So this week's recap is one big game of Memory. Not for the chefs. For me.
Top Chef Las Vegas Recap
By Jason Lee
October 5, 2009
I apologize to all of you out there who read these recaps (or am I deluding myself into thinking that anyone even reads these pieces?) but I was in Switzerland last week and through the early part of this week, so I was unable to even catch up on last week's episode of Top Chef until Tuesday night. Then on Wednesday, I settled into my spot on the couch, ready to take notes for Episode 7 when to my surprise, there was no new episode.
Well, I won't let a little Bravo re-run spoil my fun. Instead, I'll spend my time writing up a recap from last week's thrilling episode . . . albeit, largely from memory. So please pardon me if I'm a little shady with the details. But onward we go!
So after a rather auspicious start for the women this season, it looks like the men are on the defensive. After a season that saw four straight women go home, the last two episodes have featured men going home. Are we seeing the tide start to turn for the ladies?
The episode kicks off with Pompous Mike blabbering about how nice a guy our Frenchie Mattin was and how unfair it is for Robin to be still in the competition whilst Mattin gets eliminated. I, for one, thought that Mattin's failure with his ceviche absolutely merited his elimination and Tom Colicchio clearly agrees with me. On his blog he writes, "Mattin's food was not cut evenly, thus it didn't cook evenly. Some was cooked while some was raw. Nor was it seasoned properly. As soon as it landed in my mouth, I tried to get it down and realized I just couldn't."
I think it's fair to say that when your food is so bad that Tom Colicchio cannot even swallow your food, you deserve to pack your knives and go.
But I guess Pompous Mike disagrees. In totally passive-aggressive style, he fuels a mute protest by handing out red scarves that Mattin used to wear to everyone in the house...except for Robin, that is. She has to ask for one to be given to her so that she can partake in the "grief" over Mattin going home. But Pompous Mike isn't the only one who's angry that Robin is still in the competition, Eli and Jennifer voice their displeasure with her as well.
We head to the Top Chef Kitchen, where we see Padma standing next to the ravishing Michele Bernstein. Some of you may remember her from when she served as Kacie's sous-chef in the Season 3 finale. I love Michele Bernstein. She's smart, talented, well-spoken, poised . . . everything I love in a woman. Seeing her stand there next to Padma, who possesses all of those qualities as well, is almost enough to turn me straight.
The Quickfire Challenge seems ominously simple. Since Las Vegas affords visitors to indulge the "good" and "bad" sides of their personality, cook a dish that illustrates their own struggles with their good and bad side. The angel and devil on either shoulder, if you will.
Since I'm in the middle of applying to law school, I'm a bit surprised that most chefs seem to take a theoretical, abstract approach to this challenge. Instead of actually portraying their own vices and virtues, telling the judges something sincere and honest about themselves as I'm trying to do in my application essays, the chefs seem to be trying to tackle good and evil in conceptual ways.
For example, Bryan is doing something with dark chocolate and vanilla mousse, which looks delicious but says nothing about himself. Likewise with Kevin, Eli and Pompous Mike. In fact, the only person that seems to be actually cooking for the angel and devil on their respective shoulder is everyone's favorite outcast: Robin.
Robin relates to us the fact that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she had to really think about the type of food she was consuming, pulling herself away from the sweets that she used to eat. Thus, she does a beautiful (but simple) salad plus an apple crisp that makes my mouth water just looking at it. Is it complex and revolutionary? No. Does it make me want to eat it? Hell yes.
The chefs that least impressed Michele Bernstein were Ash, Bryan (who never seems to do well in Quickfires) and Laurine. On top were Pompous Mike, Eli and Robin. And Robin ends up winning. The cameras quickly pan to everyone else's POed reactions. Eli instantly takes offense, saying sarcastically that if he'd said that he had breast cancer, he could have won, too.
I've never made it a secret that I dislike Eli. I find him childish and smart-alecky. But now I hate him. Robin deserved to win. She had a story, she built a dish around it and it tasted good. Period. Bottom line. So what if it was simple? Remember Carla last year? The chef that almost won the whole thing? Yeah, she cooked with simplicity, too.
So shut your pie-hole, Eli.
Penn and Teller, the famous magician duo, come out and perform a really cool version of the classic cup-and-ball trick. I'm flashing back to the Magician episode of Top Chef Masters when Anita Lo won with her scallop-looking daikon and wondering if this challenge will top that.
