Top Chef, Season 5, Episode 6:

WARNING: This be spoiler city.  Ye be warned.

So this week’s episode of Top Chef was entitled the 12 Days of Christmas.  Things started off with some monologues from Eugene, Ariane, and the Euro pair [Fabio and Stefan].  These two guys are pretty damn funny, if you can get past the accents and stuff.  I even warmed up a bit to the usually cold and arrogant bastard, Stefan, in the opening scenes of this episode.  I’m betting that it’ll only last as long as he keeps losing.  Once he starts winning challenges again, it’s back to the asshole we’re used to.

The quickfire challenge: The Top Chef kitchen is decked out in Christmas decorations.  Padma sets up the challenge:  making a one-pot and wonderful Christmas-y dish.  Oh, by the way.  You have to cook for Martha Stewart, who just happens to be the guest judge [who just happens to be shamelessly promoting yet another book].  No sweat.  Right?

Forty-five minutes.  GO!

The chefs scramble and the editors splice in the monologues.  Eugene’s making a pork stew with a Korean pepper sauce base, because “one pot” means “comfort food” to  him.  Fair enough.  He decides to use corn starch to thicken his stew because he figures there isn’t enough time to have the stew cook down and reduce, even though he could easily have made a roux in very little time.  I mean, he even says he throws mirepiox into the stew, so I can’t believe that he wouldn’t think to make a roux — they’re both basic French elements in cooking!

Hosea is making a sausage, shrimp, and chicken paella.  Sounds like a fantastic idea, except I’m concerned that it won’t taste as good as it could be, since paella always seems to taste magnitudes better the next day.

Jeff is making a potato risotto.  The less that is said about that, the better.

Ariane’s making a cauliflower puree that she makes to fool her kids into thinking they’re eating mashed potatoes.  Jamie’s making a kale and potato stew with scallops.  Jamie talks about how she and Ariane have developed a habit of working next to each other to mutually support each other, taste each others’ food, and offer helpful suggestions to one another.  She also has a classic Freudian slip moment where she says that her food is more innovative — a little bit more modern than Ariane’s food.  Hey, whatever.  It’s true.  Everybody seems to be saying it, and I agree — Ariane’s food isn’t original.  It’s usually well executed, though.  That’s what really counts when your competition can’t even combine flavors that work together.

Fabio talks about how he was evil when he was six years old — a bad boy.  It’s pretty funny.  His grandmother punished him / prevented him from destroying the house by forcing him to stir polenta, so he’s decided to do a mushroom polenta with seared duck breast.

Carla makes a brined turkey breast with apple & dried cherry stuffing.  Someone needs to tell her that Thanksgiving was over almost a month ago.  Someone also needs to tell her that brining doesn’t happen when you only have 45 minutes to cook the whole dish.

Judgment:

Martha didn’t like Eugene’s dish.  She hated the corn starch he used to thicken the stew.  Plus, she thought it could have been more flavorful.  She also didn’t like Jeff’s potato risotto because it was too heavy and too starchy, which is a shame because risotto is apparently one of her favorite dishes.  I think she needs a little refresher course in basic nutrition, cuz the last time I checked, rice was pretty much entirely starch as well.  Also, risotto is dense stuff.  It’s usually got a lot of cream and parmesan in it, so it would also be heavy.  She also didn’t like the verjus that Jeff added on the top of the potatoes.  Finally, she also didn’t like Fabio’s dish because she wanted to see the mushrooms in the polenta.  This visibly irks him, and he proceeds to talk about how his grandmother would be so ashamed of Martha during his personal monologue response.

What Martha did like were Hosea’s, Jamie’s, and Ariane’s dishes.  She picked Ariane’s dish as the winner, and gave Ariane a copy of her new book, because every one of these guest judges has a new book and an agenda that they wanna shove down our throats.

I call shenanigans.  Although I’ve more or less sung Ariane’s praises in the past, I (and my friends) felt like Jamie really ought to have won this quickfire challenge.  It’s tough to judge, since we’re not tasting the food, but based on complexity and technical merit, it seems like Jamie’s dish was far superior.  It was the most original of the 3 dishes, and it was decently complex compared to everyone else’s attempts.  Hosea made a straight up paella — no twists or innovations at all.  And Ariane made cauliflower puree with herb rubbed filet of beef.  Neither were innovative or original in any way whatsoever.  I felt cheated.  I can only imagine how Jamie must have felt.

