So the drama is building, leaving viewers to decide which chef is less of an obnoxious ass between Stefan (who can actually cook a little) and Josie (who spends more time making up cutesy names for her dishes than tasting the food). Meanwhile, Kristen, who is the ’27 Yankees in this group, allows herself to sound slightly confident in the confessional. After Humble Paul in season 9 Bravo must be dying for a contender with some arrogance to him/her to show up at some point.
(Speaking of season 9, it’s $9.99 for the full season in SD on amazon Instant Video right now, which is way below what past seasons cost the last time I checked.)
* Morning quickfire: Chefs must drive to Bow, Washington – did you know they were driving Toyotas? I’m surprised half the chefs didn’t die in some horrible accident involving their Camrys en route – and harvest fresh oysters for the challenge. The chefs are actually very fired up, putting on waders, eating oysters as they harvest them. I grew up on Long Island (sorry, I’ve mentioned this before) during a time when raw oysters were contaminated by God-knows-what and we were told every day in the news that it would kill us if we so much as looked at a local oyster, so I still shudder a little as I see this. I know they’re a chef’s favorite, but a little voice in my brain tells me they’re poison.
* Josie sinks into the mud, calling attention to herself yet again. Micah, who helps rescue her, reveals that his father was a pastor and he grew up kosher, so he didn’t eat shellfish until he was an adult. I didn’t realize that there were Christian sects that obeyed kosher rules.
* John grew up on the east end of Long Island. I knew I liked that guy for some reason, but he clearly grew up when local shellfish was safe to eat.
* Bart went to cooking school at 12. At 12 I was in 8th grade and worrying about high school and playing cheap video games on a Commodore 64. I wasn’t planning my future career.
* The actual challenge: Prepare oysters on the half shell for Emeril, without being distracted by Padma looking gorgeous. Half the chefs must do a hot preparation, the other half must do a cold prep. $5000 prize. 25 minutes to cook.
* The chefs have to grab one of the red (hot) or blue (cold) aprons to pick which kind of dish they’re preparing, which is always weird – are we testing cooking skills here, or reflexes? What if at some point they had a chef with a disability? Am I overthinking this as usual? Anyway, the red aprons go first, which surprised me because chefs always seem to want to do raw oyster preparations on Top Chef and not cooking the oysters would save some time.
* Micah says cooking for Emeril is like Moses meeting God. I’m going to go “argument by false analogy” on that one, since Emeril, while obviously talented, falls a bit short of Omnipotent Deity for me.
* Stefan smoking oysters in a Ziploc bag might be the most interesting thing anyone did, followed by Lizzie using red currants, which made me imagine oysters with grape jelly.
* Josie says she’s making “Spanish roc-a-fella.” Enough with the fucking names already. And then her sauce broke in the pan, which is God’s – or Emeril’s – revenge for the fact that she wasted brain waves on coming up with a bullshit name for her dish. As it turns out, her chorizo-cilantro cream sauce might have been delicious if it hadn’t broken and hadn’t blown the oyster off the plate.
* Bottom: Bart, whose champagne-butter reduction was too rich, losing the champagne and masking the oyster. Josie, for obvious reason. John, whose oysters poached in garlic butter with Swiss chard and a Parmiggiano-garlic foam had “no pop.” Also worth mentioning that Josh and Brooke both ended up with a little shell in their oysters.
* Top: Lizzie, who took a chance with the currants and succeeded, even to Padma’s surprise. Micah, also risky piling spices on the oyster, but they “popped” according to Emeril. Brooke, whose salsa verde had all kinds of beautiful flavors that didn’t take away from the oyster. Winner: Micah finally comes through for me, slightly justifying my optimism about him earlier in the season.
* Elimination challenge: Cooking for “one of the hottest sports teams in Seattle” – the Sonics! I mean, a roller derby team. There’s really such a thing as roller derby? And people go to the matches? That’s the second-weirdest sports thing I’ve heard this week.
* Chefs divide into teams of two to cook the food for the league’s wrap party, which I assume is held in the basement of a Chuck-E-Cheese. Stefan grabs Kristen, by what body part I’m not sure. The dishes must be inspired by the unbelievably lame nicknames of the five rollergirls in the room, like “Tempura Tantrum.” I’m sure someone was up all night coming up with that. They don’t want “fussy food” but not “concession food” either, which is a surprisingly constructive remark.
* Josie was a pro football player. Whatever you think of women’s football (non-lingerie division), it’s better than roller derby.
* So the chefs go to a match and the other nine get mad at Josie for being loud and obnoxious in the one public place where it is acceptable and even encouraged to be loud and obnoxious. Sorry, guys, I’m with Josie for once. Get off your asses and scream a little.
* After the game, the guys are talking shit about Josie at the apartment while she’s lying on the couch in the next room. An “I can hear you” would have sufficed but she goes apeshit, including the line, “This tree right here, you don’t want to bark up,” which was either Confucius or Sun-Tzu, I always mix those two guys up. Then she says Micah is “hiding in a closet,” so apparently she’s convinced he’s gay (and was she saying that she is too?). Josh’s deadpan “what just happened?” might be the line of the year so far.
* Lizzie says “I still have scars on my knees” from roller skating when she was younger. With all the dogs in the room, no one comments on this? This song came to mind, certainly.
* Josie, teamed with Bart, wants to go aggressive with the spice. Bart definitely has a different concept of “bold” and doesn’t want to overspice. This is like a matter/anti-matter thing where the entire Top Chef kitchen collapses into a singularity at the end of the show.
* Sheldon/Josh are doing tempura-fried dessert; Sheldon says the batter should be like a pancake batter, “lumpy as shit.” Good to know.
