It’s time. The cheftestants can sense it’s coming. With eight individuals left in the competition, they predict its impending arrival. And a mysterious note from Padma instructing the chefs to meet her at the Revere Hotel all but confirms it.
Top Chef Boston Recap: Episode 7
By Jason Lee
December 6, 2014
As every Top Chef fan knows, the Restaurant Wars event is the toughest, most grueling, drama-packed challenge in Top Chef’s annual arsenal. (And by “annual,” I’m specifically excluding the 24-hour wedding challenge from the Season One. That was a badly conceived, exhausting, un-fun challenge that the producers have wisely avoided since.) Restaurant Wars is utterly and deliciously unpredictable and has been the downfall of many a great chef - Kristin two years ago, and anyone remember Tre from Top Chef: Miami?
Padma gleefully tells the cheftestants that, per standard procedure, the eight chefs will cook in two teams of four. They’ll each have adjacent spaces in which to serve 100 diners, including a group of VIP dining enthusiasts who’ll dine at both restaurants. Serving as guest judge is Barbara Lynch, a great restaurateur and familiar face on the show.
The chefs draw knives and Katie and Melissa get the honor of serving as team captains and choosing their fellow teammates. Melissa goes first and inexplicably picks Doug. Katsuji is blown away by the foolishness of this decision. Me too. Why would you not pick Greg (the most accomplished chef thus far this season, who deftly guided his team to a win in the It’s War challenge a few weeks ago) or Mei (who has gotten nothing but raves for her food)?
Melissa never gives me confidence that she has her head in the game.
Katie makes a much wiser choice and picks Greg. Melissa comes to her senses and picks Mei. Katie picks Katsuji, who I’m sure is happy to be on the same team as Greg.
Two chefs are left - Adam and Keriann - and we all know which chef no one wants on their team. *cough*Keriann*cough* Melissa wisely picks Adam, and Katie gets stuck with Keriann.
Padma instructs the two teams to decide who among them will serve as executive chef and handle front of house duties. She also stipulates that each chef must be responsible for at least one dish. Barbara provides some wise closing words: “Stay focused. Less is more.”
Melissa, while choosing Adam, noted that sometimes he can be a bit “OCD.” He’s proving her right. As his team gathers to start making important strategic decisions, he simply keeps repeating that he’s “so pumped, so pumped, so pumped!” Apparently loving what he’s seeing from Adam, Doug says that he wants pumped-up Adam to do front of the house. Adam has no desire to serve as Executive Chef (and wear the target on his back that so often comes with that position) and so happily accepts. Doug and Mei both say they want to be Executive Chef but Doug is more forceful about it and Mei relents. As she comments to us, “everyone knows that women are better line cooks anyways.” Haha, I love her.
Over on Katie’s team, Keriann is designated as the front of the house person. The chefs engage in a variety of sexist-sounding justifications- Katsuji describes her as “cute” and praises her “warmth” - but I’m thinking they have a more sound basis for the decision: they don’t want her anywhere near the kitchen. Katie ends up as her team’s executive chef. I’m surprised. Given how Greg took over his team in the It’s War challenge, I would have thought he’d want the position. Greg anticipates our surprise - he says he wants to play it safe this time (presumably after royally messing up the goose in the last challenge) and is happy to take a backseat.
The two teams discuss their strategies before heading off to shop. Doug wants his team to serve food family style. Adam is high-strung, hyper, and skeptical. He’s not sure that he, as the front of the house person tasked with keeping service smooth, will benefit from family-style service.
Meanwhile, on Katie’s team, the cheftestants are quickly realizing that they all are trained in different culinary styles. They decide to embrace this hodgepodge and take an “international” culinary approach. I call it “wimping out.”
Shopping begins with décor for the restaurants and along the way, Melissa spots four cute-but-large piggy banks. Her team decides to adopt the pigs as the emblems for their restaurant. Henceforth, their restaurant shall be known as 4 Pigs.
Half of the cheftestants head off to buy ingredients at Whole Foods, while the other half head to Restaurant Depot for kitchenware and bulk goods. Doug expresses his surprise that Greg didn’t step up like he did and offer to serve as executive chef. He thinks Katie is weak. Obviously, he hasn’t been reading my Top Chef Power Rankings.
The cooking starts with little aplomb. Katsuji notes in passing his surprise that Keriann, who’s making a vanilla crêpe with burnt banana mousse, is preparing her crêpes in advance. In his experience (and mine), crêpes are made to order. Though he knows he’ll have time tomorrow to make Keriann’s crêpes to order for her, he doesn’t offer. He says he’s only thinking of himself and doesn’t want to risk going home.
