Another week means another blog post about Wednesday’s Top Chef. I get more excited about watching these than I do about Survivor these days. This unsettles me for some reason. But then, this season of Top Chef is possibly the best ever, whereas this spring’s Survivor certainly leaves something to be desired. These chefs seem to bring a good mix of legitimate talent and explosive asshole behavior, kind of like if Season 2 and Season 3 had bastard children. Clearly this concept is personified by EvilDale – the obnoxiousness of Hung, Ilan, and Marcel with the precious name of the brilliant Dale from Season 3. Anyway, back to the show, because this episode was more schizo than an interview with Rosie O’Donnell. It was all over the place.
We started with Antonia talking about how freaked out she was from being in the bottom last go-round. She was legitimately scared, whereas Zoi was irritated and pissed, and felt that they had been “jacked” by the judges. First of all, who says “jacked” any more? And secondly, this outrageous entitlement by one half of the Lesbian Wonder Twins screams that one is going home. The foreshadowing pointed overwhelmingly to Zoi going home, and I wrote in my notes at four separate points that she would be losing. This was the first time that I noted it. Ryan then observes that at this point in the competition, the sexes are even with two men and two women knocked out. He then points out that it won’t last, since someone else is going home tonight, while mouthing the words “Not me.” How precious. We know he’s not going anywhere. Some could even extrapolate to say that a girl is going home, but I think that’s reading too much into it.
So now it’s time for the Quickfire, and I wouldn’t say I was as excited about it as Antonia, who claims that the blind taste test is her favorite part of Top Chef. Especially since, despite her dork explosion about how obsessed she is with this every year, this challenge hasn’t existed in every season (I count one). However, I am legitimately excited to see who comes out on top. In this twist, the contestants are blindfolded and then asked to identify the higher quality ingredient. For example, a $24.99 per pound of crab meat versus a $4.99 per pound version. In the shock of all shocks, my ‘lil front runner Stephanie placed last with six of fifteen, whereas Dale was spot on with the Asian tastes. In my notes, I wrote, “Dale knows Asian cuisine – soy, sake, et cetera…I’m floored.” The runners-up tied between Richard’s Lesbian Twin and Ryan. Despite her girlfriend making a good showing, Zoi responded with bitterness and irritation. She wanted to beat RLT instead of supporting her for her well-earned win. What a catch.
The winner of the Quickfire was Antonia, who was all kinds of stoked after Ming announced her as the winner, especially since she would receive immunity in the elimination challenge. In the grand, overarching pattern of Top Chef challenges, I was blown away by the potential of the challenge, only to be disappointed in the end result. The remaining twelve contestants would be divided into four teams to cater the first course of a benefit gala for Meals on Wheels in Chicago. The theme for the event? The Four Elements – Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Here’s how the teams break down after knives have been pulled:
Earth – Zoi, Antonia, Douchey McFucktard (Spike)
Fire – Dale, Whiney McBitch (Lisa), Stephanie
Water – Richard, Mark, Asshat (Andrew)
Air – Ryan, Nikki, Richard’s Lesbian Twin
Quick sidenote – I fully realize and embrace the fact that I am a total nerd. Granted, I’m not playing World of Warcraft while living in my parents’ basement, chugging Mountain Dew, and cataloging my X-Men comics with subdivisions for each separate title. However, I will freely admit that I’m moderately obsessed with the four elements, am fascinated by the inherent doubling and opposites involved, and wrote a ten page paper in an English seminar in college that showed how the four elements were a major thread throughout Jane Eyre. I even considered a tattoo involving them, but reneged before I permanently stamped myself as a total tool. So I think it’s fair to say that I was blown away with the potential for this challenge. I think I speak for everyone when I say that one team did a good job and the others completely fucked it up.
Back to the show, and Asshat’s posturing that the Water team is posed to rock the competition. In my notes here, I wrote that Richard has been a strong contender, Mark won a Quickfire and showed skill last week with Ryan, but that Andrew just wants to make himself look like a stronger contender than he really is. Over on Team Air, RLT is immediately suggesting they do a bird, like chicken or duck. Nikki, in her typical belligerent way, thinks this is wicked retahded.