Maybe it was because both Martha and Ariane are from Jersey?  Maybe it was the older woman thing?  Maybe Martha just didn’t like Jamie cuz of her look, lesbianism, and tattoos?  Again, without tasting the food, I can’t be sure, but it sure as hell looked like Jamie shoulda won this one.

Whatever.  On with the elimination challenge:

Cater an event for 250 people for the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR).  The theme to this challenge is suddenly introduced by the Harlem Gospel Choir, who march into the kitchen, singing the 12 Days of Christmas.

This may be mean, uncalled for, and totally unnecessary, but they sounded really out of tune and off-key to me.  They more or less pulled it together by the end of the song, it seems, but right off the bat, I was thinking “oh muh god mah earz.  wtf are they doing???”  I was looking at pictures of lolcats, apparently.

Draw knives!  Each of the 11 remaining chefs draw numbered knives, which correspond with one of the lyrics in the song.  Don’t remember what your true love gave to you on the 10th day of Christmas?  No worries.  The Harlem Gospel Choir will remind you — by bursting out into loud and obnoxious (sorry) song.  Awkward.

The chefs have 3 hours of prep and an hour before service the next day.  250 people.  Dear God, I would never survive this challenge.

Natasha Richardson and Michelle Bernstein are introduced as the two guest judges for this event.

They all bought their stuff at Whole Foods.  Seems like they bought waaayyyy too much to me.  I’ve catered before, and for 250 people, I probably would have bought $800 worth of groceries, max.  Judging from the numbers I saw, they probably ended up spending close to $5000.  I guess I can understand it — they don’t want to forget anything or be caught with not enough food, so they buy extra.  They forget that there are 10 other chefs making food.  The only person I saw who had a modest bill was Stefan, which I was happy to see.  Part of being a Top Chef isn’t just cooking well and making good food — it’s about keeping costs down.  That, to me, is the greatest thing about the kitchen.  You can take scraps of meat and transform it into a wonderful sausage, for example.  You can take a failed soup and turn it into a sauce, or you can take a failed sauce and turn it into a soup.  Aromatic trimmings can go into the stock pot to flavor stock.  In my kitchen, I try to use everything, and let nothing go to waste.  The Top Chef kitchen obviously seems to waste a lot.  But I suppose it is okay, because this is television and not real life.  Real life budgets pale in comparison.

The twist in this challenge was that someone didn’t close one of the fridges, so this screws Radhika and Hosea.  Everyone pulls together to help them out.

Anyway, the chefs had to make a dish inspired by their corresponding number:

Stefan drew the knife with the number 12 on it — as in 12 drummers drumming.  He decides to make a chicken pot pie, using chicken drumsticks.  Clever?

Hosea drew the number 11, as in 11 pipers piping.  Interestingly, instead of thinking about musical pipes, he thinks of smoking pipes, and starts laughing uncontrollably.  Smoking.  As in smoking a piece of pork, I’m sure (cough).  He ends up making a smoked pork loin with smoked paprika, chipotle and roast corn mashed potato, apple and brandy jus.  He also has a bit of cabbage, too.  There’s bacon thrown in there for good measure, because everyone knows that bacon wins you Top Chef.

Jeff gets 10 lords a-leaping.  He wants to do frogs’ legs, can’t find any, so he does a Mediterranean island cheese tasting (it’s actually a salad) and spins it by saying that you’re “a-leaping” from island to island.  Seared halloumi and kasseri cheeses with roasted beets, pears, mint, and spices.  Sesame and nuts.  Natasha says that two cheeses was two (ha!) much.  It was “a bit like putting brie on top of camembert.”  Too bad you can’t express an accent very well through text. . . .

Fabio gets 9 ladies dancing, so he makes. . . . something with crab legs.  He figures that you have to use your legs to dance, so that’s what he’s thinking.  He comes up with a crab cake, because he says that female crabs dance around their eggs to cover them with sand.  Whatever.

Melissa gets 8 maids a-milking, so she makes some bullshit canape with NY strip steak and too much gorgonzola.  Sourdough crostini.  Cranberry vinaigrette.  I can get a steak with blue cheese on it at Outback.  I fucking hate Outback.

