Top Chef: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

This week it’s all about Superstar Chef Eric Ripert and the chefs demonstrating their skills.

Quickfire.  Eric Ripert announces a three-round fish fillet tournament.  Round 1: Sardines, which per Carla are “a wee li’tle fish.”  The challenge here is to fillet a small fish.  Carla’s looks like “crapola even by [her] standards.”  Ripert thinks Leah and Fabio did the best job, and Leah is shocked because hers was not good.  Carla’s and Jamie’s, though, are not so hot, so they are out.

Round 2: Arctic Char, and I’m reminded of my tasty dinner last week where they cut the head off the fish at the table.  Thankfully my waiter, unlike Leah, did not get nervous and give up half-way through.  Stefan and Fabio left meat on the bone, so Ripert takes a knife and shows them how it’s done.  Leah and Fabio are out and Hosea makes a kissy mouth to Stefan, to show how glad he is it’s just the two of them left.  Watch out, Leah!

Round 3: Freshwater Eel.  They are dead but still move around.  Stefan nails the eel to a board to skin it–apparently that’s the way it’s done so they don’t slide around.  Hosea copies, but Stefan wins the Quickfire with no immunity but a useful advantage.  Ripert invites them all for lunch at his restaurant, Le Bernardin.

We’re supposed to believe they are going to lunch, while I suspect they’ll be cooking lunch or something based on lunch.  Anyway, they dress purty-like as they walk into Le Bernardin.  Ripert selected six dishes currently on the menu to highlight the restaurant’s simple, fresh seafood dishes.  The contestants are impressed with the meal, except for Jamie, who is bored with it all.  Ripert and Carla bond over their shared Washington, D.C., connection; Ripert’s first job was in D.C. at The Watergate Hotel before it closed, and Carla is from D.C. (like me).  After six dishes, Chef Tom announces there is one course left…the knifeblock!

Elimination Challenge. The chefs are to recreate these six dishes for their elimination challenge.  Stefan gets to choose his course, while the others get the knife.  Hosea thinks it was a cop-out, but whatever, that’s Stefan’s reward for winning.  The chef whose dish sucks the most will be eliminated.

As they start chopping up the fish, Ripert hovers.  We learn that Leah was the lead fish cook in her last restaurant, which is concerning since she’s been so hit or miss with her fish.  Hosea has no formal training so he’s also concerned.  Ripert walks in to critique what they’ve done.  He gives pointers on why their dishes aren’t what he does, and I again think he’s the best guest judge they have on the show.  Carla notes her comfort in working on classic techniques since it reminds her of her classic, French training.  That’s surprising.

Service.  Chef Tom thinks this is a career changing experience for them; it will scare the chef pants off or something.  For each dish, the judges will get the contestant’s and the original dish.  Fabio goes first with the red snapper.  It’s a good forgery, overall.  Leah is next with the mahi-mahi.  Overcooked for some, not for others; it’s lacking in flavor except ginger.  Stefan and the lobster and the thicker sauce (the trick was using a blender).  It’s very good in taste, with Stefan “dangerously nipping” at Ripert’s heels.  Carla’s escolar was one of the more difficult dishes, but she was able to pull it out.  Hosea is worried about his monkfish, and rightfully so: it’s neither cooked nor spiced right and it did not rest before he cut it.  Tom shares that Hosea’s a chef at a seafood restaurant and Ripert seems amused by that (and not in a good way).  Last up is Jamie with her too-salty celery.  Padma’s expression tells it all as Toby describes a trapeze act.  It’s the kiss of death for Jamie when we hear Padma say she’d send the dish back if she didn’t have to eat it.

Judges’ Table.  Fabio, Stefan, and Carla are the top three this week.  They all really enjoyed the challenge as Carla schools the panel about how to make a sauce.  The winner is Stefan, who will get a copy of Ripert’s new book, On The Line, and the opportunity to follow Ripert at three of his restaurants for a week whilst staying at the Ritz Carlton before they fly to the Food & Wine Festival at Pebble Beach.

Jamie, Leah, and Hosea shuffle in to find out which of them will go home.  Padma reminds Hosea that he works in a seafood restaurant.  He owns his mistakes, so he’s safe.  Leah explains her mistakes too, so I bet she’s safe.  Tom asks if she wants to give up like she did during the Quickfire; she doesn’t!  Jamie is not surprised she’s there, and by my process of elimination, Jamie gets sent home for almost poisoning the panel.

Next week: We get weird lighting and Fabio gets First Aid.

So let’s update my predictions, shall we?  I’m still saying Stefan and Fabio in the finals.  The third spot is going to be either Carla or Hosea, and I think Carla’s rallying after her recent successes.  And with all of the other dead weight gone, Leah should be the one to go.  What say you, Campos?

Season 5, Episode 11: Le Bernardin (originally aired February 4, 2009)

For another take on this episode, check out This Season’s Top Chef Is… Eric Ripert! by Jaimie Campos.

Listen to The J Factor with J.B. and Jaimie here or on iTunes.

For more on Top Chef, click here.

Wednesdays at 10/9C, Bravo

Photographs courtesy of Bravo

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