Top Chef, Season 5, Episode 4:

Warning: This entry contains spoilers.  LOTS of them.  If you don’t want me to spoil the episode, go watch it already.  Or do what I did and subscribe to the season on iTunes (it kind of sucks not having cable TV in the apartment, but I’m not paying 50 bucks a month for one or two shows.  Sorry.)

Let me start this post by saying two things:

1)  For all of the judgmental people who have been searching for posts about “why [you] should eat at Ariane’s restaurant if Padma spit out her dessert,” and “Why is Ariane still on Top Chef?” I’ve got two words for you:  Eat it.  Eat it eat it eat it freaking eat it.  The number of hits I got on average per day almost doubled after the Foo Fighters episode, and I had a full day’s worth of hits by the time I went to sleep the night of episode 4 — I tripled my daily average by the end of today.  Fickle, fickle, fickle people.  Ariane kicked ass with her turkey last week, and she kicked ass this week with a simple and delicious watermelon, New Jersey beefsteak tomato, and feta salad with balsamic syrup.  AND she did it all knowing that millions of people would be viewing her on live TV.  Way to represent the dirty Jerz, yo!  Ariane’s my homie.

2)  This episode was disappointing for me in a lot of ways.  I’ll get to it.

Intro:

The episode starts off with a recap of last week’s episode, as usual.  This is followed by Jeff working out his lateral deltoids (with terrible form, btw) by lifting two pathetically small weights to his side (Dude, haven’t you ever heard of compound exercises?  Do some freaking pullups instead.  Or make me a chicken sandwich).  Ariane pours coffee for herself and the scene cuts away to Ariane monologuing about how she’s feeling good after the Thanksgiving challenge and her awesome turkey breast and about how she needs to keep the momentum going for herself.

Then Alex talks about how strange it was for him, waking up in the morning without Richard as a roommate (Richard was eliminated last week, in the Foo Fighters episode, for his banana creme s’mores with chocolate ganache).  Also, because Richard is gone now, this is the first time that Alex has really felt alone in this competition.

So, it turns out that Rich left a letter for Alex, on his bed, which Alex then reads to Jamie and Carla.  The exerpt shown on TV said, “It may sound crappy to say this, but you’ve got a friend out of this competition — me.  That being said, here’s the crappy part:  fuck the rest of ’em.  Believe me — you don’t get to realize how much you really want this until they say your name and your chances to compete are taken away.  Now, you really gotta take your gloves off and go for the win, every day.”

The letter makes everyone emotional and sad, and Alex talks about how he misses being at home with his family and his fiance — he got married about 20 days after this episode was filmed.

The scene cuts away to Jamie, the only remaining member of Team Rainbow, after Patrick was eliminated in the first episode, and after Richard was eliminated last week.  She rocks a rainbow bracelet she made in honor of the two, and is wearing a sequined rainbow shirt.

Quickfire challenge: Cue awesome music.

Guest judge:  Rocco DiSpirito

Blatant ad placement:  Rocco’s new book (sorry, but I’m not linking to this one).

The challenge is to make an elegant breakfast amuse-bouche.  One bite.  Everything you are as a chef, refined into one perfect bite.

Rocco mentions that he likes bacon.  A lot.  So just about everyone makes a mad dash for the bacon.

In short order, this is what everyone made, with some commentary:

Stefan: huevos rancheros, served in an eggshell cup.  Although it was good, the criticism (as with almost everyone else’s dish) is that it is too large — not one bite.  It was not, strictly speaking, an amuse bouche.  The judges (Padma and Rocco) love the presentation, which was kind of easy for Stefan, since he has that special tool that you can use to perfectly cut off the top of an egg without getting a jagged edge.

Jeff: He comments that he’s got too many ideas around in his head, so it’s actually really hard for him to commit himself to any one single idea, especially since this will probably be the most important breakfast they’ll ever cook.  He made a little twice-baked potato, stuffed with creme fraiche and bacon.  Also, he made a honey frozen yogurt and paired it with skewers of fresh fruit.  Rocco expresses his disapproval by posing a statement as a question:  “So this is two different dishes. . . . right?  Is that the idea?”  Jeff shrugs, “sure.”

