Top Chef: He Might Be a Unicorn!
It’s a super sized episode of Top Chef this week, with a nice twist and a disappointing conclusion. Let’s get to it!
Quickfire. Colicchio and guest judge and famous French chef, Daniel Boulud. Which means … it’s a French-themed challenge! Well, no, not that exciting for us, but Mattin couldn’t be happier. The chefs must create a dish using escargot, a.k.a. snail, as the main protein. And it’s a High Stakes Quickfire! However, no one’s walking away with $15,000 – this time, the winner receives immunity, but the loser suffers instant elimination. Now that’s awesome. Immediately, everyone worries, because half the chefs lack experience with escargot and the other half feel the excitement and nervousness of cooking for Boulud.
Mattin talks a big game – because, you know, he’s French – as does Mike I., who has an advantage because of his Greek heritage (though Eli reminds him he’s not from Greece, he’s from ******* Jersey). Jesse worries about the Pit of Despair she’s been in since she arrived and Robin admits to knowing nothing about escargot.
Boulud chooses Mike I., Kevin, and Jennifer as his top three favorites, and ultimately chooses Kevin’s southern-inspired snails as the winner.
In the bottom are Jesse (again), Ashley, and Robin. Colicchio declares a cook off: the three must create an amuse-bouche using any ingredients in the kitchen. They race to the death and each cooks something familiar, but ultimately, it’s Jesse who is sent home, and thank goodness they’ve finally put her out of her misery. She’s embarrassed by her three and a half episode performance, and wants people to know she doesn’t “suck this bad,” but she leaves feeling defeated.
Elimination Challenge. Create a six course French cuisine meal for some of the most famous chefs in the entire world: Hubert Keller (I’ve missed you, Hubert!), Laurent Tourondel, Jean Joho, Boulud, and Joel Robuchon. And Kevin, whose win in the Quickfire spares him from needing to cook so that he may join the judges for dinner. He’s beside himself at the honor. The contestants take turns interviewing about how they want to vomit over this challenge because of the intimidating diner line up – Robuchon, after all, was named the Chef of the Century. I just can’t believe this isn’t the final challenge – can TC top this for the finale?
The chefs draw knives labeled with a classic French sauce or traditional French protein. The chefs pair up sauce to protein to create teams. And so: Eli & Laurine (lobster & sauce americaine), Mattin & Ashley (poussin & sauce veloute), Hector & Ash (chateaubriand & sauce au poivre – or steak & peppercorn sauce), Robin & Ron (frog legs & sauce meuniere), Jennifer & Mike V. (rabbit and sauce chasseur), and Mike I. & Bryan V. (trout & sauce bearnaise). How does Mike I. ride on the coattails of the Voltaggio brothers every time?
Shopping and prep. Mike I. becomes slightly more likeable as we see him and Bryan tease and torment Mike V. and Jennifer, and vice versa. It’s nice to see the playful competitiveness – otherwise, Mike I.’s just a jerk. Ron complains about Robin because she’s an incessant yapper, to the point of being ineffective on her single, specific task. He pleads the fifth on how effective they are as a team. Hector talks about representing Puerto Ricans and the people in his restaurant from the dishwashers to the cooks.
Mike I. wants to do something different with the bearnaise sauce while Bryan cooks the protein. So Bryan teaches Mike I. how to deconstruct the bearnaise using one of his own recipes. Kevin interviews about the magnitude of serving your own dish to the caliber of chefs he’s going to be dining with. I wonder if he’s sorry he won’t have a chance to cook for Robuchon – though he obviously wouldn’t want to serve a poor dish, an amazing dish, of which Kevin is capable of producing, would probably leave a more lasting impression.
Mattin shoots down Ashley’s idea to use asparagus in his sauce, and instead adds bacon. He’s relaxed and confident, but she worries and defers to Frenchie for all decisions. Jennifer considers she and Mike V. a perfect team, to the point of not needing to speak to each other. Or they’re both not very personable, which I think is the case. Sure, it could just be the editing. Hector’s beef isn’t cooking fast enough, and he’s forced to pull it out at the absolute last minute and quickly hack it apart to have it plated in time. Ash can’t add his sauce until the beef is plated, so he races the clock to drop even a dab of the sauce on each dish. The result: the beef absorbs most of the sauce and the plate isn’t quite complete.
Service. There’s not much I can say about the food personally, because what I know about French cooking I learned from Ratatouille. Meaning, it’s so easy, a productive mouse can do it! Of note: Gail does a lot of nodding in odd close ups throughout dinner. Up first – Ron & Robin. While the diners concede that the frog legs are difficult to cook, there was too much flour and overcooking, but Hubert points out there was creativity and originality. Mike I. & Bryan: Mike I. hopes the diners “get” the concept of a broken-down bearnaise. Doesn’t he know who the diners are? Joho calls the dish simple and sophisticated, with perfectly cooked trout. Robuchon compliments their simplicity and excellence in the execution. Eli & Laurine: The lobster is tough; Robuchon calls the dish a success, but with no genuine or original flavors. Tourondel points out that it is a difficult dish to make. Mattin & Ashley crash and burn. The poussin is bland, the sauce is ruined by the bacon, and Ashley’s pasta was poorly cooked. Jennifer & Mike V.: Robuchon and Boulud both say that the rabbit is perfectly cooked, and Colicchio remarks that though Jennifer and Mike V. are both young chefs, they produced mature work. It sounds better when he says it. Hector & Ash: The sauce is almost non-existent, the beef is cooked unevenly, and Hector’s hack job on the beef offends Gail more than anything else. Uh oh!
Judges’ Table. Kevin arrives at the Stew Room but refuses to spill the beans on what was said during the meal. Top picks: Mike I. & Bryan, and Mike V. & Jennifer. Compliments, compliments, compliments, with Mike I. not exactly admitting that the concept of the bearnaise sauce was Bryan’s idea, but he does give Bryan the proper credit for the fish. And “teamwork.” Eye roll. Mike V. pays Jennifer a compliment, which is surprising, because they just seem so … cold, normally. Bryan wins! He’s shocked, especially because it wasn’t a team win, but Mike I. seems to take it okay. Oh, and he beats Mike V. again. Couldn’t move forward without hearing about that. Is it going to be Mike V., Bryan, and Jennifer in the finale? Will it really just be a showdown between the brothers? Bryan also wins a week under the tutelage of Robuchon, deemed priceless.
Bottom four are Hector & Ash and Mattin & Ashley. Mattin takes heat for the use of bacon in his sauce, and Ashley backs down when asked why they didn’t add asparagus to the sauce. She doesn’t stand up for herself, and Mattin lies about shooting down her ideas. Ash is careful not to throw Hector under the bus, but Gail doesn’t let her “hacked” beef go, and the judges are relentless about the poorly cooked meat.
Deliberation, and then bring them back out: and Hector, unfortunately, goes home. I’m really sorry to see him go – he’s such a nice, pleasant guy and one of the few minorities on the show who knows his stuff and cooks well. I think Mattin, the Frenchman, should have been called out on his inability to shine in his specific cuisine, and Ashley for deferring all decisions to Mattin. On top of that, no one liked her pasta, so why is she staying?
So, one of the few times I can’t agree with the judges, and I’m a little disappointed in Gail. There were better options this week, and I, personally, will miss Hector’s presence.
Next week: The wild west, and Colicchio spits out food! Awesome!
Listen to The J Factor with J.B. and Jaimie here or on iTunes.
Season 6, Episode 4: Vivre Las Vegas (originally aired September 9, 2009)
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Photographs courtesy of NBC Universal and Kelsey McNeal