tasting Bryan’s dish, Padma remarks that the garlic puff’s strong flavor was “like a little prick in my mouth.” After the giggles die down around the table, Padma continues to attempt to describe how the tiny components felt big in her mouth. Tom takes the ball from here and sums up the complete joke, and one of Natalie’s refined lady friends lands the punchline: “That’s what’s usually happens!” Laughter, applause, and scene.
Kevin: Duo of mushrooms with smoked kale, candied garlic and turnip purée – finally, a chef serves a dish that could be mistaken in the dark for an entrée! Natalie calls it “a manly vegetarian meal.”
Dinner is over, and all the chefs fret as they clean up and await their fate. Mike I. faces the camera one more time to say he’s not worried, and Jen follows right behind to say that she is worried. Mercy sakes, can these jamokes think of anything else to say?
This week’s Quickie finds the chefs visiting Chef Paul Bartolomapoloboppolo’s self-named restaurant at the Wynn Resort, where one can choose from 40-50 kinds of seafood. As the chefs sample dozens of dishes, stories are exchanged about huge amounts of food they’ve eaten in one sitting. The chefs agree that it’s one of the best meals they’ve ever eaten.
Judges’ Table: And That Is Why You Fail.
In the stew room, the chefs drink a red wine called Quickfire as the judges put their heads together. Padma enters ands asks to see Kevin, Michael V, and a surprised and tickled Eli.
Tom figured that Michael’s crazy dish wouldn’t work, and was shocked at how it did. Natalie was still laughing at the perverse, perplexing pleasure it gave her. Gail compliments the visual beauty of Eli’s eggplant dish, and Tom adds that it was fun to eat, too. Natalie piles on the superlatives to describe Kevin’s dish, and as the others agree, Natalie announces that the winner is in fact Kevin. This time, Kevin wins the suite of GE appliances from the Top Chef kitchen, duct tape not included.
As Kevin takes his victory stroll back to the stew room, a comment from Michael is inserted that will endear him to fans even more: he claims he could have made Kevin’s supposedly student-level dish in 20 minutes, so he’s pissed. Last week, Michael was a sore winner. This week, our petty Picasso covers all his bases by being a sore loser, too. Apparently Kanye West wasn’t available to run into the kitchen and take the ladle away from Kevin.
Back in the sour stew room, Eli tells Robin, Jen and Mike to take a hike. They file into the kitchen, and Natalie starts in on Mike’s lack of a real protein in his dish. He wanted them to pretend that the leek was a protein, and he listed all the excuses he could come up with for why his dish sucked. Tom presses a little further, and Mike shrinks into his own navel with a caustic “whatever whatever”, which causes Tom’s eyebrows to achieve a new high jump record.
Without being asked a question by anyone, Robin begins her own grilling by babbling nonstop for a full minute about her philosophy regarding protein in vegetarian cuisine, and what steps she takes to please her guests, and the babble segues seamlessly into all the mistakes she made with her dish in spite of herself. Having covered everything, the judges don’t need to speak her further, so they move on to Jen. Tom says he didn’t see 2 hours of cooking on the plate he was served. It was less than an entrée, and Padma can’t help but mention how they ended up wearing more sauce than they tasted. Jen laughs and basically thanks them for having her on the show, as if her fate has been already decided. Cue another one of Tom’s classic double-takes. With that, the lost cooks crawl back into the stew room, where Mike tosses out a few more whatever’s for good measure.
At judges’ table, the blissfully Toby-free panel is still reeling from Jen’s fatalist attitude, and Mike’s arrogance in the face of utter failure. Robin’s problem was that she is scatter-brained. (This just in, the sky is blue and grass is green!)
Finally, the chefs return, and after a rehash of all things wrong in the Top Chef universe, Padma turns her saucer eyes to Mike and tells him to pack his knives, or better yet, fall on them! (OK it was me who thought that; Padma sent him off with the usual catchphrase.) Mike’s exit speech is full of cracks about Robin, like how she should have gone because he’s better and she’s a girl. Whatever, whatever. And with that, one more chef with an ugly attitude is cut off at the knees. Unfortunately there’s still no shortage of them left in this cast…
Next time, Michael is still a jerk to Robin! Also, Toby returns, and comments that one chef (apparently male) has failed miserably. Will Robin inexplicably survive yet again?
That episode will probably air in two weeks, as next week Bravo presents a special Top Chef Reunion dinner, where controversial former contestants will sit together, eat, and try not to start a food fight. Marcel will be there, and Casey and Carla will face each other for the first time since their disastrous pairing at last year’s finale; my money’s on the food fight.