Top Chef Boston Recap: Episode 4
By Jason Lee
November 11, 2014

But people will still remember us, right?

There are 12 chefs left in the competition, and though there has been a lot of interpersonal drama thus far (I’m looking at you, Aaron), the action in the kitchen has been somewhat subdued. Yes, there have been fights over the cooking/plating/selection of foods (I’m looking at you, Aaron), but apart from the recent dominance of Greg, the competition has been up and down. One week, a chef can be on top, while the next, he or she can crash and burn.

Back in the house, the chefs are hoping that Greg falls victim to the latter. Katsuji says that he wants to hit Greg while he’s asleep. Another laments that Greg would be easier to hate if he wasn’t so damn nice. Aaron, meanwhile, takes the opportunity to slam Katsuji, saying that his strategy to win the competition is not to cook the best food, but to “fuck with everyone’s heads.” That’s funny, I thought Katsuji’s strategy was to gradually use every ingredient available in the Top Chef kitchen.

While this is going on, Keriann is on the phone with her husband, crying. She misses her family. This is not a good sign. In past seasons, such chefs eventually use the distance from their families as an excuse for poor cooking. Keriann says that she’ll use these feelings as motivation. More power to her.

The chefs receive a letter asking them to show up at 84 Beacon St. Local gal Stacy immediately recognizes this as the address for the bar that inspired the show Cheers (yep, it’s in Boston). She notes that she was asked to leave Cheers once.

Meeting them at Cheers is special guest judge George Wendt, who played Norm on the show. Padma instructs them to make a tasty bar snack for their Quickfire. Ah, from baseball food to bar snacks. I bet the fine dining chefs are itching to do some “real cooking.”

Because the kitchen in the bar is a little bit small, the chefs cook in groups of four and serve up their food to Padma and “Norm.” The first group manages to get through the challenge with minimal problems, but Greg (in the second group) is a hot mess. First, he drops a bun on the floor as he’s plating his hamburger, then as he’s walking his food out, another one does as well. Then the onions and peppers follow. He serves his half-assed food to Padma and “Norm,” who are kind enough to overlook his failed plate and engage him in a discussion about Woody Harrelson, whom Greg used to have a crush on.

Out of the 12, Greg (no surprise) and James (same) end up on the bottom. Greg served up a really bad burger, but “Norm” notes that “Woody’s a vegan anyways.” James, who offered up pickled grilled carrots with red bean puree, didn’t serve a dish that felt like bar food to “Norm.”

On top is a pair of unlikely heroes: Keriann, who did a play on crab cake with a beer-battered onion ring, and Katsuji, who made a mahi mahi ceviche on a tostada. For those keeping score, both Keriann and Katsuji have ended up on the bottom of two out of the three elimination challenges that have taken place thus far. “Norm” says that both dishes were creative but picks Katsuji as the winner. Lucky him, he gets immunity.

This week, the elimination challenge will be hosted by Michael Schlow at his restaurant, Via Matta, which (conveniently enough) is right around the corner. The chefs will be grouped into four teams of three, and will need to make a classic three-course Italian menu, including an antipasti, pasta, and secondi. The diners will choose which menu they want to eat, and the team that gets the most selections will be the winner.

I am not happy. I don’t like any challenge where the “winners” are chosen without anyone having tasted their food. That seems moronic. It’s an invitation to promise without delivering.

Oh yeah, and the elimination challenge will be a double elimination. I’m assuming that this is a direct result of the fact that we didn’t actually see a chef get eliminated last week during the Sudden Death Quickfire.

The chefs are graciously allowed to pick their own teams for the Elimination Challenge, and in a brief two minutes that harkens back (in disturbing fashion) to my experience in middle school and high school, the chefs look around, meeting each other’s eyes, asking silently, “Hey, we’re friends, right? Wanna be on the same team? Wait, are you looking at him? What about me? Argh, okay, well, what about you? Do you want to be on a team with me? Do you already have team members? You do? Dammit. Well, how about... shit.”

Most teams come together without much drama... but (surprise, surprise) Aaron finds himself without a team. Asshole that he is, he walks over to Greg and Katsuji and inserts himself into their team. Katsuji, remembering that they’ve already had heated arguments on two occasions (which shows just how desperate Aaron was to get on a team), is not happy. Greg assumes that he’s going to have to play the grown-up on the team. Good luck to him.

After planning out their menus and trying to put together the most alluring, attractive, approachable dishes they can so that they lure in as many diners as possible, the chefs head to the kitchen to start cooking.

And (surprise, surprise), Aaron starts fighting with Katsuji. He thinks he hasn’t been left with enough room for his station. Greg mollifies the two, aware of the double elimination pending. This is gonna be interesting to watch.

Tom comes into the kitchen and announces that Michael, the owner of the restaurant and this week’s guest judge, will be staying in the kitchen to expedite service. I’m assuming this will (mostly) keep everyone on their best behavior. Obvious beneficiary: Greg and the rest of his team.

In the dining room, the diners enter, including the judges and Emmy Rossum, our celebrity diner of the week. She’s apparently an avid watcher of the show.

Service starts and the purple team (Aaron, Katsuji, Greg) and blue team (Katie, Rebecca, Stacy) are immediately slammed. Everyone wants their dishes. Aaron notes that his team’s success is their prominent offering of seared scallops. “Everyone loves scallops,” he boasts. Yeah, I’m pretty sure we’ve known that since Season 1, when Dave Martin criticized Tiffani Faison over and over for cooking scallops. Or, to quote Fabio from Top Chef New York regarding Jaime, “This is Top Chef, not Top Scallop.”