Nope. Taking cue from Penn and Teller's habit of deconstructing magic tricks for their audience, the chefs will each be given a classic American dish and asked to deconstruct it. The key with deconstruction, we learn, is to isolate the individual flavors of a dish and compose them in a way that the diners can taste each one on its own, but also combine them to reconstitute the taste of the whole dish. We've seen deconstruction on this show many times before, most memorably perhaps by Dale's deconstructed ratatouille in the Season 3 finale, so I'm thinking that most chefs shouldn't have a huge problem with this challenge.
Wrong. Many chefs are scrambling on this challenge, trying to figure out how to deconstruct their assigned dishes as they tromp through Whole Foods. I find it interesting that many of them are simply trying to "reinvent" the dish as opposed to actually deconstructing it. Our Haitian Ron seems to be focused on just making a good paella instead of deconstructing it. Laurine laments that deconstruction is not something she likes to do as a cook.
There are a couple of people who we know will be able to do this right. Kevin, Bryan and Michael have all demonstrated deconstruction before (remember when Bryan showed Pompous Mike how to make a deconstructed béarnaise sauce?) and will surely be fine. Surprisingly, Jennifer, who's been given lasagna, is at an impasse. She has no idea how she will be able to "deconstruct" lasagna. I'm worried for her.
The chefs get back to the kitchen and start cooking. Jennifer sits down with her head in her hands for a good while before starting cooking. She's really struggling and I have my fingers crossed that my favorite chef doesn't go home.
Even though we have a good 11 dishes going, three are really standing out. Ron is clueless about deconstruction and I'm really wondering whether or not his language barrier is impeding him from grasping the concept of the challenge. Laurine is clearly not comfortable with deconstruction and is irritated by Robin's chattering in the kitchen. Speaking of Robin, she is so out-there with her concept that I think it's crossed into the realm of re-invention rather than deconstruction. Granted, if food tastes good then a lot of mistakes can be forgiven, so it's anyone's guess as to who will succeed.
The chefs are cooking for Tom, Padma, Michele Bernstein, Penn, Teller and our favorite British food snob, Toby Young, who's filling in for Gail. Should be an interesting dinner.
The food goes out and there are some clear winners and some clear losers. Bryan has a deconstructed reuben, in which he tried to substitute tuna for beef and it apparently worked. Jennifer's lasagna was thankfully well-received, with many people loving her flavors. Michael has presented a really-avant garde Caesar Salad using a lot of molecular gastronomy (it looks like Astronaut food). Ashley has surprised again but doing a really elegant turn on pot roast. But there's no question who's won this challenge. Kevin's deconstructed mole negro gets rave reviews from every single diner. Considering that we've all seen exactly how complicated a mole can be from Rick Bayless' version of it in Top Chef Masters, I can hardly imagine how difficult it must be to deconstruct mole negro - but Kevin did and did it successfully. And for that, he deservingly takes home the win.
On the bottom, we have Laurine, who had fish and chips but failed at getting her chips crunchy (how many times have we seen that on this show?) and thus, didn't have many to allot to each diner. We also have Ron, who didn't deconstruct his paella, overcooked his rice and overcooked his seafood. Lastly, we have Ash, who cooked a deconstructed Shepherd's Pie, a dish that is famously heavy on mashed potatoes, but because his potatoes came out gooey, he left them out completely.
So yes, we have one botched attempt at fish and chips with Laurine, one unrecognizable dish (due to the lack of potatoes) from Ash, but I think it's pretty clear to everyone that for a complete failure in concept (no deconstruction) and execution (overcooked everything), Ron absolutely deserves to go home.
The judges beat up Laurine for stubbornly protesting that deconstruction "isn't her thing" (but did you think that everything on Top Chef would be your thing?) and Toby in particular beats up Ash for his Shepherd's Pie (cause it's an English dish) but no one doubts that Ron will be packing his knives.
And he does. For the third straight episode, a man has gone home. Maybe indeed the tide is turning on Top Chef. Whether or not that's the case, I think we're definitely seeing a stratification start to take place on this show. The strong chefs (Bryan, Michael, Kevin, Jennifer and Pompous Mike) are clearly distinguishable from the weaker chefs (Laurine, Ash, Robin and Eli). The one wild card is Ashley, who has made it into the top for the past two challenges. Will she keep it up and steal a spot in the finale? It's certainly going to be interesting to watch.