I can’t say I blame him. Though the judges do have a tendency in group challenges - and in Restaurant Wars in particular - of pressing fellow chefs why they didn’t help out a struggling chef or warn against obvious mistakes, those chefs are rarely the ones eliminated. It may be true that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing; however, those good men don’t usually get sent home. The evil ones do.
The chefs head off to their respective spaces to finish prepping their dishes, decorating the dining areas, and training the wait staff. Adam spent all afternoon shucking and cleaning clam shells for use as the vehicle for his appetizer (stuffed clam shells) but after sending them through the restaurant’s dishwasher and handing them off to one of the workers on duty to send them through two more times, they’ve somehow disappeared. Doug and Adam run around the kitchen in a panic, trying to find the cleaned shells, but to no avail. Adam glumly re-shucks and re-cleans 150 new clams and then speeds off to train his wait staff.
Keriann, on the other hand, has finished training her wait staff, but she might as well have been shucking and cleaning clam shells, too. Her staff is still confused and has no idea what they’re supposed to do or how service is going to run. Katie freaks out and starts training them.
Finally, dinner starts and two familiar Top Chef faces have showed up at Katie’s restaurant, now dubbed Magellan (as, I’m assuming, a way to justify their eclectic, international menu). We see Kristin Kish’s (winner of Top Chef 10) gorgeous face, and behind her, a barely recognizable Stephanie from last season (I’m not loving the new hairdo, Stephanie).
Meanwhile, the judges head over to 4 Pigs. They love the décor. The appetizers come out first and we have salt-baked clams with ramps and bacon from Adam, and a chicken-liver toast with plum puree. The puree is added as little purple globs on the toast, which uncomfortably remind me of chicken pox blisters.
Gail likes the clams, and so does Tom, who finds the food a bit heavy, but acknowledges that it has great flavor. Gail finds Mei’s toast “really tasty.” Barbara says that it’s a bit like eating peanut butter and jelly - Padma agrees but really digs it.
Meanwhile, at Magellan, there’s total confusion. Tables are being brought duplicate dishes, waiters have no idea which plates are supposed to be taken where, Katie’s incomprehensible system of recording which tables have received which courses is in total conflict with reports being brought back from waiters, etc. There are serious problems with Keriann’s handling of the front of the house, which prompts Katie to bypass Keriann and establish some direct lines of communication with the wait staff. It’s a total mess.
Cut back to 4 Pigs. Tom notes that service is proceeding at a good clip. The diners are happy and the servers are happy.
The judges are presented with their entrees for the night. Doug has a braised pork shoulder with baked beans, Melissa has a seared scallop with a radish salad, and finally Mei has some fried brussels sprouts with anchovy vinaigrette.
Gail loves the acid in Mei’s brussels sprouts, but finds that it’s a bit overpowering as you eat more of them. Everyone adores Doug’s pork. Tom likes Melissa’s scallop but notes that it’s a bit salty. Apparently Padma got a really seasoned scallop because she exclaims, “oh my god, it’s so salty.”
On the other side of the warehouse, Megellan is still dealing with service bedlam. There’s still confusion as to which tables need which courses. Duplicate dishes are dumped in the trash, and new dishes are fired. Katsuji is grateful that he prepared more food than he’d initially thought he’d need.
Back at 4 Pigs, the judges have their dessert: a buttermilk biscuit cobbler with apples and mixed berries and cardamom - a joint effort from Melissa and Mei. It looks absolutely delicious. Padma absolutely loves the cardamom cream and Tom finds it appropriately rustic, keeping in the style of the restaurant. He pushes back in his chair, commenting that the team made some mistakes but was conceptually consistent from start to finish.
As the judges wrap up there, dessert service at Magellan has ground to a screeching halt. Keriann, clueless as ever, has no idea why. Apparently, Katsuji has run into some problems plating Keriann’s dish - her burnt banana mousse is not spreadable. The camera peers over his shoulder and those of Katie and Greg who have rushed over to help him - he’s right, the “mousse” is the consistency of hard ice cream. Katsuji has no idea how he’s supposed to spread that on Keriann’s crêpe.
Taking charge, executive chef Katie makes the executive decision to heat up Keriann’s crêpes.
The judges have arrived at Magellan but Keriann is nowhere in sight. After a few minutes, she spots them and rushes over to seat them. Tom surveys the room and says that he only sees one table eating. Gail suggests that Keriann put on sneakers so that she can move around a bit faster.