But, of course, today it is “Top Scallop.”

The judges try out the purple team’s food first. Annoyingly, they all like Aaron’s seared scallop dish, with Tom declaring that it’s “a really nice dish.” America lets out a collective groan. For the pasta, Emmy throws a wrench into the team’s plans by informing them that she has a gluten allergy. Katsuji, who was making ravioli for his team’s pasta dish, is totally flustered and puts on the plate all of the ingredients of his ravioli in a little clump, but without the ravioli casing. The judges are blown away by the stupidity of such a move... and by the fact that the ravioli that they received was very, very dry. Katsuji doesn’t care. He has immunity.

Greg finishes off the purple team’s food with a peppercorn-crusted strip loin, which gets raves from the judges. Yep, he’s the front runner right now. He’s this season’s Nina.

The judges ask for the orange team’s menu next. Mei Lin is pissed off that no actual diners are ordering their menu, but she’s confident that their food is “stellar.” She’s right. Cook stellar food and no one on their team is going home.

Doug offers up a radicchio salad with warm pancetta. Emmy states that it looks like coleslaw - and she’s right - but Richard says that its flavors are “not bad.” Adam offers a bay scallop with fennel linguine, and a polenta cake for no-gluten Emmy. Emmy loves her polenta cake. Finally, Mei offers a branzino with lemon jam. Tom says that it’s exactly what he expects from her - well conceived and well executed. Padma loves the crispy skin. I think Mei is this season’s Shirley Chung, but less chatty.

The judges try the grey team next. James offers a chilled wild shrimp with mussels and clams. Though Richard and Padma compliment his plating, Tom says in offhand fashion, “I’m not loving this dish at all.” Alarm bells go off in my head. Almost without exception on this show, Tom gets what he wants (just keep an eye out for this yourself). The panel almost always will agree with him, and at every point in the season, whether first episode or finale. Thus, “I’m not loving this dish at all” is all but a death sentence for James as far as I’m concerned.

Melissa offers up a pea ravioli with ramps and Tom declares it “much better than Katsuji’s.” Padma loves the crispness of the green beans. Gluten-free Emmy gets a pea risotto and loves it. Finally, Keriann serves a pan-seared halibut with olive oil potato. It looks and sounds absolutely delicious - I would have definitely ordered that. Tom loves her puree.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Stacy is getting concerned about her veggies. Though they were fine at the start of service, they’re getting overcooked. I hear a second set of alarm bells go off in my head.

The judges sample the blue team last, and they start it off with a seared scallop (yep, another scallop dish) with charred fennel from Rebecca. She says that it’s “her type of cooking” - straightforward and seasonal. The judges are less than impressed, though. There’s no evidence of charring on the fennel they receive, Padma and Tom find the scallop too salty, and Richard says that he wishes her dish showed more creativity. Katie serves gluten-begone Emmy a zucchini pasta that all the judges adore. Emmy says this was her favorite pasta dish. Katie is seriously stepping it up after failing to send Aaron home last week.

Finally, we have Stacy with a grilled ribeye and king trumpet mushrooms. And, sure enough, the judges can’t get past her overcooked veggies. Additionally, Tom thinks that she cut her ribeye too thinly.

The cheftestants are called to Judge’s Table and Tom comments on the difficulty of trying to attract both casual diners and foodies via a single menu. He notes, though, that it’s no problem if a team or two failed to lure any diners in, so long as they made the best food.

The winning team - meaning, the team whose menu was requested the most by the diners - is the purple team. Sigh. “I knew I’d win,” says Aaron, totally overlooking the fact that it was a team challenge. Richard says that the team did a nice job incorporating buzzwords into their menu. “This is Top Chef, not Top Buzzword,” I tell Richard through my television. Tom says that the team also delivered on their menu promises, save for Katsuji with his horrible ravioli. “It was by far the weakest dish,” he says, and if Katsuji didn’t have immunity and wasn’t on the winning team, he “would be going home.” I am again blown away by Katsuji’s propensity either to make great food or really bad food one week to the next.

Padma tells the orange team that they liked their dishes and that they’re safe.

We’re down to the blue team and the grey team. From them, James, Stacy, and Rebecca are deemed to have served the worst dishes. None of these selections is a real surprise, and two of the three will be going home today. Tom hated Stacy’s overcooked veggies, while Stacy said she liked them. Richard notes the difference between standing behind a dish and being honest. “The vegetables were annihilated,” he says pointedly.

For Rebecca, she’s criticized for having no char on her fennel, despite it’s advertisement as such. Richard says that she also should have added more sauce, and that her dish felt like “mediocre room service.” Ouch. Richard is starting to show that he really knows how to throw shade.

Finally, Tom questions James’s ratio between oil to vinegar in his salad, saying he needed to incorporate more oil. James tries to blame his team for not allowing him to do the dish that he really wanted to do. Tom points out that he still had no excuse for actually making a dish that could send him home.

It’s chopping-block time, and the two chefs leaving us today are James and Rebecca. Tom says that they both had the same problem: the dishes didn’t work out in execution and were simply too trite. There was a fundamental lack of innovation.

In their closing moments, James laments his failure to go with his gut and do a “louder” dish. Rebecca says that she’s grown through this process and wants another chance. She says she’s ready to head off to Last Chance kitchen. I look forward to seeing the two of them there.