* Kristen points out that when Stefan was 14 in 1986, she was 3. Doesn’t seem to mind him hitting on her every episode, though.
* Bart/Josie do a makeshift grill of cooling rack over a foil roasting pan with coals in it. Nice strong direct heat. I might try that by resting the pan on fire bricks in the grill, which would get the food closer to the heat than I could otherwise get.
* Hugh gives Padma the roller-derby nickname “Padma Smacks-me.” I have no real comment for this.
* The dishes are judged by Padma, Tom, Hugh, Emeril, and the girl your dish was named after, which is about as strong and tough a group of judges as we’ve had.
* Tasting time, starting with Brooke/John: Thai beef with lobster jasmine rice and Thai cole slaw. Hugh likes the building flavors and the kick of acid in the slaw.
* Josie/Bart: Teriyaki steak, forbidden rice with beet blood, and a green papaya salad. Hugh thinks it’s a little “unique crappy.” Tom questions skewering the meat since it can’t be properly seared. The rice is overcooked and looks like a liquified brick. Padma asks why they buried black rice in red liquid. This seems like a fail all around.
* Micah/Lizzie: Crab-stuffed whole jalapeno pepper (fried) with avocado crema and onion and pepper relish. The judges are surprised that they love it. Crispy, great flavors. The rollergirl likes that they rethought a “party food favorite,” which was a pretty insightful comment too.
* Stefan/Kristen: “Chicken inside-out” for their rollergirl’s nickname, Eddie Shredder. Corn puree under chicken liver with a port wine reduction under phyllo dough under a sunny-side up egg. Tom says it’s a dish of missed opportunities. Emeril’s egg was slightly overdone but the corn puree and liver were perfect. This seems a little unadventurous to me.
* Josh/Sheldon: Tempura yuzu curd with shiso, fresno chili, sweet potato, and vanilla sauces (“tantrums”) smeared on the place for the diner to run the tempura through. The judges agree that it was a great idea, the sauces were great, but the tempura wasn’t fried enough. Emeril thinks the small fryer couldn’t hold temperature, which should have occurred to Sheldon (who says he does tempura every night in his restaurant) before they started. So I ask this all the time: Where are the damn thermometers? Were they not frying with a thermometer in the oil at all times?
* Stefan is right, for once: Padma is hot. He says he bought season 9 just to watch her in snippets. She was hottest post-baby in (I think) season 7.
* Judges’ table: Top teams are John/Brooke and Micah/Lizzie, no surprise on either one. Brooke/John’s lobster was cooked perfectly, as was the meat. Micah/Lizzie’s pepper was hot and delicious but the heat didn’t overpower the crab. Brooke and John are the winners, third win (quickfire or elimination) for John, and third for Brooke as well. I think they won for the more adventurous concept, with roughly equivalent execution. Micah and Lizzie reinvented a dish, but Brooke and John invented one.
* John says in the confessional that winning was great, but “it would have been sweeter if I’d won it alone.” Really? Who says that? That’s about as gracious as a sledgehammer to the forehead.
* Bottom: No surprises here either as it’s Josh/Sheldon and Josie/Bart. Josh/Sheldon had a good concept but blew the main element, underfrying the tempura. Bart/Josie had problems throughout the dish, and it’s clear one of them will go home. Tom kills them for underseasoning the rice, saying, “If something is properly seasoned, and something is bland, you put it together, you end up with bland.” Hugh calls the rice portion of the plate “beet espuma syrup on top of boring porridge.” Put that on your menu and smoke it.
* Josh does the second-dumbest thing you can do at judges’ table – the dumbest is refusing to accept responsibility for your dish – by asking why a competing dish was on the top. Tom gives a great explanation of the stuffed jalapeno being not concession food conceptually, after which Padma gives a perfectly concise follow-up on their execution.
* Josie says in confessional that she doesn’t “want to go home for someone else’s mistakes,” ignoring how the judges didn’t like anything she cooked in the dish either.
* Bart goes home. It should have been Josie, although I didn’t see Bart potentially winning the whole thing either – he’s a charming guy and I’m sure he makes a great waffle, but his dishes never stood out in the least. Bart says that “Josie talks to the judges and puts on the Josie Show,” except that I’d rather watch Heil Honey, I’m Home! than The Josie Show and somehow The Josie Show never gets cancelled.
* LCK: So another rollergirl comes through Last Chance Kitchen and CJ blatantly watches her ass as she goes by, saying the skater’s buttocks “were amazing, like two Parma hams.” You can think this stuff – I’ve thought worse, certainly – but good grief, man, the red light means the camera is on.
* Anyway, the challenge is to take chicken breast, which is bland and boring, and make it delicious. I thought leaving the skin on the meat was a gift, because rendered and crisped it’s a poor man’s duck skin (crispy with hints of sweetness from caramelized carbohydrates), but CJ removes the skin and never uses it. Bart goes bold, seasoning heavily, using paprika and either cumin or turmeric, then crushing speculoos (the Dutch cinnamon cookie sold here under the Biscoff brand) and sprinkling the dust on the top. CJ wins, even though his dish was less complex, less adventurous, and far less attractive on the plate. Tom dings Bart for going too bold, saying the flavors would have been great for venison, but the challenge was to go bold. I know flavor is king here, but it seems like Bart’s concept better met the challenge, and again, it looked way better on the plate.
* Top three: Kristen still blowing away the field, followed by John and Brooke, same as last week. I’d like to see another good week from Micah before moving him back into consideration ahead of Lizzie, who’s been very steady, occasionally on top but rarely below par. Josie is still on the bottom for me, with Josh at #8.