Lots of crazy going on in last night’s episode of “Top Chef,” but there’s really only one thing that matters. Robin is still there at the end – heinous purple lipstick and all.
Of course, since this is a “Top Chef” re-cap and not a “Top Chef” sound byte, I suppose I should dig a little deeper. I like to dig. Just like Ash likes to dig himself into holes with his chatterbox. But more on that later.
The episode starts out with a few new revelations about the Top Cheffians – Michael Voltaggio has two kids (aww, we love him even more now!), and Ash never went to culinary school. Uh oh… it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, wait… it’s… an underdog! “Top Chef” really likes to play up the underdogs. Remember crazy “hooty-hoo” Carla from last season? She was fun. Too bad Ash is just sort of taking up kitchen space with his mostly inconsequential dishes. He’s tall, awkward, but also pretty much the nicest nice guy this side of the Mississippi. He’s so nice it kind of makes me want to throw up. Maybe that’s why Jenn C. was hugging the porcelain crown before the Quickfire? Or maybe she just got a sneak peak of Padma’s green onesie… seriously Padma? Seriously?
So Jenn’s throwing up which is great considering she’s about to cook food (hope Tyler Florence isn’t a germ-a-phob!), Padma is trying out maternity clothes for a future bun in her oven, and Robin is still attempting to convince everyone that she is deserving to be there. Great job, kids. Really, excellent work! This should be an awesome Quickfire Challenge. I mean did you know that guest judge Tyler Florence has books? And a TV show? Oh, and I guess he cooks things too.
For the high-stakes challenge that offers the winner a choice of immunity from elimination or $15,000 courtesy of the M Resort (that’s a plug for those that missed it during the episode), the chefs will each randomly receive three key words from a slot machine. They must then use those words to come up with a dish. Translation: Most of the chefs will cook whatever the f* they want and then try to pass it off as whatever it is they drew. Robin, who receives “stressed, umami, and Middle Eastern” decides that means she can just add cumin and chickpeas to her dish. Whatever, Robin. Insert Padma rolling eyes – “ignorant Americans.” Robin’s sheepish response? “Perhaps I blurred the lines a little too much.”
Not sure if she’s talking about the food or the purple guck all over her lips/face…
Eli is also on the bottom for his mushroom ceviche with avocado marble that makes Tyler Florence reach (indiscreetly) for his napkin. Always a good sign. Jenn also lands in the bottom because caviar on scallops is like, duh, so not original. I mean it sounds pretty awesome to me, but then again, I don’t have books or a TV show. Yet.
Michael, Mike I. and Kevin “Red Beard” are on top, and Kevin gets the nod for his char-grilled pork with Vietnamese salad. Me thinks I should start calling him Kevin Bacon. Har har har. But I won’t because I like his beard way too much for that. He opts for the $15,000 courtesy of the M resort (woohoo another plug alert!) instead of the immunity and everybody claps for him. Yay, Kevin! Good decision! Everybody loves Kevin.
For the elimination challenge the chefs are sent back home with the mysterious directive, “Go home and enjoy a home-cooked meal.” Right. Because “Top Chef” is all about having a golly gee grand ole time. The twists are starting to wear on the chefs, and even the tough-as-pig ear Jenn admits that it is “mentally exhausting to walk into a twist every single day.” I’m starting to feel a little sorry for the poor blokes, but then Nancy Silverton, my chef idol, appears on camera and I start squealing like a foodiot. She’s standing next to Govind Armstrong, Tom Douglas and Takashi Yagihashi, all of whom are holding bags of food that the chefs will have to use to prepare dinner for the judges, Nancy, Govind, Tom and Takashi. They will draw knives for their bag of food and partner, and will then have three hours to cook one family-style dish together.
Mike Isabella reflects that there is only one person he doesn’t want to work with (Robin), and because Murphy’s Law seems to really love him in this episode (he also receives Takashi’s Asian food which he isn’t familiar with), he, of course, is paired off with Robin. Isn’t it romantic? Actually, no. But it is fun to see him mock and ignore her. The ignoring actually proves to be a good tactic. He gives her little things to do “that [won’t] affect the final product” and she just babbles away, happy as a little clam. If clams wore purple lipstick... (that’s the last purple lipstick joke, promise!)
Kevin and Jenn C are working with Tom Douglas’ bag of Asian condiments and bok choy and decide to do barbecued kobe beef with cardamom and tomato ginger broth. They seem like an odd couple, but are pretty cute together – a nice juxtaposition of cuddly and prickly. Lorraine and Bryan aren’t given much camera time as they work with Tyler Florence’s ingredients which in “Top Chef” speak means there is no fear of disaster here. They’ll be fine as wine.
Eli and Ashley, who are making spot prawns with gnocchi, red beet crème fraiche sauce and kale, and Ash and Michael, who are whipping up pancetta-wrapped halibut with egg yolk ravioli and asparagus, are quickly established as the ones on chopping block watch. Ashley nervously takes command of cooking the delicate prawns, leaving Eli to get a little too friendly with the salt shaker on the rest of the dish. And in the other room, Michael’s electric frying pan blows a circuit while he’s trying to cook the fish. Not good, not good at all.
The snooze fest of a dinner party (aside from the lovely Ms. Silverton, of course) pretty much confirms all suspicions. Ashley’s prawns are undercooked, the gnocchi are too salty, Michael’s halibut is overcooked and too mushy with the egg yolk ravioli (a pasta dish that is coincidentally served at Ms. Silverton’s Osteria Mozza in LA). They all land in the bottom, and golden boy Michael is seriously stressed out. So much so that even calm as a cup of chamomile tea Bryan is started to freak out for him. It’s rather cute actually – big brother looking out for little brother in the middle of the Nevada desert. Seriously, someone get a camera – this is like a “Family Matters” moment!
Well, it is until Ash has to go and steal Bryan’s sensitive soul thunder at the Judge’s table. He boldly tells Padma, the seriously de-clawed Toby Young, Tom, and Tyler that his ideas weren’t as good as Michael’s ideas, and then likens Michael to Picasso – Ash doesn’t mind playing second fiddle to the culinary genius. It’s probably the most selfless moment in “Top Chef” history. Ash attaches a giant “insert knife here X” across his chest and Michael is humbled into speechlessness.
Fortunately good karma is preserved for all mankind, and the judges deem Ashley’s undercooked prawns the greater sin instead. She’s sent packing, and everyone breathes a big collective sigh of relief for Picasso. I mean, Golden boy. I mean, Michael! He’s a daddy -- did you hear?
Kevin “Red Beard” and Jenn C. and Bryan and Lorraine are on top for their kobe beef with cardamom and tomato ginger broth, and halibut with sherry chorizo vinaigrette and corn cake, respectively, and Mike and Robin sneak through to the next round via the middle ground. Ultimately, Kevin and Jenn are awarded the win, with Jenn getting the nod for her righteous sauce. Apparently, germs are super delicious when combined with tomatoes. Hope it isn’t swine flu! (Though I bet Kevin Bacon wouldn’t mind that scenario too much.)
Jenn wins a $10,000 gift certificate for Macy’s (hello, plug!) and reflects that “Kevin will probably get a suit out of it.” Mental images abound on this one. Kevin “Red Beard” in a suit—mmm, yes, please! Hope she throws in the comical bacon tie too…