Keriann trots back with appetizers for the judges while other diners look on with envy. She has roasted beets with Sri Lankan curry from Katie, a hamachi sashimi with roasted poblano from Katsuji, and dry posole with Dungeness crab, again from Katsuji.
Gail finds the flavor of Katie’s dish “intriguing,” and Tom agrees - the curry is nice but bears no relation to the beets. Barbara likes Katsuji’s hamachi but finds it less-than-satisfying.
The entrée is brought out for the judges as the other diners stare daggers at Keriann. They want food too. The judges dig into haddock with spiced tomato and garam masala from Greg. Gail loves his use of seasoning and pickled vegetables. Tom finds the fish nicely cooked. There’s also hoisin-glazed pork tenderloin with bay scallops, again from Greg. This also goes over well - Padma says his pork is nicely cooked and likes his scallop “one hundred times better” than Melissa’s salty version.
Keriann heads into the kitchen to grab the dessert course for the judges and is shocked to find that her crêpes have been warmed up. She wanted them served at room temperature. She demands to know why Katsuji deviated from her instructions. He looks over at Katie, begging her with his eyes to take responsibility for the decision. Keriann again demands to know why her crêpes were warmed up. Katie still stays silent. Katsuji mumbles, “It wasn’t my call.”
Keriann storms out of the kitchen with the dish and presents the vanilla crêpe with burnt banana mousse to the judges. Gail finds that it lacks color, Tom describes it as dry as a hockey puck, and Barbara declares that she’s not paying for her dinner at Magellan. They don’t have a leader, she complains. Gail agrees that they lost their way.
Padma heads into the kitchen and calls out the 4 Pigs team. Barbara compliments the level of respect Adam commanded from his wait staff. Gail notes that the dinner felt like it came from one kitchen led by one vision. Melissa and Mei both compliment Doug for the way he handled service.
The Magellan crew is next to face the judges. Gail wants to know how the wait staff was trained and why the dishes were so different in style from each other. Padma wants to know why Keriann wasn’t a stronger presence in the dining room. As for the food, Tom criticizes Katie’s beet offering for feeling like “two separate dishes.” Barbara doesn’t like the fact that the crêpes were soggy.
“I meant for it to be a different dish,” Keriann says. “It was supposed to be served cold.”
Barbara asks who warmed up the crêpes and Keriann places the blame on Katsuji.
“It wasn’t my call,” Katsuji says, looking at Katie.
“Whose call was it?” Gail asks.
Katsuji again silently begs for Katie take responsibility. She doesn't.
“Whose call was it?” Gail presses again.
Katie still refuses to speak up, so Katsuji says, “The executive chef.”
Having little choice, Katie offers the perfectly reasonable explanation that the dessert was advertised as having a “burnt banana mousse” and the mousse they were left with did not have the texture of a mousse. Thus, she decided to warm up the crêpes.
Tom wants to know if she checked in with Keriann before making the change, and of course she didn’t. Tom then asks Keriann if she tried to fix things when she saw her desserts going out. She says she didn’t because she didn’t notice the change in her dessert until the judges’ course came out.
“But we were the last diners,” Gail protests.
It’s now utterly clear that the only chefs up for elimination are Katie and Keriann. Though Keriann was an absolute and utter disaster, you gotta think that with the sheer scope of the team’s problems, the executive chef is the one who’ll be held responsible.
Back at Judges Table, Tom notes that Restaurant Wars is all about coming up with a concept, executing that concept, and working together as a team. As such, one team was clearly better. Padma announces that 4 Pigs was the winning restaurant and that Doug is the winning chef of the night.
That, of course, leaves Magellan as the judges’ least favorite restaurant. Tom says that Katie put together one “okay” dish but headed a kitchen that had problems with putting food out. He also has no idea why she didn’t let Keriann know that they were changing her dish. As for Keriann, Tom notes that she had no experience running front-of-house and it showed. Her dish, moreover, was “pretty weak.”
There is no doubt in my mind that Katie is going home.
“Keriann, please pack your knives and go,” Padma says.
I am stunned. Utterly and completely stunned. I thought for sure that Katie would be sent home for the confused disarray that was Magellan. She shouldn’t just thank her lucky stars, she should send them an Edible Arrangement.
Tom explains that Keriann is going home based on the combination of her disorganized service and her dish, which was the worst dish of her team. Keriann is disappointed for leaving the show on such a note, since front of house is not what she does. She laments the fact that she trusted people with her dish when they didn’t respect her food.