Top Chef: Seattle Recap
Jalapeno Business
By Kim Hollis and David Mumpower
January 2, 2013

Knighthood in Belgium is EASY.

Previously on Top Chef, Danyele’s insecurity about her skills finally caught up to her and she was told to pack her knives and go. Then, in a competition with CJ in Last Chance Kitchen, her turkey sandwich was inferior to the tall man’s offering. In the end, Danyele took her turkey sandwich as a consolation prize and went home.

Over at the Top Chef residence, all of the chefs are annoyed with Josie. Apparently the contestants are wondering the same thing that we have been all season long – why is she even here?

Kristen feels good about winning both challenges in the last round. With ten chefs left, she’s gaining momentum and feeling comfortable about her position amongst them. A lot of times, you’ll see some chefs develop some overconfidence after this much domination, but she seems to be keeping it all in perspective.

A note is waiting for the chefs in their kitchen, and it tells them that for their Quickfire, they’ll be harvesting their own ingredient and then cooking for Padma and Emeril Lagasse. They are told to go to Bow, Washington, and they speculate that the task at hand might require them to gather oysters, clams or mussels. They all climb into the blatant product placement cars that have been provided for them and drive out to a shellfish “farm.”

Oysters will be this morning’s ingredient, and as John is gathering his shellfish, he comments that the creatures taste like the water that they live in, so where you get your product can be vitally important.

It doesn’t take long for Josie to be completely obnoxious. For some reason, she keeps getting stuck in the mud and unable to get herself out without help. Like Gale last week, we have to wonder if she’s drunk, high, hung over, or some combination of the three. She drags down Micah with her when he tries to lend a hand, causing him to land ass-first in the muck. Micah reinforces the fact that the other chefs are very weary of Josie’s constant commentary. “Sometimes you just want her to shut the $#*! up,” he says.

Josh figures that their challenge will be to either shuck the oysters or to cook a dish that incorporates them. We’re hoping for an oyster competitive eating contest, but since Joey Chestnut isn’t one of the contestants, that’s probably not going to happen.

In fact, the challenge is simple. The chefs are to create oysters on the half-shell for Emeril, who has wanted to see this sort of contest incorporated into the show for a while now. Five chefs will do a hot preparation, while five will do a cold preparation. The winner of the Quickfire will earn $5,000 (but no immunity from elimination).

One problem that a lot of the chefs are facing is the fact that the oysters are pretty brittle. The shells break easily and it seems as thought there’s a strong likelihood that some of those pieces may wind up in some dishes.

It’s really tough for Emeril to be critical (he’s just so kind), but his least favorite dishes amongst the chefs come from Bart, who tried to combine champagne and oysters, which Emeril says is “very, very difficult.” The reduction of the cream and butter masked the oyster and lost the champagne. Next up is Josie, whose dish was pretty much a nightmarish mess. The sauce was broken and separated, which she knew was a problem near the end of the allotted cooking time. Finally, John’s preparation had no pop. John is surprised to be called out as one of the bottom three. He didn’t necessarily think he had produced a winning dish, but he thought it was good enough to keep him from the bottom. Maybe that’s the problem, though. The competition is narrowing and it’s starting to be time that your dish needs to be in the conversation as a winner every single time.

Now that the unpleasantness is over, Emeril can move on to happier things, like announcing the favorites in the Quickfire and awarding someone $5,000. His first pick is Lizzie, who used berries in her dish, which was risky but turned out to be quite delicious. Despite having a bit of shell in her dish, he also selects Brooke. Her salsa verde enhanced the oyster and really provided a taste that popped. Finally, Emeril is super excited about Micah’s crispy fried oysters with arugula salad, hot sauce and lemon, with spicy flavors that made him salivate for more. In fact, he’s so excited that Micah wins his first challenge of the season. Finally, Micah’s opinion of himself is justified in some way.

Today’s Elimination Challenge will have the contestants cooking for what Padma calls “one of the hottest sports teams in Seattle.” We know that the Supersonics are gone, and she surely can’t mean the Mariners. Maybe the Seahawks?

No. The “hot sports team” is the Rat City Rollergirls. Okay, we’ve seen Whip It. This might be sort of fun. Josie is all excited. She’s been “a professional athlete all her life,” she says. That might be a slight exaggeration, but she did play defensive line for the New York Sharks, a women’s tackle football team. At least she wasn’t the long snapper, we guess.

The chefs are told to divide themselves in teams of two, which leads to some comical awkwardness. John makes eye contact with Brooke and gives her no option other than to either cook with him or tell him no. She says that their personalities don’t really mesh, but that his comments generally roll right off her back so she doesn’t have a problem working with him. No one wants to go with Josie, which means that Bart ends up on her team by process of elimination. Her behavior with him is eerily similar to the time when Ralph Wiggum got a Valentine’s Day card from Lisa Simpson. “Bart choo choo chooses me!” she seems to be thinking. We hope that we will also be able to pinpoint the second where her heart breaks in half. (Fingers crossed!)

