My fantasy ending for this episode: That the judges eliminate all eight of the remaining cheftestants, declare the viewers the winner and donate the prize money to Share Our Strength. It’d really be the right thing to do, Bravo.
The Twitterverse and blogosphere agree this season shouldn’t have been called “Top Chef,” but more like “Stuff Most People Can Cook at Home Chef.” There is nothing Top about any of this, and that’s disappointing because there are a couple of really truly talented chefs on the show this season who are suffering the wrath of viewer ennui.
But no, there will be no putting us out of our misery just yet. We have to suffer through Restaurant Wars. And, for the first time, it’s a battle of the sexes. Each team will take over Austin restaurant Palm Door for one night — and each team will eat in the other team’s restaurant. They must serve a three-course menu with two choices for each course, and feed 100 people. They have to designate someone as front-of-house honcho, and each team member must be responsible for at least one dish. They have five hours to cook and decorate. The judges are Tom, Hugh (chef Acheson), Emeril and Padma.
They’re given 45 minutes to plan their menus and $7,500 to spend on decor at a garden store and at Sur La Table. Their food budget is $4,000. The coin toss decides: The men go first.
Edward takes the front of house for the guys’ restaurant, Canteen: “a quirky mess hall with elegant touches.” Lindsay helms front of house for the girls’ restaurant, Half-Bushel. Both teams plan and shop, and it’s clear the girls don’t like Beverly, and not just because her groundbreaking suggestion for her course was roasted beets with goat cheese.There’s real animosity and frustration there, and I’m wondering what stories will be told once the chefs’ nondisclosure agreements expire. As he buttons up his chef’s coat, Chris J. drops some lame “Star Trek” reference that no one on his team understands or cares about. We watch the usual footage of cooking prep and dining room setup. As they talk about the dishes, nothing is jumping out at me as something I can’t wait to eat.
The guests arrive at Canteen and the night of service begins. It looks as though Ed is expediting in addition to his host duties, which is a recipe (ha!) for disaster. The guys realize this 15 minutes or so into service, and have to figure out how to regroup their staffing. Diners have a case of the sads that their food is being brought out cold.
The Judges arrive. Tom and Padma like the decor and vibe, until they see Ty-Lor expediting from the dining room in his dirty apron.Ruh-roh. The girls show up to eat.
Here’s what the guys served:
Ty-Lor: Thai-style crab and shrimp salad, caramel fish sauce and peanuts. It’s deemed a little flat and lacking in acid. Tom likes the sauce.
Paul: Ham and pork pate with mushrooms, braised mustard seeds, nectarines and duck fat crostini. Emeril likes the concept, but thought it was greasy.
Paul usurps Ty-Lor as expediter. Padma notices. Ed’s wandering lower jaw (with Ed attached to it) keeps hovering over Paul and it’s really annoying.
Ty-Lor and Paul: Poached salmon in warm tomato water, clams and tomatillo jam. After the plates go out, Paul sees they forgot to put the mushrooms on the salmon. Tom likes the dish, but Hugh says it’s not inventive.
Paul: Crispy skin pork belly with green apple and sweet potato puree. Emeril likes it, but wishes it had a spicy slaw with it.
Edward: Almond joy cake with malted chocolate mousse and banana-coconut puree. Tom says it’s lacking in coconut. They all agree he shouldn’t have billed it as an Almond Joy-like dessert, and it would’ve been fine on its own.
Chris J: Homemade Cracker Jack, cherries and peanut butter ice cream. Emeril is not loving the taste or the presentation. Tom and Padma love the salty-sweet combo.
In their brief rehash, the judges are complimentary of the effort the guys put forth, but say they needed to work harder on some of the dishes. Padma mentions some sort of cellphone app the diners are using to rate the dishes.Personally, I would’ve opened my Scrabble app and gotten a triple word score on S-U-X.
The next night, it’s time for the girls to show ’em what they’ve got. Lindsay sets up the dining room, and they all prep their dishes in the kitchen. There’s whining and snappy talk, and Beverly is bumping into things.
Guests are seated. The judges arrive, and Lindsay is not there to greet them; she’s in the kitchen checking to make sure Beverly knows how to execute Lindsay’s dish because Lindsay will be in the dining room. The guys arrive soon after — also to an empty host stand. Tom notices that Lindsay is tied up in the dining room dealing with customer issues and isn’t greeting new diners at the door. The judges are hungry.
Here’s what they (eventually) get to eat:
Grayson: Peach salad with pickled shallots, bacon vinaigrette and candied pistachios. Tom and Hugh think it has good flavor.
Sarah: Mozzarella-filled arancino, sweet-and-sour eggplant and celery salad. Tom and Emeril love it and say it’s executed perfectly.
Beverly: Braised short rib with Thai basil potato puree, apple slaw and kimchi. The judges seem to like it.
Lindsay: Grilled halibut with Spanish chorizo, fennel and sherry salad. Tom thought it was too subtle in flavor. Hugh thinks the fish is overcooked.
Service and expediting continues to fall apart.
Grayson: Schaum torte with vanilla meringue and champagne berries. Tom liked it a lot.
Sarah: Hazelnut cream zeppole (called “doughnuts”) with a banana-sugar glaze. Emeril thinks it’s rich and heavy, and not flavorful enough.
In the quick rehash, the judges agree the guys did better on service but the girls did better on food. Can’t wait to see how this plays out [<--- sarcasm font].
In the Stew Room, Beverly does her meek-victim thing while the girls tell her everything she did wrong. The guys just sit back and smile. Padma calls the girls to Judges’ Table first. They grill them for a bit about service . . . then tell them they won the challenge, because their food was better. The judges loved the peach salad, arancino and short ribs most. The chef with the winning dish is: Beverly. She wins a big-ass bottle of Terlato wine and a trip to tour the vineyard in Napa. And, of course, she cries. There are no hugs or high-fives when she gets back to the Stew Room.It’s awkward.
The guys go before Judges’ Table next. Hugh tells them there was “no wow factor with food.” Tom criticizes Ty’s dish for being bland and not Thai enough. Hugh and Emeril tell them the individual components of the salmon dish were decent — they just didn’t work well together, and the whole thing was under-seasoned. Then the judges ask why Chris only did one dish while everyone else did more work (which they didn’t ask of Beverly, and somehow she won). Ed is chastised for not having enough coconut in his dessert.
Tom says all of the guys deserve to go home, but ultimately it’s Ty who packs his knives. He thanks them for the opportunity (drink!), and they all hug it out in the Stew Room.
Up next week: Charlize Theron (um, okay) joins the judges for a feast of all things wicked, nasty, offal-y and faux-bloody. And do you know who else is at the dinner table? Do you? I do. It’s my boo, Eric Ripert. Finally, one episode of “Top Chef” I will hate a teensy-weensy bit less.