Danny:  cornflake-crusted zucchini flowers, stuffed with shiitake mushrooms and a potato-bacon hash.  He made this dish because, apparently, the breakfast he used to eat as a kid was a bowl of corn flakes and zucchini flowers in a pan.  Sounds like bullshit to me.  What kid eats zucchini flowers for breakfast?  Either way, Rocco said that the dish was overpowered by the corn flakes and that it would have been better if you could taste more of the zucchini flowers.

Ariane: French toast, stuffed with soft cream cheese, bacon, and chives.  Served with a chili maple syrup.  Rocco liked it because it was well balanced — not too sweet, not too savory.  Just right.  Again, Ariane-skeptics should eat it.

Fabio: brioche with bruleed banana and a shot of espresso cream.  He says that he’s Italian — he doesn’t have bacon or eggs for breakfast.  But what does make  him happy in the morning is something sweet, like brioche and maybe some fruit and a cappucino.  Plus, in the morning, if you had something heavy like bacon and eggs, you’d be sluggish and slow.  On the other hand, if you had something light and sweet like his breakfast, you’d be energetic and ready to go.  Of course, the skinny-ass model that IS the host of the show shoots him down by saying he contradicts himself when saying that, since his espresso cream was so heavy.  Feels like a pudding, she says.  Maybe she’s just too used to eating next to nothing to keep her figure?  Fabio looks stunned and has nothing to say.

Leah: a mini bacon, egg, and cheese.  She comments that everyone else’s amuse-bouche is too large.  So, by sticking to what the quickfire challenge asked for — a single bite — she hopes to gain some brownie points.  She fries up some bacon and fries the bread in the bacon fat.  Then, she pairs this up with some spicy tomato sauce and a sunny-side-up quail egg.  Pepper and fried sage finish the dish.  Rocco “mmm’s” while Padma says that it’s the perfect size while still chewing her food.  Leah shoots back by saying, “Well, it’s an amuse-bouche, so I tried to make it one bite.”  Now, everyone else is screwwwweeeedddd, hahaha.

Melissa:  Eggs in a nest.  French toast with an over-easy egg, some strawberries, some bacon.

Radhika:  She says she loves breakfast, especially a good, hearty breakfast.  She made a potato cake with a miniature fluffy omelet with bacon, chives, and hollandaise sauce.

Jamie: she initially laments that she sucks at making breakfast because she never eats it.  When she was younger, she used to eat things like canned chicken noodle soup or Chef Boyardee for breakfast, if she ever had anything at all.  Come service time though, she’s made a BLT with fresh basil and balsamic syrup on top.  Rocco likes it a lot.

Those were all the dishes that were shown.

Judgement:

Bottom two: Danny (cornflakes killed it), Fabio (dish would have been a great dessert, but Rocco likes savory foods for Rocco’s breakfast),

Fabio is hilarious.  He laments that he should have listened when Rocco said he liked bacon by saying (in his heavily accented English), “Nexx time, I’ma do-a piece of toast-a, bay-honna (bacon), and-a some bullshit eggs on it . . . and I’ll probably a-one of the top three.”  Amen, brother.

Top three:

Stefan:  Even though it was more than one bite, Rocco loved the container — the egg cup.  Of course, Stefan cheated a little, since he has that stupid egg-cutting tool.

Leah:  Great arrangement of flavors in the perfect bite.

Jamie:  Beautifully arranged.  Great amuse-bouche.

Rocco would have picked both Jamie and Leah, but since he has to choose one winner, he would pick . . .

Leah!  Hell yes.  Her second quickfire win in a row.  Her prize, besides immunity?  Rocco’s new book, of course.  Jamie is pissed, not because she doesn’t get a stupid book, but because, again, she was so close to winning a quickfire and she didn’t.

Elimination challenge:

Padma says, “You all know how important it is, as a chef, to raise your profile so that people know about you and your cooking.  The more people who know about you, the more we’ll seek out your restaurants, buy your books, and try your food.  So, for your elimination challenge, we want you to show us how you would want to introduce yourselves and your food to millions of television viewers.  You must create a dish for a 2 and a half minute presentation, suitable for a live television segment.”