Team Earth is fighting already since Spike is heavily suggesting they do a butternut squash soup, and he’s being pretty forceful with it. Antonia, who has immunity, asserts that they just had a challenge that emphasized a high palette and good taste, and that they have a $500 budget. She can’t justify spending that money to make a soup. At this point, Spike whines about Antonia, women in general, and then makes light of his desire to physically strangle them both. Isn’t misogyny charming?
Over at Team Fire, Steph is focusing on cooking technique. Dale thinks of a hot steak tartare, which Lisa hates. Then he suggests a spicy deviled egg, which Steph approves, but Lisa hates. To be honest, I wouldn’t serve a perfectly tame, safe, and almost downright weak hors d’œuvre, but Lisa is being a total bitch and whining about every last thing that the team throws out. Steph, being perfect as usual, notes that Dale is really talented but is concerned that he’ll butt heads with Lisa since she’s a strong personality and he’s a self-proclaimed asshole. Lisa doesn’t let her down. She wants to cook Asian for Ming Tsai, partly to prove her own skills in that arena, and partly because she’s incredibly racist and thinks it’s the only way to please him. Dale doesn’t want to go Asian, but Lisa continues to push it. My notes here say, “Asian is not fetch.” The entire team basically crashes and burns throughout, and when they get to Whole Foods and continue to fight, Steph finally suggests a spicy shrimp dish. Lisa’s lip starts quivering, and the toddler is finally at bay.
Team Water decides on poaching a fish, most likely salmon, which sounds disgusting. They’re cooking the fish sous vide, which is a French term for boiling something in an airtight plastic bag – literally, “under vacuum” in French. The only thing I can think after realizing that they’re serious is that the texture of the fish would be mushy and bloated, not moist and slightly flaky like most people would prepare or enjoy salmon. One word – disgusting.
Meanwhile, Team Air had decided on a seared duck. Team Air seems to be wholly without any interesting thread. I hate to make shitty metaphors, but it seems like there’s no substance with this team. They haven’t fucked up royally but they aren’t positioning themselves to be incredible, either. Seems like they’re barely there. I hope the editors didn’t pursue this on purpose, because it means they have too much time on their hands.
So the final dishes are beginning to take shape at this point, because the teams have arrived to the kitchen of the old Marshall Fields building. For some reason, Mark decides to comment on the fact that this kitchen is massive. I find the comment to be a throwaway and was used really just to make the audience like him more. The teams have two and a hours to prep and cook their dishes, after which they’ll be plated and served to the hordes upstairs at the gala. Earth’s dish will be beef carpaccio with wild mushrooms and a sunchoke aioli. Team Water is doing a sous vide poached salmon with a vanilla and parsnip puree over a salad of radishes and watercress. Faux caviar of tapioca will make a repeat appearance. Team Fire will be doing chili-rubbed prawns with a chili pepper salad and a miso smoked bacon cocoon. Team Air is doing a seared duck breast with an herb salad and a shot of prosecco with pomegranate.
At this point, one of the best moments of this season occurs. RLT is commenting on how these dishes have to be spot on or someone will go home, and all of the pressure is on in an elimination challenge. She gets to work on the duck and makes a joke with Ryan about his “nice [duck] legs.” He thanks her and then this godawful noise occurs. I rewinded the Tivo several times just to fully appreciate it. In my notes, all I have written down is “In other news, Jenn’s laugh is horrendous.” She’s finally starting to cement herself as a character! She makes puns, she laughs at her own jokes, and said laugh has been known to slaughter innocents. Ladies and gentlemen, we have depth.