Each meal must match up to one of the roller girls’ names. These colorful monikers include Teriyaki Terror, who “tears girls apart;” Jalapeno Business, who is “2 hot 2 handle,” Eddie Shredder, who will “shred the track” (okay, hers is pretty damned lame); Kutta Rump, who is a “roast beast;” and Tempura Tantrum, who “has a bad temper.” Emeril says that the dishes need to be bold and brash to match the names. Tempura Tantrum comments that they don’t really want the food to be fussy, but says that they also don’t want concession-type meals either.

Since he won the Quickfire, Micah gets to choose on behalf of himself and Lizzie. Their skater girl is Jalapeno Business. Also as a result of winning the Quickfire, Micah gets to select the next duo to choose their skater. He awards Sheldon, who is teamed with Josh and picks Tempura Tantrum. Josh figures this is a great choice because Sheldon cooks a lot of Asian food.

Next up are Stefan and Kristen (heh heh heh), who select Eddie Shredder. Stefan makes sure to say something creepy to her. Brooke and John will Kutta Rump, and finally Bart and Josie are the last team left, so they’re left with Teriyaki Terror. Bart gets both the worst teammate and the worst ingredient. Doesn’t his knighthood mean anything? Since it’s a Belgian knighthood, we suppose note.

Teriyaki Terror invites the chefs to attend their game that same evening for inspiration. Let’s just say that for the most part, the chefs are not roller derby type of people. They’re pretty much there for the beer. There is one notable exception, though. Josie is “being more obnoxious than usual,” according to Josh, cheering for Teriyaki Terror, who happens to be sitting on the bench. Even Sheldon says “f#ck.” Sheldon!

Back at the Top Chef residence, everyone gets together to complain about her. Although she appears to have passed out on the couch, Josie hears everything they’re saying and chooses this moment to deliver an odd soliloquy. “This tree right here, you don’t wanna bark up, Micah, okay? Because, see, this right here knows who she is. You are hiding in a closet!” Micah has some trouble figuring out what all this means, but supposes it means that he is gay but doesn’t know it. As for Josie, she closes this segment out with a “Namaste, bitches.” We don’t think she knows what “Namaste” means.

Lizzie and Micah have never worked together before, but have a plan for a stuffed jalapeno. The way Lizzie describes it, the dish sounds pretty interesting. Bart is trying to settle Josie down, knowing that she’s A) nuts, B) rattled and C) a terrible teammate. We wish him good luck with that. He’s also concerned that their dish might be too spicy, because his flavor profiles don’t really match with Josie’s. This smells like trouble.

Although Stefan tries to rib John for being old, asking him if he roller skated in the 1950s, John’s having a great time cooking with Brooke. He tells her how much he appreciated her taking time to get to know him and talk to him, and comments that she reminds him of his daughter. He’s very human in this moment.

The judges arrive, including Padma, Tom, Emeril and Hugh Acheson, who instantly ups the funny quip potential. He does not disappoint. As soon as they get to their table, he tells Padma that her roller derby name would be Padma Smacks Me. She laughs. So do we.

Their first visit is to John and Brooke’s table, where they are serving Thai beef with lobster jasmine rice and Thai slaw. The flavors are complicated but well constructed. Kutta Rump notes that the spiciness really builds as you eat the dish (in a good way). They certainly seem safe tonight.

Bart & Josie’s teriyaki terror is represented by steak teriyaki with forbidden rice and a beet blood and green papaya salad. Bart says that the teriyaki is in the steak and the terror is in the glass. It does look pretty nasty. Teriyaki Terror says, “This is really unique, this taste right here.”

Hugh asks her, “Is that unique good or unique crappy?”

Not wanting to be overly mean, Ms. Terror replies, “It’s a little to earthy for me.”

“Mmm, we’re going to unique crappy,” Hugh says sardonically.

Even worse, you see danger signs in Tom’s reaction to the dish. He wonders how Josie and Bart expected to be able to get the right flavor profile by sautéing each individual piece of meat. Padma says that the rice is overcooked, and Emeril says the rice is under-seasoned. Cut to Josie telling some customers, “It’s a little spicy, huh?” We think it’s safe to say Josie and Bart will be in the bottom grouping tonight, and unless someone blows it big time, one of them will be going home. Even the editors couldn’t find a way to make us think that they have a chance.

According to Hugh, Emeril’s roller derby name should be Roux the Day Lagasse. The group decides that “Bam Bam” Lagasse makes the most sense. They’re right, of course.