They all have an hour to cook.  Then, they’ll present their food to the judges.  The judges pick the top 3, who will then go on to a sub-challenge.  The winners will have a major reward here.  Leah is “scared as hell,” hahaha.

Again, Fabio entertains by lamenting about how tough this challenge is for him, considering that he has 2 and a half minutes to explain something in “purrfeck Inglish, live TV.  While I’m coo-hing [cooking].”  I didn’t like him much at first, but this guy is pretty funny.  It helps that he’s an excellent cook, too.

Commercial break.  Shot of Whole Foods supermarket.  $100,  30 minutes to shop.  Fabio narrates.  Also decides to butcher his own tuna.  Priceless.

Eugene and Hosea eventually find their way to the fish counter too.  Eugene is planning on doing homemade sushi, since his culinary background is in sushi.  He finds out that they sell tuna in blocks, so he changes his mind and asks for the blocks of tuna.  In fact, he wants to cut it himself, so he does what Fabio does and goes to the back to butcher his own fish.  Hosea, feeling left out, does the same.  Priceless, man.  Priceless.  Smart, too.

Alex claims that he’s the only one with guts enough to do dessert, so he wants to do a rose scented creme brulee.  I’m cringing in my seat, cuz I already know that custards need to be mixed, baked slowly in a water bath, cooled, topped with sugar, and then bruleed.  They only have an hour.  What the hell is he thinking?

Apparently, he thinks that if he pulls this off, he’ll get a free pass due to the sheer level of difficulty.  It’s more like an impossibility, though, so he’s got the right idea.  Kinda.  Not really.

Jeff wants to do a shrimp malfouf roll.  I’m not sure what he’s thinking, either.  What happened to quick and simple?  Something the viewers could sink their teeth into (literally)?

Jamie is doing a frisee salad with lardons and a fried duck egg, which is topped with caviar.  Honestly, she gets more beautiful with every episode, which is disappointing because she’s a lesbian.

Leah is doing a seared duck breast with corn and blueberries.  She’s happy she has immunity, because the whole live television thing freaks her out.

Radhika decides to do a sweet and spicy shrimp dish, since her flavor profile is Indian, which uses a lot of different strongly flavored spices.

Carla is set on making a tortilla soup.  It was the first thing that came to her mind, and she does not want to be on the bottom.

Ariane, as I mentioned above, is making a beefsteak tomato, watermelon, feta salad with aged balsamic and herb fleur de sel.  Basil oil.  It’s a smart move because it’s simple, tasty, and easy to prepare in 2 and a half minutes.

Danny is doing a ginger soy marinated skirt steak.  It’s got pineapple and tomatoes.  He mentions that he aspires to be like Bobby Flay, and that his goal is to make you laugh and teach you how to cook.  I only now noticed that he’s 25 years old.  I could have sworn he was, like, 30 or 35.

Showtime:

The judges come in and announce that time is up.  It’s time to present the food.

First up is Ariane.  She rocks the house, showing everyone how to make basil oil, and how to put her dish together.  She finishes with like 15 seconds left on the clock.  Perfect.

Next up is Jamie.  She puts together her bitter greens salad with lardons, fried duck egg, and caviar.  Unfortunately, her egg doesn’t cook in the two and a half minutes, so she ends up serving a half-raw egg to the judges.  They are not appreciative.

Next is Alex, with his rose scented creme brulee.  Padma gives him a hard time by asking specific questions, like how much vanilla he would use, then reacting in surprise when he says that he’d use a teaspoon.  This makes him adjust the amount by saying that he’d probably use half a teaspoon.  What a bitch.  Doesn’t matter.  He runs out of time.  The food is inedible anyway, because the creme brulee hasn’t set.

Jeff makes his malfouf roll with shrimp and muhammara sauce.  Don’t ask me what that is.  It’s from the middle east.  I was cool with the middle easterners in college and I ate a decent amount of food from that region, but I don’t know what that is.  I’ll look into it and get back to you.

Fabio is up.  He comments that he’s watching everyone else, and they’re using weird ingredients that professional chefs know, but that his mom doesn’t know.  His mom is the one watching TV.  His mom wants to know about tuna, “hhccarross (carrots), and asparagus.  That’s it.”  Padma asks when he came over from Italy, and Fabio makes fun of himself by calling himself a FOB.  Goddamn priceless, man.

