Watch What We Say: Top Chef
Episode 3
By Jason Lee
December 2, 2008

I am a good 73% sure this is Richard.

This Week on Watch What We Say: I pity the Foo.

Whether it's the requirement to balance old and new or the relatively small number of ingredients that are associated with the holiday, for whatever reason, the Thanksgiving Day challenge on Top Chef has flummoxed many a chef. With this year's challenge taking place early in the Top Chef season, a good number of chefs will get to experience this conundrum firsthand.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The Quickfire Challenge for today's episode is relatively simple (albeit burdened with a kind of product placement rarely seen on this show). Each chef is assigned one recipe from their BRAND NEW TOP CHEF COOKBOOK, in stores now, and must put their own spin on it.

Gentle reader, I'm going to confess to you that upon hearing this, I groaned. The chefs this season have not been very skilled at putting their own spin on anything, preferring instead to take recipes as firm directives as opposed to starting points for their own creative juices. And after a good 20 minutes in the kitchen, the chefs seemed to be heading down this boring road once ore.

Here comes Padma and the guest judge, Grant Achatz, super famous molecular gastronomer from Chicago, to save the day. They've changed their minds. They want soup instead. The chefs must now take all the ingredients that they were working on and create a soup out of them. Huzzah! I don't know what's gotten into the show's producers this season but I'm liking it. This twist is great, forcing the so-far conservative chefs to step out on that proverbial limb.

And the results are great. Jaime (who excelled at her Autumn soup dish last week) has a wonderful dish again this week. Joining her in the top three are Leah, with a superb White Asparagas soup, and Alex with a soup that positively bursting with breakfast foods. Leah wins and her prize (in addition to immunity) is that she gets pick her teammates for the Thanksgiving Day challenge.

Now, you'll remember that this was a total disaster for the Season 3 chef CJ, who picked his team and promptly lost the challenge. I'm thinking that things will be less rocky this time around as it's early enough in the season where the chefs have not developed strong rivalries (except for the Europeans, Fabio and Stefan). Leah picks her team and on first glance, it looks like she's definitely chosen the best chefs of the group.

So what's the challenge? The two teams (Sexy Pants, with all the "cool kids" that got chosen by Leah, and Cougar, with the rejects and perennial bottom-feeder, Ariane) will have to cook their own
Thanksgiving Day dinner to be eaten by none other than the Foo Fighters and 60 of their roadies. The winning team gets to attend the concert that night. The losers get to clean up.

After planning their respective menus (both of which are sounding pretty good) and shopping for ingredients, the chefs get to work and *SURPRISE SURPRISE* they're cooking outside! Not only that, they have neither a fridge nor a freezer. Only a couple chopping stations, a single burner per team and some toaster ovens. I'll say it again, the producers are doing great this year.

As you might imagine, there are so many dishes and so many cooks that I'm losing track of who's cooking what. The only things that are standing out so far are:

A) Team Cougar seems to have made the drastic mistake of putting Ariane in charge of cooking the turkey
B) Stefan is acting like he owns the entire kitchen
C) Fabio's pumpkin Tiramisu sounds absolutely delicious

Everything else is pretty standard. Yams, potatoes, stuffing...everything you could imagine them cooking for Thanksgiving, they have. Before I know it, it's time to eat and the Foo Fighters and the judges dig in. Team Cougar goes first and it's a little rough. Bad stuffing (made by Pretty Boy Jeff), undercooked potatoes (made by Daniel), etc. The only bright light so far is *SURPRISE SURPRISE* the judges and the Foos love Ariane's turkey. Whew, looks like she's finally come through in a challenge.

Team Sexy Pants is up next and I'm thinking that they've edged ahead so far. The vegan stuffing (made by Radhika) is great and the yams are good as well. Their dessert comes out and Fabio's pumpkin Tiramisu is a huge hit. All that's left is Team Cougar's desserts and they're disappointing. Bland pastry from Carla (who was in the Top 3 last week for her apple tart). Bad fruit parfait from Jeff and a really, really bad s'more from Richard. The way the judges are talking, it sounds close but based on the way the show has been edited so far, I can't imagine any possible outcome that doesn't have Sexy Pants winning the whole challenge.

I'm right and Sexy Pants has pulled it off. They head to the concert while the Cougars clean up the kitchen. It's a pretty sad sight.

In an interesting turn of events, the judges do not call the winning team out. Instead, they deal with the losing team. They praise Ariane for her turkey, saying that it was better than the winning team's, and she beams with happiness. You better keep it up, girl, or you'll be right back where you were last week. The judges (Tom in particular) nail Daniel for his undercooked potatoes, saying that he should have just not served them. They also hit Jeff hard for his stuffing and parfait as well as Richard, who seems to have failed conceptually for his s'more (as it didn't take anything like a classic s'more) and executionally (as apparently one of the Foo's went so far as to say that the vanilla cream on top looked like someone had spit on his dessert).

At the beginning of Judges Table, I would have predicted that Jeff was going home. He messed up on two dishes and as the semi-team leader, the entire dinner was mediocre at best. However, after having listened to the judges, I'm guessing that Richard goes home. He's failed Top Chef Recipe Test Rule #1: When beginning a dish, you must ask yourself "Will this dish win me the challenge?" If the answer is no, then you're not shooting high enough. Ariane fell prey to this rule last week and it looks like Richard will be going home because of it this week.

Yep, it's Richard after all. It's a rather emotional goodbye, with Richard confessing that he's tried unsuccessfully for the past three years to make it on the show but to no avail. In classic Thanksgiving fashion, he professes that he's grateful just to have had the opportunity to compete against the best chefs in the world on this show. I'm going to miss him, but frankly, I'm getting eager for some of the less talented members on the show to get weeded out. There are still too many chefs to keep track of and I know that as the weeks go by, this show will continue to get better and better.

Watch What We Say Top Chef Episode 3 Rating: 3 1/2 TiVos.

Watch What We Say: Rating System

Four TiVos: This is television content raised to the level of a transcendent art form. Not only should you TiVo this program for yourself, you should keep it on your TiVo for future generations to watch and savor.

Three TiVos: This is a very good show with a regular spot in my TiVo rotation. I watch every week and will often invite my friends over to share the enjoyable experience.

Two TiVos: I'll TiVo this show if I need something to watch while I'm folding laundry or dusting furniture.

One TiVo: I actively dislike this show and never allow it to take up space in my TiVo. Often times, I'll gripe about the show's producers, ridicule the actors and lambaste the network for keeping it on the air.

Zero TiVos: If this show is on, I unplug my TiVo for fear that the show is accidentally recorded and my entire home entertainment system gets contaminated with this malignant, diseased trash.

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