Top Chef: Great Expectations

I don’t want to get my hopes up, but I think we’ve got a good crew this season.  One week, they’re all brunoise-ing with finesse, and the next they’re cooking up crab meat from a can.  I know, right?  Throw in some bitter New Yorkers and this kitchen is on fire!

But wait!  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  We open with Richard lamenting the loss of Team Rainbow member Patrick.  Richard and I won’t be good friends, I can tell.  We’re all better for Patrick’s having left, but Richard doesn’t know that.  Stefan congratulates himself on last week’s win, and considers Fabio his biggest competition.  Fabio, meanwhile, doesn’t see Stefan as a threat yet.  In Italy, they have a saying: It doesn’t matter how many dragons you kill, it’s who takes home the Princess.  Clearly, the Italians are taking their moral cues from Mario.

Quickfire! Guest Judge Donatella Arpaia.  The chefs compete against an expert to put their signature spin on a New York classic: the hot dog!  And yes, it deliciously is.  The expert cook is Angelina DeAngelo, from Dominick’s Hot Dog Stand in Queens.  Um.  Sure.

Fabio laughs it up, because he has no idea how to make a hot dog, so settles for a sausage panini.  I can’t tell yet if he’s irritating or if I love him.  I’ve got European issues to get over right now.  Stefan stuffs his French Bread with Italian sausage and Vermont cheese, and calls it the “World Dog.”  Jill makes sushi hot dogs with store bought franks.  Radhika makes an Indian-inspired kabob dog.  But she doesn’t always cook Indian food, so don’t judge.  I mean, eventually, she won’t.  But don’t judge!

This is only the second Quickfire, and you can see how nervous several people are.  I love it.  Radhika’s “I don’t only cook Indian” Indian-style hot dog wins her immunity.  Jamie’s bone in her meat (that’s what she said) receives no mention, but Stefan and Jill did the worst, with Stefan not buying the judge’s opinion.  And why should he?  Judges are too opinionated, anyway.

Elimination Challenge: Create a three-course, New American lunch menu to open a local restaurant for fifty guests.  The chefs must work as one unit, with each person responsible for a different dish.  Dr. Chase steps up to organize the kitchen: five people on appetizers, five on entrees, five on desserts.

Hosea takes a chance with canned crab meat, because even though he can’t test it first, he’s too lazy to come up with an alternative.  Idiot.  Jill wants to make an ostrich egg quiche, because ostrich eggs are original.  And also sure to get her eliminated.  Jill has trouble cracking her egg, and Jamie says, “there’s a difference between playing it safe, and playing it ridiculous.”  Guess which way Jill went?

Tom arrives to announce that his restaurant, craft, will host the challenge.  Also, the fifty guests will be the New York chefs rejected from the Top Chef auditions.  And that, my friends, is awesome.  The chefs all understand that they’re screwed, because bitterness is going to color everyone’s taste buds.  And it takes more than one beer to get that aftertaste out.  Trust me!

Fabio and Stefan continue their European love-fest.  Eugene isn’t impressed by either man, and is ready to send them both on the long flight home to their mother countries.  Leah and Hosea cuddle and flirt, but she insists it’s harmless.  Uh huh.

The next morning, the chefs head to craft and prep.  Fabio claims Tom “is everything [he] wants to be in [his] career.”  He also calls Jamie’s corn soup basic while Jamie calls it worthy of the win.  Fabio creates a hard-shelled olive, liquefied inside.  Jill’s concerned her quiche won’t be ready in time, while Ariane’s lemon meringue martini is too sweet – but she doesn’t want to redo it.  Another idiot.  Hosea thinks the crab meat tastes fine and only needs a touch of spice.

The rejected chefs arrive, primed to fight.  Oh my god, this is hysterical.  They’re so bitter.

Tom will expedite today’s service.  Carla’s suitably impressed.  I really like her and her crazy eyes.

