If last night's episode of "Top Chef" could be reduced to a single theme, it would be second chances. Second chances for past "Top Chef" contestants who failed to make serious waves in their respective seasons, a second chance for One-Flew-Over-the-Cuckoo's-Nest Carla and her love-saturated dishes, and a second chance for Fabio, whose overcooked venison nearly sent him home at the end of the episode. Of course, to package the episode into such a neat descriptor would be negligent of me. Kind of like the audience of "fans" who turned the elimination challenge into an episode of "American Idol." But more on that later...
The episode started off in typical fashion. Hosea reminded us that it's down to seven chefs and "there's no room for error," Leah reminded us that she and Hosea drank too much in the previous episode and smooched it up on the couch, and Carla said something, but I was too distracted by her creepy, overextended eyeballs to take notice.
In this week's quick-fire challenge the remaining chefs were charged to create a dish with oats (Quaker in case you missed the overt close-ups of the labels) and items from a specific food group (fruit, vegetables, fish, poultry, dairy, etc.). Fabio drew vegetables and complained, "There is no reason to eat vegetable when there is meat and seafood around." (But what if the meat is monkey ass? Can we eat carrots then, Fabio?) Leah drew fish and once-smitten Hosea looked on in malicious amusement as she tried to extract the bones from her fillets, and Carla staked claim on the challenge with her proclamation, "I'm the oats girl." Too bad Stefan proved to be the oats boy with yet another noteworthy dessert using his key ingredient dairy. Guest judge Scott Conant, chef at Scarpetta in NY, awarded the Mister Clean look-a-like another win, and Hosea whined that Stefan's head is becoming bigger. (Possibly jealous that it is approaching the size of his balloon-sized head?)
As soon as Hosea ended his tirade, Padma informed the chefs that there is a surprise for them in the stew room. Fabio gave the producers another amusing sound byte and guessed it is "A dog?", and then upon discovering that the surprise is football helmets and aprons disguised as jerseys, announced that he wants to "put on the helmet and knock somebody off." (Please let it be Leah, please let it be Leah.)
Dressed in their styling (not really) jerseys that they all pretend to be excited about, the chefs are then given the 411 on the elimination challenge. As the winner of the quick-fire, Stefan is given special consideration in the challenge, a complicated riff on the Superbowl that pits the chefs against competitors from previous seasons. Each cheftestant must create a dish representative of a particular region/football team that will then be judged head-to-head against their "All Star" opponent's similarly themed dish. Stefan is allowed to choose his competitor and football team, and decides he can easily mop the floor with Andrea, who was sent packing in the second episode of Season 1 for all her whole grain, vegetable nonsense. He later admits to having a crush on her and pigs fly as the world discovers that Stefan might actually have a heart. Andrew (Season 4), who claims he will be peeing on the opposing chefs' bodies, apparently does not.
The prep in the kitchen proceeds without much noteworthy action, though in case we forgot, Fabio gives us another reminder that there are "only seven chefs left, and there is not room for error." Right. We got that memo when Hosea told us twenty minutes ago. The chefs are then herded to a culinary institute where they will have twenty minutes to cook their dish for a simultaneous tasting by the judges and five culinary students/fans. The judges' favorite dish will score seven points (ie. a touchdown) for the chef's team, and the students' favorite dish will score them three points (ie. a field goal). The team with the most points wins the "Superbowl," and the chefs with the fewest points will be up for elimination. Simple right? Simple like Jeff's rock shrimp ceviche with sangria sorbet.
The head-to-head cook-offs quickly turn into an episode of "American Idol," as the judges' opinions are repeatedly ignored by the culinary student "fans." (Note to self: Do not wear a foam finger if wanted to be taken seriously.) I would protest further, were it not for the three points they awarded Fabio for his overcooked venison and cheese salad -- ie. monkey ass on a plate. Fortunately, Fabio was not the only one who made room for errors in the challenge. Jeff's ceviche transgressions (sorbet, really?) and Stefan's overly cocky (or googly, love-sick puppy dog) performance landed them on the chopping block, as well. In a weird reversal of last week's episode, the weakest links (Leah, Carla, Hosea, and Jamie) came out on top, and Carla was awarded the victory for her crawfish gumbo made with, you guessed it, love.
Fabio, Stefan and Jeff are then paraded before the judges and Fabio-lovers across America immediately begin practicing some Carla-style meditation so he won't be eliminated. Despite his inane defense that the venison was overcooked because he placed it on the hot cabbage, Fabio makes it to the next week, and pretty boy Jeff, who never could keep up with the "bigger guys" when he played football as a teen, is sent home.
In a moment of touching humility (cue collective audience: "Aww"), Fabio tells the judges, "I do believe in second chances and tonight, I think I got the biggest of my life."
That's right, Fabio. Let's keep the monkey-ass to a minimum next week, k?