Top Chef, May 28, 2008
Well, I think this is one of the calmest episodes of Top Chef that we’ve seen yet. The Quick Fire Challenge, though it had two parts, was pretty straightforward and went smoothly. I was, like most of us, disappointed to see Stephanie do poorly, but she has never excelled at Quick Fires.
First the chefs had to butcher a big hunk of beef to the exacting standards of Chicago chef Rick Tramonto. Then they packed them up and returned to the Top Chef kitchen where they had to prepare the steaks. All of them looked pretty rare to me, though Antonia’s looked best. But Spike was channeling his grandfather, the butcher (and his mother is a chef?), giving him a quick fire win, along with an advantage in the EC, which was squandered when he chose to work with frozen scallops. Not a good choice. The other chefs all recognized that, so why didn’t Spike?
On to the Elimination Challenge… and what a good one it was, though I must say, the atmosphere is still pretty calm. I expected a little panic, or a meltdown, or a temper tantrum. And I am a bit ashamed to say that I wanted to see Lisa burn some rice. But alas! All was well, and there were no real bombs. This was truly a challenge of degree… some excellent dishes, and some just kind of okay dishes.
The chefs had to create an appetizer and an entrée to be served at Tramonto’s Steak and Seafood and the “special guests” were previous winners Harold Dieterle, Ilan Hall, and Hung Huynh. (Good to see Harold and Hung, but Ilan could’ve stayed home, in my opinion.)
Richard performed well, as always. His hamachi and sweetbreads appetizer impressed the judges, and his filet with potato puree, turnips and brussel sprouts, deconstructed (what’s up with that?) was good, though not great. Richard seemed more nervous that we’ve ever seen him in this challenge, which kind of confused me. Also, his plate was kind of messy looking, which is surprising as well.
Lisa’s performance made me have second thoughts about why everyone dislikes her so much. She was pretty likable tonight, and her food was good. If only she could take that sour look off her face at judges’ table! The chilled and grilled shrimp appetizer sounded delicious, but apparently did not go over well. As an entrée, Lisa made a New York strip steak with a spicy apple and caramel sauce, with peanut butter mashed potatoes! Peanut butter mashed potatoes? I can’t quite imagine it, but apparently they were quite good, and elevated Lisa in my opinion. Unfortunately, her steak was not terribly well prepared.
Antonia made a warm mushroom and artichoke salad with a poached egg, topped with a bacon vinaigrette. Sounds weird, but who knows. The judges love well executed eggs, and a bacon and egg combo sounds pretty cool. Her bone-in rib eye with potato gratin did well, with the gratin winning raves all around. If her appetizer had been more innovative, Antonia might have won tonight.
Spike blew it big time. Choosing frozen scallops was an absolute waste of his advantage, and using them in such a simple dish only highlighted the problem. Had they been in a creamy sauce or a salad preparation, he might have slid through. Adding canned hearts of palm at the end only exacerbated the problem. And though he butchered the meat well, his preparation of the tomahawk steak with an overly sweet sweet potato puree was less than stellar. Spike has the unique ability to turn an advantage into a disadvantage like no one I have ever seen.
Stephanie showed incredible maturity and class in this episode. There was no sign of the nervousness that has plagued her in the past, and she put out a great meal. The first course of crispy sweetbreads with a golden raisin and pine nut sauce sounded yummy, and the main dish of tenderloins (perfectly cooked) with salsify puree, wild mushrooms and apple sauce was well-rounded, well-executed, and interesting enough to shine. I love this girl! She can cook, and is a delight to watch. Go Stephanie!
And then there was judges’ table. Spike, Spike, Spike, don’t you know that “defend your dish” and “act like an ass” are not the same thing? At least he was insightful enough to admit to the others that he had acted dumb. You don’t call the guest judge out on what was in his freezer! Duh. He shoulda made a soup!
But that’s the way it goes, and yes, Lisa has squeaked through one more time….
Off to Puerto Rico!