Daniel’s turn.  While searing his skirt steak, a lot of smoke is generated.  Rocco asks why he has his pan so hot.  Danny explains that he wants the soy sauce on the outside of the steak to caramelize.  Idiot.  Soy sauce doesn’t caramelize.  Plus, it’s a lot of freaking smoke!  To boot, it’s all in Tom Colicchio’s face.  I’d say that Tom looked worried, but I couldn’t make out facial features behind all that smoke.  It doesn’t matter though, because the judges love his food.  He proceeds to spew some catchphrases while winking and pointing at the camera.  My friend Catie comments that she’s starting to really dislike him.  Oh well.  He’s all right, I guess.

Stefan makes minestrone soup.  He does the classic television swap-out by replacing his pot of sweated vegetables and cold soup with a pot of soup that’s already made.

Hosea makes tuna coated with a crust of crushed wasabi peas.  Ironic, for me, because that’s what I was munching on.

Eugene makes sashimi, although he doesn’t seem to answer Rocco’s question about the difference between sushi and sashimi satisfactorily.  For the record (to the best of my knowledge), the difference is that sashimi is just raw fish, sliced, with no rice or “seaweed.”  Sushi, on the other hand, is a finger food, made by the chef, which is typically bound with rice and dried algae (the “seaweed” wrapper is actually dried algae).  Sushi contains all the wasabi (if any) that the food requires, as determined by the chef.  To eat, you may use your fingers or chopsticks (both are permissible) to dip a corner of it into a light soy sauce or soy-based sauce (no additional wasabi, please!  Etiquette demands it, although I usually don’t follow this rule for the hell of it.  Plus, I use my fingers in sushi restaurants, so I’m kind of a bastard).

Melissa makes blackened habanero shrimp which is neither blackened nor appetizing.  Everyone thinks the food is way too spicy (habaneros are the hottest naturally growing pepper.  The spiciest foods out there are either capsaicin extracts which are refined from chillis, or crossbred, hybrid, super chillis like the “ghost pepper.”  Melissa’s food is so spicy, in fact, that Tom has to spit the food out because he has spicy food problems.  Oof.

Carla hardly gets a shot.  She runs out of time when she thinks she still has two minutes left.

Ditto Radhika.  She mentions something about rice wine vinegar and that’s it.

Leah, too.  She only gets to put together the corn and blueberry part of her salad.  No seared duck breast.  Bummer.

Stew room:

Everyone vents.  Judges deliberate.  They remember Jamie’s raw egg.  They say Leah is really lucky for having immunity, considering that she was so nervous on camera, plus the fact that she didn’t finish her dish.  Tom says that Alex’s dish was “a silly choice,” because he didn’t have the time.  Rocco didn’t like Carla’s nervous energy, which made him uncomfortable.  She didn’t finish the presentation, but her soup was good.  The girls (Gail and Padma) loved his food and thought he was charming on screen, but too messy.  Tom didn’t like the fact that Danny “smoked out the entire studio,” and “mugged” for the camera.  “Over the top.”  *cue shot of Danny, with beer, making scary faces*

Stefan did all right.  The judges thought it was smart that he had the swap-out ready to go, plus soup was a great idea for TV.  Tom doesn’t like his personality, though.  I guess Richard can relax a little bit at home, since he still has a chance with the Colicchio (HA!).

Everyone unanimously hated Melissa’s dish.  Way too spicy.  Very off-putting.  It would scare anyone who ate it from ever wanting Melissa to come back and cook ever again.

The judges were impressed with Jeff’s confidence, level of complexity, and the fact thathe managed to finish his dish on time.

Everyone loved Fabio.  I’m beginning to do the same.

Padma and Tom loved Ariane and her dish.  Thought it was perfect (Eat it, disbelievers!).

Bottom three: Melissa, Alex, Jamie

Top three: Jeff, Fabio, Ariane

The judges send them all home to rest instead of judging there and then.

The Next Day:

Tom wakes up the top three at 2:00 AM.  When they congregate in the kitchen, Tom tells them that the hosts of the Today Show will be judging their dishes and picking the winner.  Ariane is excited, despite her bed hair.  It’s fantastic.