Jamie gets 7 swans a-swimming, so she’s making a crudo of scallop “swimming” in vichyssoise.  Lemon agrumato, leeks, microgreens.  Slimy.  Bad.  A shame.  She seems to be oblivious.  Also, she’s using scallops AGAIN.  Tom later says (and I was thinking the same thing) that he would have served it in a much saltier, acidic marinade — ceviche style.  That way, the proteins in the scallop “cook” in the acid.  I couldn’t agree more.

Ariane gets 6 geese a-laying, so she makes devilled eggs 6 different ways.  Crab salad, smoked salmon with dill, roasted red pepper with aged balsamic, basil with gremolata, crispy caper, and a traditional devilled egg.

Eugene gets 5 golden rings, so he makes poisson cru — he calls it a Tahitian style ceviche.  Gold yukon potato chip.  Pineapple ring.  It’s too sweet.

No one drew the number 4 (there are only 11 chefs left).

Leah drew 3 french hens, so she’s doing poultry too.  Braised guinea hen with puff pastry underneath.  Butternut squash puree, which sounds like a bad idea to me.  Sounds too much like Stefan’s pot pie to me, too — not the flavors, but the elements.  Heck, everyone seems to be doing crap on a crostini or something similar.  What the hell.

Carla drew 2 turtle doves, so she’s doing a mushroom cap and duxelle to represent the shell of the turtle.  It seems as if she is confused, but at least she’s not doing poultry.  Right?  Oh wait, nevermind.  There’s braised chicken in there, too.  Everyone’s doing poultry.  Hers is too salty.

Radhika gets the partridge in a pear tree.  Since her duck breasts spoiled overnight from the warm fridge, she uses the legs instead (Fabio helped her break down the legs, and everyone else pitched in to help too, it seems).  Indian spices on that duck leg.  Braised and shredded on top of toasted brioche.  Pear chutney.  Toasted pistachios.

Judgment:

At judges’ table, Natasha is seen in a different red dress, which is a real shame, because her previous dress was fantastic[ally revealing].  The top chefs were Radhika, Jeff, Stefan, and Hosea.  The bottom of the barrel consisted of Jamie, Eugene, and Melissa.

Melissa claims that she’s not sure why she’s there, because she got a lot of positive feedback from the guests who ate her food.  Hey, Meliisa. . . here’s a clue:  THEY WERE LYING TO YOUUUUU.

Hosea ends up winning the challenge, which I think is bullshit.  First of all, his food spoiled in the fridge.  If it weren’t for the other chefs, he wouldn’t have had anything at all.  Second of all, he ended up using a pork loin instead of the tenderloin he had marinated and smoked, so he was working with inferior product.  Jeff was the next closest competitor, in terms of how many people at the reception liked his dish best.  Personally, I thought Jeff should have won it, hands down.

Either way, Michelle Bernsteins awards Hosea with a copy of her new book.  I’m telling ya — everybody has a book they’re trying to push.  Also, she gives books to everyone there, in the spirit of Christmas, because everyone helped each other out (and probably because her garage is shoved so full of copies of these rather shabby looking books that she doesn’t know what to do with herself.

In the spirit of Christmas, Tom decides not to send anyone home, so everyone is still here.  It’s a shame, because I’d really like to see Melissa go home.  Eugene has been underperforming as well, even though I initially cited him as my favorite (I still love the fact that he started as a dishwasher and is now a chef, though).

It’s also a blessing, because had they decided to eliminate someone, I’m pretty sure Jamie would have been eliminated.  We would have had another Dale on our hands (from last season).  It’s always sad to see great chefs go home because of one lousy dish (especially scallops, since that’s what Dale was eliminated for as well.  Who remembers the butterscotch scallops?).

The others have been pretty strong, with Hosea and Ariane picking up steam and cooking better and better.  Stefan seems to be losing steam, so he needs to step it up.

Doesn’t matter.  Next week, there are no limits.  Every chef gets to cook whatever the hell he or she wants to, and they get judged on that.  This should be goooood.

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One Response to “Top Chef, Season 5, Episode 6:”

  1. […] of us who saw the Christmas episode (episode 6) of Top Chef  New York (season 5) may remember seeing the lovely Ms. Natasha Richardson on the […]

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