Lisa continues to freak, and claims she’s being a bitch, but really she’s just whining like crazy. Nikki start to become obnoxious and calls out Ryan on being frazzled. Then, out of nowhere, yells at him about cussing in the kitchen. Excuse me? I went a little psycho here, since it’s a well known fact, especially for someone who works in the food industry, that our language is about as bad a sailor or a New Jersey teen. Chefs, sous chefs, waiters, expos, et cetera are never really known for our courteous and lovely language. We’re known for working in a high-pressure, thick-skinned, intense atmosphere that requires quick thinking. So a note to Nikki – deal with it or move on.
Colicchio comes out to see how the teams are progressing and Spike tries to act like he loves being second fiddle to two women and how he’s just besides himself with joy. Tom doesn’t buy it, especially when Antonia stares at Spike with disgust/contempt/disbelief and shakes her head. The rest of the walk throughs deal with Tom grilling the teams to find out who’s doing what component of each dish. Richard is floored that Tom doesn’t cackle at this atrociously bad sense of humor. Tom designates Team Water as being awfully cocky and getting ahead of themselves. He’s also pissed that Team Fire is serving a spicy dish as the first course, because he thinks it would overwhelm the palette.
The dishes go out and the judges’ reactions are mixed –
Water – Things are going okay until Ming finds scales on his fish. That’s when his inner drama queen emerges, as my notes dictate. Ming notes that he has five scales in his mouth, then Tom whines about the concept of sous vide salmon.
Fire – Tom hates that the shrimp is spicy, but the entire table is bowled over. Ming notes that Tom is being overwhelmed. The diners themselves love the dish as well.
Air – The duck wasn’t scored and the fat wasn’t rendered. The table of judges are pissed, and then the tirade against little drinks is started. Air is fucked.
Earth – Gail tastes rosemary and notes that it’s a bad choice. The table hates how bland the dish is, and Tom himself says, “These are all earthy ingredients and there’s nothing earthy about them at all.”
Another great episode moment is next. The tasting has been interspersed with commentary from some of the random diners around the room. My notes say this: “Some bitch with 1986 hair says she would send a Team Earth member home. Her fugly friend with clothes from 2086 squeals with mock horror and barely suppressed glee.” This episode is a classic.
More foreshadowing of Zoi going home since Tom goes on and on about knowing how to season your dishes. The only team that even came close to winning was Fire, since everyone else fucked up several components of their dish. Team Fire is called in and after we find out that winner gets to go to Italy for five nights, Lisa is declared victorious…for bacon. Dale is pissed, and rightfully so.
Team Earth and Team Water get called in, and RLT’s utter disbelief as a result is the nail in the coffin for Zoi’s exit. Complaints are thrown at Water first, with the texture, scales, and technique all being called into question. The irrelevance of the puree that Mark produced is also referenced. Gail gives a backhanded compliment to Andrew, highlighting the taste of the tapioca caviar, but calling him out for using it again.
The complaints for the Earth dish are much more fundamental – there was no real taste or seasoning, the entire thing was bland, and the judges hated it. Zoi claimed she didn’t want to overwhelm the taste of the meat, but then Gail whines about the rosemary and how aggressive it was. At this point, Douchey reasserts himself as a total fucktard by throwing the girls under the bus and claiming he wanted to do a butternut squash soup. The chefs claim that would have worked wonderfully, but we all know they would have whined about a soup as a first course.
At this point, it is a moment of complete bullshit. The hypocrisy inherent in keeping Spike another week shows how manipulative the show is in terms of eliminations. Last week, Manuel was sent home for letting Spike take over the dish and making it shitty. This week, Spike lets the girls bowl him over, then sells them out with the soup idea at the last minute, and the judges make some convoluted excuse to keep him over Zoi when he pulled a 180 on his behavior from the previous episode. His evil douche smile that makes me want to commit murder is exacerbated by him picking a fight with the girls once the judges are deliberating. The entire room turns into Spike, Jenn, Dale, and Lisa screaming at each other.
In the end, Zoi is sent packing for making such a bland dish and not seasoning her food. Douchey McFucktard lives to grate our souls another day. And next week, he insults his clients by mocking the Chicago Bears.