They all get ready and head off to 30 Rockafeller Plaza to make their food for the show.  Jeff acts bad ass, saying that he’s pissed that it’s 6 in the morning and that he has to make complex, middle eastern food for ladies with “unsophisticated palettes.”  Easy there, Jeff.  Go fix your hair.

After cooking, the three of them are led to the Green Room to watch the hostesses pick apart their food (literally and figuratively).

The rest of the contestants wake up at the Top Chef house and discover that Fabio, Jeff, and Ariane are gone.  They find a big TV set up in the living room and congregate around it to watch the Today Show feed from the Top Chef camera crew.

They dig into Ariane’s watermelon, tomato, and feta salad.  Meredith something-or-other hates watermelon, so she picks around it.  Generally, they “love it!!”.

Next Fabio’s dish: sesame-crusted seared tuna with carrots, asparagus, and balsamic glaze.  Fabio watches in confusion, because he can’t understand what the hell they’re all saying, hahaha.

Next is Jeff’s dish.  Tom dumbs it down for them by saying that it’s a sauteed shrimp cabbage roll.  Some like it.  Kathi Lee gags and is about to throw up.  What a bitch.  Picky eaters really annoy me sometimes.

The judges deliberate (the women of the Today Show, that is).  They don’t seem to like unusual foods.  Freaking unadventurous palettes.  I hate that.

Finally, they say that although it isn’t the most original dish (where have we all heard that one before?), it was a good dish.  Ariane wins it!  She also squeals and jumps with delight behind stage.  Carla is ecstatic and likewise squeals from home.

Back to the Top Chef judge’s table:

Everyone says it was a great experience.  Ariane, being the winner, gets a prize from Rocco DiSpirito — a toolbag from a toolbag.  It’s got a thin fish spatula in it, an offset spatula or two in it, a big metal spoon, and a couple other things that I can’t make out.  There were about 24 tools in all, he said, but we only saw maybe 8 at home.

I was disappointed again because it was at this point that I found out that I missed the episode of the Today Show that aired this morning.  Apparently, Ariane was live on there.  Sigh.  If anyone finds it on YouTube or something, let me know!

The winners go out and the losers come in:

Melissa defends her dish — says that she thought the dish was well balanced.  Rocco expresses his disbelief, considering how spicy habaneros are.

Jamie defends her actions by saying that she knew the egg wasn’t cooked, but she wanted to get her dish done.  She should have flipped the egg over.  Rocco didn’t like her attitude, since she “recoiled” and crossed her arms, as if she were really angry.  Of course, she was angry at herself and not the judges, but that wasn’t the way some people (COUGH rocco COUGH.  Wow, I can’t believe I just did that) saw it.

Alex had to defend his choice in making creme brulee.  I don’t think he was very successful at defending himself.

Melissa then pipes in about how much she really wants to be here, which seems like she’s implying that other people don’t want to be here.  Tom calls her out on this, but she denies it.  Padma then goes back to Alex, who somewhat lamely defends himself and why he wants to be here again.

The bottom three get sent out and the REAL judges deliberate.  Rocco disagrees with Tom when Tom says that Jamie’s dish was very close to being a good dish.  Rocco says that raw eggs and cooked eggs are worlds apart, which is true, but he misses the point that Jamie only had 2 and a half minutes to cook an egg.  I would argue that he couldn’t have done it better himself.  Rather, I would argue that he probably would have done worse.

Rocco again brings up Jamie’s reaction after time was up — how she recoiled and got angry.  Hey, Rocco . . . WHO THE HELL CARES?!?  Leave it alone, man!

Back in the stew room, Alex wonders if Melissa is trying to throw him under the bus.  Either way, it’s too late to defend himself now.  The judges have heard enough.

Cut to commercial.  The show cuts back to a scene of Leah and Hosea flirting hardcore.  Bastard.  Just kidding, haha.

Back to the judges table:  Tom recites the list of offenses to the guilty party.  Padma passes judgment.

Alex goes home to write his vows and get married.

Next week: everyone cooks for Gail’s bridal shower.  Whyyyyyyyy is Gail getting marrieddddd???  How disappointing.  Sigh.

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