* So the five remaining chefs are going on a Celebrity Cruise ship bound for Alaska, after which Brooke reveals that she’s afraid of boats. Her four-year-old son recently said he was afraid of boats, so she’s determined to get past it so she doesn’t transfer the fear to her son. I can empathize, even though my issue is more general anxiety and less about specific phobias; our kids learn behaviors from us, and if we behave as if we’re tense, anxious, or afraid, they notice.
* Quickfire: The guest judge Curtis Stone … is not really cute. I don’t get it. Granted, I don’t play for that team, but still, if this is what women think of as good-looking, I really have no clue. Also, the man wears makeup like it’s fondant. Lay off the trowel, Dundee.
* Anyway, it’s a long quickfire, with two hours to cook one-bite dishes highlighting iceberg lettuce for a crowd of 200 guests. Curtis talks about “the texture, the flavor” of iceberg lettuce. What flavor? It tastes like crunchy water. Josh says it’s flavorless and for once I agree with Rollie Fingers.
* Brooke points out that the equipment is all electric, not gas-powered, which never occurred to me. I wonder if any cruise ships have gone to induction burners. Speaking of Heidi:
High on some hill there’s a lonely goatherd waiting for her.
* Stefan actually loves the iceberg lettuce, the only one to say so. He braises it like cabbage and serves with brined pork. Of the judges, he says, “They’re freezing upstairs, probably should have something warm in their mouth.” Can’t wait till next week, when Chef Subtle tells the camera he thinks Padma would really love a giant bite of his engorged sausage.
* Sheldon pickles the lettuce’s core, saying he doesn’t want to waste any part of it. He’s also, you know, doing something clever, which tends to win on this show, especially when no one else does so.
* Everyone’s using bacon or another form of pork. This is how the chefs tell you that iceberg lettuce has no flavor, or just that bacon is awesome. That said, I’d love to see an entire episode of Top Chef where the chefs were prohibited from using bacon – even better, no bacon, no foie gras, and no yuzu.
* The dishes … Stefan: braised iceberg with bacon and pastrami, fingerling potatoes, and a bleu cheese sauce. Bit of a wedge salad reconstructed. Big thumbs up. Sheldon: Vietnamese wrap with pork, shrimp, pickled iceberg hearts, and green mango, wrapped in the lettuce. He did the only really clever thing anyone did with the core ingredient. Lizzie: Iceberg salad with crispy bacon, shallots, and anchovy vinaigrette, like an umami bomb on top of green crunchy-water. It doesn’t get great marks, though, because it’s hard to eat. Josh: Iceberg roll, blanched outer leaves, raw inner leaves, with an apple cider vinaigrette, bacon jam, bleu cheese. Brooke: Bacon with scallop, lettuce, caramelized onion, and crunchy quinoa. This one is also too unwieldy for one bite. If the challenge is one bite, and you can’t eat the item in one bite, shouldn’t you be disqualified?
* Curtis said he absolutely loved all five dishes. Blah, blah, blah, Sheldon wins and gets an advantage in the next challenge. This all could have been more interesting with a better main ingredient, or just a no-bacon rule.
* Sheldon is getting a manicure at the ship’s spa. Josh, tactful as ever, says, “Where I come from, men don’t get manicures,” and then winks at the camera. O AN HE SEXY. Seriously, I don’t care about whether a manicure is masculine or not; I just don’t see the point of wasting that time and money. Sheldon says chefs need to take care of their hands. So buy a nail file, boss.
* Stefan talking about how the first time he “got laid” was on a cruise. He even remembers her name and where they were going, because he’s such a romantic devil. Can’t believe that lucky gal let him slip through her fingers.
* Josh’s wife’s due date is the day of the quickfire and he hasn’t been able to talk to her. Josh, your priorities suck. Go. Home.
* The chefs participate in an extended advert for Qzine, the ship’s on-board restaurant, with menus on tablets and all kinds of wacky plating ideas. No one mentions whether they like the food, though.
* Elimination challenge: Run the next night’s dinner service at Qzine, with an inventive twist on surf and turf. Curtis says the dish (really a concept, two proteins that don’t normally go together) has a bad rap, but that it should work together and be innovative, rather than just steak with shrimp on top. Stefan says the idea seems old, like wedding food from the ’70s; I would have said barmitzvahs and sweet sixteens from the ’80s, but you get the idea. Sheldon gets the first pick of proteins and his choices are off limits for the other four – he can really screw them all up.
* Josh says doing “whimsical, creative, fun food like that is not what I do.” Then maybe you should have gone on Middling Chef, Handleboy.
* At the apartment Stefan is playing mind games with Sheldon, saying he’d pick beef first. Sure enough, it works – Sheldon takes beef tenderloin and lobster tail, both safe as hell and already too hidebound by the traditional definition of the dish.
* Lizzie takes a whole suckling pig and butchers it as easily as you’d slice a loaf of bread. It’s pretty impressive to watch, actually.
* The chefs are in heaven “shopping” in the ship’s enormous below-deck warehouse of ingredients, which is quite impressive, although perhaps not the quality that some of these chefs are used to using. They also have to use the funky dishware that Qzine uses, and have just 2.5 hours to cook.
* Josh wants to make pasta out of the scallops, pureeing them with gelatin and egg whites, but it looks like no flour or other binder. It doesn’t set up, which is the least surprising development since the sun rose this morning, and he still doesn’t think to add a starch, something to soak up the excess liquid. Instead, he scrambles them like eggs, and intends to use … wait for it … bacon. In Oklahoma, even fish are made out of bacon.