As we mentioned previously, Lizzie and Micah are serving crab-stuffed jalapeno with avocado cream, onion and pepper relish. This looks absolutely delicious. Lizzie worries that it might be spicy, but Hugh says it’s better than he thought it would be, and Tom gives it high compliments. Jalapeno Business appreciates the way that a simple dish was elevated to something quite special. Everyone at the table nods.

Stefan and Kristen have created a corn puree with chicken liver and sunny-side up egg. It looks pretty terrific, but gets mixed reviews. The judges are mostly complimentary but have a couple of ideas on how the dish could be better. Emeril’s egg is slightly overdone. Tom thinks if they had actually shredded some chicken, it would have been appropriate for their theme (Eddie Shredder) and elevated the taste profile.

Finally, we close out with Sheldon and Josh’s tempura yuzu curd with shiso, fresno chili, sweet potato and vanilla. It’s sort of an odd desert. The sauces look colorful and interesting. Emeril loves the idea, but the tempura is not fried enough. Hugh agrees, saying that the sauces and the method of eating the dish are fun, but the tempura ruins it all. Sheldon took responsibility for the tempura, which makes us worry about him for elimination. It seems fairly certain Sheldon and Josh will finish on the bottom along with Josie and Bart.

On the plus side, Tempura Tantrum loves their dish.

Padma arrives at the stew room, and tells the chefs that the judges would like to see John, Brooke, Micah and Lizzie. Clearly, this is the top group, because the judges were gushing over these two dishes. And it’s true – these two dishes were the hits of the party. Tom thinks the meals were fantastic, and Emeril just can’t say enough nice things (more so than usual, even). Hugh announces the winner as the dish that was bold and adventurous, citing Brooke and John’s dish as the best of the evening. After Brooke talks about how well she and John meshed, John says, “I finally won.” No credit to the girl who reminds him of his daughter in this confessional. The judges don’t announce any prizes here. We guess just the honor of being at the top is enough.

The four winners are told to send losers Josh, Sheldon, Bart and Josie to Judges Table. Before that happens, though, the chefs in the stew room are discussing Micah and Lizzie’s dish. Stefan says that it was spicy, and Josh says that he tasted it and it was good, but at the end of the day “it’s just a jalapeno popper.”

When you look at the faces of the “losers,” it’s clear that Sheldon is very nervous. He knows that his contribution to the dish was substandard, it’s clear. Tom tells Josh and Sheldon that conceptually the dish was excellent, but it had one problem (the tempura). To Josie and Bart, Tom says that the dish was all over the place. Generally, this is a sign that Tom didn’t understand the dish, and Tom not understanding a dish almost always leads to someone being sent home.

The judges ask who was responsible for which portion of each dish. Clearly, they’ve decided what they don’t like, and just need to decide who made the mistakes. Josie goes through a laundry list of problems with their dish, all of which came about because of her poor decisions. Tom is agitated by how under-seasoned the food was, and addresses Bart directly, commenting on how this problem has recurred for the knight over and over again throughout the season. Colicchio also criticizes Josie for not tasting the dish. When Josie says she did taste it and asked Bart to add more to it, he says that he did. The problem is, after Bart added the additional seasoning, Josie didn’t take the time to taste it again. This is a real issue for Tom and Co. It’s such a brutal critique that we feel relatively certain that Josh and Sheldon will be safe.

Because we love it when Hugh describes things, “It kind of was like a beet…a spoon of syrup on top of a really boring porridge.”

The judges move on to Josh and Sheldon, but it feels like this is just going through the motions before sending home one of Bart or Josie. Josh defends their dish, saying he believed it had amazing flavors. Sheldon, on the other hand, knows immediately what the problem was and steps up to take the blame for bad tempura.

Even though Sheldon appears perfectly willing to take his lumps, Josh wants to ask the judges a question. “The crab-stuffed jalapeno – they told us not to serve concession-style food.”

Tom retorts, “You know what? If that were a canned jalapeno with the skin on that was brined and picked and that they dipped in a bunch of really bad cheese in the center of it, yeah, that would be concessions. But when you take a jalapeno and you roast it, and you peel it, you take the seeds out, the stems out, you put a really nice crab salad in the center of it and it’s perfectly fried, it’s no longer concession.” Don’t mess with the Colicchio.

Despite that little smackdown, Bart is announced as the loser today. Once again, Josie survives another day (like a cockroach) and Bart has taken the bullet for her. He moves on to Last Chance Kitchen, where he competes with CJ to make a perfect dish using chicken breast. Sadly for Sir Bart, CJ defeats him and holds his position.

Nine chefs left. We’re getting to the point where most of the chefs who remain are formidable. Also, Josie is there.