And it’s time to start serving.  Jamie’s soup starts us off nicely, with accolades from Padma, Gail and Donatella.  Hosea’s cold crab can’t hide its wrong side of the tracks, canned birthplace.  A rejected contestant sees right through Hosea’s spice tricks.  Leah’s potatoes and scallops receive low presentation marks from the judges.

Fabio’s beef Carpaccio and fancy olives show off his originality.  Melissa’s grilled avocado is delicious, but boring.  Just ask the rejected chef who “coulda done way better dan dis.”  Jill’s ostrich egg quiche “resembles dog food” and Donatella downs her wine after she says, “it tastes like glue.”  I wouldn’t know; glue is for huffing.  I’ve heard.  Just kidding!  Eugene’s meatloaf sandwich loses points for presentation.  Stefan’s halibut goes over well with judges and diners.  Dr. Chase suffers from pacing issues again, but his honey mustard chicken and chorizo also score well.  Alex’s pork tenderloin is not “representative of a Top Chef candidate” (diner).  Radhika’s immunity saves her from her terrible avocado mousse and chocolate wontons.  Daniel takes a chance by cooking dessert, and his ricotta pound cake and lemon coulis impress everyone.  Ariane’s lemon meringue martini causes Padma to spit hers out into her napkin.  The pain and horror on her face is delightful to watch.  Richard’s banana nut bread with peanut butter comes off more as an after-school snack, rather than a restaurant dessert.  Carla’s rustic apple tart comes with an errant piece of cheddar cheese.  Padma calls it one of her favorites.

With service finished, the chefs nervously watch Tom try their dishes.  He then joins the ladies to complain about the quality of food the chefs produced.  He says he was so impressed last week, he couldn’t believe how poorly they performed today.

Judges’ Table.  Tom summons Jamie, Hosea, Ariane, Fabio, Carla and Jill.  They start with Carla’s dessert, a favorite of Tom and Padma.  Padma next asks Fabio to explain his dish, and he quickly launches into a long explanation in defense, saying he can’t understand why they didn’t like it as it’s one of his most popular dishes, and he used very high quality ingredients.  Eventually, he stops to let Padma explain that they liked his dish.  Laughs all around for the funny foreigner.  They were all especially impressed with his olives.  Jamie’s corn puree also was a favorite.  She wanted to celebrate the season (pretentious).  Donatella announces Fabio as the winner, as he impressed and surprised the judges the most.  He rattles off his joy in Italian during his interview.  He’s pleased mainly with having tied Stefan.

Hosea defends his dish as a light and refreshing, and he can’t believe he’s in the bottom.  This is why this season is going to rock.  They’re delusional already!  Likable, but insane.  Tom says that all of the spice and ingredients should have worked, but none of them did.  Ariane claims she played it safe, and that while she tasted her dessert in process, she may have lost something after trying it again and again.  Padma tactfully recalls her regurgitation moment.  Tom tells Jill she had the opportunity to really do something special with the ostrich egg, and instead, blew it.  Gail says it just didn’t taste good.  Jill falls back on the old “the pressure of being here” excuse, and shrugs.  Gail offers her the chance to defend herself, and she can’t even form a complete, coherent sentence.

Deliberation.  The judges are shocked that Hosea thought he had a winning dish, and all agree that Ariane was a disaster.  Gail calls Jill’s explanation “the lamest defense of any food we have had in five seasons of this show.”  Tom says the ingredient wasn’t the issue, it was how she handled it.

Line them back up, and Jill goes home for being weird and bad with ostriches.  She’s surprised, because she thought Ariane was a lock because of Padma’s faulty gag reflex.  She’s disappointed, but generally upbeat.  Meanwhile, Ariane beats herself up in the corner with survivor’s guilt.  I hope she goes next, because I don’t have patience for tears in the workplace.

Next time: Thanksgiving dinner with the Foo Fighters, Jamie gets a ‘tude, and someone’s pissed off!

Season 5, Episode 2: Show Your Craft (originally aired November 19, 2008)

For another take on this episode, check out Small Craft Advisory by J.B. Perlow.

For more on Top Chef, click here.

Wednesdays at 10/9C, Bravo

Photographs courtesy of Bravo

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