* Stefan is doing ravioli with eel in the filling, then pork belly braised in beer. He then roasts it till the skin and edges are crunchy, with Josh trying to steal some of the burnt ends – finally, something I agree with. I’m pretty sure Stefan is the missing third Festrunk brother.
* Padma’s right breast is pratcialy waving to the camera from out of the front of her dress. Or maybe there was a cantaloupe on the table – I’m not really sure.
* The food … Brooke serves a bed of celery root and fennel puree, topped with clarified butter-poached mussels, frog legs in beet glaze, papadums, and a shallot chutney. It’s a big home run, with good flavors and a creative take on the challenge. I swear, some of these chefs must have forgotten to watch the show before coming on it – you win by being inventive. The only flaw here is a very greasy papadum, which probably didn’t even need to be there.
* Tom doesn’t appear to be a fan of the open sea. Come to think of it, neither am I.
* Stefan serves a braised pork belly with beer sauce along side eel and parsnip puree ravioli. The sauce has separated in its flask, so there’s a nice layer of grease right on top of it. And then Tom tries to eat the pork belly. I don’t know if the microphone was attached to his shirt or his uvula, but this was loud, like he was eating a bowl of Quarry. Curtis then tries to argue in favor of crispy pork skin that registers at least 8 on Moh’s scale, but Tom and Hugh aren’t having it.
* Josh serves his scrambled scallops, along with braised pork belly and some bacon for sprinkling. Flavor-wise Tom likes it; Padma says the turf overpowers the surf. Hugh says it’s a leap of faith on Josh’s part to jump to scrambling the scallops, and there’s general praise for inventiveness, even though it looks like the least appetizing cup of cream of wheat imaginable. (Note: Under the best of circumstances, cream of wheat is not appetizing.)
* Sheldon serves a Korean BBQ filet, tempura lobster, “dynamite” sauce, sesame cabbage, kimchi, and teriyaki sauce. This is a big failure; Hugh asks “why do people continually think tempura is a good idea?” The dynamite sauce isn’t explosive. Hugh says the proteins aren’t married; Tom says they’re not even dating. The tempura was soft and no longer hot. At this point, I thought it was no worse than 60/40 that Sheldon would go home – his concept sucked, he didn’t execute, and he had the advantage of choosing his proteins first.
* Lizzie has some trouble with her dish because she tried to steam her cabbage rolls to wilt them, but the steamer wasn’t on or wasn’t operating correctly. She does serve cabbage rolls, stuffed with suckling pig, seared bay scallops, bacon, cracklins, mustard sour cream, and shallot and apple pickles. The cabbage’s undercooking causes the rolls to fall apart and it’s hard for the judges to get everything in one bite.
* The judges’ chatter at the table after service makes it seem like Brooke was the clear leader for doing something new, followed by Josh and Lizzie, with Sheldon and Stefan on the bottom. Hugh also argues for Lizzie as one of the bottom dishes, with Padma asking him point blank if that’s who should go home. She should do this more often, on camera. You say a dish sucked; okay, was it the worst? In that context – one winner, one loser, everyone else just ‘safe’ – then your judgment may differ.
* Judges’ table: Brooke gets mostly praise. Sheldon blames the ingredients, Josie-style, after which Tom asks why he chose them if they weren’t speaking to him. Sheldon can’t answer that to anyone’s satisfaction. He served cold tempura that was soggy and had a spiceless sauce. Hugh says Sheldon imagined surf and turf, but didn’t reimagine it. Curtis says he was scared by Josh’s description but the scramble really worked; Hugh said it was strange, while Tom said Josh was maybe the first person ever to scramble scallops. (He thinks, but doesn’t say, that he hopes Josh is the last as well.) Stefan’s eel disappeared under the parsnips, and the beer sauce separated with a lot of fat on top. Stefan blames time, so Hugh says conceptualize dishes that you can do in the time limit. Curtis calls him out on the overcooked skin, Tom does the face again…
…although Padma doesn’t call him a bullshitter this time. Lizzie’s flavors were good, just didn’t hold together, although Curtis liked the presentation.
* Winning dish: Brooke, of course. She wins a cruise and a week of exposure therapy. Lizzie and Josh are also safe.
* Tom says to the bottom two chefs that “I hate to see either one of you go.” At this point, it’s probably true.
* Stefan is eliminated; I’m surprised given Sheldon’s performance, and I wonder if there was a slight element of career consideration here, as Sheldon’s been in the top three six times, with two wins, versus Stefan’s two times and zero wins. Stefan goes with some very wise comments, about how Top Chef reminds him of the importance of cooking in his life, showing no bitterness or anger. It’s amusing to see someone be such a pig in one area and then quite graceful and mature in another.
* Last Chance Kitchen: Stefan faces “wifey” Kristen in a challenge about cooking offal outdoors in Alaska, although it looks like it wasn’t as cold as it could have been. Kristen’s seared chicken-liver salad beats Stefan’s mixed-offal beuschel, I think primarily on execution. I’m still fully expecting Kristen to run this table, and to see any tie in LCK go to her. Speaking of Kristen, you might enjoy her photo shoot and Q&A with the Improper Bostonian.
* Was it any surprise that Josie earned just 6% against CJ’s 94% in Save a Chef voting? I can’t believe Don King’s support didn’t sway the vote her way; maybe she needed Al Sharpton’s endorsement too.
* The ranking: Kristen still on top; of the four now in Juneau, Brooke is the clear leader for me, followed by Sheldon, Lizzie, and Josh.